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Home is where the heart is as Cleary re-signs with Penrith

Penrith Panthers halfback Nathan Cleary

The saga went on for what seemed like an age but it can be laid to rest, with Nathan Cleary today re-signing with the Penrith Panthers. 

Ultimately, it came down to where Cleary felt most comfortable with and that was Penrith.

“I’m excited to re-sign with the Panthers and commit the next six years of my career to the club,” Cleary said of his new 5-year deal.

“There was always going to be speculation but in the end it was an easy decision for me to make.

“This club and this community mean a lot to me.

“Panthers gave me the opportunity to debut as an 18-year-old and I will always hold that close to my heart.”

Cleary is determined to become not only a great leader but to help his side win a premiership.

“I’ve grown up with this team and I couldn’t ask for a better group of players and coaches to work with moving forward,” the young halfback continued.

“I want to become a leader here at the Panthers and I’m determined to help deliver a premiership to Penrith.”

The club itself is thrilled to have their star retained long-term.

“Today is a very special day in our club’s history,” Panthers Executive General Manager Phil Gould AM said.

“Everyone at Panthers is delighted to know Nathan Cleary has committed to this club until at least the end of the 2024 season.

“This is a significant contract for Nathan but it’s also a major investment by Panthers in its own future as an NRL club, and it’s an important signing for the future of rugby league in Western Sydney.”

Gould believes that Cleary’s best footy is still ahead of him and future captain material.

“Nathan is an outstanding young man and I have no doubt he will be a future captain of this club,” continued Gould.

“His best football is still well in front of him and we believe he will be the face of rugby league in this region for many years to come.

“To sign a deal of this significance with a player we have seen develop through our own pathways system, from a young age, is a special moment indeed.”

Storm overpower Sharks to advance to consecutive grand finals

Melbourne Storm fullback Billy Slater

In a year where Ryan Hoffman and Billy Slater are both retiring, the veteran Melbourne Storm duo will play in another NRL grand final.

Looking to become the first team since the Brisbane Broncos to win back-to-back titles (92 and 93), the Storm now await their opponents.

In the end, steely defensive resolve and too much class got them over the line in a 22-6 win.

There will be a nervous wait and some concerns over an alleged shoulder charge from Billy Slater in stopping a try, however.

The views across social media are rampant; either you think it was a shoulder charge or you don’t.

Despite missing both Paul Gallen and Wade Graham, the Cronulla Sharks would have given themselves every chance to win heading into the match.

Unfortunately, a good start eluded them. Poor ball control and ill-discipline eventually gifted the Storm a penalty goal to go up 2-0.

Felise Kaufusi then made a half-break, found Billy Slater on the inside before halfback Brodie Croft finished the play off to score.

Slater assisted the first try and got his name on the scoresheet for the Storm’s second.

Outpacing and outgunning Matt Moylan, he made it look all too easy as the Storm went up 14-0.

Another try ensued as a rare mistake from Luke Lewis saw Slater score another try.

Moving away from marker, a gap opened up, as Cameron Smith put in a deft grubber and Slater pounced on it for his second.

Despite the Sharks scoring one try to the retiring veteran Luke Lewis, that was all she wrote.

They were unable to break down the Storm’s resolute defence after that as the Melbournites continue to celebrate at yet another grand final berth.

Despite all the talk surrounding Slater’s shoulder charge, he received support from Lewis.

“He put his body on the line,” Lewis said.

“If someone was to miss a game for something so simple as that, I don’t know what our game is coming to. It’s a contact sport.

“I don’t think there was anything in it to be honest.

“If there’s anyone I’d like to see out there grand final day it’s Billy Slater.

“Hopefully nothing comes of it.”

Sharks coach Shane Flanagan did not mince his words. The near perfect Storm side were just too good for his side.

“We were outplayed in the first half,” said Flanagan.

“We didn’t play our best and were up against a professional outfit that performed near perfection in the first half, and we weren’t good enough.”

Player of the Game:

3. Billy Slater

2. Felise Kaufusi

  1. Dale Finucane

 

Late bloomer Pereira rewarded with new Dragons deal

St George Illawarra Dragons winger Jordan Pereira

A late bloomer to the NRL, the St George Illawarra Dragons have rewarded winger Jordan Pereira with a new 2-year deal. 

His new deal will see him remain with the club until the end of the 2020 season.

Since making his debut back in round 19 of the current 2018 season, the winger played in all games up until the Dragons finals loss.

His journey has seen him go many places.

Born in New Zealand, Pereira has lived and played rugby league in Samoa, Perth, Mackay and then the Dragons.

For that reason, the new deal means so much to the NRL journeyman.

“Five years ago I was playing park footy,” Pereira said.

“Now I have to pinch myself considering I’m playing with the likes of Jack de Belin, Tyson Frizell, Ben Hunt and Gareth Widdop.

It’s definitely a blessing.”

The stability and security as well as enjoying his time at the club are what Pereira was hoping for.

“It’s really good news for my fiancé and I to add that stability and security to our future,” he continued.

“Being here gives us that extra bit of happiness.

“We wanted to stay and the two extra pre-seasons will be so beneficial to me, particularly for my development.”

Proud to represent the Dragons, Pereira has no plans to relinquish his winger spot in 2019.

“I’m very happy to be running around in first grade now and it’s definitely something I don’t want to give up,” Pereira continued.

“I’m very proud to be representing this club and hopefully there’s more NRL games to come.”

Pereira’s hard-work was praised by the club and it is a sign that it does indeed pay off.

“We have rewarded Jordan for his step up into first grade,” Dragons Director of Rugby League Pathways and List Management Ian Millward said.

“He’s very mature for his age and with another two pre-seasons under his belt, his efforts will become even greater.”

“He’s a focused individual who appreciates the environment he’s in, but also understands what he’s here for.

“He’s played quite a few first grade games now and it’s really pleasing to see his hard work pay off and for him to take his chances.”

A move West beckons for Matterson after signing with Tigers

Sydney Roosters back-rower Ryan Matterson

In a bid to strengthen their back-row stocks, the Wests Tigers have signed Ryan Matterson from the Sydney Roosters. 

Matterson, who joins the club on a three-year deal, has so far played in 57 NRL games, all with the Sydney Roosters.

His debut came in 2016, and he also for the NSW U20’s side, the Junior Kangaroos and the City Origin side in 2016.

Praising Matterson for his transition into first-grade, Wests Tigers coach Ivan Cleary looks forward to working with him.

“Ryan is a talented young man and we’re very pleased to have him join the club next season,” said Cleary.

“He has developed in to a quality forward since his debut and we’re looking forward to seeing him grow further at Wests Tigers over the next three years.”

Also praising Matterson is Tigers CEO Justin Pascoe, with the back-rower to join the club in November.

“Ryan is another excellent addition to our playing squad and we’re all looking forward to having him for the coming three seasons,” said Pascoe.

“We’ve worked hard to bring players to the club who will have an impact on and off the field and Ryan is another great example of this.”

Furner takes up vacant Rhinos head coaching role

South Sydney Rabbitohs assistant David Furner

All coaches eventually aspire to coach first-grade or re-enter that arena and David Furner will once again get that chance. 

Furner, currently an assistant at the South Sydney Rabbitohs, will return to a head coaching position.

Previously, he was head coach of the Canberra Raiders for five seasons in addition to numerous assistant roles.

The former Leeds player drew praise from Souths General Manager of Football Shane Richardson.

“I would like to thank David for his service to our club over the past two seasons,” said Richardson.

“He has played a leading role in returning our team to the top four.

“He goes on to a great club in Leeds and I’m sure he will be a success as their Head Coach.

“He goes with our blessing and we wish David, his wife Kellie and his family the best of luck in the UK.”

Although his coaching future beyond this year is sorted, Furner looks forward to finishing the year with the Bunnies.

“I have had two wonderful seasons at the Rabbitohs and this was not a decision that I took lightly.

“Returning to England is something my family and I are excited about come the end of the season.

“In the meantime, I am looking forward to finishing my time at South Sydney in the best possible fashion and wish Kevin Sinfield and the team at Leeds good luck for the remainder of their campaign.”

Furner is excited to return a team that played an important in his playing career.

“First of all, it is fantastic to be heading back to a club where I have so many fantastic memories from my playing days,” said Furner himself.

“I would like to say thank you to the Board of Directors, Gary Hetherington and Kevin Sinfield for offering me this opportunity and I am looking forward to helping the club progress in the future.

“I know that Kevin and the team are working hard to get through the Qualifiers at present and I have every confidence they will do that with the backing of the fantastic fans at the Rhinos.”

The chance to return to England is an exciting one for Furner and his family.

“I have had two wonderful seasons at the Rabbitohs and this was not a decision that I took lightly,” Furner continued.

“Returning to England is something my family and I are excited about come the end of the season, in the meantime.

“I am looking to finishing my time at South Sydney in the best possible fashion and wish Kevin and the team good luck for the remainder of their campaign starting on Sunday at Widnes.”

Late Munster field goal gives Storm opening finals win over Rabbitohs

South Sydney Rabbitohs centre Greg Inglis

In a dogged contest at AAMI Park, it was the Melbourne Storm who prevailed over the South Sydney Rabbitohs courtesy of a late Cameron Munster field goal. 

Having never won at AAMI Park nor in Melbourne in 15 games, it was an uphill battle from the start for the Rabbitohs.

Finals footy always goes up a gear and this game was no different; both teams giving it their all in a physical contest.

Souths would draw first blood as a cross-field kick was spilled by Josh Addo-Carr and Dane Gagai was there to pounce and score.

Adam Reynolds missed that conversion but would atone for it soon after, slotting a penalty goal to put the Bunnies up 6-0.

An overlap then gave the Storm their chance to score and they took it.

Swift hands eventually saw centre Curtis Scott score for the Storm with Smith converting, locking scores up at 6-apiece.

Souths captain Greg Inglis was flattened by a Suliasi Vunivalu hit leaving him with sore ribs and a possible non-return.

He would return, however, going to on to score twice.

Both sides went tit-for-tat, as the scoreboard went back and forth.

Suliasi Vunivalu opened his finals account after Billy Slater evaded a defender and popped a basketball-like pass to the winger.

Putting the Storm up 10-8, the Bunnies responded with a try of their own.

Running to the line, Robert Jennings managed to keep his arm off the ground and pop an offload to Inglis for his first try.

A spectacular try then ensued for the Storm on the stroke of half-time.

The much maligned Brodie Croft stood up when it mattered, busting through the Souths defence to make a break.

With the Souths line up and a fullback ahead of him, Croft kicked to the right wing with a flying Fijian in Vunivalu getting to the ball first and scoring.

The second half could not have started worse for the Bunnies; George Burgess was sin-binned for blocking a runner in the lead-up to a try.

That did not phase Souths, however, who still managed to score with a man down and level things up.

Reynolds put in another cross-field kick and the ball was plucked out of the air by Inglis who scored despite steely resolve from Slater.

The Bunnies would then score another try; Robert Jennings getting one of his own when he scored in the left corner.

Not to be denied, though, the Storm hit back with two straight tries of their own, both to Cheyse Blair.

Then, with someone needing to step up, it was Munster who etched his name into finals folklore.

With everyone expecting Cameron Smith to step up, Munster coolly waited in the wings, slotting the field goal to give the Storm a win and a week off.

Munster’s overall performance drew praise from captain Smith.

“He had some really crucial plays for us – a couple of half line-breaks and setting guys up,” Smith said.

“He’s becoming more and more confident within himself to do that.

“Each time I see him come back from a representative game, he’s more confident about his ability and what he can produce on the field.”

Souths coach Anthony Seibold says his side has nothing to turn around as you usually win when you score 28 points in a game.

“We don’t need to turn it around, we know what we need to do. We build pressure with effort, that’s our game model that’s served us well all year,” Seibold said.

“We defended for 10 minutes there with 12 men, when George [Burgess] got sent to the sin-bin, and that really solidified our effort.

“We came through the other side so that’s another good take-away for us. But normally when you score 28 points you expect to win a game of footy and we didn’t.”

Player of the Game:

3. Greg Inglis

2. Cameron Munster

  1. Brodie Croft

New mega deal for Burgess as he re-signs with the Rabbitohs

South Sydney Rabbitohs forward Sam Burgess

Since joining the South Sydney Rabbitohs, Sam Burgess has quickly become a fan favourite. 

Now, the cardinal and myrtle faithful will get to see him in action for even longer with his new deal until 2023.

Regarded as one of the best forwards in the game, Burgess’ re-signing is a huge boost for a Rabbitohs team on the rise.

Since debuting back in 2010 for the club, Burgess has played in 160 NRL games.

In that time, he was won an NRL premiership in 2014 and represented England on numerous occasions.

Burgess has had two stints with Souths so far; the first ending with a 2014 premiership, before he returned to Australia in 2016.

In between, Slammin’ Sam joined Bath in the Aviva Premiership and also played for England in rugby union.

Rabbitohs coach Anthony Seibold did not mince his words. In his eyes, Sam is the best forward in the game.

“In my opinion, Sam is the leading forward in our game,” Seibold said.

“He is an inspirational leader through his actions both on and off the field.”

Seibold went on to praise just how much of a help Burgess has been in Seibold’s first year as an NRL head coach.

“He’s been a tremendous help in my first year as a Head Coach along with ‘GI’ (Greg Inglis) and ‘Sutto’ (John Sutton),” the Bunnies coach continued.

“Since he’s been here at the Rabbitohs, he’s demonstrated how much Souths means to him and I’m very happy to know that he will finish his career here at South Sydney.”

The decision was an easy one for Burgess who labels himself as a Rabbitohs man.

“I’m a Rabbitohs man. It’s as simple as that,” Burgess said.

“The Club aligns with everything I’m about and my values, so it was an easy decision for me to extend my contract out to the end of my career.

“We spent a bit of time working out the contract as it is my last one, but Souths have always shown faith in me and I feel like I can repay that faith over the remaining years I have on the field.

With so many greats to have played for Souths over the years, Burgess wants to leave a similar mark like they have.

“I wasn’t interested in the player market or anything like that.

“I’m interested in leaving behind a legacy, being a small part of the fantastic history of this great Club.

“Players like John Sattler, Bob McCarthy, Ron Coote and Clive Churchill – they’re all remembered at this Club for what they have done. I love the history and I want to leave my mark as well.”

Shane Richardson also praised the re-signing of Burgess.

“Sam is one of the best players in the game, hands down, and with this contract extension he will play his entire NRL career with the one Club, the Rabbitohs,” Richardson said.

“He is an inspirational player for his teammates and an inspirational person to the broader South Sydney community.

“He has made a home here at South Sydney; he is bringing up his young, expanding family here in South Sydney; and he is set to go down in the Club’s history as one of its greats.

Promising back-rower Harawira-Naera released by Penrith to join Bulldogs

Penrith Panthers back-rower Corey Harawira-Naera

The Penrith Panthers have made a surprising decision to release Corey Harawira-Naerea from his playing contract in 2019 to sign with the Canterbury Bulldogs.

Recruited from NZ, Harawira-Naera was a part of the Panthers 2014 NYC premiership side.

With 44 NRL games at the Panthers to his name, the club admits the decision to let him go was difficult.

“The decision to allow Corey a release from his contract was a difficult one,” Panthers Executive General Manager Phil Gould AM said.

“Firstly, it’s a matter of future salary cap management for our club.

“Secondly, it is such a wonderful opportunity for Corey with his new club.”

There was nothing but praise for the Kiwi native, however, despite the confirmation of his release.

“Corey came to us from New Zealand as a teenager and developed through our junior pathways and house-parent program,” Gould continued.

“He is now a quality NRL regular with obvious representative potential.”

With room to improve in 2019, the signing of Harawira-Naera gives the Bulldogs an imposing back-row for the next four years.

“Signing someone of Corey’s calibre and potential is a great coup for the Bulldogs and comes on the back of a strong finish to our 2018 season,” Bulldogs CEO Andrew Hill said.

“Dean Pay and his coaching staff have helped develop some talented young players this year.

“The addition of Corey to the squad will add both quality and strength to our forward pack for next season and beyond.”

Rabbitohs notch big last-round win over Tigers

South Sydney Rabbitohs back-rower John Sutton

A hamstring injury to Sam Burgess has taken the shine off a huge South Sydney Rabbitohs win over the Wests Tigers.

With a chance to gain some momentum and make a statement heading into the finals, the Bunnies did just that.

Despite an average first-half, the second was where it all came to life as the Bunnies ran rampant against a poor Tigers side.

The win snaps a three-game losing streak for the cardinal and myrtle side as they move into second spot behind Melbourne.

Playing strongly, Burgess left the field just before the midway point of the second half but coach Anthony Seibold says he will be fine.

“Sam is fine. He could have gone back on towards the back end of the game but I just thought it was important to give him a spell – same with Greg. I brought Greg off early and then [Damien] Cooky with five or so minutes to go,” Seibold said.

“It’s just a matter of giving those guys a rest and I didn’t think they needed to go back on because of the scoreline.”

The Tigers were in the contest early and actually took the lead as veterans Benji Marshall and Chris Lawrence combined.

A trademark Souths scrumplay then saw Robert Jennings continue his rich vein of try-scoring form.

Tigers winger David Nofoaluma then hit back with a try of his own but from there, it was one way traffic.

Angus Crichton would burst onto a pass and cross the line to score an easy try.

Cody Walker then extended Souths lead before the break with his nifty skills and footwork.

It went further downhill for the Tigers, as Campbell Graham, Adam Reynolds, Thomas Burgess, John Sutton and Alex Johnston all got on the scoresheet.

The numbers did not lie, with Souths comprehensively dominating every statistic throughout the entire game.

Post-game, Wests Tigers coach Ivan Cleary again remained adamant that he would see out his contract.

“I have a contract here and I’ve said all that I’ve needed to say,” Cleary said.

“I get [that] people want to discuss it.

“I get that there’s an agenda about various things outside the game.”

Despite concern over his hamstring, Burgess says he will find a way to play for his team.

“I’m not the only one [hurting],” Burgess said.

“I feel good; I’m alright. I know mentally I can get myself up for a game.

“I’ll play next week 100 per cent. I know I’ll play.

“I’m not too worried about it.

“I’ll find a way to get on the field and do my job for the team.”

Player of the Game:

3. John Sutton

2. Cody Walker

  1. Angus Crichton

Influential Tigers duo Marshall and Farah sign on for one more year

Wests Tigers hooker Robbie Farah

Already Wests Tigers legends, Robbie Farah and Benji Marshall will go around for one more season after agreeing to new deals. 

Already inducted as life members of the club – the first two players to be handed this honour – fans will be pleased at the news.

Both debuted back in 2003 and won a premiership soon after in 2005, with Benji’s flick pass firmly etched in every fans’ mind.

Farah is the most capped Wests Tigers player in history with 255 games and Marshall has 221 games for the club.

With the decision made, Farah looks forward to his final season.

“It’s exciting to finally get it done,” Farah said.

“I wanted to take my time with the decision and I’m glad it’s done now.

“I want to embrace everything and take it all in now knowing it’s going to be my last year, and hopefully leave a legacy once I’m gone.

“I want to leave the club in a better place once Benji and I are gone, and I’m really looking forward to playing that role.”

Even after he departed the club initially to play for the St George Illawarra Dragons, Benji always wanted to return to the Tigers.

“It was always my intention coming back here to finish my career here,” Marshall said.

“I think it’s pretty special to start and finish my career at the same place, and to be able to do it with Robbie is something I never could have imagined happening.”

Like Robbie, Benji is excited to go around for one more season.

“You can’t get that opportunity to play again if you decide to retire and I didn’t want to have any regrets,” the Tigers legend continued.

I still feel like I have plenty to offer, so I’m just hoping that with a big pre-season and an off-season I can stay injury-free and contribute again next year.”

Wests Tigers five-eighth Benji Marshall