Let it be said straight off – pre season results mean absolutely nothing. Following my teams I’ve seen them win every game of pre season, with goals/tries flying in all over the show, only to turn up opening day and get rolled over.
In that first half of the Widnes game, I felt we looked a pretty balanced side with Matty Smith dictating all that was good and giving Fages more of a platform, with Morgan/Makinson and Percival/Swift giving us an even attacking threat. It gave us a little glimpse of what to expect this year and what Cunningham had been working on with the players in pre season.
However on the brink of half time, that’s all come crashing down with the injury to Smith, which has completely ripped up the books and made us completely re-evaluate, and gave Keiron a huge conundrum to solve over the next 11 days.
In the second half of the Widnes game, Danny Richardson gave us glimpses of what he can do and was rewarded with his efforts with the start today against Castleford. I went into today with the view that in light of Smith’s injury, then Richardson should be given his chance and given plenty of time to have a good run at the job…. I came away with a slightly altered mindset.
I don’t think it’s unfair to say that against a much stronger opposition than Widnes, and a really good side who looked battle hardened and ready to go, Richardson was found wanting and looked slightly overawed. To me, that’s through no fault of his own – If he’s going to be introduced to the side, then he needs a steady head like Matty Smith alongside him to help him. Is Theo Fages that man? At the moment I’d have to say no, Theo is another half who is struggling and still looks like he could do with the help of a more experienced half back partner – he definitely looked a much better player alongside Smith and is another player who is still learning.
To put out a half back combination of Fages/Richardson out on opening night against a Leeds side looking to climb back on the horse after an awful 2016, could be a disaster waiting to happen and would do the young lads confidence no good at all, especially if the boo boys start in him.
You feel that if this was going to be the plan, then it was taken off the list of options when Keiron replaced Richardson after twenty minutes with Tommy Lee, with Richardson only re-emerging to play the last ten minutes.
That said, we’ll move on to Tommy Lee. Brought in as a back up hooker to spell James Roby on cheap money – no problem., he’ll do a decent job there in short bursts and it’ll help lengthen Robes career. To play half back? No thankyou. He looked even more uninspiring than Jon Wilkin at his worst last season, and for me it’s even more of a non starter. I’d sooner see Richardson given his head and struggle on than waste game time playing Lee there.
So that leaves us with the final option – one that I may well get a load of abuse for… but hear me out. The question remains: which combination gives us the best chance to get off to a winning start? I’m afraid to say I’d actually go back to playing Jon Wilkin alongside Fages. Whilst Cunningham said at press last week that Wilkin wouldn’t play in the halves this year unless there was a crisis, at this moment and for this particular game, I feel it gives us the best chance to win. A steady head who you know what you’re going to get – I’d just try and make quite the kicking responsibilities lie with Fages (I’ve seen enough useless bombs to last me a lifetime!) and just ask him to be steady and keep us ticking over.
If it gets us past Leeds with a win and all goes well maintain it – if it goes pearshaped, then you could possibly go back to preparing Richardson for action, with a fortnight to prepare before two perceived easier games against Leigh and Wakefield.
As for the rest of the team, it pretty much looks like it’s worked itself out:
1 Jonny Lomax
2 Tommy Makinson
3 Ryan Morgan
4 Mark Percival
5 Adam Swift
6 Theo Fages
7 Jon Wilkin
8 Luke Douglas
9 James Roby
10 Alex Walmsley
11 Joe Greenwood
12 Dominique Peyroux
13 Morgan Knowles
14 Kyle Amor
15 Adam Walker
16 Luke Thompson
17 Tommy Lee
Jack Ashworth , Matty Fleming, Jack Owens, Regan Grace, Greg Richards
LMS and Matty Smith to return.
On paper that’s not a bad looking side and squad – the sooner Matty Smith recovers and can take his place in the side the better.
As I said, I think Keiron’s got one hell of conundrum on his plate, but that’s how he’ll earn his money – lets hope come Thursday week then he’s got the answer.
Who would you play at 6 and 7? Let us know on the Redvee forum.