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Macdonald heads closer to home with move to the Cowboys

St George Illawarra Dragons winger Nene Macdonald

Nene Macdonald’s time at the St George Illawarra Dragons will come to an end, with the hulking winger signing with the North Queensland Cowboys.

McDonald was released by the Dragons from the final year of his contract on compassionate grounds.

Since joining at the start of the 2017 season, McDonald played in 46 games for the Red V and they wished him well.

“Nene has been an important player over the last two seasons at our club,” said Dragons Director of Rugby League Pathways Ian Millward.

“Although he has one year left on his contract, his management and himself approached the club on compassionate reasons for a release.”

“We thought it was in the best interests welfare-wise for Nene to grant him the release, so unfortunately he won’t be with us in 2019.”

Although they have lost McDonald, the Dragons have signed wingers Mikaele Ravalawa and Jonus Pearson.

The move back to the NQ region puts McDonald closer to home with his Papua New Guinean roots.

“He’s a North Queensland kid and we like North Queenslanders representing this region,” said North Queensland Cowboys coach Paul Green.

“Nene is going to offer plenty of depth to our backline and had a fantastic year for the Dragons.

“I know him on a personal level after coaching him in the under 20s at the Roosters and am confident he will be a good cultural fit for our club as well.”

Looking for a big winger to replace the retired Antonio Winterstein, Cowboys Director of Football Peter Parr believes the club has found their man.

“He’s a very talented athlete and with the retirement of Antonio Winterstein we were keen to add to our outside backs and in particular the wing position,” Parr said.

“Nene fits the criteria we were looking for and he indicated to us that he had a desire to return home to North Queensland.

“So, we made some inquiries with the Dragons and they have been very cooperative in helping us bring him back to North Queensland.”

Storm look to the future with retention of five players

Melbourne Storm prop Nelson Asofa-Solomona

Nelson Asofa-Solomona, Jahrome Hughes, Kayleb Milne, Scott Drinkwater and Justin Olam have all re-signed for the Melbourne Storm, who have moved quickly to secure talent for the future.

Although Asofa-Solomona still had a further year to run on his existing deal, a new four-year extension will see him stay in purple until 2023.

Enjoying one of his best seasons to date in 2018, the man nicknamed NAS impressed many and backed it up with career best stats across numerous categories.

“We are proud of how far Nelson has come as a player and as a person over the last 18 months,” said the Storm’s General Manager of Football Frank Ponissi.

“What he can achieve over the next five years in the purple jersey is incredibly exciting.

“We have no doubt he will continue to work hard to ensure he makes the most of his exciting potential.”

Also re-signing is Jahrome Hughes, whose utility value has been handy when deputising at both fullback and in the halves in 2018.

“Jahrome took his NRL opportunity with both hands in 2018 which should give him a great deal of confidence heading into next year and we are excited to see him push for a regular spot in the 17,” continued Ponissi.

Melbourne Storm utility back Jahrome Hughes

Scott Drinkwater and Justin Olam have both signed new 2-year deals, and both were praised by Ponissi.

“The same goes for Scott and Justin who, while being limited with their NRL chance this year, showed terrific signs at feeder level which makes us excited with what they can both achieve at this Club over the next two years,” said the Storm GM of Football.

The club also retained Milne until the end of 2020, yet another player they value highly.

“Kayleb is also a player we see as part of the future of Melbourne Storm who is working hard to take the next step in his development,” said Ponissi.

Melbourne Storm centre Justin Olam

Hastings to remain with Salford for a further year

Salford Red Devils utility Jackson Hastings

After impressing the club and its fans, Jackson Hastings has opted for a further year with Super League side, the Salford Red Devils.

Arriving in July, his solid performances helped Salford finish first in the qualifiers and the club wanted to see more over a full season.

The decision was an easy one for Hastings, who lauded the fans and the club for how they have welcomed him.

“In the end, it was a pretty easy decision to be honest,” said Hastings.

“When I laid in bed at night weighing up my options, I really couldn’t see myself playing anywhere else over here.

“The amount of support the Club gave me through a tough time in my life, the love that I’ve got from the fans.”

Hastings also praised his team-mates who embraced his arrival.

“The respect I’ve got from the playing group is something that if I’d walked away from it I know I wouldn’t have been happy with,” the utility continued.

“I’m happy with my decision and hopefully we can kick on and have a good season next year.”

Just as pleased are the club, who know how valuable the former NRL player is to the club and their ambitions.

“Signing Jackson for the 2019 season is a great piece of business by the Club and a great piece of business for Super League as a whole,” said Salford head coach Ian Watson.

“His energy and enthusiasm around the Club and the boys is infectious and you can see in the games he’s played how it lifts people around him.”

Fitting in well with team dynamics, Watson continued to praise Hastings for his approach to the team and their play.

“We have always had effort and commitment from our team but Jackson has lifted the pressure and allowed others to just play and enjoy the game,” continued the Salford coach.

“Jackson wants to lead a team and be the dominant half and that fits perfectly within our team dynamics.

“I hope Jackson can continue to enjoy his football and show everyone over the next twelve months how good a signing he is.”

Luke to remain in New Zealand after new 1-year deal with Warriors

New Zealand Warriors hooker Issac Luke

Slated to leave at one point, Issac Luke will instead remain across the ditch, re-signing with the New Zealand Warriors.

The 31-year-old’s new deal is for just 1 year but Luke is just pleased to have something sorted.

“It’s good to have the contract all sorted out,” said Luke.

“We always wanted to stay in New Zealand, my wife and the kids.

“I’m really happy here at the club and I’m pleased I have another season with the boys.”

The club were always keen on retaining the crafty hooker, who has played 66 games for the club and 250 overall.

“We wanted Issac to stay,” said Warriors coach Stephen Kearney.

“It was just a matter of sorting out the details.

“Now we look forward to him making a big contribution to the side next season.”

Coote makes the move to England signing with St Helens

North Queensland Cowboys Lachlan Coote

In what has essentially been a trade, Lachlan Coote will join St Helens after Ben Barba joined the North Queensland Cowboys. 

Signing a 3-year deal with the English club, Coote says he and his family are excited with the opportunity.

“My family and I are really excited to be moving to England,” Lachlan said. “

It is a great opportunity to play for such a proud and successful club and I’m really looking forward to settling in and kicking off the 2019 season.”

With 166 NRL games to his name for the Penrith Panthers and Cowboys, Coote brings experience and versatility to the Saints side.

The club are pleased to have the Scottish international on board for three years.

“I’m really excited to have such a quality player coming to our club,” Saints Head Coach Justin Holbrook said.

“He is an exciting player with a good kicking game and vision.

“He will suit our club perfectly.”

Jazz Tevaga turns down rival clubs to re-sign with the New Zealand Warriors

New Zealand Warriors utility Jazz Tevaga

Fresh off winning the Dally M Interchange Player of the Year, Jazz Tevaga has now re-signed with the New Zealand Warriors.

The new 1-year deal with an option for a second caps off a great week for Tevaga and the Warriors, who also re-signed Bunty Afoa.

Warriors coach Stephen Kearney is pleased with his development and how far Tevaga has come in 2018.

“We’ve been really pleased with the way Jazz has developed his game this year and were thrilled when he won the Dally M interchange award this week,” said Kearney.

“He was important to our success, the way he came off the bench to bring energy and toughness playing big minutes.”

In the end, the progress the club has made and his love for them, was enough for Tevaga to stay.

“There were other offers but I love it here and always wanted to stay,” said Tevaga.

“We made progress this year. We have something to build on and I want to be part of our success next year and after that.”

 

Afoa extends Warriors stay

New Zealand Warriors forward Bunty Afoa

With a spot now open and a chance to make it his own, Bunty Afoa has today re-signed with the New Zealand Warriors.

Afoa’s new deal will run until the end of the 2021 season, as Warriors coach Stephen Kearney praises the young forward.

“Bunty has been terrific for us, even more so when you consider he was only 21 for almost the entire season,” he said.

“What he gives us is real consistency in effort and performance which makes him one of the most impressive young forwards in the game.

“He also brings a wonderful attitude in all he does as well and will improve even more.”

Afoa, who can play both as a front or back-rower, is just pleased to be playing as often as he is.

“I love being part of this club and I’ve really enjoyed my football this year having the chance to play in the middle,” he said.

“I felt a lot more comfortable about my role whether it was coming off the bench or starting but I’ve got a lot more to learn and I want to do all I can to help the team do better next year.

“I feel blessed with the coaching staff and players I have around me to guide me.”

Starting seven games in 2018, that number could increase as the club gave Afoa nothing but praise.

“Bunty is another terrific young player who has come through our nursery,” Vodafone Warriors General Manager of Football Brian Smith said.

“What he has done in such a short time in the NRL is inspirational, a fine example for all young kids in this country who have dreams of making it.

“He’s a pleasure to have at our club in the way he conducts himself as a footballer and in the community.

2019 NRL Trials Thread

Season 2018 may still have a grand final to go but trial news for 2019 has already filtered in. 

We have you covered here; every NRL trial announced over the coming months in the lead-up to the 2019 season will be written by date.

So sit back, relax and enjoy the wave of emotion, as you find out where your team is set to play in the 2019 trials.

And, as more trials are slowly confirmed, we will be sure to add them all in.

Saturday February 23

Canberra Raiders v Canterbury Bulldogs (#NRLTrials #NRLcancby); Bega Recreation Ground, Bega. Kick-off: TBA.

Barba returns to NRL signing one-year deal with the Cowboys

St Helens fullback Ben Barba

After a brief stint in the Super League with St Helens, Ben Barba will return to the NRL with the North Queensland Cowboys.

On the back of what has been a great individual season for Barba in England with 26 tries (1st in league) and 24 try assists (third), he’ll play for his fourth NRL club.

Needing just one more try for 100 career NRL tries, Barba has played in 168 NRL games to date.

Initially contracted to St Helens for next season, the club gave him an early release to return home.

A local Mackay product, Barba is being welcomed with open arms by the club.

“Ben’s form this year for St Helens has been of the highest standard,” Cowboys Director of Football Peter Parr said.

“He’s been the best fullback if not the best player in the English Super League.”

The club are pleased to be able to give Barba the opportunity to play for them.

“He is from Mackay and has always had a desire to play for the Cowboys, but for whatever reasons the stars never aligned until now,” Parr continued.

“Ben has been looking to return to the NRL and with an opening at the fullback position at our club it presented the opportunity for him to do that.”

Equally pleased is club coach Paul Green who knows how much value Barba will add to the side.

“Ben is an extremely gifted player and I believe he can be a huge asset for our side next season,” Green said.

“He has been in fantastic form for St Helens and he still has a great deal to offer at NRL level.

“Ben hails from North Queensland and he is excited to be able to return home and represent the region.”

Lino granted early release to join Knights

New Zealand Warriors half Mason Lino

Opportunity is what every player seeks and Mason Lino will depart the New Zealand Warriors after signing with the Newcastle Knights. 

Lino, who has played in fewer than 20 games for the Warriors since making his NRL debut may be presented with more opportunities at the Knights.

Although they made the decision to release Lino early, it was not necessarily an easy decision for the Warriors.

“It’s not an easy decision to let Mason go because he is the epitome of a true club man and we all love having him around,” said Vodafone Warriors general manager football Brian Smith.

“He has been totally dedicated to the Vodafone Warriors but we didn’t want to stand in the way of him having a look at options with other clubs.”

The club knew it was only right to allow Lino to pursue other opportunities and wished him all the best.

“His opportunities for NRL football have been limited here and he has more than earned the right to look at the chance of more regular exposure,” continued Smith.

“While we’re sorry to see Mason go we’re also excited for him and wish him all the best.”

The Warriors are a proud club and club coach Stephen Kearney praised Lino for respecting those during his time at the club.

“Mason has always provided a wonderful example to everyone at the club,” he said.

“He has been totally loyal and supportive in all he does,” said Kearney.

“When we needed him, he came into the side and did a really good job for us every time.

“He certainly goes with our blessing and leaves a tremendous legacy.”

Coming through the ranks at the club, Lino has played at all levels for the Warriors and is thankful for the chances he received.

“It’s tough leaving the club because it has been my home and I’m so thankful for all the opportunities I’ve had here but I’m also excited about what’s ahead for me,” he said.

Able to play five-eighth and halfback, the signing of Lino by the Knights now presents some healthy competition.

“Mason is a talented young man,” Knights Player List Manager Troy Pezet said.

“He provides us with good depth for Mitchell, Kalyn and Connor.”