5 Talking Points From Saints 14 Hull FC 24
We Didn’t Start The Fire
You may remember that last week’s column finally, reluctantly drew the conclusion that Keiron Cunningham’s time as head coach should be up. We’d endured one too many tediously tame defeats on one too many cold, wet evenings at the stadium formerly known as Langtree Park. To those who said ‘but look, we’ve only played three games’ we said ‘but look, he’s been in the job for two years and our players are still running directly at the first defender they see with no intention of offloading.’ There was no sign of improvement and precious little evidence of lessons learned. The patience finally snapped.
But I didn’t start this fire. I had to be convinced by others that the side has little chance of progressing under Keiron. The view I came to directly reflected that of the majority of fans not only on these pages but on social media and on the walk across the bridge after the defeat to Wakefield Trinity. Indeed, those who continued to support Keiron were openly mocked in the aftermath of the Wakefield debacle. Written off as club stooges with their heads in the sand, refusing to criticise no matter how poorly the team had played. Those people, the rose tinters I believe they are called, were pilloried by this point. Giving a coach time was one thing, but I became convinced that for that time to be granted there had to be signs of progression along the way. Progress that I just wasn’t seeing.
If I thought Keiron should go last week then it’s a fairly safe assumption that another deserved defeat, this time at Hull FC, was not going to be enough to alter that view. It hasn’t, though I’m not going to labour the point and risk being accused of starting some kind of personal witch hunt against a man who, after all, remains my sporting hero. In any case and for what it’s worth the view now is that having done nothing after the Trinity loss, it would be odd to act this week after what was a slightly better effort at Hull. So Keiron In again. For now.
Discipline And Errors Costly At The KCom
If you’re going to play a conservative style of rugby then the absolute minumum you would expect to get from it is a vastly reduced error and penalty count. If you want to keep things tight and snoozy you have to take your chances when they come and not gift field position to your superior opponents with consistent moments of indiscipline. Saints were hammered 12-7 in the penalty count and no amount of telling your mum that it was all that nasty Phil Bentham’s fault is going to take responsibility from the players. Kyle Amor came up with two careless high shots through lazy defensive footwork while Jon Wilkin also managed to fit in his now weekly air grope also. Zeb Taia conceded a couple to go with the five – count them – five handling errors while Dominique Peyroux attracted the referee’s whistle three times all by himself. Morgan Knowles set the tone early by running into Jamie Shaul in pursuit of the first of Wilkin’s aimless bombs. If the plan is to do the basics right and apply pressure it all came spectacularly undone from minute one.
Taia’s error-laden performance has left some fans questioning the wisdom of the deal which brought him to the club and allowed Joe Greenwood to make the opposite journey to Gold Coast Titans. Greenwood’s first try for the Titans may have thrown Taia’s bad day into even sharper focus. But it should be remembered that Greenwood was always going to want the higher salary and standard offered by the NRL not to mention some rather more pleasant weather. The acquisition of Taia was a smart move by the club and the former Catalans Dragons man will come good despite this horror show. Taia is the least of our worries.
The 8-Point Try Did Not Decide The Outcome
If we’re being brutally honest Saints were some way short of good enough again, even against a Hull FC side that was hardly hitting its 2016 straps. It was an error-strewn, scrappy affair in which the black and whites came up with seven handling mistakes of their own. But that was only just over half the amount conjured up by the supposedly safety-first Saints. The reasons for the result are clear and do not include Bentham’s decision to award an eight-point try when Alex Walmsley slid knees first into Carlos Tuimavave as the Hull man crossed to give his side the lead. The extra conversion left Saints trailing by four instead of two as they pressed for a score late on. Perhaps without the decision Saints could have milked a penalty and claimed a draw, but in reality they were always going to have to search for a try in the moments before Wilkin’s umpteenth poor kick of the evening gave Hull the position from which Albert Kelly was so easily allowed to ice the cake.
Apart from its effect or otherwise on the game Bentham’s decision was probably correct. Walmsley talked earlier in the week about ‘bringing the storm’ to Hull after lamentable defeats to Leigh and Wakefield but the only storm he brought at that moment was a brainstorm. It was reckless and unnecessary and perfectly in keeping with an indisciplined effort all around by Saints. It was unsurprising to hear Keiron cite the incident as mitigation in his post match comments as the pressure on him increases. But the idea that it cost Saints the game is as fanciful and out of touch as Keiron’s other notable post-game observation about Saints being built on ‘a bit of dog.’. Remember when it was built on entertainment and winning?
We Can Actually Play
In his analysis Keiron dropped another tragi-comic gem of a soundbite when he told us that ‘the last two minutes were exciting’. Leaving aside how hopelessly inadequate two minutes of open rugby per game would be, he is actually selling himself and his side a little short. There was a spell during the second half just after Mark Percival had landed a penalty goal during which Saints took consecutive sets the length of the field straight from the kick-off. The first saw Theo Fages slice through the middle of the Hull FC defence to allow Taia to put Percival over in the corner. The second culminated with a searching kick from Fages which resulted in Shaul being trapped in-goal for a drop-out.
During this spell Walmsley really was bringing the storm, but like many of Saints’ more encouraging moments in recent seasons it was all too brief. Walmsley’s knee-slide prompted his withdrawal from the action and with him went much of Saints’ attacking impetus. Back came the flat, lateral attacking structure which has seen Saints score an average of just 12 points per game so far in 2017 and bang went any realistic hopes of a rare win on Humberside. It’s worth noting that Walmsley shredded Hull for 145 metres on the night, a tally only bettered among Saints by Percival’s 165, a figure aided by three clean breaks. When Taia hits form that left hand edge could be devastating, but who else gets the feeling that pressing the trigger on our big guns will only be the plan if we’re behind late in games?
Catalans And Warrington Are Winnable Games
There’s an understandable air of resignation among the fan base at the moment. One win from four outings is Middle Eight form and there is real trepidation around our next two assignments in Perpignan against Catalans Dragons and at home to Warrington.
If there is a Big Book Of Rugby League Perceived Wisdom it probably states on page one that your team will not beat the Dragons in Perpignan. There are people who like to project the possible progress of their team who, when faced with the words Catalans (A) immediately discount that one as a possible provider of points. Go on, admit it. You’re one of them aren’t you? The kind of fan who spends all season studying the complex Super 8s fixture formula to determine how likely it is that your team will have to face certain defeat in the south of France.
Yet if there is a good time to face the Dragons, this is it. They started with wins over the fancied Wolves and Hull but their results since have been of the kind that would have your average Saints fan suffering convulsions. A mud-soaked minger of a game with Widnes in France ended in a 14-14 draw, while last time out the Dragons went to Leeds and suffered a 46-10 towelling. The same Leeds side which a week previously had itself suffered an embarrassing 66-10 hosing at Castleford. Anything could happen.
As for Warrington, though they were mightily impressive in disposing of Brisbane Broncos a month ago they have not won since. They remain the only team in Super League yet to win a single point on the table from four outings. In mitigation they have not had kind fixtures, losing to Catalans, Wigan and early pace-setters Castleford. Yet in losing at Salford Tony Smith’s side have shown that they are as vulnerable as anybody else in a league increasingly sacrificing quality for parity. Do not be all that surprised to see Smith in front of a camera with a Sky Sports mic under his nose at 10.00 on the evening of March 24 as he tries to smirk his way out of another fine mess.