London Broncos’ bid to bounce back from relegation, Salford Red Devils’ play-off ambitions and farewells to two rugby league icons all feature in this week’s talking points…
Can the Broncos bounce back?
It all came down to the final round of Super League’s regular season, but ultimately it proved beyond London Broncos to conjure up one more odds-defying display to avoid relegation.
The 19-10 defeat away to Wakefield Trinity – which ensured the home side’s place in the top flight for a 22nd consecutive season – meant the Broncos returned to the Championship after just one season back in the division.
The fact the club from the capital went down with a record number of points and a record number of wins for a relegated team shows on its own just how much closer they were to the division’s established teams than many pundits predicted at the start of the year.
The impending departures of key players like Jordan Abdull, Alex Walker and skipper Jay Pitts means the Broncos will have to rebuild ahead of the 2020 Championship season, but head coach Danny Ward is confident they will rebound from relegation.
“It was just one game too many for the boys and we’re absolutely devastated,” Ward said. “But what a learning experience for us all – I think we have all got better as the weeks have gone on.
1:42 Watch highlights as Wakefield secured their Super League status at the expense of the Broncos
“They’ve done themselves proud. Unfortunately we just weren’t good enough.
“But it’s been outstanding to work with this group of players. It’s a bit of a blip in the road and we’ll come back stronger.”
Salford aim to keep shocking Super League
Another team who have defied the naysayers this year are Salford Red Devils, who extended their winning run to eight games with a nail-biting 17-16 golden-point win over Hull Kingston Rovers.
Goal-kicking three-quarter Krisnan Inu’s game-clinching drop goal not only secured that victory for the Red Devils, but also meant they finished the regular season third – their highest-ever placing in Super League.
That set up a trip to defending champions Wigan Warriors in the first round of the play-offs, with the winner travelling to League Leaders’ Shield winners St Helens for a place in the Grand Final at Old Trafford.
Even if they lose to Wigan, Salford will get another chance against the winner of the elimination game between Warrington Wolves and Castleford Tigers – and head coach Ian Watson cannot wait to find out how his side fare in the play-offs.
1:52 The Betfred Super League play-offs are coming and this is how they will work in 2019.
“I’m really excited for us to go there and see what we can do,” Watson said. “We take every week as it comes, that’s what we’ve been doing for the last nine weeks.
“Everyone wrote us off at the start of this season as the team along with London that would be relegated. People didn’t expect us to be here.
“We are confident we can cause teams a few problems. The boys are focused on their roles and everyone works together.”
McGuire bows out
It was a night of farewells across Super League, including one of the game’s modern-day greats bringing the curtain down on his 16-year career in Hull KR’s match at Salford.
Danny McGuire is hanging up his boots to take up an off-field recruitment role at Rovers and although the East Hull side avoided being relegated, they could not give the half-back a winning send-off.
It was a somewhat agonising night for McGuire as well. He was sin-binned in the first half for a professional foul and left stranded one shy of a total of 1,000 points in Super League for his career.
Nevertheless, those will be little more than minor footprints in the 36-year-old’s trophy-laden career which saw him capped by his country as well.
On an individual level, he won the Harry Sunderland Trophy twice for his displays in Grand Finals, was the first player to score 200 tries in Super League and is the competition’s record try-scorer with 246.
That is testament to the running threat he possessed with the ball in hand, while his intelligent kicking game was one of his hallmarks too. Whoever takes over from him on the field at Hull KR will have some big shoes to fill.
A farewell and a glimpse of the future for Rhinos
McGuire’s former club Leeds were saying goodbye to another club icon on Friday evening as well, with Jamie Jones-Buchanan making his 421st and final appearance for the Rhinos after 20 years at the club.
The forward captained the team during the 26-4 win over Warrington Wolves at Headingley, being cheered on by a large contingent from his former amateur club, Stanningley, and kicking a conversion for the first time in his career on his final outing.
Jones-Buchanan was even presented with a shirt by Leeds-based electronic music pioneers Utah Saints at full-time and Rhinos head coach Richard Agar was delighted they could send the 38-year-old out on a high.
“It was a pleasing win and pleasing that we won pretty comfortable in the end.”
It was a night where the Headingley faithful got a first glimpse of one of the club’s next generation of home-grown players too, with England Academy hooker Corey Johnson – who had not even been born when Jones-Buchanan played his first game for Leeds – making his debut off the bench.
Championship promotion battle hots up
5:26 Watch highlights Featherstone booked their place in the next round of the Championship play-offs
The race to see which team will replace the Broncos is underway, with some of rugby league’s traditional clubs battling it out with French and Canadian opposition to earn promotion from the Championship.
Former Super League side Leigh Centurions are the first of the top five to find themselves out of contention, going down 34-18 at home to Featherstone Rovers in Sunday’s elimination final.
Two first-half tries from Alex Sutcliffe, playing for Rovers on dual-registration terms from Leeds, set them on course for victory at Leigh Sports Village and a trip to York City Knights in the second round this week.
2:46 Watch highlights from the Championship play-off clash between Toulouse and York
York have found themselves in the promotion shake-up just a year after coming up from League One as champions, with James Ford’s men taking quickly to life in the second tier and finishing third at the end of the regular season.
That finish ensured they get another opportunity after going down 44-6 to a Mark Kheirallah-inspired Toulouse Olympique in the south of France on Saturday.