So the end of February and a yield of four points from a possible six, a return probably in line with most fans’ expectations, albeit a win at home against Cas looked more likely in January than one in Perpignan. Fifth place in the table with a game in hand on last season’s bottom four. A handy points difference. Think we’d have taken that pre season.
Two sparkling opening performances from FC, then, and a perfect start. The victory at home to Salford was emphatic after an even opening quarter and was an absolutely vital one for the club to set the tone. Multiple try scorers, a dominant pack with Bowden and Green providing as much off the bench as the starting combo of Taylor and Watts, and a rejuvenated Danny Houghton controlling the ruck. A “must win” game from a fans’ belief perspective and the job got done comprehensively.
On to France to take on a Catalans team tipped for a strong campaign at a venue which hasn’t been a happy SL hunting ground for us over the last few years. Again, after close opening exchanges we dominated in defence and attack with some excellent combinations and ran out easy winners with a brace for Talanoa and a try for Shaul as consolation for missing the birth of his son. So far, so great and a fortnight’s break to crank up the anticipation for a very winnable home game against Castleford. A high quality encounter unfolded, see-sawing between two physical and entertaining sides, but unfortunately for us, Luke Gale and a mobile pack edged it.
The outcome of this is, I guess, that the Wigan game becomes a pivotal one. Had the Cas game been won, this would have been a “free hit” with a run of a few easier games following. But the confidence of the fans, whilst higher than in previous years, is fragile. Years of promise followed by disappointment have defined the club of late, so the potential outcome of 2 from 4 and the same points from the same fixtures as last year is real and unappealing. A win by contrast would put us in the top 4 with just a narrow loss to Castleford essentially by a drop goal and really persuade the fans that this year could see us step on. We have home advantage and are in a good place injury wise, so as a test of credentials it should be robust. The team can rise to the challenge and the fans need to do likewise; it has the potential to be a fantastic and defining game.
It’s been pleasing to see the U23s campaign kick off and show signs that it could be a viable competition. The friendly against Wakefield was full-blooded and certainly gave the likes of Green, Naughton and Hadley the chance to impress Lee Radford and the younger players to test themselves against SL players such as Craig Hall and Jordan Tansey. The other important aspect though which has been missing since demise of the Alliance competition is that it give supporters opportunities to touch base with the club outside of first team home games. A decent crowd for the fixture v Warrington including attendance by many first teamers suggests the concept can gain momentum and prove a valuable way to maintain fitness of fringe players and physicality tests for those pushing through. It would be great for the sport overall if we got some traction with making participation a requirement across SL clubs.
Round Up Player of the Month
Obviously Jamie Shaul’s been eye-catching at fullback, and Scott Taylor has led from the front admirably. But for influence across every game so far, asking questions of the opposition and relentless in defence, this month’s Player of the Month is Danny Houghton. Great to see him back to his instrumental best.