RL Weekly: Big Bans, New Plans & Angry Fans

There has been all sorts causing ire in rugby league over the past week
11:17, 22 Jun 2023

Why is it often so hard to play against a side after they have had a man sent off? Warrington Wolves produced one of their worst displays of the season last weekend in being dumped out of the Betfred Challenge Cup by a Wigan Warriors side reduced to 12 men for all but six minutes.

This is the same Warriors side who themselves lost last month to a Leeds Rhinos team reduced to 12 men for more than half the game. And Leigh Leopards played for 75 minutes with just 12 in their Cup win over York Knights on Sunday. Only champions St Helens bucked the bizarre trend in their controversial win over Hull FC.

A well-worn football cliché dictates the difficulty of playing against 10 players. There is some reasoning in that one, given the depleted side will often just park the bus and protect what they have. But rugby is a game of advancement through a lateral defensive line. It makes little sense for the disadvantaged team to prosper.


So is there any science behind it, or any psychological reason? Or just a plain old-fashioned all-hands-to-the-pump job?

“There are a number of factors that can change, either when playing with or against 12 men,” Saints coach Paul Wellens tells The Sportsman. His side visibly reorganised, kept their cool and ruthlessly exposed 12-man Hull after Josh Griffin’s headline-making dismissal.

“Playing against 12 is something that seems to be happening a lot more often given the way the rules are being managed at the moment,” Wellens adds pointedly. “I do always feel that, although you don’t want to go down to 12 men, it sometimes galvanises the group. I don’t know why that is, everyone looks around and thinks they might have to find an extra bit of effort, and that 12 are going to have to produce the effort of 13. I think you do get a response in that sense.

“We beat Huddersfield at home last year and we were down to 12 pretty early and then 11 at one point, and I know on that night it really galvanised the group.

“The psychology that we experienced at the weekend of playing against 12, is to not drop your standards and not to expect things to come easy. When you are galvanised, you find that effort and keep turning up for each other. We quite clearly saw that with Hull FC when we played them last week.

“Also what you get is a tendency to think you are just going to score points and blow teams off the park. That can produce a little bit of ill-discipline with the ball, you start to see opportunities that wouldn’t be there normally and it can disrupt you a little bit more.”


Warrington boss Daryl Powell agrees with Wellens, after a performance from his side in failing to beat 12-man Wigan that he described this week as “completely unacceptable”. Powell’s view is that the effect is indeed psychological and at times subconscious.

“It is nothing new that a team can get a little bit anxious with a man extra,” the Wolves boss tells The Sportsman. “We dropped the ball soon after the red card, they scored from a kick and we kept giving them the opportunity to kick behind us. It doesn’t matter how many players you have, you could have eight players and still score from kicks. We kept handing the ball back, which creates nervousness. I tried to calm the team down at half-time but they never really got going.”

Powell’s mood has not been helped this week by the return to Australia of key forward Josh McGuire. The prop was recently banned for 12 games after using “unacceptable language”, fresh from a seven-game suspension for the same offence.

“I’m disappointed that it came to this,” said Powell. “We wanted him to come and be a huge part of what we want to do. He leaves us really light in the middle and it has an impact on everybody else which is a further disappointment.”

McGuire’s exit, in the same week as Griffin’s seven-game ban for his verbal volley at referee Chris Kendall, should prove a watershed moment for respect at all levels of rugby league. A sport that prides itself on values and respect has had a tough few days in this regard, but each incident has been treated with zero tolerance. Referee Ian Smith told The Sportsman this week that it is more of a deeper-rooted societal issue, and given many fans continued to back Griffin and abuse Kendall on social media even after the player’s guilty plea and tribunal verdict, Smith may well have a point.

One area that the RFL may look at, however, is their grading of punishments for offences. Lengthy bans for verbal abuse are absolutely spot on, but seeing Leigh forward Kai O’Donnell receive a lesser ban than Griffin for an appalling tip tackle that could have left his opponent with life-changing injuries is a difficult one to argue.


Speaking of controversial law enforcement, the Bradford Bulls and Leeds academies trialled new below-the-armpit tackling laws this week in a game that bore almost no resemblance to rugby league.

“Absolutely terrible” was Powell’s own verdict on a game that saw 57 penalties - 49 for high shots - and 82 points. Nobody wants to see head injuries and concussions, but if this is the way the game is heading then it is frightening. Leeds youth boss John Bastian called the game “very, very difficult to watch and play in” before admitting “there is no game for spectators to watch”. It was only a trial, of course, and trials are there to allow for tweaks. But Powell was concerned nonetheless. “It is a game that just looks and is completely alien to what we all know. I can’t see how it can work.“

This weekend sees The Sportsman continue its unrivalled commitment to rugby league by streaming a Magic Weekend triple-header from the Wheelchair Super League, where Leeds Rhinos’ team of World Cup stars currently lead the way.

In Super League, Catalans and Warrington renew their rivalry for top spot with the Dragons hosting high-flying Leigh and the Wolves going to Powell’s old club Castleford Tigers. Hull FC will no doubt give St Helens a hostile welcome back so soon after their Cup controversy and Leeds are hosting a special MND Awareness game with the Burrow family in attendance for the home game against Huddersfield Giants.


*18+ | BeGambleAware | Odds Subject to Change

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