Sunday, 7 October 2007

Harlequins RL: 2007 season in review

The 2007 season was one of mixed fortunes for Quins RL, one in which the term “punching above their weight” was frequently used to describe the efforts of a squad that looked light on go forward from the very start and was to get worse as a consequence of injuries. No one can doubt the efforts of the players, there was no shortage of commitment from those who pulled on the jersey, but the lack of strength in depth across the squad and the inability to find a settled combination conspired to rob the club of any chance to progress on the field.

The late departure of Solomon Haumono in the close season and the abortive signing of Sione Faumuina who passed through the club without ever wearing the shirt left the pack looking short on mobility and power. The gamble on former Kangaroo test forward Richard Villasanti also failed to bear fruits when he failed to recover from the serious knee injury that ultimately ended his career. There were however some positives; young prop Louis McCarthy-Scarsbrook made the transition from promising fringe player to first choice pick, whilst club stalwart Joe Mbu who was controversially released to Doncaster at the end of the 2006 season returned in the club’s hour of need to lend his trademark solid, reliable, grafting presence.

The arrival of Scott Hill from Melbourne Storm, Julien Rinaldi from Les Catalans, and Danny Orr from Wigan Warriors led to questions over how the team’s organisational and creative options would line up; as it was injuries and illness that largely dictated the selections. The signing of Chris Melling turned out to be an inspired move as the former Wigan man established himself at fullback in the absence of Mark McLinden, but any battle for the number one shirt was to prove short lived as Melling also fell pray to injury problems.

The expectations of fans fell most heavily on former Kangaroo Hill, the classy standoff being seen as the key to the side’s progress. The early signs were that Hill and Orr were forming a sound understanding, but illness and injury disrupted the pairing, whilst at times Hill looked to be out of sync with his teammates. However, there were occasional signs of brilliance from the star signing which will hopefully signal a greater reward from the link-up in 2008.

Although the season began with a promising away victory at St Helens an erratic pattern emerged, with a series of losses followed by a series of wins, keeping the club out of the relegation dog fight but ultimately preventing qualification for the playoffs. An injury crisis from the middle of the season onwards delivered some remarkable results from a side that was frequently cobbled together from those players left available, but ultimately the squad ran out of steam in the final stages. A ninth place finish for the club was two places down from the previous year, but was probably a fair reflection of a season in which the performances on the field could be inspired one moment and directionless the next.

The closing stages of the season also brought speculation over the future of chairman Ian Lenagan, the Wigan born businessman who masterminded the club’s recovery from near oblivion three years ago through the partnership with Harlequins rugby union. Fears are running high amongst the fans that Lenagan will be leaving the club to take over his hometown team following the decision of current Wigan Warriors owner Dave Whelan to offload his stake. For now this particular question remains unanswered, current rumours are that the Lenagan family may ultimately take control both clubs, albeit with separate figureheads. It is to be hoped that the situation will be resolved quickly to avoid casting a shadow over the preparations for 2008.

2007 Player Ratings:

Stephen Bannister – a mid season signing from St Helens, the young second-row looks a promising prospect from his limited outings but questions about his temperament remain. 5/10

Tony Clubb – the young centre made only a handful of appearances, although promisingly there are signs that the club sees him as a centre rather than a makeshift winger as he was used in 2006. 2008 will hopefully be the season when Clubb can breakthrough, with the departures of Tyrone Smith and Paul Sykes opening up the centre births. 6/10

Matt Gafa – although primarily a winger Gafa demonstrated his utility value with some strong performances as a makeshift second-row during the club’s injury crisis. 7/10

Jon Grayson – an unheralded signing at the start of the season but proved a reliable presence in the pack, competent in both attack and defence. 6/10

Daniel Heckenberg – after a fairly quiet first season Heckenberg demonstrated his true value to the club with some outstanding performances at prop. His go-forward was clearly missed after injury cut short his season. 7/10

Scott Hill – the club’s marquee signing struggled to live up to the fans’ expectations but did show clear signs of his undoubted class. At times Hill looked out of sync with the players around him, although illness and injury also disrupted any chances of fully developing that understanding. Next season will hopefully see a more influential Hill emerge. 6/10

Lee Hopkins – the warhorse of the side, gave his all to the cause, although the physical effects of his fearless attitude and Trojan work rate started to slow his effectiveness. Hopkins will be much missed by the club following his return to Australia. 7/10

Zebastian Luisi – competition from Chris Melling and Mark McLinden at fullback saw Luisi restricted to a handful of appearances. A loyal and reliable servant to the club it is uncertain whether he will be retained for 2008. 5/10

Joe Mbu – the decision to release Joe to Doncaster at the end of 2006 backfired when the club failed to find a suitable replacement, returned at the end of the season with some quietly effective performances. 7/10

Louis McCarthy-Scarsbrook – started the season as a promising young squad player, ended it as a first choice. Mobile, aggressive and with an eye for a try LMS is rapidly emerging as one of the best props in SL. 8/10

Mark McLinden – the arrivals of Scott Hill, Danny Orr and Chris Melling created a potential headache over how the combinations would work, as it was injuries made the question academic. A talismanic presence in the side, he offers extra options when running from fullback or a steady hand when operating in the halves. 8/10

Chris Melling – his arrival from Wigan launched speculation about where he would play, as it was he established himself as a first-rate fullback in McLinden’s absence, winning a GB call-up in the process. His own injury problems curtailed any rivalry for the fullback birth, but if will be interesting to see what 2008 brings when both players are available. 8/10

David Mills – the big prop offered much needed size to the Quins front-row which was missed when injured. A solid player, he will be lining up for Hull KR next season. 6/10

Danny Orr – signed from Wigan with Tommy Leuluai going the other way, Orr offered a more stable presence than the mercurial Leuluai and a more effective kicking game. 7/10

Henry Paul – settled into a hardworking back-row role and was missed during spells of injury. A little lacking in pace these days, Paul cut out some of the loose passing that marked his game on return from Union to become a stabilising influence on the Quins side. 7/10

Rob Purdham – the skipper and heartbeat of the Quins side, an influential figure in all aspects of the clubs play. 9/10

Chad Randall – settled into the side following a lower key first season, a solid defender and crisp distributor of the ball, often overlooked by the plaudits. 7/10

Julien Rinaldi – interchanged well with Randall and offered extra options in attack, a luxury player at times, Rinaldi was more useful to the side when on a roll than when under pressure. 7/10

Rikki Sheriffe – on loan at Doncaster for most of the season returned towards the end of the season scoring six tries in ten games. Quick, strong and brave but handling can be a problem when under pressure . 6/10

Tyrone Smith – a solid and reliable presence in the centre, Smith leaves the club this year after a three-year spell in the capital. 6/10

Andy Smith – signed from Bradford, the big winger failed to establish himself in the Quins side despite early promise. 5/10

Paul Sykes – leaves the club this year after an outstanding five year spell with London Broncos and Harelquins RL, rewarded for his consistent strong performances with his first Great Britain cap during the season. A massive loss to the club. 8/10

Karl Temata – the frequent lack of depth in the front-row saw Temata take on more of the workload and consequently had less opportunity to produce the bullocking runs he’s capable of. A rock in the pack. 7/10

Jon Wells – another season of assured performances from the intelligent winger, reads the game excellently and is a solid defender. 7/10

Michael Worrincy – effective during his limited performances, Worrincy like fellow youngster Tony Clubb is a player the club will be hoping kicks on in 2008. 6/10


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