Rugby League talking points: Refereeing controversy, Super League's relegation battle and Bradford Bulls' Odsal goodbye
By Marc Bazeley
Last Updated: 02/09/19 2:18pm
Scrutiny of Super League's referees, the relegation and play-off pictures, and Odsal's final game all feature this week.
Referees come under the microscope
It has been a tough week for Super League's match officials, who have a thankless enough task without the barrage of criticism they have faced from some quarters.
On Friday, St Helens owner Eamonn McManus caused a stir with his comments regarding the appointment of Robert Hicks to the Challenge Cup final and some of the decisions the Saddleworth referee made at Wembley, in his programme notes for the match against Castleford Tigers.
Those comments have seen McManus - who released a statement on Sunday via the club's website reiterating his views - referred to the RFL's compliance team.
Wakefield Trinity head coach Chris Chester did not hold back on Sunday either, having been left fuming by the circumstances which led to Liam Marshall scoring a try in Sunday's 24-16 defeat at home to Wigan Warriors.
Referee Scott Mikalauskas failed to ensure Wigan winger Marshall tapped the ball on the correct mark from a 20-metre restart before sprinting the length of the field to score his second try of the game - a decision which incensed Chester.
"You've got a referee who's on the spot and just let Liam Marshall tap it wherever he wanted," Chester said post-match.
"I don't know whether the rules have changed, but it's just a disgraceful call, a disgraceful call. It's a call you shouldn't get wrong."
Relegation battle goes to the wire
That defeat left Wakefield, who have just two wins in their past 13 Super League games, as one of three teams hovering two points above the relegation place with two matches left in the regular season.
A 24-6 victory in Perpignan over Catalans Dragons saw Hull Kingston Rovers stay in that group, while Huddersfield Giants did likewise by winning 22-12 on the road at Hull FC.
It means bottom side London Broncos must now win both of their remaining games away to Rovers - which is live on Sky Sports this Friday - to have any hope of staying up following a 36-10 defeat at home to Leeds Rhinos on Sunday.
The Broncos have already defied many naysayers to be still in with a chance of avoiding the drop at this stage of the season and head coach Danny Ward has backed his team to rise to the challenge again.
"The boys are devastated because they know they've not performed well and they've lost, but it's a short turnaround and we've got to win the next two," Ward said.
"They've been in this situation before and hopefully they can draw on those experiences. It's must-win time, it's black and white so it depends how the boys react to that and hopefully they deal with that pressure and it gets the best out of them."
Play-off picture becomes clearer
Catalans' defeat to Hull KR eliminated them from contention for a place in Super League's top five, leaving four teams jostling for position behind League Leaders' Shield winners St Helens.
Castleford Tigers are two points outside the play-off places following last Friday's 4-0 defeat away to Saints, while Warrington Wolves, Hull FC and Salford Red Devils are all locked on 30 points heading into the final two rounds.
But it is now last year's Grand Final winners Wigan who head the chasing pack following Sunday's win away to Wakefield.
After a patchy start to their title defence, the Warriors are currently on a run which has seen them suffer just one defeat - against rivals St Helens - in their 10 games since losing to Warrington at Magic Weekend.
Head coach Adrian Lam knows the job is not done yet, but is delighted with the way his side have found their groove as the season builds towards the business end.
"The dressing room's pretty excited at the moment," Lam said. "They understand, they've been prepped along the way how important this has been and the journey that we've been on to get here.
"I didn't want to mention the other side if we had of lost, a potential chance of missing out on the five together. That's how close it is.
"Everyone's worked really hard and I think we're in a good place at the moment."
Bulls bid farewell to Odsal
It was an emotional weekend for the players, staff and supporters of Bradford Bulls as they bid farewell to Odsal, home to professional rugby league in the city since 1934.
The ground which has hosted international Tests and once saw over 100,000 fans cram into it for a Challenge Cup final replay will now have its doors locked after becoming prohibitively expensive for the club, with the Bulls moving 11 miles away to ground-share at Dewsbury Rams' Tetley's Stadium for 2020.
The 7,531 crowd in attendance on Sunday saw Bradford sign off at the famous old ground on a high as they defeated Sheffield Eagles 30-10 in the Championship and chairman Andrew Chalmers has vowed the club will return to the city.
As yet, however, there are no firm plans as to where or when that will be.
"It is sad, but I don't know the finances in ultimate detail so we have just got to keep this club alive and kicking and hopefully progressing," Bulls head coach John Kear said after the win over Sheffield.
"That's what we will be attempting to do at Dewsbury next year before hopefully we come back somewhere in Bradford that is befitting of a team that is challenging for Super League or is in Super League."
Raiders tough it out in Toronto
Finally, spare a thought for Barrow Raiders, who had to face the might of Toronto Wolfpack in Canada with just 14 players on Saturday.
The Raiders' squad has been decimated by injuries in recent weeks anyway and the part-timers also had several players who were unavailable to make the more than 3,000-mile trip.
Given those circumstances, the 62-8 defeat - with all of Barrow's points coming from Jamie Dallimore in his 100th appearance for the club - against the full-time leaders is no disgrace.
Unfortunately for the Raiders, that loss confirmed their relegation to League One after two years back in the second tier. However, there is set to be at least one Cumbrian representative in the Championship next year.
Whitehaven's 74-6 win at home to West Wales Raiders over the weekend means they only need to avoid defeat away to Coventry Bears on Saturday to seal promotion.
Neighbours Workington Town could be coming up as well if they can successfully navigate the play-offs after missing out last year.