Super League returns on Saturday after a week off for the Challenge Cup, with the behind-closed-doors action moving to Warrington’s Halliwell Jones Stadium.
Round 10 of the 2020 season gets under way with a double-header, starting with the re-arranged clash between Wigan Warriors and Castleford Tigers.
Then Leeds Rhinos aim to rebound from back-to-back losses when they take on last year’s Grand Final runners-up Salford Red Devils, and we take a look at some talking points ahead of both games…
Wigan Warriors vs Castleford Tigers
August 29, 2020, 4:00pm
‘Not the easiest season to prepare for’
Castleford have had to cope with some coronavirus-enforced changes to their fixture schedule recently, first having last week’s Challenge Cup sixth-round tie postponed following positive Covid-19 tests at opponents Hull FC, and now finding themselves called upon to play this Saturday.
What had originally been due to be their bye-week will now see the Tigers facing Wigan in what was initially scheduled as a Round 18 fixture after Catalans Dragons were forced to postpone their match with the Warriors following positive tests at the French club as well.
Head coach Daryl Powell is pleased his side can now get a game in after not playing last Saturday – that Cup tie with Hull having been re-arranged for September 13 – although he conceded the past couple of weeks have made things harder for the squad.
“It’s not the easiest season to prepare for, that’s for sure,” Powell said. “The difficulty is you don’t know who you’re playing and, half the time, you don’t know when you’re playing, so it’s really difficult for players to get themselves in their head-space and it’s difficult for coaches to prepare.
“It’s really important we focus on ourselves as much as we can with awareness of what the opposition is going to throw at you, which has been made a little bit more awkward by the way things are going at the moment, but there’s not a lot we can do about it.
“It’s unprecedented times, we just have to get on with it, prepare as well as we can and hope everybody stays healthy.”
🐅 Daryl Powell has named his 21-man match squad for this Saturday's @SuperLeague match against Wigan Warriors, sponsored by @motorpoint
Daniel Smith is named in the 21 for the first time since the season resumption.#ReadyToRoar | #COYF
📰 Read more 👇
There is good news for Castleford as Jake Trueman returns to the side after being forced to pull out of the team for the 10-0 defeat to St Helens two weeks ago on the day of the game after suffering a back spasm.
French’s hidden side
Bevan French has been one of the stars for Wigan so far this season, with his stellar performances at full-back helping propel them to the top of the Super League table after nine rounds.
His displays have been recognised by the Man of Steel judging panel too, with French among four players sitting joint-third in the award standings on nine points.
But the 24-year-old Australian has a thoughtful side off the field as well, as revealed by team-mate Willie Isa ahead of Saturday’s clash with Castleford.
“He loves reading a book and he’s a deep sort of fella,” Isa said. “Relaxed, but a bit of a deep thinker.
“He loves that time listening to podcasts and he’s always texting me saying, ‘listen to this or try to read this’ – and I keep telling him I haven’t read since I was in high school!
🗞🏉 SQUAD NEWS | Adrian Lam has named the @WiganWarriorsRL 21-man squad to face @CTRLFC this Saturday at the Halliwell Jones Stadium (K.O. 4:15pm)#WWRL #SLWigCas pic.twitter.com/zLZOHN4hFs
“I read newspapers and autobiographies, but not a lot of the other stuff he reads.”
French and Isa were both involved back in February when Castleford became one of only two teams to defeat Wigan so far this season, with Danny Richardson’s two second-half penalties proving the difference in a 16-12 win for the hosts.
Warriors head coach Adrian Lam does, however, have some extra firepower at his disposal this time around as half-back Tommy Leuluai has recovered from an ankle problem, while Ben Flower and George Burgess add more power up front after returning from injury and suspension respectively.
Watson backs Barrie’s idea
Viewers of Sky Sports‘ Super League coverage and readers of this website will undoubtedly be familiar with pundit Barrie McDermott’s suggestion to rethink the role of the 18th man in matchday squads.
It is an idea which has found favour with at least one Super League head coach too, that being Salford’s Ian Watson.
There has been talk of increasing the number of interchanges from the current eight, on the back of the game becoming faster and the ball being in play more following the recent rule changes in the competition.
Leeds Rhinos vs Salford Red Devils
August 29, 2020, 6:30pm
But while he is not in favour of those, Watson does believe the role of what are currently – barring an injury being suffered in the warm-up – non-playing members of the matchday squad should be reconsidered.
“You bring the rule in to speed the game up and try to make it more attacking and more attractive, and a bit free-flowing so you can attack fatiguing players, but now you want to go and increase interchanges?” Watson said.
“It changes the face of the game again and if we’re going to change these rules next year, what’s the point in changing it now just for the sake of next year?
“I think the one thing that did make sense to me…was the fact Barrie Mac mentioned something about the 18th man being available to you if you lost a player through a game-ending injury or a really bad concussion so he couldn’t come back on.
“I think that makes brilliant sense, but to increase the interchanges is not the right thing to do.”
Of more pressing concern to Watson is this Saturday’s clash with Leeds as the Red Devils return to action having not played since the 54-18 win over Hull FC on August 9, with the squad having been forced to self-isolate for 14 days following positive coronavirus tests at their opponents that day.
👥 Ian Watson has named his 21-man squad for Saturday's @Betfred @SuperLeague fixture!
3⃣0⃣ @AndyAckers9 could be set to make his debut!
📺 See how the team have been preparing, on RDTV👉https://t.co/DUsaIfQxA2 pic.twitter.com/xGrrE6e4JR
Half-back Kevin Brown returns for Salford after missing that game due to injury, while hooker Andy Ackers could make his first appearance since joining from Toronto Wolfpack.
Promotion winners re-united
Not only will the clash between Leeds and Salford see ex-Red Devils half-back Robert Lui facing off against former Rhinos half-back Tui Lolohea, but it will also see two former team-mates going up against each other on the coaching side.
Leeds boss Richard Agar had a short spell playing alongside Watson at stand-off in the second half of the 2001 Northern Ford Premiership season at Widnes Vikings, with the duo helping the Chemics earn promotion back to Super League.
Looking back nearly 20 years later, Agar admits he probably knew more of the former scrum-half as an opponent than a team-mate when they were playing, but is not surprised he has transferred his playing skills into the coaching sphere.
“He was a typical old-fashioned scrum-half who was happy to play on the ball and I played off him a little bit,” Agar said.
“He was a very good talker around the field, very creative, very astute and a smart kicking game, and I know he played around a few clubs, but he had a positive impact. I probably played against him more than I did alongside him, but he was always a guy who had a big impact.
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