Monthly Archives: May 2015

Rovers’ Cup challenge keeps bobbing along

Wigan Warriors 12 Hull KR 16

Jonathan Doidge for League Weekly at Leigh Sports Village

As comebacks go, this was right up there with most that spring to mind. Defeated 60-0 in Super League just a fortnight earlier, Hull KR showed incredible pride, guts and no little determination to win a see-sawing contest by virtue of Ken Sio’s try eight minutes from the hooter.

It was only Rovers’ second win over this opposition in the history of this great competition and supporters will hope that the omens are good, for that sole previous success came in 1980, when they went on to lift the trophy for the only time.

Meanwhile, 19-time winners Wigan were left to rue some uncharacteristically sloppy errors that cost them any chance of momentum in a game that was far more memorable for defensive endeavour and an endless supply of penalties than it was for fluent rugby league.

Terry Campese carried off the sponsors’ man of the match award for controlling all the good stuff produced by his team, while Maurice Blair was superb and, in his first Challenge Cup game, Dane Tilse stood out for much more than simply his skyscraping stature.

Rovers were far from error-free themselves, but with that recent humiliation still all too vivid in the minds of those who played that night, there was a collective will to win this game that the Warriors never quite matched. And for Robins fans, who were not asked to pay for their tickets as a gesture by the club following that embarrassment, it appears that the best things in life really are free.

“What a difference a couple of weeks makes,” reflected KR coach Chris Chester. “We were obviously humiliated last time. We put that down to a blip and spoke about how it can never happen again.

“I’m really proud of the effort, desire and commitment. At times we were under the pump but we found a way to get to the other end and win the game.

“It’s a special victory. A lot of people had written us off but my guys thrive on that.

“The defensive effort was outstanding from minute one to minute 80.

“I thought we really fronted up. We were aggressive and we needed to be. I thought we frustrated them. We came up with a defensive plan that (assistant coach) Willie Poching put in place.”

Warriors counterpart Shaun Wane admitted to being “Devastated” that his team will sit out the rest of the competition.

“It’s really disappointing,” he said. “It’s something I hold dearly and so do players but obviously not dearly enough.

“They came with a game plan to make the ruck really slow and messy and they got away with it. Fair play to them, they were the best team.

“We gave too many penalties away and got burned in the end.

“We had lots of chances to put that game away and we didn’t take them.”

Hull KR started without influential half-back Albert Kelly, who missed due to hamstring trouble, so Campese and Blair were named as the pivots and it proved to be a very effective partnership. The latter, in fact, showed great strength to come up with the game’s first try, just three minutes after Matty Smith had given Wigan the lead with a penalty.

Blair made the most of the situation when Burgess shot out of the Warriors’ defensive line, taking Cockayne’s offload to power over in the corner despite the attentions of three defenders.

Boudebza’s superb tackle – one of 35 that he made in the first-half alone – rocked the ball free from Hampshire on a Wigan exit run, allowing Cockayne to go close and, although they failed to capitalise, the Robins turned around a lengthy period of early pressure and put it firmly back on the home side.

Campese’s kicking game always had his team interested, while the Rovers defence was both uncompromising, Kevin Larroyer epitomising that, and occasionally illegal, such as when Dixon went high on Hampshire.

The latter resulted in a penalty that led to Joel Tomkins levelling the scores with his sixth try of the season, and his first in the Challenge Cup since that wonderful Wembley effort of his against Leeds when the Warriors lifted the trophy in 2011. The centre took a beautifully-timed Williams pass to cross, though Smith could not add the extras.

A penalty to the visitors right on half-time might well have returned them to the lead, though Mantellato could not draw the ball enough to get it between the posts and the game was nicely balanced at the break.

Wigan made more than their fair share of howlers, relinquishing possession too often for coach Wane’s liking, including when Burgess failed to reel in a pass on attack and then Hampshire spilled Campese’s bomb at the end of Hull KR’s next set.

Even after Welham’s spill had failed to make them pay, the Warriors again invited their opponents on when Tautai coughed it up in his own 30-metre area. Powell’s dangerous tackle on Tilse moments later indicated the frustration in the home ranks, and Mantellato slotted over the penalty to put Rovers back in front. They didn’t stay there for long as Smith soon restored parity with a 26-metre penalty goal of his own.

O’Loughlin’s shoulder charge on Green, and then Tautai being pinged for offside, were further penalties for Chester’s men and the latter again saw Mantellato tip the scales in the Robins’ favour.
They were, however, lucky to survive a missed shot at goal by Smith a couple of minutes later, when Cockayne had been penalised for a shove on Bateman at the play-the-ball.

The fact that Rovers were both in possession and holding the lead at the time underlined the tension on the field and, although they didn’t score immediately, the ‘home’ side were soon in pole position once more. This time Campese was penalised for handling the ball in an offside position. Wigan shipped the ball left and a quick play-the-ball by Tomkins enabled McIlorum to send Burgess barging over in the left-hand corner.

On most other evenings that would be that, but the home side couldn’t seem to find a way to put out the fire in the bellies of the East Yorkshire outfit, nor quell their passion for seeing this through. The Warriors’ error count continued to mount and it was an enforced one, when Blair hit Sarginson with another technically superb tackle, that was ultimately to cost them a continued place in the competition.
England international Sarginson flopped like a rag doll, the ball was jolted free, and Sio was on hand to pick up the scraps and show great strength to hold off a defender to score.

Tomkins went close to putting the game into golden point mode in the dying moments, but the Robins would not be denied. On this evidence their quest for a second Challenge Cup will keep bobbing along for some time.

Wigan
20 Ryan Hampshire 5
2 Josh Charnley 6
11 Joel Tomkins 6
4 Dan Sarginson 5
5 Joe Burgess 6
6 George Williams 6
7 Matty Smith 6
8 Dom Crosby 6
9 Michael McIlorum 6
23 Lee Mossop 6
12 Liam Farrell 6
14 John Bateman 6
13 Sean O’Loughlin 6

Subs:
16 Sam Powell 6
24 Taulima Tautai 6
25 Larne Patrick 5
28 Ryan Sutton 5

Tries: Tomkins (37) Burgess (64)
Goals: Smith 2/5

Hull KR

2 Ben Cockayne 7
4 Josh Mantellato 7
19 Kris Welham 6
5 Ken Sio 7
1 Kieran Dixon 6
6 Maurice Blair 8
23 Terry Campese 8
20 James Green 6
24 John Boudebza 8
32 Dane Tilse 8
11 Kevin Larroyer 7
12 Graeme Horne 7
13 Tyrone McCarthy 7

Subs (all used)
22 Jordan Cox 7
15 James Donaldson 7
21 Aaron Ollett 6
26 Sonny Esslemont 6

Tries: Blair (19), Sio (72)
Goal: Mantellato 4/5

Attendance: 4,677
Referee: Richard Silverwood
HT: 6-6
Penalties: 12-12
Man of the Match: Terry Campese – Orchestrator of an amazing turnaround
Weather: Mild, wet.
Sin Bin: N/A
Sent Off: N/A
Match rating: 3/5

Match highlights: Widnes Vikings v Leeds Rhinos

Super League leaders Leeds Rhinos travelled to 11th-placed Widnes Vikings looking for their first win in three outings. Jonathan Doidge and Phil Caplan provided the call for listeners on Radio Yorkshire.

Australia 12 New Zealand 26

Jonathan Doidge

A magnificent collective effort from New Zealand put them within touching distance of being ranked as the world’s number one nation, after they completed a hat-trick of wins against the world champions for the first time since 1953, in a game postponed for 48 hours due to a storm in Brisbane.

The decision to delay the game meant that conditions at the Suncorp Stadium were infinitely better and this allowed the visitors, in particular, to show their full array of skills. Half-back Sean Johnson was again the talisman for New Zealand and continues to put in high quality performances every time he pulls on the black-and-white jumper, while Manu Vatuvei picked up the man of the match award for two well-taken tries.

However, this was more about a will to win, a self-belief and a defensive stint that hasn’t always been evident, even in some very good Kiwi teams of the recent past. It was also about their coach’s planning and preparation of his players and his ability to construct a game plan that allowed Johnson the freedom to produce his best.

Stephen Kearney’s 39th Test at the New Zealand helm will be one remembered for a devastating first-half effort from his team, reminiscent of Great Britain’s success against the same opponents in Melbourne 23 years ago. They went into an eighth-minute lead courtesy of the boot of Johnson, but it was the home side who came up with the game’s opening try five minutes later, when Sam Thaiday went over the top of Kieran Foran before going low to beat Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and score.

Buoyed by that, the green-and-golds enjoyed the momentum of the game for a few minutes but could not add to their tally and were soon conceding. From a scrum, Johnson ran laterally to link up with Peta Hiku and the centre fed Vatuvei, who had too much speed on the outside for Will Chambers and dived over in the left-hand corner.

Centre Hiku appeared to suggest that he couldn’t carry on after a clash of shins with Thaiday, but having stayed on, he made a miraculous recovery to be heavily involved in the score that put the Kiwis ahead.

Johnson hung up a challenging kick, Hiku did superbly in beating Dugan to the catch, feeding Vatuvei, and the considerable presence of the powerhouse winger proved unstoppable as he stepped inside Inglis and put the Kiwis ahead. Johnson’s excellent touchline conversion maximised the score.

The New Zealand half-back was again brilliant on his team’s next foray into Aussie territory. On the back of a penalty, the men in black swept forward and the 2014 Golden Boot winner executed a wonderful sidestep and produced a devastating injection of pace to beat both Thurston and Tamou to increase the lead.

A knock-on by Cronk, followed by back-to-back penalties, saw the Aussies marched backwards from one end of the field to the other in the space of just 60 seconds and Johnson took the option of slotting over the goal from the second of those offences to extend his team’s lead to 14-points at the break. At least that’s the way it appeared.

However, the Four Nations Champions were in no mood to let their opponents off the hook and, much as we have seen from Australia over the past 40 years or more in Test football, it was New Zealand who played right up to the hooter and came up with a fabulous try as their reward.

There were just 52 first-half seconds remaining as Cameron Smith restarted play, but the Kiwis put in two barnstorming drives and then had a tilt at their opponents once again. From dummy-half Luke fed Leuluai, then quick hands from Johnson, Tuivasa-Sheck and Kenny-Dowall supplied winger Nightingale, who took it on before kicking back infield for his centre to chase.

It was a wonderfully-weighted piece of bootwork from the St George Illawarra star and it left fullback Inglis floundering as he attempted to knock it dead, enabling Kenny-Dowall to dive on it and give his team an unassailable 20-point half-time lead.

It had been a remarkable half of rugby league that brought to mind Melbourne 1992 and was, in fact, the second-highest deficit conceded by Australia in 40 minutes of rugby, eclipsed only by that 22-0 score as the teams had turned around 23 years ago.

An animated half-time team talk by Tim Sheens produced an immediate reaction from the home side and Thurston’s grubber to the corner almost produced a result for them, though Dugan’s claim for a try was ruled out when the video showed that he had a foot in touch.

Minutes later Cronk’s kick looked as though it may cause some damage but the half-back himself had a try ruled out after Tuivasa-Sheck’s superb defensive effort held him up short. Punctuating those Aussies efforts, Vatuvei had his own claims of a hat-trick try chalked off after a fabulous last-ditch Inglis tackle pulled the ball from his grasp.

Vatuvei did well to deny another Dugan attempt on the New Zealand line, but he was adjudged to have knocked-on in trying to take control of the ball and from scrum possession the Aussies hit back. Shifting the ball quickly from right to left, Thurston linked with Chambers, who stepped inside Vatuvei and Foran to slam the ball down with just over a quarter of the game remaining,

A knock-on by Tamou induced a wonderful exit run by Nightingale and looked as though it might finally give the Kiwis some second-half momentum, but in truth they never hit the heights after the break and spent much of the time defending superbly, primarily because they failed to respect possession and conceded some cheap penalties.

A further Australian try would most likely have produced a nail biting finish, but despite spending much of the half with both possession and good field position, their attack was negated by the workrate, desire and commitment of this incredible New Zealand defence. Kearney’s men saw it through for a richly deserved victory and set up the mouthwatering prospect of a fabulous series here against England in the autumn.

With an average age of 28, this was the fourth-oldest team Australian team of all time. If they tripped out excuses about having ten first-choice players missing in last year’s Four Nations final, then they could not do that here. This looks sure to have been the last Test for several players and possibly even for veteran coach Tim Sheens on an afternoon that could take some time for them to forget.

Australia
1 Greg Inglis 5
2 Josh Dugan 5
3 Will Chambers 6
4 Michael Jennings 5
5 Alex Johnston 5
6 Johnathan Thurston 6
7 Cooper Cronk 5
8 Matthew Scott 5
9 Cameron Smith 6
10 Aaron Woods 5
11 Greg Bird 5
12 Sam Thaiday 6
13 Corey Parker 6

Subs:(all used)
14 Luke Lewis 6
15 Trent Merrin 5
16 Nate Myles 6
17 James Tamou 5

Tries: Thaiday (13), Chambers (59)
Goals: Thurston 2/2

New Zealand
1 Roger Tuivasa-Sheck 7
2 Jason Nightingale 8
3 Shaun Kenny-Dowall 8
4 Peta Hiku 8
5 Manu Vatuvei 9
6 Kieran Foran 7
7 Shaun Johnston 9
8 Jesse Bromwich 8
9 Issac Luke 8
10 Ben Matulino 7
11 Tohu Harris 7
12 Kevin Proctor 8
13 Simon Mannering 8

Subs (all used)
14 Thomas Leuluai 8
15 Martin Taupau 8
16 Sam Moa 7
17 Greg Eastwood 7

Tries: Vatuvei (20, 28), Johnson (31), Kenny-Dowall (40)
Goals: Johnson 5/6

Attendance: 32, 681
Referee: Gerard Sutton (Aus)
HT: 6-26
Penalties: 7-6
Man of the Match: Manu Vatuvei – Clinical finishing
Weather: Dry
Sin Bin:
Sent Off:
On report: Greg Bird (73) – Dangerous lift on Jason Nightingale
Match rating: 4/5

Giants and Rhinos deadlocked after thriller!

Commentary highlights from Huddersfield Giants versus Super League leaders Leeds Rhinos, with Jonathan Doidge and expert summaries from Craig Murdock.