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Shocking times for Super League

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George Riley George Riley | 08:54 UK time, Thursday, 11 February 2010

The first full round of Super League afforded me the opportunity of a weekend in Leeds, to see the reigning champions beaten on their home patch by the terrific Tigers. It was a gloomy, misty, muddy and miserable west Yorkshire evening off the back of four hours on the M1, but there weren't many other places I'd have rather been.

Castleford recorded their first win at Headingley since 2002 - and fully deserved to do so. I remarked during commentary at half-time that no matter how well they were playing, I didn't sense the belief in the Tigers team that they could topple the Rhinos. Shows what I know.

"It was pretty impressive," Cas coach Terry Matterson told me afterwards as we conducted our post-match interview in the Rhinos laundry room. If you listen back to the interview, the high-speed washing machine is clearly audible as Terry talks me through his masterplan.

Leeds coach Brian McClennanBrian McClennan saw his Leeds side lose to Castleford on Friday

"I told the boys at half-time they were in a good quality game. It was down to our halves. They controlled the game. It's a massive turnaround from losing 76-12 last year," he told me.

Some fans have since asked for an update on Matterson's hand injury - he lost a finger in bizarre pre-season circumstances, as referenced in my first blog of the year.

It is fair to say the mild-mannered Matterson doesn't like to talk about his own problems. His hand remains heavily-bandaged, and he was clearly conscious of that as he faced the media for his post-victory briefing at Headingley. "How is it?" I asked him as we caught up before our formal interview. "It's still not grown back, George!"

Post-match press conferences are often monotonously routine. A series of standard questions from the hacks, a succession of clichéd responses from the coaches. But body language is always enlightening, and occasionally you will get a gem of a synopsis from one of the more animated coaches, more often than not at a Harlequins game!

Leeds boss Brian McClennan entered looking like he had just been told his home had been burgled. "Losing sucks. It's just taken us one home match to remind me how much it hurts," he told the assembled media. And he meant it. 'Bluey' was fuming, yet gracious.

"Cas played very well, they tested us and won that test. They won the arm wrestle hands down," he told me as another batch of dirty kits were stuffed into the washing machine.

In the month in which Arsenal have been criticised for over-playing their passes, looking for the perfect goal and suffering if their "one-dimensional" approach yields no rewards, I asked McClennan if he was worried about Leeds' lack of any early-season cutting edge.

"We won't always have that spark," he said "Timing is everything. Cas hussled us more and worked a bit more and earned themselves a lot of ball. We weren't able to get any momentum when we got the ball. We got fatigued. We were down to two subs and we got more and more fatigued and Cas were ruthless."

Leeds weren't helped by a fourth-minute injury to Carl Ablett and the subsequent loss of Brett Delaney, which led to Jamie Jones-Buchanan playing right centre. Both Ablett and Delaney have since had scans but McClennan has revealed a new approach to releasing news on injuries this season, which I find a little baffling.

All injury news will remain confidential, he told me. "It is up to the individual players if they want details of their injuries to be made public. It's something new for this season," he said.

Speaking of new ventures, the Sean Long era at Hull FC began with a dream return to St Helens. Hull's win ensured the Super League's big two both suffered shock home defeats in round one. In fact, it was an awesome first round of fixtures, giving credence to the annual "this will be the best Super League season ever" call that us journos tend to make.

It was also good news for the Rugby Football League. They had hoped to shatter attendance records for the opening round with a 60,000+ aggregate. Well, they got their wish. It was a record aggregate of 78,090 for the seven matches, beating last year's 77,944.

storm_getty595.jpgMelbourne Storm provide the opposition for Leeds in this year's World Club Challenge

Tip of the hat also to John Kear and Wakefield, who continued their unbeaten start to sit top of the table. Their home win over Catalans Dragons means they have now won seven regular rounds of Super League on the spin in a run dating back to last season.

My "Jedward" hairdo dig at Ryan Atkins prompted the predictable backlash. The Wolves centre believed it was rich for me to question his fashion follicles ahead of their thumping win over Harlequins.

"I think you're just jealous as I have enough hair to do different styles," he wrote on my Facebook page, adding that "last time the Wakey lads saw me chatting to you at the Stoop they thought I was talking to Jim's dad from American Pie!" He's a funny lad, Ryan, but he was unable to notch any of Warrington's 11 tries against Quins. Maybe the hair was weighing him down.

I actually did a double take when I saw the headline on the Super League website that accompanied that Wolves win: "Five-star Riley bares teeth." For an awful moment I sensed some sort of tabloid expose on me, before learning that carrot-topped wingman Chris Riley had run in a stunning quintet of touchdowns.

If you're in the west Yorkshire area on Wednesday, 24 February then it would be great to see you for a night of rugby league chat at Headingley. Ahead of the Gillette World Club Challenge that Sunday, I'll be hosting "An Evening with Melbourne Storm", which gives fans the chance to put your questions to the Australian champions.

There's a good deal of support behind Leeds for the big game, too.

I had the RFL cameras down at TV Centre in London this week filming a series of good luck messages for the Rhinos as they prepare to take on Australia's top team for the latest England-Aussie bragging rights.

Look out for the special video message on YouTube this week, featuring words of support for Leeds from Tory leader David Cameron, Lib Dem's Nick Clegg, tennis great Boris Becker, my 12pm-2pm radio pal Gabby Logan and, ahem, me.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    " Look out for the special video message on YouTube this week, featuring words of support for Leeds from Tory leader David Cameron, Lib Dem's Nick Clegg"

    Excellent work on that one, George, but I doubt them two numbskulls give a stuff about it tbh!

    Great blog once again! Cheers.

  • Comment number 2.

    wait and see! It'll be up on the superleaguewebsite too from noon tomorrow ... www.engagesuperleague.co.uk

  • Comment number 3.

    Forget any of the Friday night fixtures George? I'm fairly sure that Huddersfield beat a much-vaunted, Matt Orford-led Bradford side without even getting out of third gear on Friday. I might be wrong though...

  • Comment number 4.

    Fantastic win for Huddersfield chipdawg ... they looked really good, I'm excited to see hwo good Cudjoe could become if he puts the work in. The blog's not necessarily gonna be a considered report on all the previous weekend's games though ... what did you make of Orford?

  • Comment number 5.

    I know, just a cheeky dig to get my team a mention!

    I thought Orford grew into the game, as did Kearney but I thought Robinson & Brown completely eclipsed them at times; hardly suprising given that the latter pair have had a couple of seasons together now, but a measure of how far they'll have to come. I think it highlighted how far the Bulls will have to come to challenge at the top of the table

    Cudjoe is one of a number of younsters that could make their mark this season, although i think next year could be the year that our investment in youth pays off. Cudjoe looks like he's taken another step up over the winter and I honestly think he and Lunt could be pushing for an England start by the end of this season.

  • Comment number 6.

    Looking forward to it, George, but I expect it to be nothing more than a Tony Blair Football Focus-esque appearance. Not a dig at yourself, of course, I just don't like mainstream politicians!

  • Comment number 7.


    George

    Couple of things , you mention the Attendance figures which for one round of matches does seem good , call me cynical and i wont mind if you do but with 2 West yorks derbies, St Helens v Hull with the long factor , plus Warrington and Wigan at Home with "largeish" home crowds- this figure doesnt really have that much to eulogise about and smacks of the RFL engineering the opening round to produce this effect - i suspect the same for this week as well- Journalists really shouldnt just parrot RFL spin surely but aim to be objective . im a layman and can you as a journalist seriously tell me this level will be the same over the next few weeks or months - you know it wont

    and you mention Melbourne -ive got to admit that i would normally go and watch this but looking at what theyre likely to bring over my limited budget is nudging me to give this one a miss

  • Comment number 8.

    Good Blog George and a welcome addition to the Rugby League page. How do you rate Leeds chances in the WCC? Personally I would love to see the match held in Oz on a bi-yearly basis but I guess there are a number of 'logistics' that prevent this from happening

  • Comment number 9.

    "Personally I would love to see the match held in Oz on a bi-yearly basis"

    Me too, but I cannot see it happening. The WCC in this country disrupts our domestic season, the traveling involved would only add to that.

  • Comment number 10.

    Cokocin - yes the fixtures helped the attendance figures but its in the record books regardless...it is understandable cynicism but that doesn't stop me reporting it surely?
    diamondcutter - Leeds have to fidn a gear they've not shown yet this season to compete but they are obviously capable. By the way that video is up now

  • Comment number 11.


    George

    report the attendance figures if you want but they were in all the RL papers and on the RFL website days ago , so i think most of us have seen the details- Fine if You just think it being in the record books is all that matters - but you dont answer my question about will this level be maintained on a regular basis -

 

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