Centres of Attention
Sunday was a glorious day for a spot of Rugby League wasn’t it? Sunshine, a dry pitch, over 10,000 in attendance – perfect for entertaining. However fans are wondering why our wingers don’t get plenty of quality service, so let’s have a look at the centres.
Mark Percival is without doubt a wonderful player, arguably one of the best centres in Super League. He could be Saints left centre for the next 10 years, yet still he faces some criticism from supporters for not using his winger more. It’s easy for us in the stands to judge, when we’re not in the thick of the action. A lot of the time in the West Stand you hear people moaning that he hasn’t given it to Swift, or more recently Grace, to give them the opportunity to go round the outside, and instead he’s cut inside.
While to some extent this is justified, I feel it’s partly a hangover from the Cunningham days of safety first. Players were hung out to dry for making errors and it seems as though, as much as Justin Holbrook is giving the players more freedom, some are hanging onto this mentality. I also think it’s partly down to naïvety. Let us not forget that Mark Percival is 23 years old. He’s not a veteran with 10 years in and around the first team – he is to some extent still learning his trade, but instead of being a steady Eddie he’s made his mark and as such fans expectation has been high. Put it into perspective that Percival is just a month older than Jack Owens – did you have the same expectations when Owens pulled on the red vee?
I can almost hear people now saying ‘but he’s a centre, he should know when to pass to his winger’. I don’t disagree at all. However the step up to Super League, then maintaining this level brings pressure. If you’ve had it repeatedly drummed into you for the past few years as a young centre that mistakes aren’t tolerated, how do you react? You keep hold of the ball, cut inside and try to find a gap yourself – you certainly don’t risk a pass that could give the opposition possession. With Justin Holbrook freeing up the players in this regard, I don’t think it will be long before Percival learns when to run on his own and when to give it to his wing partner without sending him into touch, or down a blind alley. Hopefully he also learns to keep his emotions in check too – after miskicking the ball into ref Scott Mikalauskas against Salford, his celebration on Sunday involved him bouncing the ball which ended up hitting one of the officials. While he hasn’t been disciplined for this, it would be a stupid way to miss important games this season when punishment has already been dished out and we know how petty the RFL can be.
When I say Justin Holbrook is freeing up players – I don’t have any hard evidence apart from my own observations and a few comments from one of the contributors on Sundays RedVee TV. His press conferences are usually upbeat though and he seems more mature than the previous coach in his answers given to the media. He doesn’t go over the top with his comments, he’s usually enthusiastic when he reflects on how we’ve played and on the players at his disposal (Dom Peyroux being a prime example over the past fortnight). He hasn’t called any players out for criticism – it seems like he’d prefer to do that in house than give others ammunition with which to target his team. This, in turn, should boost the confidence of the squad – and one player looking better each week is Ryan Morgan.
Our attack is still lopsided. I’m convinced it’s starting to even up but sometimes Ryan Morgan doesn’t get his hands on the ball half as much as Percival. Now Ryan Morgan is getting a bit of service our right hand side does look better. It was probably unfair in this world of instant gratification that people expected him to be the next Jamie Lyon or Matt Gidley. Yes, he didn’t exactly pull up trees in the first third of this season but he’s looking more and more impressive with each game. Morgan was absolutely beaming when he crossed for our final try on Sunday, and his run to set up Lomax showed he has got a bit of pace about him – without us seeing if he can be explosive. Maybe Cunningham was right about his qualities coming to the fore once he got drier pitches to play on and, if he sticks with us, he’ll be better with this season under his belt when we start getting the continually miserable weather again.
Another player departs the Saints this week in the shape of Grand Final winning prop Greg Richards. Richards has signed a deal with Leigh until the end of 2018.
Greg has spent time on dual reg with Sheffield recently and with fellow front rower Matty Lees preferred in the 19 man squad recently it has suggested that Saints are looking to see what the next generation can bring to the first team. Greg has been solid and steady for Saints without kicking on in a similar fashion to Luke Thompson, but hopefully this move will serve him well. All the best Greg.