Header picture courtesy of Liam Platt
Angela Powers weighs up the competition after round three of Women’s Super League 2018
St Helens 40-14 Featherstone Rovers
Thatto Heath Crusader Park, April 29 2018
The Saints went marching in again, making it three wins from three in the Women’s Super League, and putting them squarely at the top of the table.
It is early days of course, and they (and Bradford) have played three games, as opposed to the other sides’ two. Nevertheless, from the results so far, and the lopsided scorelines too, we’re starting to get a picture of where the power seems to lie in this year’s comp.
The 40-14 win against Featherstone Rovers suggests a pretty convincing performance but it doesn’t tell the full story. As I’d taken in Wigan v Leeds early in the day, I got to Crusader Park, Thatto Heath just as the teams were coming out for the second half. At that point it was 10-10.
There was a bit of an arm wrestle for the opening minutes of the second half but when St Helens clicked into gear, they took control…disciplined, focussed and hungry for the ball. It didn’t help Featherstone that they lost their captain Andrea Dobson to the sin-bin while Saints were at their most potent.
Rovers’ coach Jonny Payne said: “It was a great first half, then a couple of decisions didn’t go our way and the game flipped on its head. A bit of ill discipline losing Andy, but I can’t fault the effort, it was much improved since the Wigan game but we will get better.
“To be 10 all at half time against a team unbeaten was massive for us …we have Leeds a week on Wednesday now and we just have to dust ourselves off.”
Pictures (above) by Liam Platt
St Helens coach Mark Brennan acknowledged that Rovers provided their biggest test in Super League to date. “The first half we were really scrappy. We ground it out well though and the response in the second half was really positive. We just have to be more patient and composed.
“That was by far our toughest game. [Rovers] were very strong today and the competition is intensifying. We have a week off now and then we have to be ready for the first Saints Wigan derby.”
Faye Gaskin again put in a standout performance, scoring the first try of the second half and kicking all the conversions in that 40 mins, including one from the touchline. Chantelle Crowl claimed a try too, just squeezing in on the line under extreme defensive pressure from Rovers.
But the biggest cheer of the afternoon was for Roxy Mura, who scored a breakaway try in the dying seconds to push Saints up to the 40 point mark for the third time this season. When they are in full flow, they are truly hard to stop.
Wigan Warriors 14-20 Leeds Rhinos
Robin Park Arena, April 29 2018.
So if Saints are sitting top, who are the teams on their tail? This encounter between two of the new teams in the league had been eagerly anticipated, not just because they were unknown quantities, but both had got their campaigns off to unexpected starts.
Leeds had spoiled champions Bradford’s party by taking two points off them in the opening game of the season, while Wigan shocked themselves with their comprehensive 54-0 rout of Featherstone Rovers, last year’s finalists.
Who would take the points here? It was a hard one to call, and it turned out to be a tight, tense and entertaining tit-for-tat tussle. First over the line was the Leeds captain Lois Forsell on 12 minutes, and again she was instrumental in getting the side around the field. Always vocal, she was elusive in attack and tenacious in defence and there were no doubt one or too worried Leeds coaches when she limped off just before the half time break with an ankle injury. Luckily for the Rhinos, it didn’t stop her from reappearing in the sound half.
Jodie Aspin scored two minutes later for Wigan, going over after collecting the kick to the corner from Sarah Harrison. Leeds’ Courtney Hill re-established their 6 point advantage five minutes later, making a midfield break and proving uncatchable by Wigan.
On 24 minutes Michelle Davies made it 12 all and then kicked a penalty goal to take the home side into the break 14-12 up.
The second half was a tight affair, with both having scores chalked off, but it was Leeds who made the most of their chances, with unconverted tries by Shannon Lacey and Charlotte Booth securing the win for the Rhinos.
Vice captain Danika Priim wasn’t overly impressed with their performance though: “I don’t know if we have travelled well today. The first half left a lot to be desired and we had to fight back in that second half. Towards the last 20 we started to gel more, and maybe having last week off didn’t work in our favour. We will need to learn from this and I am sure on Tuesday we will fix up a lot of things.”
Wigan coach Amanda Wilkinson said her side tried hard under pressure: “At times we weren’t smart and against a team like Leeds you have got to take those opportunities and I felt when we had good field position we didn’t and they did.
“We fought well in defence considering we were under pressure, we have got five players out today which is a big ask for a new team in such a big game but we will take a lot from today, the girls will have taken a lot of positives. We didn’t perform well enough and hopefully when we play Cas next week we will perform better.”
Castleford Tigers 40-16 Bradford Bulls
Castleford RUFC, April 29 2018
York City Knights, currently bottom of the SL table, had a bye this week, meaning the third fixture of the weekend was between last years’ champions Bradford, and Castleford Tigers. This was Bradford’s third outing and after going unbeaten all last year they would have been determined to halt their disappointing start to this season.
But Castleford have been quietly confident leading into the campaign and the scoreline here must suggest that they are the real deal.
They sit second in the table, already with a points difference of 86. Bradford are fifth. From being favourites to lead the way this year, their hopes of defending their title in a grand final now rest on finding form and putting this disappointing start behind them.
They get a break next week to regroup, along with four other sides, as the only fixture is Castleford v Wigan. Even so early in the competition, it feels like this might be an indicator of who really has Grand Final credentials. See you there?
Graphic courtesy of @castigerswomen