Rugby League Expert & Columnist
Brian Carney: Three eye-catchers - Catalans Dragons, Danny Richardson and Kallum Watkins
Last Updated: 13/03/18 4:04pm
After Round 4 was disrupted due to the inclement British weather, we were all pleased to see a full schedule of top-flight action in Round 5 and here’s what caught Brian Carney’s eye…
On Saturday night we saw the Dragons record their first win of the season beating Hull KR in what was a turgid affair on Sky Sports.
Understandably, the manner of victory will not trouble the Dragons too much post victory but it did make for some tough viewing.
The Dragons' head coach Steve McNamara referenced the importance of the win in his post-match interviews saying that "we've now got the monkey off our backs".
In simple terms, this buys people at the organisation more time. But, you would think that they will need a second win of the season in the next few weeks to ensure that the talks of crisis don't quickly envelop the club again.
Hull KR were significantly hampered by the absence of Shaun Lunt after a freak accident at home left him with a badly lacerated leg. While Tommy Lee is no stranger to the nine role, the absence of a player of Lunt's quality will always be felt.
There was a somewhat controversial end to the match with Lucas Albert's penalty after referee Scott Mikalauskas penalised Maurice Blair.
Now Tim Sheens was absolutely furious at the decision and referenced what he believed was a change of approach from the referees to these particular incidents. Let me explain.
In early 2017 we saw some examples of players at the ruck, passing the ball directly into prone opposition players on the ground in the hope of eliciting a penalty from the referee. In one such case last year the pass was in fact forward and still a penalty was given.
The edit that came from the governing body was that if the referee felt that this was being deliberately done by the passer, the passer would in fact be penalised. So, to Saturday night's instance.
On the fifth tackle Maurice Blair was with a teammate attempting to slow down Benjamin Garcia.
As Garcia got up to play the ball Blair found himself in an offside position and on the ground in the way of Michael Mcllorum.
The Catalans Dragons' hooker was trying to pass the ball to his teammate in order to get a kick away on the last. He passed it into Blair and then quickly attempted to regather it and complete the pass.
This is a difficult call for the referee. My viewing of it is that Mcllorum wanted to get the ball to his teammate and not pass it into Blair.
But, what is a referee to do? Reward a defender who tries to slow the ruck down and finds himself in an offside position? Or, reward the attacker who is trying to get the ball to his teammate to complete the set?
It's a tough one. Hull KR's head coach Sheens was up in arms, I don't have a major problem with the penalty.
Well done to the Dragons and we'll see them in action again on Saturday night, live on Sky Sports Action, when the Warrington Wolves - another team under pressure - come to town.
Mark this one down, defeat for either side will see some major questions asked about the direction that these clubs are going in.
Speaking of the Warrington Wolves, we saw them on Friday night at the Halliwell Jones Stadium against the league leaders St Helens and they were no match for the only remaining unbeaten Super League side.
While they went toe-to-toe for the first 40 minutes, St Helens streaked away in the second half and I thought that the performance of their young half-back Danny Richardson, in his 18th game for St Helens, was almost a coming of age performance.
I remember listening to Richardson having the blame laid at his feet for Saints' defeat in 2017 against Wakefield. I thought that it was inaccurate and grossly unfair.
We've seen the emergence of a man with a very bright future. I remarked post-match that he, at times in the game reminded me of St Helens' greatest scrum-half of the Super League era Sean Long, who incidentally is now one of his coaches.
The 21-year-old has got a long way to go to ever reach the heights that Long did however he is certainly on the right trajectory.
He looks a danger with the ball, he's quick and he's inventive. Many may have thought that Justin Holbrook's decision to select Richardson, over the more experienced half-back Matty Smith, was a bold call but the young man justified his coach's faith in him.
You want to go to a game and see stars. Without referencing Ben Barba, who was relatively quiet, there is an English star in Richardson. As long as Long, Jamahl Lolesi and head coach Holbrook continue with what they're doing with Richardson, the young man is in good hands.
Roll on Friday night at Emerald Headingley Stadium in Leeds where Richardson will be expected to produce at least the same again against the champions the Leeds Rhinos and that's a game that you can see live on Sky Sports Arena.
There is talk of a new Super League chief executive shortly being announced and one thing dropping into his inbox, no doubt, will be to increase the profile of all of the game's stars.
Along with the likes of Barba, Richardson, James Roby and Mark Percival for St Helens there is a man that will be opposing them on Friday night that the new chief executive can use as a symbol for all that's good, athletic and skilful about rugby league and that's the Rhinos' captain Kallum Watkins.
He bagged a brace against Hull FC last Thursday night and, having come back from an individually very successful World Cup, is now more regularly the superstar in matches than he has been in the past.
This would be my message to Watkins. It's a short career and you're an absolutely brilliant player. Embrace the responsibility both for your team and for the game and continue to work as hard as you can.
At this rate and with a good five or six years at the very highest level left in him this 27-year-old may, and I'll say that it's still a big may, become one of the best centres that we've seen.
But, for that to happen Watkins needs to impose himself on matches more often.
When opposition teams are preparing to face Leeds, they will have him singled out as one of the Rhinos' greatest threats. He must be that, week in and week out. I for one, love watching him play and look forward to seeing his continued progress.
A quick word on Hull FC. Although defeated against Leeds, the team was missing some heavy hitters - Albert Kelly, Danny Houghton, Liam Watts and Josh Bowden - and even in defeat Lee Radford has shown that his side will this year be a top four team yet again.