New-look Quins off to flying start
So many big rugby league stories this week - and most of them negative. Chief among them have been Kyle Eastmond's suspension by St Helens and the investigation by Leeds Rhinos into alleged comments by Ryan Bailey. I will touch on those in a bit but I would rather start by applauding Harlequins.
With a rookie coach attempting to fill the boots of Brian McDermott and having lost chief playmaker Danny Orr and top young talents Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook and Will Sharp at the end of last season, Quins, who remain a target for their poor home crowds, are proving one of the surprise success stories in the first few weeks of the season.
Rob Powell's men have stunned both Leeds and St Helens away from home, winning four of their first five games in Super League XVI to stand fourth in the table. The introduction of the league's youngest coach - Powell is only 30 - was a gamble but looks to be paying off. He seems to have breathed new life into the Quins dressing room, while the players definitely appear to have a fresh spring in their step.
I saw Quins suffer their only defeat of the season so far a couple of weeks ago. Even after a pretty convincing loss - they were beaten 18-10 at home by Huddersfield Giants - the atmosphere in the players' bar afterwards was positive. Powell certainly did not seem too downcast as he chatted with players, club officials and fans.
Harlequins have won four of their first five games in this season's Super League
I grabbed a couple of hours in a west London pub with Quins captain Rob Purdham this week. I should point out that there was only one man having a pint - and it wasn't the dedicated England international celebrating his testimonial year. Purdham reckons the club's bright start can, in many ways, be attributed to the sharpness amongst the half-backs and the decision to move Australian stand-off Luke Dorn back to full-back following the return of Ben Jones-Bishop to Leeds.
"Don't tell Dorny because his head is big enough but he's on fire at the moment," said Purdham. "Moving him to full-back is a masterstroke because he runs such dangerous lines that defences are really struggling to pick him up. Having him playing sweeper for us defensively has given everyone a lift, too, because we know we're in safe hands."
Purdham went even further in his praise of his team-mate.
"The way Luke is playing at the moment reminds me of a lot of Sam Tomkins at Wigan," he said. "Tomkins is far more dangerous at full-back than at six because he can step into the line at will. That completely confuses defences."
Purdham is quick to highlight the work of others, too.
"I thought we may miss Danny Orr's leadership in the halves but the fact that we haven't is testament to the job Luke Gale, Andy Ellis and Chad Randall are doing," he said. "We look dangerous every time those guys have the ball in hand."
Purdham has been handed a testimonial year by Quins following 10 years of dedication to London rugby league. He tells me that Dorn is taking one of his planned events - a pro-celebrity golf day - very seriously.
"Dorny doesn't play much golf but he fancies himself and has started playing a bit with Chad," he told me. "He shelled out £700 on a whole new set of clubs this week - drivers, wedges, putters, the lot! Sounds like a case of all the gear, no idea!"
Purdham has been orchestrating the club's impressive start to the season while having to deal with renewed media interest in his family following the opening of the inquest into the Cumbria killings. His brother, Garry, was one of the victims on that tragic day. Purdham feels the killer should neither be named nor talked about and would rather the media interest and publicity went away.
Super League news elsewhere this week has again been dominated by Eastmond following his suspension by St Helens pending an investigation into "serious misconduct". Whatever happens, the prospect of the 21-year-old scrum-half seeing out the remainder of his Saints contract following his decision to switch codes at the end of the season would appear to be diminishing by the day.
On the face of it, the Bailey story would appear more unsavoury, with Leeds promising a full internal inquiry into comments allegedly made by the prop forward on social-networking site Facebook about the Japan earthquake and tsunami.
Let's finish on a brighter note - and Sunday's draw for the fourth round of the Carnegie Challenge Cup. This is when the big boys come into the competition - akin to the FA Cup third round - so it is a chance for some of the less glamorous clubs in the game to land themselves a romantic tie against the likes of Wigan, Warrington or Wakefield.
I am currently working on my own ball-handling skills having been asked to draw the balls out of the bag with former Great Britain, Wigan and Crusaders coach Brian Noble. We will have the draw live on BBC Radio 5 live on Sunday at 1330 GMT. There will reaction with various coaches until 1400 GMT, so I hope you can join us.