The NRL’s plans for the season to resume in a bubble amid the COVID-19 pandemic will be finalised soon, with players facing the prospect of regular tests.
Round 3 saw heavyweights Wigan and Saints return to form as a couple of upstarts from the early rounds were cut down to size, while the Wolfpack remain at the foot of the ladder. Here’s how the action unfolded.
Wolfpack finding the going tougher in the top flight
Toronto continued their unhappy start to the Super League with a 32-10 defeat to Wigan in Thursday’s game. Despite notching the first try for the third straight game, the result highlights a worrying trend of the Wolfpack drifting out at crucial points.
Much like last week’s loss to Salford, Toronto played themselves into a match-winning position with the scores locked at ten apiece until the 58th minute, at which point Wigan switched on the after-burners to lay on four quick tries to put the result beyond doubt.
The Wolfpack have now lost the same number of matches in 2020 as they did in their last two seasons of beating all-comers in the Championship, and things won’t get much easier with tricky away clashes against Warrington and premiers St Helens to look forward to. A nil and five record to begin their inaugural Super League campaign is fast becoming a distinct possibility, although they should welcome Sonny Bill Williams back to the fold next week.
Meanwhile Wigan will sleep a little easier after showing better fluency in attack with 20-year-old debutant Harry Smith and Jackson Hastings getting more time together in the halves, with Hastings racking up the try assists with six for the season already. Wigan will be further buoyed by the likely return of regular half Sam Powell for next week’s showdown with Hull FC.
Salford hit the self-destruct button
In a side stacked with new faces, you might expect to see a couple of Jekyll and Hyde moments, and that’s exactly what the Reds served up on Friday against Huddersfield. After keeping their cool last week in a tight finish to see off Toronto, Salford fell to pieces with the match on the line.
Halfback Kevin Brown won’t want to see the match tape again, with his sin-binning for a head-butt in the 75th minute leaving his side without an accomplished drop-goal exponent. In the end it didn’t particularly matter, as Lee Mossop then presented the Giants with a golden opportunity to snatch victory in the dying moments, giving away a clumsy penalty right in front of the sticks.
Aidan Sezer kicked the winning points to hand the Giants a 12-10 victory to go along with a gem of a cut-out pass earlier to set up Huddersfield’s second try, atoning for a number of poor fifth-tackle kicks throughout the match. Salford had the better of possession throughout, which arguably should have been enough to finish the match off, yet Huddersfield managed to hang in the contest, more through sheer willpower than class.
Leeds cut loose
After a couple of dismal seasons, Super League powerhouse Leeds would have been looking to start 2020 on the right note. That didn’t go to plan, suffering a Round 1 drubbing to Hull FC before having an unexpected week off thanks to Storm Ciara.
The week’s rest seemed to work wonders for Leeds, who completely dismantled Hull KR, a side that had put in a couple of promising performances in the opening rounds. Despite losing key forwards Stevie Ward and Rhyse Martin before the match, the Rhinos had no problem getting on top early, being held up over the Hull KR line twice inside the first ten minutes.
After racing away to a 20-4 half-time lead, Leeds then piled on 32 second-half points to record a 52-10 win. The back line of Luke Briscoe, Harry Newman and Jack Walker combined to cut the Rovers to shreds, while former Titan Konrad Hurrell left his mark on the match with a try and an assist after deftly grubbering for Leeds’ third try.
Dragons snap losing streak
Catalans Dragons’ clash against Castleford Tigers saw the return of Israel Folau to rugby league after a ten-year absence. The Dragons registered two tries inside the first ten minutes, and predictably, Folau was soon in the thick of the action, leaping above the pack for a try with his first touch of the ball.
However, it was Sam Tomkins who did his utmost to steal the limelight in the Dragons 36-18 win, posting three barnstorming tries to end his side’s six-match losing run extending from the end of 2019. Tomkins is hitting some fine form early in the season, leading the league for line breaks and tackle busts despite his side only playing twice.
Castleford will be bitterly disappointed after last week’s gritty performance against Wigan, but their slow starts to each half put them well behind the eight ball. A late rally to reduce the margin to 12 was as close as they got.
Saints bounce back
St Helens reminded us why they are still the competition yardstick, brushing off last week’s shut out to Warrington to show up Hull FC 32-18.
Hull FC had been cruising along nicely after winning their first two games and took the lead going into the sheds after a scrappy first half. However, they were blown to pieces in a second half onslaught from Saints, which saw them post four tries inside 12 minutes.
Particularly pleasing for Saints coach Kristian Woolf would be their ability to execute their second-half chances when given field position, with all five tries coming from inside his side’s attacking 20. The loss could be compounded for Hull FC, now faced with up to five players from Sunday’s squad unavailable for their next game against the Roosters in the World Club Challenge through either injury or suspension.
Widdop’s Wolves debut doesn’t go to script
Wakefield Trinity posted their first win of the season over a Warrington side brimming with confidence after their win over St Helens last week.
Former Dragon Gareth Widdop was given his first start in the halves to form an ominous pairing with ex-Raider Blake Austin, yet they struggled to break down the Wakefield defence in a dour arm wrestle. Warrington finished their third straight half of football without conceding a point with a 2-0 lead at the break.
It wasn’t until the 61st minute that the first try was scored when Stefan Ratchford went in to put the Wolves ahead 8-6, with Widdop playing a role in the lead-up. However, Wakefield showed some ticker with late tries to Matty Ashurst and Tom Johnstone, the latter off a Wolves fumble on the halfway line, to run out 18-8 victors.