Written by Zack Wilson
Photo by Photo courtesy Warrington Guardian
Super League’s relegation battle is heating up nicely, with some twists and turns adding to the drama over the weekend.
Out of the struggling sides, it was Leeds Rhinos who were up first, playing Wigan Warriors at Headingley on Friday evening.
The Rhinos could not use the inspiriting setting of their newly refurbished stadium to give them the boost they needed for victory.
Leeds took the lead with a first-half penalty goal from Liam Sutcliffe, before an Oliver Gildart try, three Chris Hankinson kicks and a Sam Powell drop goal saw Wigan take the lead.
A Trent Merrin try, converted by Sutcliffe, then put Leeds back in front, but they couldn’t stay there.
Oliver Partington scored his first try for the Warriors with 20 minutes remaining, and a try from Tony Clubb in the dying seconds completed a useful win for Wigan.
It brought the Rhinos’ recent run of consecutive victories to an end after two wins, and did nothing to lift the fog of relegation anxiety currently surrounding Headingley.
That Leeds defeat made it even more important for Hull Kingston Rovers and their new coach Tony Smith to achieve a positive result against Warrington Wolves at KCOM Craven Park.
It was a hard battle for the Robins at home, but they managed to send the Wire back across the Pennines with nothing, thanks to a 16-14 win.
The game was pretty similar in some ways to the recent Challenge Cup tie played between the teams.
Points were at a premium, and both sides made errors throughout the game. Neither side found it easy to create chances to score.
But it was Rovers who managed to fight their way back into the game after going in 8-4 down at the interval.
Fullback Adam Quinlan, returning from a lengthy lay-off with injury, scored an equalising try with a handful of minutes remaining. Ryan Shaw then kept his nerve to kick the vital conversion from wide out.
Being able to win games in tight situations has been something Rovers have struggled with for a few seasons now.
They have also suffered from a chronic lack of consistency and sometimes confidence during games, often throwing away winning positions.
The arrival of Smith may have done something to have changed that mentality, with the former Warrington coach having a slightly more relaxed approach to things than his predecessor Tim Sheens.
Smith has also tweaked the Rovers line-up, bringing in the likes of youngster Will Dagger, and shifting Craig Hall from fullback to centre with Quinlan returning as custodian.
Dagger played at stand-off in Smith’s first game, the narrow defeat to Wigan Warriors, and featured on the wing against the Wire.
He has spoken out in criticism of former coach Tim Sheens and now wants to grab his chance with Smith at the helm.
Dagger has worked with Smith in the past, and feels that he can gain more from Smith’s more specific, hands-on approach in comparison with the way Sheens worked.
Rovers also signed back-rower Luis Johnson on loan from Warrington this week, and Smith has stated that more players will be on the way, as he looks to drag Rovers away from the relegation zone.
After Rovers had put the pressure on in the relegation battle on Saturday afternoon, London Broncos needed to respond at Catalans Dragons on Saturday evening.
And Danny Ward’s side did respond, in pretty spectacular style, winning 30-12 in Perpignan.
Winning in Perpignan is supposed to be almost impossible for newly promoted sides like the Broncos, especially given that London had lost their previous 14 meetings with the Dragons.
But they dominated the Catalans throughout, rarely allowing the Dragons to get a foothold in the game.
The Broncos led 12-8 at half-time, thanks to tries from Jordan Abdull, on his way to Hull KR next season, and Welsh international Rhys Williams.
Second-half tries from Elliot Kear and Kieran Dixon and a second from Williams secured victory for the Broncos.
The victory was only London’s second win away from home in 2019, and followed on from their golden point victory over Super League leaders St Helens last time out.
“We’re not the flashiest team on paper and we might not be spending as much as other teams but we’ve got a good attitude and they’re working hard,” said Ward, after the game.
“We’re not getting carried away. It’s just another win. We’re still bottom of the table, but it keeps the pressure on the teams above us.”
As things stand currently in the Super League table, Rovers, London and Leeds all have 12 points.
It looks like being an interesting second-half of the season when it comes to the relegation battle in the European game’s top tier.