The Super League season is barely a fortnight old and there are already some familiar trends developing. That was evident here, as last season’s top two ground their way past the two sides who finished bottom of the table on a night when the competition, and the wider rugby league community, rallied around Mose Masoe.
How Masoe would have enjoyed the opening two games in the round of fixtures dedicated to raising funds for the Samoan, who continues his rehabilitation from the career-ending spinal injury suffered last year. There was plenty of defensive grit on show and, for large periods, both games felt in the balance. In the end, though, both of the favourites came out on top.
In the night’s opening game, Wakefield would have arguably considered themselves unfortunate to only go in level against last season’s league leaders, Wigan. Hull KR, in contrast, did well to keep St Helens’ lead to just 12 points at the break. But by the full-time hooter, both of last season’s Grand Finalists were comfortable, and deserved, victors.
Wigan decisively took the game away from Wakefield with three tries in 10 second-half minutes, with one man at the heart of it. Zak Hardaker has made no secret of his desire to play full-back for club as well as country in this year’s World Cup and with Wigan’s first-choice, Bevan French, out injured, this was an opportunity for him to stake his claim to coach Adrian Lam.
He has certainly done that so far. He scored a magnificent second-half try, as well as helping lay three more on for the impressive wing, Jake Bibby, as the Warriors scored 28 unanswered points after half-time to run out worthy winners and secure a second successive victory.
“I loved that. I thought it was tough in the first half but we clicked in the second half and I’m delighted for the boys,” Lam said.
Wakefield will be frustrated in the manner that they fell away after half-time. But they could do little about some of the tries Wigan scored, namely the one claimed by Hardaker following a superb break by Liam Farrell, which was finished by the former’s electrifying pace.
Two incredible finishes from Bibby either side of that try all but secured victory shortly after half-time.
A John Bateman try, followed by a magnificent cross-field kick from Hardaker which was claimed by Bibby for his hat-trick, secured a comfortable victory. David Fifita’s solo try had put Wakefield into an early lead, but this was a chastening night for Trinity, who eventually succumbed to back-to-back defeats.
However, the side who defeated Wigan in last year’s Grand Final were arguably even more impressive. In their opening two games, St Helens have conceded one try, and all of this without their lynchpin full-back, Lachlan Coote.
Yes, Hull KR are clearly not at St Helens’ level right now, but most sides would have struggled to breach the reigning champions’ line. “Hull KR were resilient and tough, but I’m pleased,” the Saints coach, Kristian Woolf, said after watching his side record a second successive victory in their quest for a third straight Super League title.
Two tries in the first seven minutes from Regan Grace and Jack Welsby suggested it would be a comfortable night for St Helens, but to Hull KR’s credit their defensive resilience ensured it wasn’t until the final quarter that the game was put to bed.
A drop goal from Théo Fages just before the hour mark opened up a three-score lead, before tries from Aaron Smith and a second from Grace finally put paid to the Robins’ challenge, despite the fact they showed plenty of grit that their former prop, Masoe, would have surely been proud of.
On the early evidence though, it seems that Super League will have a familiar feel to it in 2021.