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George Riley's Blog

21st of February 2014
George Riley's Blog

It's good to be back, and fascinating to watch Salford Red Devils open with a win in front of an encouraging record crowd last weekend.

The weather helped to put bums on seats - a rare afternoon of sunshine punctuating the monotonous Manchester rain - but the key to attracting these new fans back to the AJ Bell stadium will be winning games. Fair play to Marwan, the good doctor created a better atmosphere than I can remember, bags of anticipation off the back of all the pre-season hype and publicity he's created, and the team just about repaid him. Salford are explosively powerful up front and I can't see them getting out-muscled too often this season but it will take time to develop belief in what they are trying to do there - as was seen in the way they fell away second half. Wakefield were unlucky not to come back and win that game. And these are the fine lines in Super League this season - as the Wildcats have now lost two out of two. Having done enough to win the game in the second half at Salford, the Wildcats were inexplicably error-strewn against the Bulls this week. In fact it was a really poor game on the whole, and the type of match we may see a few of this season with the reintroduction of relegation. You had to feel for Wildcats coach Richard Agar amid the succession of knock-ons. All he can do is send his players out with a game-plan. He can't catch passes for them.

Away from the trading of opening blows in Super League, I had a long chat on the phone with Steve McNamara in Sydney this week. We spoke on the morning that the Sam Burgess move to Bath was finally confirmed by the Premiership Rugby club. As England head coach Steve was obviously gutted, and like any league fan, hugely frustrated that one of our top talents, arguably our biggest, had decided to leave the sport to try the rival code. But there was not, and is not, any bitterness and animosity. There is huge respect between McNamara and Burgess - who worked together at Bradford and England, and Sam sought out his national boss the week before the move was confirmed, to advise him of his intentions. McNamara tells me there was no point trying to persuade Burgess out of it. He is as strong-minded a guy as they come. The conversation involved Burgess giving McNamara his reasons and the England coach accepting his decision. There has been some rubbish written in Australia about Burgess and his relationship with some at Sydney. One can only comment on the experience they have, and for me Sam has always been an absolute class act and I hope he rips up every script in union and dominates the sport. Why have we heard or seen no interview from Burgess since the news came out? Out of respect for the rugby league fans in Sydney he tells me. Sam has had tons of interview requests and turned them all down. He is determined to prove to the Rabbitohs his commitment to their cause this season and has vowed not to discuss his move to Bath until his NRL career ends in October.

Closer to home this weekend marks a very special event at St Helens. We remember our friend Steve Prescott on Friday night, both with the renaming of the St Helens footbridge in his honour, and the first leg of the Steve Prescott Cup between his two former clubs Saints and Hull FC. It will be a special and emotional night in the town to remember a man who would have been embarrassed at the attention he is rightly receiving.  

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