Rugby League talking points: St Helens stay in control; Super League relegation battle hots up; NRL referees under the microscope
By Marc Bazeley
Last Updated: 01/07/19 2:05pm
St Helens' ominous form, a congested relegation battle and a tough weekend for the match officials in the NRL are among this week's talking points.
Can anyone stop Saints?
St Helens continued their seemingly-inexorable march towards glory on Friday evening as they emerged victorious in the battle between first and second in Super League.
The visitors did not have it all their own way in an intense, hard-fought contest with Warrington Wolves, trailing 6-0 in the second half thanks to three penalty kicks by Dec Patton before tries from Mark Percival, Luke Thompson and Alex Walmsley helped secure a 21-10 win.
Never write of the Saints, as the saying goes, with Justin Holbrook's team now eight points clear at the top of the Super League table with nine games of the regular season remaining and one hand on the League Leaders' Shield.
"You are never going to get many opportunities in those kind of games and I'm extremely proud to finish the game like we did," Holbrook said.
"We were hanging in there for a fair bit of the game and we kept hanging in with blokes playing more minutes than they normally do so it's a huge win for us."
Second place now looks like the best Warrington can hope for, although it seems likely both teams will meet again at some point in the play-offs and maybe even the Grand Final.
It goes without saying that Steve Price's side would not be bothered about losing both regular-season games if they finished the year by ending their long wait for a Super League title at Old Trafford.
Relegation battle hots up
While matters seem all but settled at the top of the table, no fewer than nine teams still find themselves in a battle to avoid finishing in the relegation place.
Just six points separate fourth-placed Castleford Tigers and 12th-placed London Broncos, who returned to the bottom of the standing following Sunday's 42-10 defeat away to the Tigers.
Daryl Powell's men are at least one of the sides who have some breathing space, but it is becoming very congested near the foot of the table where the Broncos are one of four sides locked on 14 points.
Another of those are Huddersfield Giants, who have found themselves dragged into the relegation dogfight after being condemned to a fourth-straight defeat when they went down 36-10 away to Wakefield Trinity on Friday evening - much to the chagrin of head coach Simon Woolford.
"It's not good enough for our fans, it's not good for our owner Ken Davy, who does a lot for this club, and we're in a predicament now where we've got to start thinking about fighting for survival," Woolford said.
"At the moment, the gap between our good and bad is too big. Forget the play-off semi-finals.
"There were some individuals there who were not up to scratch and it's times like this when everyone needs to look at themselves."
Leeds keep building
A 31-12 win at home to Catalans Dragons on Sunday ensured Leeds Rhinos stayed off the bottom of the Super League table on points difference, with the line-up for the hosts including a new face.
Robert Lui was handed his debut by interim head coach Richard Agar after making the switch from Salford Red Devils in the week, while Shaun Lunt is waiting to make his return for the Rhinos too after re-signing from Hull Kingston Rovers.
Those moves saw Tui Lolohea and Matt Parcell move in the opposite direction, with the former making his debut for Salford in the halves in last Friday's 28-12 defeat away to Wigan Warriors and the latter starring in Rovers' derby victory over Hull FC the day before.
Those signings were not Leeds' only pieces of transfer business though, with news coming through on Sunday morning they had recruited Papua New Guinea international Rhyse Martin from NRL side Canterbury Bulldogs on a two-and-a-half year deal.
Martin, who has made 11 NRL appearances this year, was granted his release by the Bulldogs on Sunday after turning down the offer of a contract extension with the club and could well be in Leeds' squad for this Friday's clash with Castleford.
Westerman shrugs off injury
It is difficult to know what is more amazing about Joe Westerman's reaction to sustaining a dislocated knee - the fact he slotted it back in to carry on playing or that he was so laid-back about it afterwards.
The Hull FC forward suffered the gruesome injury in last Thursday's 18-10 defeat away to Hull KR, with the knee popping out when he was tackled by Mose Masoe.
Not only did Westerman put in back into place with a couple of whacks, but he was able to keep playing and was incredibly calm about it all in the aftermath.
"I looked at my leg and saw my kneecap on the side and I felt like I had to just smack it back in," Westerman said.
"It wasn't really an excruciating pain. It freaked me out more than anything because it looked so weird."
Perhaps even more amazingly, the 29-year-old does not expect to miss any of training this week and is eyeing a place in the team for the Black and Whites' home game with St Helens on Friday evening.
Ref justice in the NRL
It is a thankless task being a referee, particularly at the highest level where television cameras analyse your every move and mistakes are relentlessly dissected.
However, no-one feels worse than the referee themselves when they make a glaring error. Spare a though, then, for NRL officiating trio Gerard Sutton, Ashley Klein and Jared Maxwell, who all had weekends they would perhaps rather forget.
Sutton was one of the on-field officials and Maxwell in the NRL Bunker for Penrith Panthers' 19-18 win over New Zealand Warriors, which saw David Fusitu'a wrongly awarded a try, Jahrome Luai incorrectly sin-binned and Liam Martin allowed to return 90 seconds early from his sin-binning.
Meanwhile, former Super League official Klein awarded a try as senior video referee to Cronulla Sharks' Shaun Johnson against Canterbury despite replays showing a knock-on in the build-up and angered Newcastle Knights fans in an on-field role with his handling of their win over Brisbane Broncos, although the trio did find sympathy from NRL head of elite football Graham Annesley.
"These decisions are made in pressure situations, human frailty just fails us," Annesley said.
"No-one is trying to make errors and sometimes these things don't become completely clear until they're looked at in much more detail when there is no pressure on."