Rugby League talking points: Hull, Wigan and international action
By Marc Bazeley
Last Updated: 24/06/19 12:13pm
A mixed time in Super League for the two Hull clubs, Wigan’s steady improvements and a big weekend of international rugby league all feature in this week’s talking points.
Varying fortunes for Hull clubs
With the latest edition of one of rugby league's fiercest rivalries on the horizon - the one true derby, according to supporters of both teams - the two clubs involved go into Thursday's clash at KCOM Craven Park in very different form.
Hull FC are riding on the crest of a wave at the moment, with Lee Radford's men having made it four wins on the spin in all competitions after hammering Catalans Dragons 50-10 in Perpignan on Saturday evening.
Over in the east of the city, Hull KR are fighting for their lives in Super League after dropping to the bottom of the table following a 26-24 defeat away to London Broncos last Thursday.
Despite that loss, recently-appointed head coach Tony Smith took further encouragement from the way Rovers tried to implement his attacking philosophy, having seen them overcome his former side Warrington Wolves the week before.
"They're trying really hard at the moment and when you try hard and play a bit of footie, you're going to make some mistakes," Smith said.
"It came off for us last week against Warrington, but a few penalties in the first half hurt us and a little bit of ill-discipline that we still need to work on. I'm not frustrated, I'm encouraged about what we can do."
Hull FC's victory in France further emphasised not only the dramatic turnaround they have enjoyed since the 55-2 defeat to Huddersfield Giants at Magic Weekend, but the sudden dip the Catalans have taken in the same period too.
Saturday's match was the second time in the space of four weeks the Dragons have conceded a half-century of points against the Black and Whites, relinquishing their hold on the Coral Challenge Cup in the quarter-finals when they fell 51-8 at the KCOM Stadium.
Fourth-placed Catalans have not been helped by having a number of key players missing due to injury in recent weeks and head coach Steve McNamara wants his side to tap into the spirit which saw them triumph at Wembley last summer in their bid to qualify for the play-offs.
"There was a spell last season when we were fighting for our lives to stay in Super League and fighting to win a Challenge Cup and we invested in every single area," McNamara said. "I think as a group we need to get back to that.
"In every single area, because of our circumstance and where we are and what we do and the difficulties that we face, if you drop off slightly in any of those areas the culmination of that is massive and right now we need to get back to that."
Whisper it quietly, but Wigan Warriors look to have shaken off the inconsistency which dogged them during the first half of the 2019 season after making it three straight wins by beating Huddersfield Giants 38-22 at the John Smith's Stadium on Friday evening.
That made it six wins from eight Super League matches for the Warriors, with the defending champions only outside the top five on points difference from Salford Red Devils.
Those two meet at the DW Stadium on Friday and Wigan head coach Adrian Lam is quietly optimistic about his side's prospects for the remainder of the campaign.
"I don't want to get too excited yet, but I think it's six out of eight now and I just want to thank the fans," Lam said.
"It's been six games in a row away from home. That's a pretty tough challenge but we've come out of it pretty good and I think we've got seven out of the last 10 at home.
"Our energy and enthusiasm was fantastic. I thought we attacked the best we've attacked this year."
A feast of international rugby
The action was not just confined to the domestic game over the weekend as mid-season international matches took place across the rugby league world.
Arguably the headline attraction was in Auckland, where New Zealand took on Tonga in front of 23,624 passionate fans at Mount Smart Stadium.
There was to be no repeat of Tonga's shock 28-22 victory in the 2017 Rugby League World Cup stages though, with the Kiwis running out 38-14 winners.
Elsewhere, the Cook Islands moved to within one game of qualifying for the 2021 World Cup with a 66-6 victory over South Africa, Jamaica edged out the USA 26-24 in a thriller in Kingston, Samoa beat Papua New Guinea 24-6 and Fiji overcame Lebanon 58-14.
There were three women's games taking place as well, which saw New Zealand, Italy and Fiji triumph over Samoa, Serbia and Papua New Guinea respectively, while France and Great Britain won one game each in their two wheelchair internationals.
State of Origin poised for decider
For the second time in three years, State of Origin will go to the final match of the series to decide the winner following New South Wales' 38-6 victory over Queensland in Perth on Sunday.
On that occasion, it was the Maroons who emerged victorious as a hat-trick from Valentine Holmes fired them to a 22-6 victory at Brisbane's Suncorp Stadium.
They will have to do it on enemy turf this time though, with the climax of the 2019 Origin series taking place at ANZ Stadium in Sydney on Wednesday, July 10.
Backed by their home supporters and going into the match having rebounded from defeat in the opener in spectacular style, Brad Fittler's Blues outfit will be confident of making it consecutive Origin series triumphs for the first time since 2005.
Meanwhile, Sunday's match at Optus Stadium set a new attendance record for the Perth venue of 59,721. The challenge now is to match that when Origin heads to Aussie Rules football hotbed Adelaide for one game next year.