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Castleford Tigers match reports and previews Super League

Report: Young wingers shine for Tigers

GILLCastleford Tigers 56-0 Featherstone Rovers

Sunday afternoon saw Castleford thrash neighbours Featherstone Rovers 56-0 at the Mend-a-Hose Jungle with young Tigers wingers Kieran Gill and Lewis Carr both crossing for hat-tricks.

A team with a mix of experienced first-teamers, youngsters and newly-signed reserves made the short trip to the Tigers while their hosts, much like Fev, had a mix of first-team experience and youth in their ranks. Cas showed their Super League class with some excellent finishing while demonstrating their defensive steel in keeping the Betfred Championship team scoreless over the eighty minutes.

That, perhaps, will have pleased head coach Daryl Powell most with the boss having outlined his desire for his team to improve their toughness and mental strength on the pitch in a bid to compete in the big matches. While academy wingers Carr and Gill – the latter has signed a season-long loan deal which will see him play for Newcastle in 2019 – shone and will get the plaudits, James Clare (2), Jake Sweeting and Calum Turner crossed for the Super League side. Greg Minikin also scored after starting the match in the centres as the former York man aims to impress Powell sufficiently to be Jake Webster’s replacement as one of the Tigers’ two first-choice centres.

 

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FEATURED match reports and previews Super League

Report: Manfredi shines as Wigan secure fairytale

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After missing two years with injury, Wigan winger Dom Manfredi wrote his own fairytale as he helped his team send off their departing stars and head coach with their own perfect ending.

With Sam Tomkins, John Bateman and Ryan Sutton leaving the playing ranks as Shaun Wane ended his three decade long association with the club, the Warriors had the story ready to be inked but, after Josh Charnley opened the scoring, an element of doubt must have crept into their mind. The winger, one of the stars Wane helped to nurture during his time in the Wigan academy, the former Sale Sharks man crossed in the right corner after the ball was well worked out towards him.

It wouldn’t take too long for Wigan to reply though as Manfredi scored the first of his two tries. After his centre Oliver Gildart superbly dummied to take two Warrington edgemen out of the game, he provided the easiest of run-ins for 25-year-old Manfredi to stroll across the line in the corner. Sam Tomkins failed to add the conversion – like Roberts with Warrington’s score – as the strong wind showed it was affecting proceedings on the pitch.

Tomkins, soon to be of Catalans, could – arguably should – have been, at the very least, have been the first player to have been sin-binned for tripping Bryson Goodwin as he threatened to break from the Wolves’ twenty. Shortly after being initially warned for that offence, the former New Zealand Warriors man used his knees to the head of Daryl Clark. With the travelling thousands of Warrington fans baying for blood, their reaction to Robert Hicks’ decision to simply warn Tomkins again didn’t go down too well.

However, in an entertaining and open first half, it was Wigan who went into the sheds ahead after Tom Davies raced onto a George Williams kick into the in-goal. Seemingly having ran out of option on the fourth play of a set, the England international weaved across field before seeing ample space behind Charnley on Warrington’s right edge. A perfectly placed low kick was put in and Davies had enough time to wait for the ball to settle before grounding in the in-goal.

The Wire could arguably have deemed themselves unlucky to be behind at half-time but any sympathy may well have been diminished after a small minority of their fans launched drinks and other paraphernalia onto the pitch after the hooter – generally in the direction of Tomkins. There was also a scuffle in the tunnel as the teams left the field with Wigan forward Romain Navarette saying that it was started when Goodwin gave Morgan Escare a shove.

What the first half boasted in attacking pace, the second half could claim in defensive solidity as the game turned into an arm wrestle. Much like their semi-final victory over Castleford, Wigan’s defence controlled the game and withstood everything Warrington threw at them. For a period in the half, the team who had lost each of their last three Grand Finals looked out on their feet, perhaps typified when Stefan Ratchford – awarded the Harry Sunderland trophy for man of the match – made two threatening line breaks only for none of his teammates to be available to continue the charge. Perhaps, then, it shouldn’t have been a surprise to see Wigan produce the sucker punch and clinch the game with minutes remaining.

Manfredi, who, having missed two years of rugby after seriously injuring his knee ligaments just before the 2016 Grand Final, was making only his fifth match since returning from injury and had to depart the play in the second half for a period after sustaining a head cut. Reappearing with a bandage around his head, he would prove to be the player to seal Wigan’s fifth Super League title. Camped on Warrington’s ten metre line, Sean O’Loughlin reversed the play to the right edge to Thomas Leuluai. The Kiwi passed it onto Tomkins who produced a cut-out pass to provide Manfredi with a path to the line and his fairytale end to 2018. Jubilant scenes followed his score as every single member of the Wigan team celebrated with their teammate, probably as much for celebrating his comeback as their fifth title as they bid adieu to their quartet of departees.

As the hooter sounded, Shaun Wane had done it. In his last game as head coach, he had guided his beloved Wigan Warriors to another Grand Final win and Super League title and, with it, written his perfect ending before joining Scottish Rugby Union. Tomkins, Bateman and Sutton had all signed off their time with Wigan in the best possible way but it should be Manfredi who gets the headlines from the final after returning from such horrendous injury woes and hitting top form almost immediately.

Warrington, though, will be left to lick their wounds once more after not only losing their fourth Grand Final from four but also after losing both showpiece finals this year. However, it does mark a remarkable turnaround in fortunes from 2017 under the stewardship of Steve Price.

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Wigan: Tomkins, Manfredi, Gildart, Sarginson, Davies, Williams, Leuluai, Navarrete, Powell, Flower, Greenwood, Bateman, O’Loughlin

Substitutes: Clubb, Farrell, Sutton, Escare

Warrington: Ratchford, Lineham, Goodwin, King, Charnley, Brown, Roberts, Hill, Clark, Cooper, Thompson, Hughes, Westwood

Substitutes: Murdoch-Masila, Patton, Philbin, King

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match reports and previews Super League

Preview: Grand Final 2018

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Saturday evening sees Wigan Warriors and Warrington Wolves face off in Super League’s Grand Final two years after facing each other in the same event after overcoming Castleford Tigers and League Leaders’ Shield winners St Helens in the semi-finals.

Both teams have named unchanged nineteen man squads from those knockout clashes and both will be saying goodbye to stars and icons at the end of proceedings. Wigan will be hoping to send the likes of Sam Tomkins, John Bateman and Ryan Sutton out on the best possible high as all three prepare to depart the club. Throw into the mix that Super League Coach of the Year Shaun Wane will be signing off in rugby league after the Grand Final and you could be forgiven for suggesting that the emotion may be on the Warriors’ side – as alluded to earlier in the week by Tomkins. In their ranks they boast Man of Steel nominee Bateman who has been in sterling form this season. It could be suggested that it is only since his imminent move to Canberra – with Sutton – was announced that he has truly received the credit his impressive performances deserve but he clearly inspires the defence that Wigan’s semi-final victory was built upon.

However, Warrington will also be saying goodbye to Tyrone Roberts who will be departing the club after just one season in Super League. The Wire will be aiming to end a 63-year wait for domestic dominance and, after appearing in three of the last six Grand Finals, will be hoping to end the ‘it’s always your year’ chants which the Super League terraces taunt them with. After overcoming St Helens in a remarkable upset last time out, confidence will no doubt be soaring through the Wolves ranks and, in the shape of Tom Lineham and Josh Charnley, have two of the best finishers in the competition. Stefan Ratchford will also need a big game if Warrington are to triumph and, while Gary Schofield has this week described him as a player who he feels always has a mistake in him, his ability to do the unexpected could well be key to unlocking the Warriors’ fierce defence. Daryl Clark will also be key and, after an incredible season, has improved vastly from his 2017 showings.

Wigan: Bateman, Clubb, Davies, Escare, Farrell, Flower, Gildart, Greenwood, Hamlin, Leuluai, Manfredi, Navarrete, O’Loughlin, Powell, Sarginson, Sutton, Tautai, Tomkins, Williams

Warrington: Ratchford, Lineham, Goodwin, Atkins, Brown, Roberts, Hill, Clark, Cooper, Hughes, Murdoch-Masila, Patton, Philbin, T King, G King, Livett, Charnley, Thompson, Westwood

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Betfred Championship Championship and League One London Broncos match reports and previews Super League

Report: London stun the Wolfpack to earn Super League return

Aside from the rather odd trophy awarded to the winners, there was plenty to love about the final Million Pound Game before the Super 8s system is ditched for 2019 and beyond.

Sunday’s, after all, was between the top two teams before the Super 8s kicked off and, as such, there wasn’t the element of jeopardy surrounding livelihoods being on the line in the same manner we have seen in the three previous finals when Super League clubs faced relegation. Instead, Toronto Wolfpack and London Broncos played out what was an exciting opportunity for both – promotion to the promised land of Super League. For the Canadians, it was a chance to earn their second successive promotion in as many years while, for the Broncos, it was the opportunity to return to the top flight after four years away while also stunning the entire sport. This, after all, is a London team who lost their highly rated head coach Andrew Henderson at the end of 2017 and saw key players depart. Danny Ward, promoted to the head coach role after sterling work with the club’s younger teams, had his work seemingly cut out but promptly managed to produce a season even he wouldn’t have dreamt of.

In the previous meeting between the two in the Super 8s, Toronto raced into a healthy lead in very quick time and it left too much for London to do to get back into the contest. It was imperative, then, for the Broncos to ensure their hosts weren’t able to do so – but they nearly did just that. Less than a minute was on the clock when a Blake Wallace kick towered into the Toronto sky and Alex Walker, the Broncos’ full-back, wasn’t able to gather – the only blot in an otherwise impressive performance – under pressure from opposite number Gareth O’Brien. The former Salford star, however, was one of many offside from Wallace’s kick which led to the try the Wolfpack went on to score being ruled out.

The game then saw both teams produce errors as the defences won out. The pair were clearly up for the game and London were keeping their much-feted opponents under wraps. In the midst of a frenetic start, the Broncos’ mercurial half-back Jarrod Sammut – one of their players with Super League experience – kicked an early penalty to give his team a 2-0 lead, one they would hold until half-time. That, however, doesn’t mean the game was short on attacking effort. Both teams had chances to score and, while the visitors were arguably more threatening and purposeful in general, Toronto had the better chances. Mason Caton-Brown, one of the Wolfpack’s late-season recruits, seemed certain to score but his footballing ability saw him come up short after kicking forward from his own half. Unable to continue dribbling to the line under pressure, he proceeded to knock on and relieve the pressure on London.

Late in the first half, Andy Ackers was sin-binned for a late, intentional hit on the impressive Eloi Pellisier, the Broncos’ French hooker. It was one example of indiscipline from the Wolfpack team throughout the match and, much like it did in their Challenge Cup match against Warrington earlier in the year, it didn’t endear neutrals to their cause and hindered their progress in this match. Shortly after Ackers’ dismissal, Kieran Dixon had a chance similar to Caton-Brown’s earlier in the piece. Kicking the ball forward on the deck, he was unable to get it far enough forward to take advantage with his pacy fellow winger slowing the Broncos’ progress. The visitors were unable to make their man advantage pay and the teams were split only by Sammut’s penalty at half-time.

Toronto’s attack was so often met by heroic defence from London, the aspect of their game which was no doubt key to their victory. Early in the second half, the Canadians’ hugely experienced Ashton Sims was held up by the Broncos but, after Sammutt kicked dead into touch, the Wolfpack levelled up the game courtesy of O’Brien’s boot. After London were adjudged to have stolen the ball in the tackle, the full-back landed his twenty-fourth goal since the start of The Qualifiers to tie the game up.

It didn’t remain that way for long, though.

Minutes later, Jack Buchanan connected high with opposite prop Mark Ioane. It looked like a yellow card would have been a fair sanction for the tackle but he escaped further punishment, barring a penalty. That, however, would prove vital as the Maltese Sammutt kicked, amidst boos from home fans, and gave the Broncos another two point lead. That is how it would remain – leaving this as a rare tryless game, all the more bemusing as these two teams were the highest scoring teams in the Betfred Championship. Walker, though, after an incredible performance produced what Sky Sports commentator Phil Clarke described as “the million pound tackle.” As Toronto half back Wallace advanced to the line, Walker somehow managed to get under the ball and remain under it to prevent the Australian from grounding the ball. It was superb and typified the Broncos’ performance – they simply would not let the Wolfpack have things their own way and wouldn’t give away anything at all.

Toronto, for all the fanfare which surrounds them – and they are certainly a good thing for the sport – seemed to be lacking something in attack and they didn’t seem to have a second plan to break down the London defence. They will certainly be in contention for honours in 2019 but, perhaps, with the change of structure, this may have been a better opportunity for them.

As the clock ticked down, huge London forward Tom Spencer produced a charge akin to a battering ram and promptly left Toronto’s Bob Beswick in trouble on the deck. The time taken to give the experienced hooker treatment must have seemed like an eternity to the Broncos as they aimed to close the game out but, when the game resumed, it was left to Dixon to run the clock down and kick the ball dead, prompting incredible celebrations from the capital club and their small army of travelling fans. Toronto’s players fell to the turf as if in shock at what had happened and the rugby league world was no doubt surprised to see the Wolfpack lose a game in which they were such big favourites.

They, however, will go again in the second tier in 2019 while London will now have the off-season to prepare for a top-flight return. After their performance on Sunday night, they may well find themselves with many wishing them well, possibly even becoming some fans’ second team.

Toronto Wolfpack: O’Brien, Caton-Brown, Rawsthorne, Wheeler, Russell, McCrone, Wallace, Lussick, Beswick, Sims, Dixon, Whiting, Emmitt

Replacements: Buchanan, Ackers, Sidlow, Higson

Sin bin: Ackers (32)

London Broncos: Walker, Williams, Kear, Hellewell, Dixon, Pitts, Sammut, Evans, Pelissier, Ioane, Gee, Lovell, Hindmarsh

Replacements: Spencer, Battye, Butler, Davies