Super Jake re-signs at the Cowboys

Jake Granville

One of the signings of the season, Jake Granville lived up to the billing that came with him. A strong performer and a key one at that in the North Queensland Cowboys charge towards grand final glory, he has been rewarded with a new deal at the club.

The new 2-year extension sees his deal extended to the end of 2018, having already been under contract for the 2016 season.

Initially starting off the bench, his spark and energy eventually saw him rewarded with the starting spot and he never looked back, wowing fans and excelling on a weekly basis.

The icing on the cake was winning the club’s Player of the Year Award, and Granville could not be happier to continue his tenure in Townsville.

“I’ve loved every minute of my time here so far and I can’t wait for the new season to start,” Granville said.

“I settled in really well, I’ve loved playing under Greeny again and all my teammates have been tremendous during what was a memorable season for us.”

Granville worked hard and toiled to get where he is, spending some time in the Intrust Super Cup to prove his worth.

That hard work did not go unnoticed by Cowboys coach Paul Green, who knew what Granville was capable of having coached him in the past.

“Jake came through the Intrust Super Cup ranks, performed really well at that level, hung in there and is now a bona fide NRL player, which speaks volumes of his never-say-die attitude and his talent,” said Green.

“It’s also a great example of the Intrust Super Cup being a tremendous pathway for those players pursuing an NRL career.”

Retaining Granville keeps the Cowboys core spine together for longer.

“Jake quickly became an integral part of our team, and we were thrilled with how he progressed throughout the year,” Cowboys General Manager of Football Peter Parr said.

“We are delighted to have come to terms with Jake until the end of the 2018 season. His re-signing continues our strong policy of retention.”

Souths grant Walker early release from his contract

Dylan Walker

With heavy links and rumours tying him to Manly, it has been an interesting ride over the last few months for Dylan Walker.

Incidents off the field, some decent form on it but the situation has all come to a head. That decision has seen his current club, the South Sydney Rabbitohs, grant him an early release from his contract.

That release has been granted and head coach Michael Maguire wished Walker all the best moving forward.

“We wish Dylan all the very best in pursuing the next phase of his career,” Coach Maguire said.

“I have known Dylan since he was 17 years of age, we have had some great times together and he has many good attributes.”

“I spoke to Dylan about staying, however I appreciate his desire to secure his long-term playing future.”

Former Storm winger signs new deal at Castleford

Denny Solomona

Still only 22, Denny Solomona is continuing to learn the game and develop but good form has seen him rewarded with a new contract by the Castleford Tigers.

The new three-year deal for the former Melbourne Storm utility back follows a successful impression made at the Tigers.

It was at the start of the 2015 season that Solomona joined the Tigers, having previously played for the London Broncos.

Although injuries got the better of him this year and thus limiting him to just 15 games, he did manage to score 18 tries, no easy feat.

Solomona fit into the system seamlessly and the support he received from everyone was a big reason behind his decision to stay.

“I’m so happy to have extended my deal to stay here at Cas Tigers for the coming three seasons,” said Solomona.

“Everyone has made me feel at home here and we have a great team both on and off the pitch.

I’m surrounded by players and coaches who are helping me to constantly improve my game, and I know I can continue to grow as a player in this environment.”

Fans are everything and the atmosphere at the Jungle continues to amaze the winger.

“Nothing comes close to playing here at the Jungle!,” said Solomona.

“Our fans are awesome and I can’t wait to get back to business when the new season begins in February.”

With high hopes for Solomona, Tigers head coach Daryl Powell wants to help the winger continue his development and learning.

“Denny can become the best winger in Super League if he continues the hard work and application he has shown so far this pre season,” said Powell.

“He is a natural finisher with speed to burn. I’m looking forward to helping him achieve his huge potential over the next three years.”

Former Broncos forward signs contract extension at Leeds

Mitch Garbutt

In his first 14 games with the Leeds Rhinos, Mitch Garbutt won a Challenge Cup, a League Leaders’ Shield and a Grand Final, playing a major role for the club in those wins.

Now, on the back of his solid form, the club have rewarded him with a contract extension that will see him remain with the club until the end of the 2019 season.

Garbutt, who made the move across for more opportunity, could not be more pleased about the way the move has panned out for him and he is eager to get stuck in for the next season.

“With how everything has panned out this season, I was delighted to sign a new deal and commit my future to the Rhinos,” Garbutt said.

“This is the most I have ever enjoyed my footie and I can’t wait for next season.

“I am looking forward to experiencing the weather this winter during pre-season and I think I will be better for it.

With family playing such a big role for him, the fact they were able to settle down so easily and adapt smoothly, played a role in his overall decision.

“My family and I have adapted well to life over here,” said Garbutt.

“We are aiming to settle down in Leeds and we have been made to feel so welcome, not just by the staff and players at the club but also the fans who have been great as well.”

Even the club have noticed the seamless transition that Garbutt has made into the team and the area and are also pleased to see him extend his contract.

“It is remarkable how well Mitch has fitted into our culture since he arrived here,” said Leeds Head Coach, Brian McDermott.

“He deserves a lot of credit for that because of his attitude and professionalism.

“The prospect of him having a full pre-season with us is exciting given how well he has settled in since he arrived and I am delighted he has committed his future to the club.”

Former Cowboys player appointed as their new Holden Cup coach

Aaron Payne

He was one of their most courageous players and a fan favourite, and North Queensland Cowboys life member and two-time Paul Bowman medallist Aaron Payne has a new role with the club.

He is the new Holden Cup coach for the Cowboys side. Following three years of working with the club as a junior coach – the last two of which have seen him work with the club’s academy side – he has performed well in these roles as both a coach and a mentor to the younger generation.

His work with the juniors have seen numerous sides he was involved in win championships like the U16’s Northern Pride side, the under 18’s Townsville Stingers side and the Capricornia Open Schoolboys team.

These experiences have steeled him for the role ahead and Payne is excited to continue with the club that he has been associated with since he was a teenager.

“I’m really looking forward to this new challenge of my coaching career, especially given it’s at the club I have proudly been involved with since I was a teenager,” he said.

Micheal Luck, also a former NRL player, is currently the Cowboys Elite Pathways Manager and says that Payne’s experience and exposure to the academy and junior leagues over the last three years made him the perfect candidate for the role.

“Aaron is the ideal candidate to continue the good work Todd did with the NYC boys in the 2015 season, where the team narrowly missed out on making the grand final,” Luck said.

“He’s enthusiastic, has a great football brain from years of playing at a high level in a key position; and has a proven ability to nurture and develop emerging talent.”

Roosters utility heads South & signs with the Sharks

Matt McIlwrick

Every team needs depth and coaches know that, as the Cronulla Sharks have moved to shore up their hooker depth, signing Matt McIlwrick from the Sydney Roosters.

Playing eight games for the Roosters in 2015 whilst filling in for Jake Friend, McIlwrick has had exposure to the role at the NRL level and Sharks coach Shane Flanagan knows he will push hard for a spot.

“We need three hookers in our NRL squad,” Flanagan said.

“I needed that insurance in case there is an injury. Matt came from the Roosters, played 7-8 games last year and he’s come from a really good system.

“He’s very professional and adds quality depth at our 9 position, and he can play 13 as well. He’s coming here to challenge the other two, so it will be a really good mix for us.”

The Sharks already boast one of the elite hookers in the game in Michael Ennis, and McIlwrick hopes to learn from him during his time at the club.

“I’m looking forward to the opportunity over the next couple of years,” McIlwrick said.

“It’s a great team here going forward and being able to learn off Michael Ennis and a few of the other boys will be awesome.

“I’m here to learn as much as I can.”

Raiders QLD Origin forward signs new deal

Josh Papalii

In a further boost for the Canberra Raiders to go with the recent re-signings of Jack Wighton, Shannon Boyd and Joey Leilua, the club have today confirmed that forward Josh Papalii has also re-signed.

The new deal will see Papalii remain with the Green Machine until the end of 2018, as he looks to continue his good form that saw him regain his QLD Origin jersey.

His home away from home is Canberra and Papalii is keen to help the club build towards success over the next three years.

“I’ve been in Canberra for a while now and it’s become a home for me so I’m really happy to be staying with the Raiders and continuing my career here,” Papalii said.

“The Raiders have helped me become the player I am today and without their support I wouldn’t be where I am.

“I think with the right attitude and hard work we can definitely be a very successful team over the next few years and I can’t wait to start next season.”

Since joining the Raiders, Papalii has turned into something of a cult hero and they are excited to have retained him as he seeks to get even better.

“There’s no doubt Josh is one of our most important players and his efforts this season have shown how good he can be for our club,” club CEO Don Furner said.

“We’re really excited to have Josh re-sign with the club and his announcement today continues our plan of retaining a squad we think can be successful in the future.

“He’s played over 100 NRL matches now and we believe he’s starting to come to the point of his career where he’ll play his best football.”

Former NRL player and coach named head coach of local NSW side

A quality player in his own right and often revered by the fans of those teams he played for, Brett Kimmorley moved into coaching and commentating upon retirement.

From a coaching perspective, he went on to work as the Wests Tigers U20’s coach, the Canberra Raiders assistant coach and a specialist halfback coach at the Canterbury Bulldogs.

Now, however, he has a new coaching career ahead of him, after local NSW side the Wests Devils confirmed that the former NRL player and coach would be their new head coach.

Having played for NSW and Australia and achieving great things in the game, Kimmorley was always on the lookout for the next role to challenge him and he found it.

The vast, rich history of the Wests Devils club is what immediately lured him to the role.

“I feel very honoured and excited to become a Coach at such a successful club,” said Kimmorley.

“The history of the club and the names that have come through this club caught my attention and excited me to want to join them.

“I’m looking forward to working with a great mixture of young players with excitement and future hopes, shared with some experienced players with a wealth of knowledge. I’m aware of how tough the games are but also excited about developing my players.”

Having worked with junior teams before, the Wests Devils saw that as a key behind Kimmorley’s appointment to the role and it is a move that club President Matthew Reh is pleased about.

“The Devils have been very fortunate to be able to sign another high profile coach in Brett Kimmorley,” Reh said.

“He brings to the club not only a wealth of playing and coaching experience, but also has a great passion to develop all player’s abilities to play Rugby League.

He has also expressed his interest in being able to bring this passion across the whole club from the Junior League to First Grade.

This will see the Wests Devils continue their strong junior base to progress through the club, and reach high representative levels, which the Devils have always encouraged.”

New Zealand Warriors fan favourite returns home

Ali Lauitiiti

The favourite player of many New Zealand Warriors fans, they will all be cheering for the day, as former Warriors forward Ali Lauitiiti returns to the club he once called home.

The move back to the Warriors will wind up his long, illustrious career, as the forward looks back on what he has achieved in the game.

Lauitiiti’s return was confirmed by the Warriors Recruitment and Development Manager Tony Iro, with his experience and leadership crucial for the side in 2016.

“For Ali, this is a chance to come back to where it all began,” said Iro.

“With his depth of experience he has so much to offer us as a leader and mentor both on and off the field.

“In realigning our squad, our goal was to retain and recruit quality players while also ensuring we had a strong blend of experience throughout the wider group.

“While Ali is 36 now, we saw he still has his range of skills when he played for Leeds against the Kiwis a few weeks ago.”

Lauitiiti was Warrior #55 and for the Mangere East Hawks junior, he is pleased to have the chance to wrap up his career at home, where it all began.

“As a family, we’re excited about heading home after being away so long,” he said from Leeds.

“For me, it couldn’t be better being given this chance to come back to the Warriors. I left a long time ago but the club has always been really special to me.

“While I’ve kept training, I’ll have some catching up to do once I join the boys for training but I want to do all I can to help the coaching staff, the team and the club in any way I can.”

Former player now current Warriors coach Andrew McFadden had the chance to see what Lauitiiti was capable of back in his own playing days and he also knows how important the experience is.

“Ali has been an unbelievable player over so many years, which I saw first-hand while I was still playing,” he said.

“Having more experience in our group is so important as we prepare for 2016 and beyond. A player like Ali will add so much with his knowledge and his leadership.”

Former Wests Tigers utility back joins Castleford

Jy Hitchcox

The last few seasons have been a rollercoaster ride for Jy Hitchcox as he made his debut for the Wests Tigers in 2014, made a move to the Featherstone Rovers for 2015 and now gets to fulfil a dream. Playing Super League.

Hitchcox will join the Castleford Tigers, after signing with them for the 2016 season with the club having a further option to extend that to 2017.

Showing his skills across those years and also in the NSW Cup during his time at the Tigers, the utility back is excited to have the chance to play Super League.

“I’m so excited to head back to the UK and to join Castleford Tigers,” said Hitchcox.

“The chance to play Super League is a dream come true. I’m really impressed by what I’ve seen of the team and getting the chance to work under Daryl Powell is awesome.

I’m looking forward to heading straight into pre season training, and knuckling down to some hard work.”

Castleford’s squad is now finalised and coach Daryl Powell is thrilled that it has ended with the signing of Hitchcox.

“I’m delighted to finalise our 2016 squad with the addition of a player who I feel will prosper in our environment,” said Powell.

“Jy will provide quality competition in our outside backs, he has real speed and his footwork will trouble defences of any level.

He is a player who is hungry to prove himself in Super League and I am confident in his ability to do just that.”

Also looking forward to seeing the utility back at the club is Castleford CEO, Steve Gill.

“I’m sure that Jy will become an important part of our 2016 team,” said Gill.

“His versatility to play anywhere in our back line will make him an excellent addition to what is already a very good squad.”