Rugby League: Yorkshire strangely missing in action for end game

Danny Brough
Danny Brough
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IT WILL seem slightly surreal tomorrow night when somebody other than Kevin Sinfield lifts the Super League trophy.

A feature idea once suggested for the Yorkshire Post entailed using all six images of the Leeds Rhinos captain raising that silverware on different occasions at Old Trafford, placed side by side.

It was uncanny how each shot was almost always identical, only the kit design seemingly different.

Just like the metronomic quality of Sinfield and that Leeds side, you just expect them to be there come October again.

However, it will be someone else this weekend, either Wigan Warriors’ Sean O’Loughlin – he is going to play isn’t he, one leg or not? – or Adrian Morley completing the perfect finish to his Warrington Wolves career and easing his World Cup disappointment.

Although there is no Yorkshire involvement at the showpiece, another rarity itself, it has been a decent year for the region’s clubs.

Leeds enjoyed their best finish yet under Brian McDermott only to, ironically, miss out on reaching the Grand Final for the first time since he took over at the end of 2010.

There was a far greater consistency to their form this year, despite an unprecedented injury list, illustrated by that final placing of third after successive years of finishing fifth.

There are no more words to write about Jamie Peacock’s immense season up front, while Australian centre Joel Moon instantly delivered on his arrival from Salford City Reds and, as well as all the usual class from familiar faces – Sinfield, Rob Burrow, Jamie Jones-Buchanan, Ryan Hall et al – there were encouraging signs of fresh talent emerging too, not least in the shape of undaunted 18-year-old Liam Sutcliffe.

However, of Yorkshire’s clubs, Huddersfield Giants are clearly the big winners of 2013.

New coach Paul Anderson found the alchemy that his predecessor Nathan Brown was routinely unable to deliver, managing to guide them to top spot, something the perennial underachievers had not achieved since before World War II.

They did so playing with not only their usual power but much brio, too, thanks in no small part to Danny Brough, the enigmatic scrum-half who emerged as the competition’s finest player.

In hindsight, Anderson’s decision to install the crafty half-back as captain was inspired as the 30-year-old delivered career-best form to fire Huddersfield to the summit.

Admittedly, they could not go on and progress to a maiden Grand Final, being unpicked almost inevitably by a Warrington side that has them in their back pocket.

However, with the likes of Brett Ferres, Shaun Lunt, Eorl Crabtree and Leroy Cudjoe excelling, and some significant recruitment already in place for 2014 with Queensland State of Origin prop Antonio Kaufusi and Australian Chris Bailey signed, you can only see them going further next time.

The size of that challenge though cannot be underestimated.

For those on the outside of the elite it remains the most arduous task breaking into that rarefied company; in this 17th season of summer rugby, there are still only four champions – Leeds, Wigan, St Helens and Bradford Bulls.

Warrington may add themselves to that list tomorrow night and, given they have lifted the League Leaders’ Shield too and recently won three Challenge Cups, they can already be deemed as one of the big players. Clearly, Huddersfield are threatening to do likewise but, all these years on from the advent of Super League, it is still hard to envisage a competition as open and competitive as the NRL.

All the pre-season talk about Hull FC – admittedly spouted mainly by themselves – failed to materialise into anything tangible and, indeed, the campaign’s conclusion also brought an end to coach Peter Gentle’s reign.

Finishing sixth is about their level and they are far from being able to make giant strides next season.

New coach Lee Radford will bring some realism to their cause and demand more effort and spirit but he knows he has a major job fashioning them into potential champions.

City rivals Hull KR can be pleased with their return this year reaching eighth, which is about par for the course for them.

Winning at Hull, Leeds and Perpignan brought real highs as did a trio of successes over St Helens but they needed to do better against the sides around them.

Life without Michael Dobson will be difficult next season but Rovers have recruited well, too, as have Castleford who improved once Daryl Powell took over.

Next season will be crucial for them with regards avoiding being dragged into the relegation mire and they, too, will be lacking their talisman in Rangi Chase, but Andy Lynch, Frankie Mariano and Luke Dorn are all astute signings.

Wakefield Trinity had a frustrating season but bigger problems escalated for them off the pitch, while Bradford shone brightly early on but then saw their lack of squad strength cost them dearly.

Warrington have long replaced them as one of the ‘top four’ and, what 2013 only served to confirm, is that it is hard to envisage Super League’s pecking order changing much any time soon.