Eels centre bound for France next season

Willie Tonga

In past years, injury was not kind to Willie Tonga but in 2014, he has remained fit, healthy and has been a revelation in a surprise Eels side of 2014.

With good form under his belt and good health, the veteran centre will opt for a new challenge in 2015 and beyond, signing a 2-year deal with the Catalan Dragons.

Tonga, who is still only 30, has played in 179 NRL games so far and has scored 79 tries in that time.

For Catalans coach Laurent Frayssinous, he is pleased to have signed a player of Tonga’s quality.

“I’m really satisfied to be able to announce the addition of Willie to our squad for the next two seasons,” said Frayssinous.

“He is a world-class player who has been outstanding this season and will add power, pace and skills to our backline.

“Willie has played at the very highest level in the NRL, in State of Origin and for his country and he will bring his experience to the squad.”

Tonga has had stints with several clubs besides the Eels, also playing with the Canterbury Bulldogs and the North Queensland Cowboys.

Representing Queensland and Australia throughout his career, Dragons CEO Christophe Jouffret is excited at signing Tonga, a marquee player.

“Willie Tonga is a marquee signing for us,” said Dragons chief executive Christophe Jouffret.

“When a player of Willie’s calibre decides to join us, it’s a strong sign to show everyone our ambition.

“Willie has all the qualities we are looking for both on and off the field and his experience will prove invaluable to the young players who are coming through at the club.

“It is a great opportunity for them to continue their learning under one of the best centres in the game.

“We started the discussions with Willie a long time ago and it has been a pleasure to find an agreement with his agent Isaac Moses, with whom we have excellent relations.”

For Tonga himself, he wondered whether his career would even continue due to persistent injuries. What got him through it all? The faith and support of all Eels fans.

“The first two years here were the hardest two years of my life, and I don’t say that lightly,” Tonga said.

“With injuries and back surgery, there were times I didn’t think I could walk again, let alone play; and there were still Eels supporters encouraging me and wishing me the best, which has meant a lot to me.”

That was crucial for him and with his health now in fine order, he appreciates everything the fans have done for him.

“I want to thank our supporters and also apologise; I know there was a lot of expectation from our fans and from myself coming from Townsville having just played for Australia, and I know in the first two years here I didn’t live up to that,” he said.

“But I want to thank those who have been here from day one, encouraging me and getting me back out on the field, where I’m giving it all I’ve got.”

“Starting my career here back in 2001, it seems fitting that I would come back here and I couldn’t see myself playing for any other NRL club; I’m glad that I can say I’ve started and ended my NRL career here.”

As a veteran player, his leadership is crucial and that was one area that Eels coach Brad Arthur lauded Tonga for.

“He’s been an absolute credit to himself in terms of pushing himself through training difficulties to get himself in shape, and he’s only missed one game all year,” Arthur said.

“His leadership through his mental toughness that he’s showed to the young players in our side has been invaluable.”

Tigers back-rower forced to retire due to concussion

Liam Fulton

In an ideal world, he would have played on but knowing how much potential damage he could have caused himself had he played on, Wests Tigers back-rower Liam Fulton has opted to retire.

After suffering numerous concussions in 2014, on the advice of doctors and after lengthy discussions with his family and the Tigers, he made the decision that he felt was the best one. To retire.

Playing in 162 games for the Tigers from 2003-2014, he was a premiership winner in 2005 and also enjoyed a stint with Huddersfield in the English Super League.

In addition to that, he represented the City Origin side on two occasions, played in the NRL All-Stars game in 2011 and was the Tigers Best and Fairest winner last year.

Fulton bleeds orange and black and club CEO Grant Mayer was quick to thank Fulton for his ongoing commitment and loyalty to the club over the years.

“Liam has made a very brave decision, one that cannot have been easy for him to make,” said Mayer. “Having spoken at length with Liam, his family and management, I know this is the right decision for him and his future health.

“On behalf of Wests Tigers, I’d like to thank Liam for his commitment to the Club and look forward to working with him closely into the future.”

Times like these are always difficult for a player and his family, with Tigers coach Mick Potter praising Fulton for the way he dealt with the issue.

“Liam is a key member of our team and will be sorely missed on the field,” said Potter.

“His light-hearted approached to life is refreshing to all of us at Wests Tigers and it’s great that he will remain a part of the Club.”

Cronulla record upset of the season after miraculous comeback

Wade Graham

2014 has been a tough year for the Cronulla Sharks in many ways. ASADA is still on the back and continuing their investigation, they have had a coach step down and a key player sacked.

Just a few weeks ago, they had a barren run of no scoring but fast forward to the present day and after two miraculous comebacks, the Cronulla Sharks are on a roll and on a high.

Battered and bruised from the turmoil that has plagued them this year, it looked like the Sharks were in for a long night early, as the Sydney Roosters raced away to what seemed like a comfortable lead.

The Roosters were in cruise control and were dominating large portions of the game, as the Sharks had no answer for the barrage of metres and points.

The second half was a totally different story. A game of two halves – literally. The Sharks came out with fire in the belly and showed resilience that has seen them come-from-behind to win two weeks in a row.

The sheer determination and heart of the players caught the Roosters off-guard, as they made uncharacteristic errors, thus failing to capitalise on good opportunities.

Conversely, the Sharks made the most of their opportunities and led by captain Wade Graham and a lot of their young players, they dug deep and clawed their way back into the contest.

Ultimately, they did enough, as a last-minute try to veteran half Jeff Robson sealed a tremendous come-from-behind win over the defending premiers, a result that not many would have expected.

The senior players have been crucial in the past couple of weeks and interim coach James Shepherd said they have done a lot of the hard yards.

“The senior players have done a lot since Tuesday and prepared really well in our scrimmage against the 20’s on Wednesdsay,” said Shepherd.

“I suppose you can call it a miracle or a mentally tough performance by a group of men that are playing for each other.”

In the absence of their Origin stars and other senior players due to injury, it was up to Wade Graham to lead from the front and the stand-in captain did just that.

“It was just a super effort from the boys,” said Graham.

“Really proud of them. I thought they did really well apart from the first twenty minutes but once we started trading sets and found our rhythm, I thought we went with them the whole game.”

What disappointed Roosters head coach Trent Robinson was the nature in which they lost the game, especially after their blistering start to the game.

“After such a good start, a controlled start, they started to play a bit of offload footy which gave us a bit of sign,” said Robinson.

“They did that in the second half and opened us up and we lost our mojo in defence. We just didn’t talk well enough and combine well enough.

“We were all over the shop by halfway through that second half.”

3. Wade Graham
2. Jeff Robson
1. Nene Macdonald

Dragons resurgence continues with narrow win over Cowboys

Gareth Widdop

Just a few weeks ago, it appeared that the St George Illawarra Dragons were a beaten side and struggling in terms of cohesion and attacking play.

Fast forward to tonight and after a string of consecutive wins, they find themselves with renewed confidence and optimism on the back of solid coaching by interim head coach, Paul McGregor.

The game had added meaning for the Dragons organisation, as they had the chance to remember one of their greatest ever players and rugby league Immortal Reg Gasnier pre-game.

It was a topsy-turvy clash with both sides enjoying periods of dominance and although their was a late flurry by the Cowboys, it came too late, as 12,082 fans lay witness to another Dragons win.

The hero of the match and a fan favourite of many Dragons supporters was Jason Nightingale, who recorded his first ever NRL hat-trick with some acrobatic finishes.

It was class all-round for the Dragons, though, as swift back-line plays and fast-paced attack had the Cowboys on the ropes at some points in the game.

Controlling the ruck was their forte early on and it allowed them to build momentum, before the Cowboys began to wrestle back momentum of their own.

Knowing full well that his side lost – albeit narrowly – there were no excuses from Cowboys coach Paul Green, who knows that his side has to be better.

“We can use that as an excuse but at the end of the day the game was there for us to win, so I’m disappointed with the result but at the same time, I have a lot of mixed emotions,” Green told reporters following the game.

“We’re a bit under the pump at the moment. There were some courageous efforts out there and great performances but there were a few things we didn’t do when we needed to.

“Unfortunately I’m in here talking about a loss that easily could have been a win and under the circumstances, probably the best win of the year but it wasn’t to be.”

With the glaring proposition of having to win six of their remaining eight games to make the finals – a race-to-the-finish feat the Cowboys have found themselves in before – stand-in captain Ashton Sims believes they can do it.

“We’re going forward, man,” Sims said.

“You can talk about how many players are missing out but at the end of the day there are wins and losses and we should have won tonight.”

3. Gareth Widdop
2. Scott Bolton
1. Benji Marshall

Hull KR utility back to join Wakefield

Craig Hall

Players are always on the lookout for new challenges and experiences and for Hull KR utility back, Craig Hall, he is one of those players.

Having enjoyed four years at the Rovers club, he opted for a new challenge in the Super League, and has thus signed a 2-year deal with the Wakefield Wildcats.

Having played in 150 games for the Rovers and scoring 71 tries in the process, Hall is thankful for his time at Hull KR but now looks forward to the next chapter in his life.

“I’ve had four good years at Rovers and now I want to take my experience to a fresh start at Wakefield,” said Hall.

“I’ve seen Wakefield’s results in the last few weeks and they’ve done pretty well, so hopefully I can come in and have a good pre-season and we can do well next year.

“I’ve loved every minute at Rovers. It’s the club I supported growing up so it’s been a proud four years for me. Hopefully we can pick up some good results between now and the end of the season then I can have a good rest and really rip in to pre-season and have a big year next year.”

During a brief loan spell at the Widnes Vikings, Hall played alongside current Wildcats coach James Webster and knowing full well what Hall is capable of, Webster looks forward to the signing.

“I’m delighted to get Craig on board for 2015,”said Webster.

“Craig is a player that possesses great speed and we feel that his all-round game and versatility will add plenty to our current squad.

“The recent Hull KR vs. Bradford game was a good example of the attacking prowess that Craig possesses and we’re looking forward to him showing that for Wakefield in 2015.”

NRL suspends young Dragons player for drug use

It is the sort of case you hope is never affiliated with rugby league but it does come around, as news emerges of a young Holden Cup player from the St George Illawarra Dragons being suspended for drug use.

The club were not the ones that made the decision, with the NRL informing the Dragons that 19-year-old Dylan Lauri has been stood down from all rugby league activities.

The ban comes after Lauri’s A-sample came back positive for nandrolone, a banned anabolic steroid.

With seven games to his belt in the Holden Cup this year as well as a stint in the local Illawarra league, the Dragons say they support the NRL’s decision.

“This advice from the NRL came as a complete surprise to us and we would be extremely disappointed if a player has acted outside the systems, guidance and education provided by the Club and NRL,” said Dragons CEO Peter Doust.

“Dylan has participated in Anti-Doping Education as well as further internal information sessions delivered by our High Performance Staff.

“We fully support the NRL’s position and decision”.

With Lauri’s B-sample yet to be tested, he cannot train or play but the clubs have taken steps to ensure the player’s welfare is maintained.

Cowboys back-rower to join brother at the Knights

Tariq Sims

Brotherly love is a powerful thing and for Tariq Sims, he will have the opportunity to play alongside brother Korbin, with a move to the Newcastle Knights now confirmed.

The two year deal is one that has been rumoured for a while and having played in 60 NRL games, the Country rugby league side and Fiji, he brings a wealth of experience to the table.

“We are obviously really pleased to sign Tariq, a powerful and competitive forward,” CEO Matt Gidley said.

“He comes to the Club with plenty of football ahead of him but also with a lot of experience.

“Tariq will bolster our forward pack while also playing a significant role in the development of our young forwards coming through the system.”

It was an early release by his current club the North Queensland Cowboys that allowed the move to take place.

Catalans French coach re-commits to club

Laurent Frayssinous

Although his start to the season as coach was not the best, the recent resurgence shown by the Catalan Dragons side has been enough to convince the head honchos that Laurent Frayssinous is the man for the job moving forward.

Frayssinous, 37, who was appointed at the end of the 2012 season, has re-invigorated his players and welcomed them back from injury, winning 8 of their past 11 games.

The new 2-year deal is a sign of faith in the French coach and former player and for the man himself, he is pleased to have the opportunity to continue testing himself as a coach.

“I’m delighted to have extended my stay with the club and honoured to have the support and the confidence of the board,” said Frayssinous.

“I’m really looking forward to growing and developing the club, which is going in the right direction.

“We have some very exciting prospects in the squad and the launch of our academy team is an excellent opportunity for our junior products who are coming through, and I’m excited to work with them in the next two seasons.”

Support is crucial for a coach and ask Catalans Chairman Bernard Gausch and you will find that they have complete faith in Frayssinous moving forward.

“I’m really happy to keep Laurent at the club for the next two seasons,” said Gausch.

“He always had our support during the last two seasons and with the experience he gained, I’m sure he will continue to build and develop the team.”

Additionally, the club have retained the services of Sebastien Raguin as football manager.

Raguin, who is a former Catalans player and also a French international, is pleased to be staying.

“I’m delighted to stay here and I would like to thank the club for their support,” Raguin said.

“I’m now looking forward to continue helping the club to develop and improve.”

Hull KR sack Australian coach effective immediately

Craig Sandercock

It is a harsh reality that any rugby league coach has to face at some point in their career – the prospect of getting sacked.

For Australian coach Craig Sandercock, he has now faced it, as Super League side Hull KR have sacked him with immediate effect.

With club and coach initially in discussions to extend his deal with the club, the lack of developments over the last 2 and a half months prompted the move.

With a crucial game coming up against St Helens, the players will have to refocus and get their heads back in the game.

A club statement from Hull KR read:

“Hull Kingston Rovers can confirm they have today parted company with head coach Craig Sandercock with immediate effect.

The club has made the decision not to renew Craig’s contract in 2015 and with that in mind have placed Chris Chester in charge of first team duties initially until the end of the season whilst a full review of all off-field operations is carried out.

The club would like to thank Craig for all his hard work over the last three years and wishes him well in the future.”

Raiders prop heads North to Newcastle

Sam Mataora

He has been and out of the Canberra Raiders side before and in search of greener pastures, prop Sam Mataora has completed a move to the Newcastle Knights effective immediately.

Signing with the Knights for the remainder of the 2014 season, the Raiders released a short statement confirming the release of Mataora.

The Canberra Raiders have released Sam Mataora from the remainder of his current contract to take up a position with the Newcastle Knights for the remainder of the 2014 season.

Mataora was contracted to the Raiders until the end of 2014, but was signed by the Knights on Monday prior to the end of the June 30 transfer period.

Mataora made his debut with the Raiders in 2009 and played 33 NRL matches for the Raiders. He also represented the Cook Islands at the 2013 Rugby League World Cup.

The Raiders would like to wish Sam and his family all the best for the future.

Opportunity can be hard to come by in rugby league but with a chance to play more regularly, the Knights jumped at the option to sign Mataora.

“Sam was looking for a new opportunity,” Recruitment Manager Peter Mullholland said.

“He is young, adds size to our pack, he has a good work ethic and we have no doubt he will want to prove himself at the Knights.”