RL Weekly: Under-Promise, Over-Deliver & World Domination

St Helens return from their epic World Club Challenge win needing to hit the ground running in the defence of their Betfred Super League title
10:00, 23 Feb 2023

Paul Wellens called it a seismic moment for British rugby league, but St Helens have returned from their epic World Club Challenge win needing to hit the ground running in the defence of their Betfred Super League title.

As while Saints were making history with their thrilling win Down Under, the rest of Super League were landing early blows back home.

Two eye-catching displays came from Warrington and Salford, who endured spectacularly differing fortunes last year, both of whom displayed enough opening-round promise to show they mean in business in 2023.


Red Devils coach Paul Rowley was his usual self with the media this week, down-playing Salford’s impressive win at ambitious Leigh and promising to find a way to go under the radar again this year. 

“Everyone who was watching us for the second half of last season expects and wants that to continue,” Rowley tells The Sportsman of his side’s surprise run to the playoff semi-finals, which saw them minutes away from dethroning Saints to reach the big dance at Old Trafford.

“But last year is in the history books, it counts for nothing now. With some luck and some form then we can do something, but we have to try and knock off teams like St Helens and Wigan and Huddersfield, some big clubs who demand success. We are working towards that but nothing changes for us. 

“We under-promise and over-deliver and will try and sneak under that radar again somehow.”


This has been a crucial off-season for Salford to tie down their star men or risk them leaving for free at the end of the season. And after Man of Steel Brodie Croft and full-back Ryan Brierley signed new deals in the winter, this week skipper Kallum Watkins followed suit. 

Make no mistake, Salford’s recent successes are no fluke, and they should be in every silverware conversation again this year. They will play better sides than Leigh of course, but Rowley’s Red Devils remains one of Super League’s most watchable sides, and this week’s home clash with Hull KR - who stunned Challenge Cup winners Wigan on Saturday - could be the tie of the round. 

Leeds coach Rohan Smith told me recently that he has asked his players to completely forget their achievements in reaching the Grand Final against all odds in October. He wants his side to start afresh, and continue the upward momentum built since the Australian took charge last Easter. 

But on Thursday night at Warrington it looked like their players had indeed completely forgotten everything. The Rhinos, for whom the jury is still out on halfbacks Blake Austin and Aidan Sezer, were wretched at a Wolves side unrecognisable from their flirtation with relegation last year and will need a huge improvement to beat Hull FC on home turf. 

Their one bright spot was young French prop Justin Sangaré who looks well equipped to become a crowd favourite.

Warrington fans should be hugely encouraged by their start, built on a powerful pack led by the brilliant Paul Vaughan, which gives England star George Williams the platform to showcase his international form rather than the patchy performances of last season.

Warrington looked great, and as dire as it was for this Leeds fan to watch a one-sided horror show, spending the evening in the company of former England footballers Stuart Pearce and David Dunn in the directors’ box was a real treat. Pearce is a passionate Wire supporter and champion of the 13-man game - he and his wife travel to probably half of their matches home and away each season - and a big believer in the coaching crossover and trading of skills and expertise between the sports. 


Speaking of Hull FC, they opened with a win over Castleford to which the build up was largely overshadowed by the negative headlines brought upon the club and the sport by forward Joe Westerman. Hull hung on to win an entertaining game which Westerman started despite his off-field scandal and was subjected to the kind of crowd-taunting that he would have expected. 

Coach Lee Radford let rip afterwards, frustrated that a positive week for rugby league with Saints’ win and Super League’s return was instead seeing headlines dominated by his own player’s drunken antics caught on viral video. “It pi**es me off when you have the start of a Super League campaign and so much going on around this game and we make The Sun newspaper for this,” he said.

Radford is a likeable and popular figure with the press and players alike, always happy to share his mind and have a joke. He has a point that coverage of this incident has been sensational, at times cheap click-bait garbage that has had devastatingly destructive consequences for those involved. The social media pile-on has been as depressing as it was inevitable, again with little thought of impact on those involved. 

Yet Radford is experienced and wise enough to know that this was a story that would have wider public interest, and should be looking to the news-maker rather than the messenger if looking to apportion blame. Indeed his own club pretty much guaranteed traction for the story by rushing out a statement confirming its veracity. The newspaper he singles out is often rightly vilified, but it is also one of very few national papers with a dedicated rugby league journalist able to regularly drum the sport into the conscience of the wider public. And none of this was his fault. 

Betfred's Latest Super League Odds*

Back on the pitch and the Betfred Championship’s big two continue to flex their muscles, with heavyweights Featherstone and Toulouse making their expected strong starts. There is really strong promotion intent this year, some may say desperation, to jump into Super League before IMG pull up the drawbridge. 

And wouldn’t it be fitting, in the age of St Helens domination, if one of their greats was the man to finally guide Featherstone to the big time. Sean Long has become a hugely popular figure in his short time at Post Office Road, realising a need to engage with the local community and fan base that his predecessor Brian McDermott did not prioritise. 

Results and performances have already got Rovers fans believing that this is their year. Mind you, they say that in Warrington every year...

*18+ | BeGambleAware 

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