CHRIS Riley became the eleventh player in the history of Super League to score five or more tries in a game when his round-one quintet of scores helped Warrington get their season off to a fantastic start as they put an understrength Harlequins to the sword 58-0.
Bradford’s Lesley Vainikolo is the only player to have scored six in a game, a feat he achieved against Hull in 2006. The Kiwi is also one of the ten players to have scored five, which he notched up against Wigan in round one of the 2004 season.
Other five-try heroes include some of the biggest names to have featured in the summer era; players like Jason Robinson, Anthony Sullivan, Kevin Iro, Danny McGuire and, more recently, Ryan Hall.
The first player to achieve the feat was the Halifax stand-off Mike Umaga in Super League’s inaugural season and Riley was intrigued to learn who Umaga’s opposite number that day. It was his current coach, Tony Smith, who was ending his playing days at bottom-of-the-table Workington Town. On that day, Halifax hammered Smith’s side 74-14.
“Really? I didn’t know that!” Riley remarked. “But it’s great for me to join a list of players like that because there have been some great players who have done it.
“It was nice to score the tries but it’s great for everyone to start the season off with a win. We were targeting keeping Harlequins out and taking our chances when they came along.”
Riley was quick to pay tribute to his teammates for creating his chances. His centre, Chris Bridge, and stand-off, Lee Briers, were the two he had most to thank for in that sense while Ben Harrison, the loose forward who is two days younger than Riley (they both turn 22 next week), had an outstanding all-round game.
“The lads were awesome at putting them on a plate for me,” he said. “I was really excited to be playing outside Chris [Bridge]. I’ve played outside [Martin] Gleeson before and scored a few tries and it was great to be outside Chris for the same reason.
“Lee and I have practised that a lot in training [the scrumbase kick which led to Riley’s fifth try] and it’s great when it comes off on the field in front of a big crowd. Credit has to go to all the boys for the start to the season.
“Ben’s been another player who’s just got better and better. If he keeps this up he should make his mark on the international stage at the end of the season.”
One of the ironies about Riley’s opening-day performance was that he might not have been playing if Chris Hicks had been fit, although Riley isn’t too concerned about Hicks’s impending return.
“I’m still young so I’d have to accept something like that if it happened, but the way Tony is, if I’m playing well he’ll keep me in,” Riley pointed out. “There’s no reason why Chris Hicks will get a first-team spot straightaway. It’s all about who’s playing well and Tony’s fair like that.”
Riley’s first-team career began in a 38-22 defeat at Huddersfield in August 2005. He went on to make two more appearances that season, against Wakefield, a game in which he scored, and Salford. He was an unused substitute the day Andrew Johns made his Wolves’ debut as Warrington thrashed Leeds 33-16.
“I made my debut at just 17 in a very tough game,” Riley remembered. “I remember Eorl Crabtree coming at me a few times and having to make a few tackles on him. It wasn’t good!”
Riley’s made only a handful of appearances in 2006 and a few more in 2007 but, by then, had been overshadowed by the emergence of another young winger, Kevin Penny, who shot to prominence with 13 tries in 13 games, a number of them memorable efforts. But Riley agrees that a slower introduction to the first team has helped him in the long term.
“Yes, I agree with that. I was probably too young when I made my debut but there were first-teamers injured at the time. When Kevin came in, he ripped it apart and did so well. He deserved all the praise he got. I just went away and worked on the areas of my game that needed working on.
“I’ve always thanked Paul Cullen for bringing me into the first-team set-up and also James Lowes for giving me a chance at full-back – I had some good games there.
“Tony’s come in and added some things to my game, the main one being mental toughness. I feel that I’m getting stronger each year.”
Riley added another try to his season’s tally in Saturday’s win at Castleford. Leading bookies, William Hill, have subsequently slashed his odds of ending the season as Super League’s top tryscorer from 33/1 to 7/1.
“Some of my friends mentioned that my odds were quite high but I don’t pay any attention to that sort of stuff,” said Riley modestly.
“I’m just happy to keep my feet on the ground and work hard. No-one’s place in the team is guaranteed so it just takes one bad game and you’re sidelined for the following week. I won’t take anything for granted.”
Players to have scored five or more in Super League:
Lesley Vainikolo 6 Bradford v Hull FC September 2005
Mike Umaga 5 Halifax v Workington Town July 1996
Jason Robinson 5 Wigan v Leeds August 1996
Tony Smith 5 Wigan v Sheffield June 1997
Anthony Sullivan 5 St Helens v London September 1998
Kevin Iro 5 St Helens v Huddersfield May 2000
Lesley Vainikolo 5 Bradford v Wigan February 2004
Danny McGuire 5 Leeds v Widnes June 2004
Ali Lauitiiti 5 Leeds v Wakefield June 2005
Ryan Hall 5 Leeds v Castleford August 2009
Chris Riley 5 Warrington v Harlequins February 2010