They mean business in their quest to return to the Super League and the Leigh Centurions have further bolstered their roster with the signing of Canberra Raiders hooker Kurt Baptiste.
The Papua New Guinean international who most recently played at the Rugby League World Cup has signed a 1-year deal with Leigh.
WIth 60 NRL games to his name for both the Brisbane Broncos and the Canberra Raiders, Leigh head coach Neil Jukes sees the signing as a coup for the club.
“On and off the field, he will add great leadership values and bring the quality trends he has developed from two elite environments in the Broncos and the Raiders,” said Jukes.
“His energy, control and running game will be infectious for the players around him and with the staff look forward to enhancing those skills further.
“He’ll join up with the boys after the New Year and jump straight into our preparations for 2018.”
Leigh owner Derek Beaumont also praised the signing as well as the other additions the club has made on and off the field.
“Kurt’s capture is a further statement of our intention to regain our Super League place at the first opportunity and with the quality backroom additions of Adam (Seymour) as head physio, Scott (Hill) as nutritionist and Bubble (Chris Baron) as head conditioner alongside Kez and Jukesy and the rest of the staff we have a fantastic off-field team to help us achieve that,” Beaumont said.
On the back of what was a successful individual Rugby League World Cup campaign, David Mead has opted to sign for Super League side, the Catalan Dragons.
Mead has signed a three-year deal with the Perpignan-based club, a move that has come as a shock to some given that he could have continued to play NRL.
Despite that, Mead opted to sign for Catalans and is grateful for the new opportunity presented to him.
“My family and I are grateful for the opportunity given to us by the Dragons,” said Mead.
“I enjoyed my time at the Broncos under the command of Wayne Bennett but I am now eager to discover France and its culture and meet my new teammates and staff in a few weeks. ”
Playing in more than 150 NRL games for the Gold Coast Titans and the Brisbane Broncos, as well as in more than 10 internationals for Papua New Guinea, the club is excited at the prospect of seeing Mead play in their colours.
“He is a superb rookie not only for our club but also for the competition in general,” Catalans coach Steve McNamara said.
“His exceptional speed and offensive assets have been recognized in NRL for several years, qualities that he further improved during his recent performances with Papua New Guinea during the World Cup.
I am convinced that he will quickly become one of the favorite players of the Catalan fans who will love to see him in action. ”
Leadership is such a key aspect for many senior players in today’s day of rugby league and Catalans hope that Mead can build on his experiences as Papua New Guinea captain at the World Cup.
“To have been named the captain of his country was the perfect opportunity for him to show his leadership qualities and we are looking forward to seeing him further develop this aspect of his game at Dragons,” McNamara continued.
“We had to work very hard, particularly with Christophe Jouffret, to make this agreement and the transfer happen. To sign a foreign player of this calibre becomes more and more difficult and we strike a big blow with this player who will be an added value for us but also for the competition of Super League as a whole. “
With all the focus on the big-name recruits that the Sydney Roosters have signed for the 2018 season, other names fell by the wayside somewhat.
With players to re-sign and recommit, the Roosters had their work cut out in retaining their stars but have held onto Luke Keary, who has committed to the club for a further three seasons until the end of 2021.
The 25-year old half was already contracted for the 2018 season and played in every game for the Tricolours in 2017.
In his eyes, the Roosters club is his new home and he is excited to continue playing for the foundation club.
“I’ve found a home here at the Roosters, and each day I come in, I’m learning something new, so I’m really glad to extend my time here,” Keary said.
With Keary a focal point of the Roosters spine alongside new halfback Cooper Cronk, the club are pleased to retain him.
“Luke is a quality person who loves his footy and is always working on his game,” Robinson said.
“As I said a few months ago, barring the nine minutes he spent in the sin bin, Luke didn’t miss a moment of game time for us in 2017, and that’s a testament to how hard he works.”
“On and off the field, Luke has become a big contributor in all aspects of Club life, so its great news for the Roosters to have him on board for a further three years.”
In desperate need of both some experience and some back-line versatility, when the opportunity arose to sign Michael Gordon, the Gold Coast Titans pounced.
After just one year at the Sydney Roosters, Gordon is moving on but he quickly became a fan favourite at the club and admits that his time there, albeit short, was special to him.
“I might have only been with the Roosters for a year, but the impact of the Club on me and my family has been huge,” Gordon said.
This definitely hasn’t been an easy decision, but I feel that it’s in the best interests of my family by allowing us to move back home,” said Gordon.
Gordon received the blessing from the Roosters to pursue the new opportunity and it allows him to move closer to his family who are based on the Tweed Coast where Gordon is from.
“It’s with reluctance that the Club has granted this release, but first and foremost, Michael is a husband and father, and we respect the reason for his request,” Roosters recruitment manager Adam Hartigan said.
“While his leadership and experience will be missed, we didn’t want to prevent Michael taking up the opportunity to secure his future for the next two years.”
Gordon continued with praise of his own for the Roosters and for the way he was treated by the fans and the club.
“I can’t speak highly enough about the Roosters,” continued Gordon.
“From Robbo and the coaches to my teammates and all the staff, everyone at the Club has been like family, and while I might be moving on, I’ll always be grateful for my time at the Club and to have represented the Roosters.”
Since debuting for the Penrith Panthers, Gordon has played in 225 NRL games with the Panthers, the Parramatta Eels, the Sydney Roosters and is expected to add to that at the Gold Coast Titans.
The man himself is excited about joining the club and working alongside Garth Brennan.
“I’m excited about the opportunity to return home and to play for the Titans,” Gordon said.
“I had a good conversation with Garth and the future looks bright.
“I hope I can contribute and be part of a successful club here on the Gold Coast.”
With young talent always coming through on the Gold Coast, Brennan sees Gordon as the perfect man to help guide them and their transition into the top-flight.
“Michael is a player that everyone loves playing with and is the ultimate professional in every aspect of the game,” Brennan said.
“We have a number of young players in the squad and Michael will help them with their development as well as be a leader amongst the group.”
“His experience, as well as his ability as a goal kicker, will make him a valuable commodity here at the Titans.”
After just one season at the St George Illawarra Dragons, Cameron McInnes has shown just how good he can be and the club was quick to recognise that, re-signing him until the end of the 2021 season on a new 3-year deal.
Already signed for the 2018 season, the former South Sydney Rabbitoh was one of the Dragons best this season, producing nifty plays in attack and defence throughout the season.
With the much-talked spine such a crucial point for teams, the club has now locked up the contracts of halves duo Gareth Widdop and Ben Hunt as well as McInnes long-term.
A proven performer both on and off the field, the club believe that McInnes will only go from strength-to-strength over the next few seasons.
“Cameron had an outstanding season in 2017. A lot of people don’t see what he does away from the playing field,” Director of Rugby League Pathways Ian Millward said.
“He’s one of our best trainers and a future leader of our club.
“2017 was his first full season in the top grade, playing 80 minutes every week too, and he’s acknowledged there are areas of his game that he wants to continue to improve.”
After a season that he knows was his best, McInnes admits that the decision was a no-brainer for him.
“I’ve only been here for 12 months but it’s been the best year of my footy life,” McInnes said.
“It was a no-brainer for me and I wanted to stay for as long as I could. It’s going to be good moving forward knowing that I have that stability.
“This is just the beginning. I really want to work harder towards bigger and better things. For us I think the top four is in reach for us so I just need to keep playing the best footy I can.”
The interview series is back again, as we had a chat with former Penrith Panthers, Parramatta Eels and London Broncos utility back, Tulsen Tollett. A wordsmith at heart, we asked Tollett about his rugby league career, moving over from England at a young age, his foray into rugby union and his now flourishing media career.
So sit back and absorb the answers:
1. You were born in Sussex before moving to Australia at an early age; what prompted you to pursue rugby league growing up and what are your first memories of the sport?
We emigrated to Australia in 1979 and originally moved to Villawood and stayed in what eventually became the infamous Immigration Detention Centre. It’s where my love of snooker actually comes from as there was a communal pool/snooker table that was available to practice on. We stayed there while my parents sorted out where we were going to settle and as they chased jobs first and foremost. It was just a case of sorting the rest of life to cut a long story short.
I’d never heard of Rugby League and wasn’t that aware of it in general. I remember when we moved to Emu Plains, us kids went to a babysitters one night in St Clair I think it was, and I saw the 1980 Grand Final between Canterbury and Eastern Suburbs as they were then; it was the one where Greg Brentnall kicked ahead and Steve Gearin caught it on the full and stretched out to score. There may have been other things I saw but as far as I remember, that match is my first insight into the sport.
I actually played football (soccer) in 1981 and 1982 for my local club as my dad grew up with the sport in England and that was natural for him and my mother to want me to play a less non-contact sport really. I remember my older brother was taking up Rugby League and my friends at school were predominantly playing the sport, so I begged my mother to let me and eventually she relented against her better judgement. To make matters worse, I was a year ahead in school and my friends were older and I played U11s first up but I wasn’t 10 until May that year in 1983!
2. Your first-grade debut came in 1992 against the Panthers; were you expecting the opportunity or was it a surprise?
It’s peculiar how it came about and no I wasn’t really expecting it although I fully appreciated it. I played reserve grade against Parramatta the week before and we won while the first-grade side who were reigning Premiers were beaten 20-0; I think it was at Parramatta Stadium. I don’t remember being told as such as we used to get together, all three grades on a Tuesday and the teams would be announced. I remember the rest of the week was a blur for a couple of reasons. Firstly, we played the Roosters and won all three grades against a club leading the Club Championship and coming first in the top grade if memory serves me correctly. I was on top of the world.
The second reason came following the match. I was hanging out having a beer with a few of the lads in the reserve grade team over the Leagues Club following our function which we always had after home matches for awards etc. One of the guys there was Ben Alexander, who I’d replaced that week. The usual banter was going backwards and forwards in a friendly way as there was no animosity from him or anyone else as we had a really good camaraderie at the Panthers.
They were heading off elsewhere, that was the last time I ever saw him alive. I could tell you now what he was wearing, it’s etched in my memory. He was killed in a car accident shortly after I saw him, with three other players in the vehicle sustaining injuries – Luke Goodwin, Glen Liddiard and Scott Murray. Not the way you want to remember your first-grade debut but it can’t be changed now.
3. After just 1 year in Penrith, you moved to cross-town rivals the Parramatta Eels and became a bit of a favourite; what was your time like at the Eels over your three seasons there?
I had a great time at the Eels. We started my first season there really well and then fell away a bit but it was a club that I really enjoyed with fanatical supporters who remain to this day and that first premiership since 1986 will come sooner rather than later. Brad Arthur is doing a fine job and deserves success for all the effort and change in attitude he’s brought about there.
I remember we played Brisbane in their first match at the QE2 Stadium in 1993 and we got a win up there which I think only we believed we could get. It was a surreal day, as we were walking in from the warm-up area one of the skydivers had gotten himself tangled up in a tree missing the stadium but thankfully he was alright. Then, Michael Buettner scored all 12 points against a team who were Premiers and would go on to win it again that year.
Playing with Brett Kenny who was my idol growing up was brilliant as it was his last season and in the following two years, we just seemed to lack consistency and a few players to drive us forward some more. We’d generally put in a good performance and follow it with something completely different.
4. A move to England then beckoned where you signed with the London Broncos; how did the English game differ from the Australian game?
My plan at first was to spend a year in England and then return to Australia. I’d signed with Super League in 1995 and I had a year left at Parramatta, but as they had aligned with the ARL, we came to an agreement and I moved on, unfortunately. My first year in London was an adventure, that’s the best way to describe it. It doesn’t snow that much in London so the first day I arrived it absolutely bucketed down, so much so that Tottenham Hotspur’s Premier League game that evening had to be abandoned midway through it was so bad.
We had a great camaraderie in London and performed so well because we didn’t have the best team in the world talent wise but we had a willingness to do whatever it took for each other. That was because we got on so well as a group, and that was down mainly to Tony Currie who was the coach in those first three years of Super League for the London Broncos. He instilled a code of conduct that was strong and the players took responsibility for their actions, but also we knew how to relax and enjoy each other’s company.
The game itself in England I found to be a lot quicker than in Australia because referees wouldn’t allow players to lie in the tackle and it meant the play the ball area was a free for all at times. Markers were rarely straight or they’d shoot out way too early and the referee wouldn’t be quick to penalise. The defence wasn’t seen as a necessity for many because they’d rather score 40 and concede 30 but still win. I found it enjoyable, though and settled into the way of life in the capital thus choosing to stay.
5. In between seasons with the Broncos, you played rugby union for both Harlequins and London Welsh; was that just to keep fit or did rugby union intrigue you enough to give it a crack?
I wanted to give it a go as I played at school and never wanted to finish playing wishing I’d done it. We ground shared with Harlequins in 1997 at The Twickenham Stoop and it was a logical choice when they approached me. I was fortunate enough to play with former England captain Will Carling and World Cup-winning prop Jason Leonard along with Irish and Lions hooker Keith Wood, plus a host of others. It was a learning experience with a lot of things as the sport had only turned professional around two years before I joined them, but it was an experience I am always truly thankful for.
London Welsh came about in 1999 as it was Rugby Union World Cup year and I had spoken to Bath coach at the time, Andy Robinson, about spending two months with them to provide cover. They had won the Heineken Cup (European Cup) just the year before and I was tempted but I chose to play with London Welsh in the end when they found out I was available for a short stint. They were in the division below the Premiership but were a club with a clear progression plan with people and players I knew. Clive Griffiths who had represented Wales in both Rugby Union and Rugby League and would later be part of a Wales Grand Slam-winning coaching team was in charge, and I’d worked with him on the 1996 Great Britain Rugby League Tour.
They were based around the corner from where I lived at the time which also proved attractive, and it was one of the best times of my life. Plus, if it hadn’t have been for this move, I’d never have met my wife!
6. You were forced to retire from professional sport in 2001 due to a shoulder injury; did you feel like there was a chance you could come back from it or was retirement the sole, safe option?
I had my third shoulder reconstruction in 2001 and the second on the same shoulder in the space of a year, although the second time was more of a tendon issue. I had intended to see out my contract and play my final year which would’ve taken me to the end of 2002 and in my mind, I was ready to retire then. I’d been playing at first-team level since 1992 and I always wanted to play around 10 years. For some reason, I always thought there was more I wanted to do with my life despite the fact that I enjoyed doing what I was doing. It’s a lucky life being a professional sports person in any shape or form and people would always say you’re a long time retired.
I’d done some work for the BBC on radio while I was playing and a new digital channel was starting up at the time and they asked if I’d be interested in hosting some matches on it plus Sky Sports had the NRL which they offered me a regular slot on, so for me it was a case that if I didn’t take those opportunities, then they may well not be there in 12 months time.
At the back of my mind, I always had the doctors advice to listen to in that if I injured the same shoulder one more time, it could prove extremely problematic so common sense played a part in it as well.
7. You hold a Bachelor of Physical Education Teaching; tell us a bit about what prompted you to pursue that and where it led you to.
I decided to complete a Bachelor of Physical Education degree at the Australian College of Physical Education as teaching was something which interested me and sport was a natural progression in that area. It worked in well around training and playing and I quite enjoyed the course even if getting up early sore after a match during the season wasn’t necessarily my dream, it was certainly character building! I actually only taught for one year before I had the chance to move to England and that was at Jamison High School in South Penrith.
It was and still is a super school (I actually taught a bit of history as well which I’m a fan of) with some really good educators and a profession that is undervalued by many people in many countries, unfortunately. I do the odd bit of further education teaching when I have time these days if the schedule allows it. It’s another one of those journeys that helped mould me as a person I guess.
8. You currently work at the BBC World News as a presenter; tell us a bit about the role and what you do, and what it’s like to work for the BBC.
In 2010, my wife and I decided to spend some time back in Sydney. Our second child had been born in April and with the kids still well off starting school, we thought it was a move we should make to spend some time there and not wish in years to come that we had not done it. My wife is Irish so it wasn’t like we were going home as I hadn’t lived there since early 1996 so it was adventure time again. I worked for the ABC for both the 24-hour news TV Channel and also ABC NewsRadio with people like Debbie Spillane who I always saw on the TV when I was growing up and someone who led the way as a trailblazer for women in broadcasting.
In mid-2012, we moved back to Ireland and I generally spent a few days a week in the UK doing the sports presenting for BBC World News along with a few other outside bits I work on. Working on World News could involve stories on anything from Premier League football to cricket or the NBA so there’s a good mix of sports to work with which is what I enjoy. This year, I was out working on some 6 Nations Rugby Union along with things such as the Snooker World Championship on the final day completely dressed in black tie with other projects in the pipeline for next year.
It’s a hectic place to work as you could imagine but a lot of good operators are involved and as it’s the BBC and seen around the world as one of the bastions of broadcasting, it’s important to set and maintain high standards which we always try to adhere to.
In a huge boost for a side that has a very young core, the Newcastle Knights have signed experienced half Mitchell Pearce on a 4-year deal.
After the off-field saga and drama that saw Pearce disappointed in his former club the Sydney Roosters when they signed Cooper Cronk, Pearce now has his new club to worry about, a signing that will boost the Novocastrian side.
Still only 28, Pearce has played in 238 NRL games and 17 State of Origin matches and can guide the likes of Kalyn Ponga and Connor Watson.
“This is wonderful news for the Club and for all of our Members and supporters,” General Manager Football Darren Mooney said.
“Mitchell is committed to our Club’s rebuild and wants to be here for the long-term.
“He brings experience and leadership, and without doubt, he will complement our young squad.”
With the chance to lead from the front and guide the Knights forward, coach Nathan Brown knows just how much of an impact Pearce will have on the team both on and off the field.
“Mitch will play an important role in the development of our young halves and will also be influential in the overall growth of our side,” Brown said.
“Mitch has an exceptional kicking game and is a great competitor.
“He has some big game experience and I know he comes here wanting to be a leader.”
Pearce will begin pre-season training with the Knights on Monday and is excited to get stuck in at his new club.
“I see a group of guys working hard and on the way up and I want to be part of making this team strong again for the town,” Pearce said.
“I am passionate about helping and leading the young players at the Club.
“From the moment I spoke to Nathan (Brown) and Darren (Mooney) about where the Club is heading, I knew this is where I wanted to be.
“I can’t wait to get stuck in and start with the guys on Monday.”
Deja vu? Back to the future? You might have to believe it, as the Gold Coast Titans confirm the early release of Jarryd Hayne with a likely move back to where it all began at the Parramatta Eels but a mere formality.
With club and player mutually agreeing to a contractual release, Hayne says that the last 16 months have been a whirlwind but he has enjoyed his time on the Coast.
“The last 16 months have been testing and joyful all wrapped up into one,” said Hayne.
“I thank the Titans members, fans, Board, staff and players for what they have done for me and my family over that time, with special mention Rebecca Frizelle, Graham Annesley and Anthony Laffranchi.
“I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my time on the coast, I love the community and the laid-back lifestyle. I thank every person, fan and sponsor that I‘ve met during my time here and wish the Titans all the best in 2018.”
CEO Graham Annesley praised Hayne as the club’s biggest signing coup in their history and wished him all the best with his move.
“There is no doubt his signing was the biggest coup in the Titans short history, and although it hasn’t worked out as everyone had hoped, including Jarryd, the club has benefited in many ways from his presence,” said Annesley.
“We wish Jarryd nothing but the best for his future both on and off the field.”
The Eels have now confirmed the signing of Hayne which is for the 2018 season only.
Although he put some fans offside with some of his previous exploits, he hopes to come back and make amends but did thank the club’s fans for the support he received.
“As I said yesterday, my decision to return to Sydney wasn’t taken lightly so I am grateful that Brad and the Eels have offered me the opportunity to return to the Club,” Hayne said.
“Eels Members and fans have been behind me throughout my career and I want to use this second chance to repay that faith and support.”
“I look forward to returning to training in early January 2018 and am keen to work hard and play my part for the team in building on last year’s finals run.”
Hayne, the Eels best junior and player since the club’s heydays of the 1980’s, is a huge boost for the club and club CEO knows how important his signing will be to the club’s title ambitions.
“Jarryd started playing for our Club as a 15-year-old, so we are pleased that he now has the opportunity to return and be part of a strong squad and playing culture that Brad Arthur has developed over the past few seasons,” Gurr said.
“From speaking with Jarryd, he is keen to join his teammates in early January and is committed to working with Brad and our players to build on our excellent 2017 season.
Jarryd’s abilities will strengthen our 2018 player roster and we look forward to again seeing Jarryd in the Blue & Gold”.