On 16th March the Rugby Super League, like many other sports leagues, decided to suspend their season due to the Covid-19 pandemic. But, after a long wait the campaign finally resumes on 2nd August with a revised format.
The one major change to the season is the absence of Canadian side Toronto Wolfpack. On 20th July they announced that they would take no part in the restarted season due to the financial challenges they would be facing, including loss of gate money, medical testing, and the hiring of grounds in England.
As a result, the RSL will now consist of just 11 teams, with all of Toronto’s results expunged, and there will be no relegation to the RFL Championship for this campaign.
The playoffs will still happen, with the top five finishing teams contesting those once the regular season has concluded. The Grand Final of that should take place around the end of November at Old Trafford.
Two major rules changes have also been implemented for the rest of the season as part of the restart. Scrums have been removed from the game and replaced by a play-the-ball, whilst the Australian method of ‘six-again’ has been adopted. This replaces penalties for defensive infringements at rucks with a new set of six tackles for the attacking team.
The Top Three
With any points gained against Toronto Wolfpack being expunged, three teams currently sit on eight points going into the restart. Wigan Warriors lead the pack at the moment after six games, with a points difference of 58 keeping them ahead of Castleford Tigers in second position and Huddersfield Giants in third.
The Cherry and Whites have high hopes of improving on their performance from 2019, after they were beaten comfortable by the Salford Red Devils in the Preliminary Final of the playoffs 28-4, and finished 2nd in the regular season.
Jackson Hastings’ signing from Salford has provided help in getting them to the summit thus far, as he’s contributed a league-high eight assists as well as four tries.
Wigan’s team is well-balanced with experienced players and newly-emerging talent, and as a result they should have no problem staying in the playoff places.
Castleford must also fancy their chances of finishing in those positions after a strong start. They finished 5th in the last campaign, and like Wigan Warriors were knocked out by Salford Red Devils in the playoffs, only at the earlier Semi-Final stage.
Head Coach Daryl Powell made some excellent acquisitions between the 2019 and 2020 seasons, bringing in the likes of Derrell Olpherts and George Griffin from the Red Devils, and Danny Richardson from St Helens.
Before the season was suspended Olpherts had achieved the second highest amount of tries with six, only one behind Ben Crooks of Hull KR. Richardson is also joint-second for try assists alongside Jonny Lomax from St Helens with 7, with only Jackson Hastings ahead of them there.
Castleford managed an impressive victory over Wigan Warriors in their second game of the season, with their only blemishes so far coming from a 36-18 defeat to Catalans Dragons and a tight 9-8 encounter against Warrington Wolves.
Powell will be hoping his team can pick up where they left off in March and keep performing to a high standard.
Huddersfield Giants occupy third position having played one less game than Wigan and Castleford but matching them on points. The Clarets and Golds finished 10th last season, just two points clear of relegated London Broncos, but have shown a different side to them so far this year.
For the first time in a few years they look like they’ll be competing up at the top end of the Super League, which has been built from their defensive work.
They have only conceded 78 points, and 42 of those came in one match against Wigan. It has been the only blip in an otherwise impressive season so far, especially with confident wins against Catalans Dragons and St Helens
The signing of Australian Aidan Sezer from Canberra Raiders has played a massive part in their early season success, as he’s thrived in the role of captain, complimenting six assists. He’s certainly lived up to the hype that his signing brought, and will most likely carry on in that same vein in August.
The Chasing Pack
The form of Leeds Rhinos should not be forgotten heading into the restart. In fourth position having only played four games, they’ve shown great skill in scoring 114 points whilst only conceding 48. That’s a phenomenal 30 less than Huddersfield, albeit having played a game less.
An impressive 36-0 victory over Warrington Wolves stands out, especially as the Wolves are usual challengers for the playoff places, so it places them in good stead for the league’s return.
Catalans Dragons also demonstrated promising form in their four games before the league was suspended, having earned six points from four games and sitting in fifth. Whilst the French side lost their opening match to Huddersfield Giants, they then went on to win their next three, in what were high scoring encounters.
They also scored at least 30 points in all three of those games, so Dragons fans should be able to look forward to more entertaining matches in August.
The Lower Half of the League
Two teams that would have been expected to challenge for the playoff positions have not been quite up to their usual standards so far this season.
St Helens, who won the League Leaders Shield as well as the Grand Final of the playoffs last season, currently sit in eighth position with two wins and three losses. They started out the campaign with a comprehensive 48-8 victory against the Red Devils, but have proved to be inconsistent, even failing to score in a 19-0 defeat to Warrington Wolves.
Having an impressive 32-0 win over Toronto scrubbed off hasn’t helped their cause, but Kristian Woolf’s side will need to up their game if they want to attempt to repeat last season’s achievements.
Salford are doing even worse as they occupy 10th spot, with only one win in five games, the same record as the team who are bottom of the league Hull KR. They’ve fallen far from when came third in the final league standings in 2019 and reached the Grand Final of the playoffs, only to lose to St Helens.
Losing key players such as Jackson Hastings, Derrell Olpherts and George Griffin of course would have made it tricky to make a challenge for the playoffs again.
St Helens vs Catalans Dragons and Huddersfield Giants vs Leeds Rhinos kicks off the restart on Sunday 2nd August, before a following round of games on Saturday 8th August.