Raiders workhorse shifts North to Townsville

Shaun Fensom

In 2015, it appeared that he was finally on the rise and destined for higher honours. Shaun Fensom was a mainstay of the side and involved in everything. However, 2016 was a year to forget for the workhorse as he fell out of favour quickly at the Canberra Raiders, ending up in the NSW Cup.

As a result, the Canberra Raiders have released him from the final year of his contract and wished him the best at his new club, the North Queensland Cowboys.

A Raiders junior, Fensom won the 2008 Holden Cup with the club and went on to forge a successful career as a result.

In the end, he just fell out of favour and that has led to a 2-year deal with the Townsville-based club.

Interestingly, Fensom will play against his former side in Rd 1 if he is selected in the Cowboys side., with the club excited to have the 139-gamer at their club.

“He’s a very good player and also very experienced,” said the Cowboys General Manager of Football, Peter Parr.

“With the loss last year of James Tamou and Ben Hannant, we have lost a bit of experience, so he ticks a couple of boxes there.

“He has come to us late in the piece and we were well-prepared to go with the squad we had put in place this season.

With the need for forward depth, the signing of Fensom comes at a good time for the Cowboys.

“But we were clear that if an opportunity arose to sign a quality player, then we would pursue that, and Shaun Fensom is a quality player,” added Parr.

“He plays in a position where we think we need to add some depth.”

Premiership winning winger re-signs with the Sharks

Sosaia Feki

As the past has shown, retaining all of your premiership winning players is often not an easy feat but the Cronulla Sharks have held onto somewhat of an underrated cog in their well-oiled machine, re-signing winger Sosaia Feki.

The new deal will see him remain with the club until the end of the 2019 season and since consolidating a spot on the wing after making his debut in 2013, Feki has played in 86 games to date.

He looks forward to adding to that with a team he has been involved with for some time.

“I’m pretty excited,” he said, boasting a huge smile on his face.

“I’ve got two more years at the club and I’m really looking forward to it.”

In the end, the decision to stay for Feki was an easy one as he loves the club and the area.

“I love it in the Shire,” he continued.

“I’m hoping to stay here as long as I can.”

Raiders winger heads to Sydney after signing with the Sharks

 

Edrick Lee

In a surprising move that leaves the Canberra Raiders with little back-line depth, winger Edrick Lee has been released by the club and signed a deal with the Cronulla Sharks.

Starting effective immediately, Lee has signed a 2-year deal with the club and offers the Sharks further depth across their back-line.

The Mt Gravatt junior debuted in the NRL back in 2012 and to date, has played in 67 games, all with Canberra.

With just a week to go until the start of the season, Lee is excited to join a new club.

“I’m really excited to be joining the club, I can’t wait for this year and I’m grateful for the opportunity,” Lee said.

“I’m looking forward to meeting all the players and staff (but) I know there’s a lot of hard work that has to be done between now and round one.”

With spots on offer, the signing of Lee is one that also pleases coach Shane Flanagan.

“He’s a proven finisher who gives us height and a kick target and a point of difference out on the wing,” Flanagan began. “With the loss of Benny and with some potential changes in position for Val and others he has a great opportunity to be a part of our NRL side this season.”

“With the loss of Benny and with some potential changes in position for Val and others, he has a great opportunity to be a part of our NRL side this season.”

In the end, it was the salary cap that reared its head in Canberra which led to the release of Lee.

“With a restricting salary cap and a large amount of players coming off contract we’ve been forced to make a tough and sad decision to release Edrick, in order to be able to re-sign a large group of our NRL squad for the future,” Furner said.

“Edrick is a special player who began his career as a junior of the club and he’ll always be welcome back at the Raiders.”

 

Key Roosters playmaker signs new deal

Mitch Pearce

A favourite of many Sydney Roosters fans and perhaps the key to their finals hopes in 2017, it is cheering galore in Bondi tonight with the announcement that Mitchell Pearce has re-signed until the end of the 2019 season.

The new two-year extension is a welcome boost for the Roosters just days out from the start of the NRL season.

Still only 27, Pearce is set to play in his 11th season of NRL and staying at the club was a no-brainer.

“The Roosters mean a lot to me. The Club has been a big part of my life, and there’s been a lot of loyalty,” said Pearce.

“There’s such a good group of people at the Roosters and I’ve made some of my closest mates here. I’m proud to represent the Club, and I feel like I’ve got unfinished business,” he added.

I’m proud to represent the Club, and I feel like I’ve got unfinished business,” he added.

Just as pleased is coach Trent Robinson who knows how crucial the halfback is to the Roosters side.

“Mitch is a Rooster and this is his home, so its great news for our Members and everyone at the Club to know that he will continue to play his role with the Roosters in the coming years.”

English forward joins Titans as part of player swap

Joe Greenwood

With Zeb Taia headed to England as part of the player swap, Joe Greenwood is the man joining the Gold Coast Titans. Initially agreeing to a deal for the 2018 and 2019 seasons, the two teams came to an agreement about an immediate swap.

Whilst the St Helens side are disappointed to lose a promising player like Greenwood, they had no intention of standing in his way should he want a move.

“We wouldn’t want to stand in the way of any player wishing to ply their trade elsewhere and Joe has been given a good opportunity at the Gold Coast,” said St Helens coach, Kieron Cunningham.

“It’s always difficult to lose a homegrown player and personally I will be sad to see him leave. I’ve worked hard with Joe to develop his game and help him grow as a person – and he has done just that.

They are hopeful that one day later on in his career, Greenwood will opt to return to the English side.

“Hopefully, one day after a successful NRL career, he will pull on the Red V again,” he added.

As for the Titans, Chief Operating Officer Tony Mestrov is pleased to have it all done and dusted.

“We were excited about Joe joining us for seasons 2018 and 2019 but to be able to do a deal and have him at the club this season is a good result,” Mestrov said.

“He adds some size to our forward pack and will provide some good impact on the edges.

“Hopefully we can get him here relatively quickly and he will be pushing for an NRL start in the near future.

Veteran Titans back-rower signs with St Helens

Zeb Taia

In what will be a player swap – although the Joe Greenwood to the Gold Coast Titans transfer is yet to be confirmed by the Titans – Zeb Taia has headed in the direction, signing a deal with English side St Helens effective immediately.

The veteran back-rower signed a deal until the end of the 2019 season and has experienced at both the NRL level and the international level.

Initially making his debut for the Parramatta Eels, Taia then moved to the Newcastle Knights. Following that, he signed with Super League side, the Catalan Dragons, and became a different player whilst he was there.

Upon his return to the NRL, Taia signed with the Gold Coast Titans and enjoyed a successful 2016 season which, in the eyes of some, makes the decision to sell him even more interesting.

With more than 200 first-grade games to his name, that experience is what Saints coach Kieron Cunningham hopes to draw upon throughout the season.

“We’re delighted to have signed a player of Zeb’s calibre and he will bolster our squad immediately,” said the St Helens coach.He is powerful, possesses a great offload and like our other signings this season, will bring big game experience to the Saints.”

“He is powerful, possesses a great offload and like our other signings this season, will bring big game experience to the Saints.”

In the end, despite his departure from the Titans, the club applauded Taia’s efforts at the club.

“Zeb wanted to prove last season that he was still able to perform in the NRL and he certainly did that, playing in every game except the finals fixture,” Henry said.

“He was a regular mainstay in our starting 13 last season and he provided great leadership both on and off the field.

“I’d like to wish Zeb, Nikki and their young family all the best for the future. I’m sure he will be a strong addition to the St Helens playing roster.”

Ricky’s NRL Previews Pt 10: Melbourne Storm

A perennial powerhouse of the NRL for the better part of a decade, many have made the argument that the Melbourne Storm are the most consistent side during that period. As we look to 2017, however, there are some question marks around the team and the make-up of it. Will it affect them for better or for worse? Will their players adapt to shifting positions? 

Perhaps the major question on everyone’s lips is whether or not Billy Slater will actually start the season. The last 18 months for the entertaining fullback has been dogged with shoulder injuries and surgeries, obviously limiting both his time on the field and his time at training.
To the untrained eye, one might believe that because he is yet to feature in a trial game for the Storm, that it might mean he will miss the start of the season as he continues to recover. The NRL is a funny game, though, and if he and coach Craig Bellamy believe he can handle the rigours of the game once more, he may yet return for Rd 1. To find out, we will have to wait until team lists are released for Rd 1 which is a couple of weeks yet. Should he not play, you would expect that Cam Munster will continue in the role that he performed so well in last year.

With that in mind, though – and this brings us to the next point on the Storm – is that Cam Munster has been slated with a move to 5/8 for the 2016 season. A gifted runner and playmaker in his own right, many believe that Munster would make a seamless transition into the role and support elite halfback, Cooper Cronk. Of course, he is not the only option that is available to the club or coach Craig Bellamy. Gaining traction is young gun Brodie Croft who has impressed many with the effortless nature to which he has come into the first-grade arena via trials and the Auckland Nines.
Looking comfortable in the roles given to him, Croft has been slated as a starter for a while now and if he gets the nod, there will be no better halfback to play alongside to develop his game and nurture than Cooper Cronk.

Another interesting aspect of the Storm setup in the 2017 season is finding the direct replacement in the back-row for Kevin Proctor. The first name that springs to mind is Kenny Bromwich. Playing as the impact back-rower off the bench, he has made himself known as a solid player that runs hard and provides punch and power. With a chance now ahead of him to start and increase his minutes, he looms as the favourite to move into the role and based on his first-grade experience, you would expect him to get the nod.
One other surprising candidate whose name has emerged is Joe Stimson. Having come through the Storm ranks, he knows the expectations of the club and how he has to perform and to date, he has done that well. A key player in every team he has so far played in, he is a tremendous line-runner and is even a smokey for a bench role. Should his opportunity not come at the start of the season, it is just a matter of time before Stimson does get one and in the eyes of Storm fans, it will be just desserts.

In the end, you would expect, as usual, that the Storm will have a solid season and end up in the top four. Such is the nature of their side with the likes of Cameron Smith, Cooper Cronk and Jesse Bromwich, as well as the emergence of Cam Munster and other players, the Storm side is well equipped to deal with whatever might be thrown their way. With coach Craig Bellamy’s ability to extract the best out of his players, their consistency levels remain at a high and more often than not, they always find a way to win and perform.

Best buy: Signing mostly depth players, the one signing that stands out is that of Josh Addo-Carr. A tremendously pacey winger, Addo Carr is nicknamed ‘the Fox’ and has a chance to not only get an opportunity but to hold down the fort and retain that wing spot for many games to come. Tigers fans were disappointed to see him go and it was the Storm who acted the swiftest, knowing that they needed a winger to replace the equally impressive Marika Koroibete. Whilst a different player from the Fijian, they both have their own spark and x-factor that can help the Storm side moving forward and do something that they do well in rugby league – scoring points.

Best Young Talent: Patiently waiting his turn to make an impact in first-grade, Joe Stimson has a great opportunity to get a start at some point in 2017. Everywhere he has played, whether it is for the Storm’s Holden Cup side or for their feeder teams, he has performed consistently and the head honchos at the Storm have noticed.
There has been some talk that he might start the season but given the form and faith in Kenny Bromwich, Stimson may have to bide his time. A great line-runner, Stimson knows how to hit the gap and how to create the break to lead to a sound attacking play. Storm fans know how good he is and very soon, the entire NRL will as well.

2017 gains: Josh Addo-Carr, Jahrome Hughes, Ryley Jacks, Vincent Leuluai, Justin Olam & Brandon Smith.

Our predicted Storm line-up at full strength:

  1. Billy Slater
  2. Josh Addo-Carr
  3. Curtis Scott
  4. Will Chambers
  5. Suliasi Vunivalu
  6. Cam Munster
  7. Cooper Cronk
  8. Jesse Bromwich
  9. Cam Smith (C)
  10. Jordan McLean
  11. Kenny Bromwich
  12. Tohu Harris
  13. Dale Finucane

14. Nelson Asofa-Solomona
15. Tim Glasby
16. Christian Welch
17. Felise Kaufusi

Ricky’s NRL Previews Pt 9: Newcastle Knights

A team mired with off-field turmoil and poor results on the field – not from a lack of trying or being committed, though – the Newcastle Knights are well and truly a team rebuilding at present. In the eyes of many, however, they are slated to win a second successive wooden spoon.

The question must be asked, though, are they really that bad? Whilst they may not have the overall team to make the top eight, they do have heart, spirit and determination, due to the nature of coaching employed by Nathan Brown. A coach who enjoys rebuilding a team to get them up to his standards, a lot of the older, veteran players have departed, replaced by talented, upcoming youngsters. Whilst some of the youngsters have proved themselves more than others, the investment in them is the best part as they look to develop for the future.  Furthermore, is it a technique that usually works or does a team need enough experience to balance out their youth and to help them grow and develop.

The make-up of their halves will look different in light of the positive drug test by Jarrod Mullen. Whilst his experienced will be sorely missed, many Knights fans believe it could be a blessing in disguise as it will give one of their younger halves a chance to enjoy a prolonged period in the first-grade line-up. That likely player is Brock Lamb, a young half who is highly rated by Knights fans and has an astute knowledge of the game. Whilst Trent Hodkinson will steer the ship, Lamb’s role will be to control his side of the field and produce solid link-up play to his outside centres and wingers.

With a team that possesses so much youth, the key is to help bring them all together and produce methods to draw out their talents for the betterment of the team. Whilst they may take time to both gel and come into their own as young players, their own individual belief in their abilities and the way the coach perceives them and nurtures them will be the big challenge for the Knights young guns this season.
In the end, many are writing off the Knights and perhaps on form and their roster, part of that is justified. However, if rugby league has taught fans anything, it is that the game is unpredictable and the mix of the youth and experience plus a coach that has high expectations of his players, they will work hard, play hard and remain competitive.

Best buy: Needing experience and versatility desperate, an astute addition for the Knights will be Jamie Buhrer. A versatile second-row forward that can cover hooker and centre if need be, his style of play and solid defensive efforts are just what the doctor ordered for an inexperienced Knights forward pack. Impressive during his time at Manly, Knights fans will be hoping that he can emulate that type of success. He looms as a key player on the fringes for the club, as they look to rebuild and get themselves off the bottom of the ladder – by the expectations of many, at least.

Best Young Talent: With a spot in the halves up for grabs, one of the Knights talents that has a chance to prove his mettle and hold down a spot is young gun, Brock Lamb. A talented half that has had Knights fans raving for a few seasons now, he has excelled in the Holden Cup for the club. With a steeled half in Hodkinson by his side, Lamb has all the tools to provide the perfect foil for him and carve out his own path. If he performs strongly enough, the Knights may have found the half that they can build their side around moving forward.

2017 gains: Jamie Buhrer, Mitch Barnett, Jacob Gagan, Rory Kostjaysn, Ken Sio, Josh Starling & Joe Wardle.

Our predicted Knights line-up at full strength:

  1. Peter Mata’utia
  2. Ken Sio
  3. Dane Gagai
  4. Joe Wardle
  5. Nathan RossSa
  6. Brock Lamb
  7. Trent Hodkinson
  8. Daniel Saifiti
  9. Danny Levi
  10. Josh Starling
  11. Sione Mata’utia
  12. Jamie Buhrer
  13. Mitch Barnett

14. Rory Kostjaysn
15. Jacob Saifiti
16. Anthony Tupou
17. Sam Mataora

Storm’s Fijian flyer re-signs

Suliasi Vunivalu

When you think of Fijian flyers and the Melbourne Storm, you might be inclined to believe that it refers to the now departed Marika Koroibete. However, there is a new Fijian flyer in town and that is Suliasi Vunivalu.

Bursting onto the scene in Rd 7 of the 2016 season, he scored 23 tries in 23 games, a remarkable strike-rate. In those 23 tries, he scored four tries once, two hat-tricks and five doubles.

Moving to Melbourne after being spotted by the Storm recruitment staff playing in Auckland, he played in their U20’s team before moving to the Queensland Cup to play for the Storm’s feeder sides.

There was no hiding the excitement in re-signing Vunivalu by those involved with the Storm setup.

“We are thrilled to have Suli recommit to the Club for another season,” said the Storm’s Director of Football, Frank Ponissi.

“He had an outstanding 2016 for a player in his rookie NRL season – not only to finish as the competition’s leading try-scorer but to also play in our Grand Final side.

“Suli is a wonderful athlete and a smart player who is looking forward to the challenge of going into his second season with a focus on continuing to improve his game.”

Roosters utility signs new contract

Ryan Matterson

One of their unheralded players in the recent Auckland Nines success, Ryan Matterson’s NRL form has also been good enough for the club to make a decision to re-sign him until the end of the 2019 season.

The 22-year old joined the club from the Parramatta Eels and played mostly off the bench for the Tricolours, a team he is enjoying playing with.

“I’m really proud to be a Rooster. Since day one, everyone at the Club has made me feel at home, and this is where I want to build a career,” said Matterson.

“I know that there’s still a lot of improvement in me, and I’m looking forward to continuing to learn from Robbo and the coaches, and hopefully secure my opportunity to play some good football for the Club,” he added.

Head coach Trent Robinson praised Matterson’s work ethic on the field and his conduct off the field.

“Ryan’s energy and enthusiasm is contagious, and with his great work ethic, I have no doubt that he will only continue to grow over the coming seasons,” said Robinson.

“Away from football, Ryan is also a terrific person, so it’s great news for the Roosters to have secured his services for another couple of years,” he added.

 

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