Rugby League Expert & Columnist
Brian Carney: Sam Tomkins' Catalans links, Super League at the top and NRL clampdown
Last Updated: 04/04/18 6:12pm
After a jam-packed Easter weekend of Super League, Sky Sports' Brian Carney discusses three elements that caught his eye - Sam Tomkins to Catalans, a potential breakaway at the top of the table and the NRL's penalty clampdown...
Sam Tomkins' Catalans links
There is emerging news that Sam Tomkins is likely to join the Catalans Dragons in 2019. I believe this will happen, although it's yet to be confirmed by either Wigan, Catalans or Sam.
I also believe Zak Hardaker is the intended replacement at Wigan - though any potential signing of Hardaker would be anything but straightforward.
Although Tomkins is not back to being the player that left these shores in terms of his eye-catching influence on a game, he is heading in that direction.
Sam has had a couple of tough years with injury, but I believe in 2018 we will see the re-emergence of the dangerous and thrilling player we know he is. His absence was keenly felt by Wigan Warriors in their Good Friday defeat to a very good St Helens side.
I've touched on who I think the Warriors will target to replace Sam, and I would be surprised - though nothing should surprise any more in sport - if Morgan Escare was their long-term choice at number one.
Do the Dragons need Sam Tomkins? Well, if the signing of Tomkins was part of their long-term planning, I would question that planning.
Yes, you want him in your side, but what do you then do with David Mead and Lewis Tierney? Mead in particular is, in my opinion, at his best at full-back.
I can only see him in the centres now, unless of course the Dragons view Sam as a half-back. And if that's the case, and they can see that working with another recruit, then the Dragons may have the makings of a very decent spine to their team.
In summary, Mead, Tomkins, an established seven and Michael McIlorum would be among the better group of pivots in Super League.
The Dragons have more immediate concerns, and got themselves a much-needed and deserved win against Huddersfield on Easter Monday.
Now, in one of those frequent twists we so often witness, we get to see Sam Tomkins playing for Wigan on Saturday, live on Sky Sports, against his likely future employers and team-mates.
Super League Breakaway hint
This Easter weekend, there were back-to-back wins for St Helens, Hull FC and Warrington.
Easter and the week that follows it can separate this competition quickly. For Hull and Warrington, those back-to-back wins were crucial not just for those four competition points but for the confidence it will give these two powerhouses.
Neither, for a variety of reasons, have had particularly impressive starts but they showed us this Easter why they consider themselves, and should be considered, as solid Grand Final contenders.
Hull FC, with 12 men for 70 minutes, beat a Hull Kingston Rovers side with plenty of emotion in their favour.
I believe Bureta Faraimo's red card was the right decision and I was impressed with how Hull rolled up their sleeves and got on with the job.
In defeat, Hull KR showed they have a long way to go to secure Super League status in 2019. And they now have a very important game with Widnes Vikings.
Warrington, in knocking over Widnes in their derby, and then heading to Cas in a quagmire and beating a side who had won five consecutive matches, will have gained a huge confidence-booster.
Although the conditions made any sort of attractive rugby league an impossibility, the defensive efforts of Warrington, yet again, are what will most impress Steve Price.
His mantra from the start has been building a team on the foundation of solid defence. He promised the rest would follow, and it's starting to look like it's on the way. Josh Charnley crossing for two against Widnes shows the extra strike they've brought in and there will be a massive amount of excitement going forward.
But both Hull FC and Warrington, in addition to Wigan who are flexing their muscles, are still in the shadow of St Helens.
I was intrigued by Justin Holbrook's decision to go virtually full strength against the Vikings, who themselves rested a few players for Monday's game.
And it looks like there will be no let-up from the Saints and Holbrook in 2018. I don't expect them to win every game between now and the end of the season but the ruthlessness shown in fielding that side and performing how they did, marks them as arguably the team of 2018 so far.
This week, we get to see St Helens and Hull do battle in front of the Sky Sports cameras . Although under fatigue, I would be looking for Hull to make a statement on Friday night against Saints...
There has been an edict issued by Todd Greenberg, the NRL supremo, to his refereeing department, now led by Michael Maguire.
It manifested itself in the Sharks v Melbourne game with an NRL era record 33 penalties in a match. So, out came the usual cries of: 'referees are ruining our game'.
Thankfully, some sanity has prevailed with calmer heads laying the blame at the foot of the transgressors: the players, and indeed coaches.
If you want to address issues like teams wilfully conceding penalties on their own line and slowing the ruck down until they are penalised and not really caring, then the hardline approach by the NRL is what's necessary.
The 'play the ball' rule has received attention as well this year and is something Super League needs to look at, I believe, in a much better way.
For as long as you require the players to only 'make a genuine attempt to play the ball', you are trying to combat the issue with a logical fallacy.
The players can play the ball, just like the players can catch the ball or pass the ball in a direction that is not forward. Why not try and eliminate knock ons and forward passes by only asking the players to make a genuine attempt to catch the ball or pass the ball flat or backwards?...you see now the farcical nature of this approach.
Tell the players to put their foot on the ball or they'll be penalised, or change the rule. And I will say this, the people that brought in the 'genuine attempt to play the ball' edict, are the ones that need to be exposed. Because the decision to issue that bit of 'guidance' years ago has led to many of the current problems.
We have Super League players stepping over the ball with a knee lift a hurdler would be proud of. And that is deemed OK.
This is something I will address at a later date in a column, but I would offer my support for the penalty purge in the NRL and say to the Super League refereeing department: fixing the small things quite often helps you avoid bigger problems further down the line.
There is, in my opinion, too much of a willingness to take the 'it will do' approach. Enough is enough.
This 'genuine' attempt to play the ball was part of an effort to artificially speed up the ruck, and has made the game, I believe, too quick for the players and certainly too quick for the referees. That is not the fault of the referees.
And, when you've artificially sped the ruck up to such an extent, what do coaches do? Well, they try and find ways to slow it down and you get more penalties, and then more complaints.
Todd Greenberg and the referees in the NRL must not blink, and whoever is tasked with leading rugby league over here must open their eyes.
This issue is something we will address on Super League Golden Point later this year.