Category Archives: ESL/International RL

Top 10 standout players of 2019 Super League season

Warrington Wolves utility Blake Austin

As the 2019 Super League reaches its crescendo, we take a look into the top 10 players who have their presence felt over the course of the year.

Blake Austin (Warrington Wolves)

It may not have been ending that Wolves fans would have wanted to their season but the 28-year-old still has proven to be one of the buys of the year.

Fitting in perfectly at the stand off position for Warrington, Austin made his presence felt.

Over the course of the season, we have seen time and time again where the former Canberra man has been able to completely change the entire dynamic of a game.

He tore opposition defences to shreds with his expert game management and playmaking ability.

The elusive halfback had an incredible 18 tries and 11 try assists to his name before the start of the play offs and is one of four candidates for the 2019 Man of Steel.

Jackson Hastings (Salford Red Devils)

Another buy of the year candidate, as Hastings has undoubtedly been the main reason why Salford have been able to secure a playoff spot this year.

The 23-year-old signed a one year deal with the Red Devils before the start of the year and has been the x factor that Ian Watson’s men have so desperately needed.

Salford Devils halfback Jackson Hastings

The former Sydney and Manly halfback has been a truly effective attacking threat for Salford leading the way in try assists and run metres for the entire season.

Liam Watts (Castleford Tigers)

There has been no question that Watts has been a true enforcer for Castleford all season and so much so that he is on the shortlist for the 2019 Man of Steel.

Castleford Tigers prop Liam Watts

The 29-year-old has shown how difficult he is to stop with the ball in his hand and had the most offloads in the regular season with 62 as well as being a constant factor in defence with over 900 tackles to his name. 

Danny Houghton (Hull FC)

The 30-year-old has been the definition of a work horse for Hull FC for some time now.

His toughness at the dummy half position has consistently shown by leading the league in tackles three times out of the last four seasons.

It has been surprising to some that Houghton has not been given his chance at international level.

Hull FC Hooker Danny Houghton

Though at a position that already has strength in depth with Daryl Clark, James Roby and Josh Hodgson all ahead in the pecking order, we just may never see it.

Ultimately, this is a shame for a player who has performed at such a high level for so many years now. 

Tommy Makinson (St Helens)

The 2018 Golden Boot winner has followed on from his England heroics in last year’s test series against New Zealand with another great year on the St. Helens wing.

The 27-year-old possesses a freaky try scoring ability that has seen his name on the scoresheet on several occasions.

St Helens Tommy Makinson

He led the league in tries by the start of the playoffs with 23.

The England international continues to be a force for the Saints out on the edge and that can only mean good things with the upcoming GB tour of Australia just around the corner.

Lachlan Coote (St Helens)

The departure of Ben Barba left a relatively large hole at the Saints fullback spot.

The acquisition of Coote, however, has been somewhat of a masterstroke from Justin Holbrook.

The Scottish international has probably been one of the league leader’s best players throughout the season.

St Helens custodian Lachlan Coote

He recorded 14 tries and 21 try assists to his name, proving to be one of many valuable assets in the Saints backline that features Regan Grace, Ken Naiqama and Mark Percival among others.

The 29-year-old took over goal kicking duties at the start of the year and he has gone from strength to strength, kicking the second most goals in the regular season with 95.

The Red Vee are still one of the firm favourites to take home Super League glory this year.

If Coote continues to pull the strings and be the force we have seen, you would be a brave man to bet against them.

Ash Handley (Leeds Rhinos)

Well, the 2017 Super League champions did not have the best of times this year and even found themselves in a nervy relegation battle with four other teams for the most part, believe it or not.

Leeds Rhinos young gun Ash Handley

However, one of the brighter aspects of their seasons has to be the breakout year for Ash Handley following the departure of Ryan Hall to the NRL.

The 23-year-old has looked sharp and dangerous all year for Leeds and is joint second in tries with 22.

Daryl Clark (Warrington Wolves)

In a position that has held a lot of depth for England and now Great Britain once again, Clark has undoubtedly been one of the prime dummy halves.

This is not just in Super League but in the entire sport of rugby league.

Warrington Wolves hooker Daryl Clark

Although Canberra’s Josh Hodgson may still holds the keys to a potential starting role with GB, Clark is certainly waiting in the wings more than ready to take his chance.

The 2014 Man of Steel earned his place in the 2019 Super League Dream Team with 7 tries and 19 try assists.

Jonny Lomax (St Helens)

There is no doubt that Austin has done absolute wonders for Warrington throughout the course of this season.

The one thing that has probably let him down has to be an injection of consistency from time to time.

However, the same cannot be said for Lomax, who has undoubtedly been the Saints most consistent performer all season.

St Helens Jonny Lomax

So much so that he has been awarded the Albert Goldthorpe Medal for 2019. S

imilar to Austin, Lomax has been one to make things happen for St. Helens offensively.

He showed his ability to score and create opportunities with 16 tries and 21 try assists coming into the playoffs.

George Williams (Wigan Warriors)

The dynamic scrum half may be off to Canberra and the NRL come the end of the season but the 24-year-old has remained as focus as ever and been a true catalyst for Wigan.

Departing Wigan Warriors halfback George Williams

On the back of Williams’ form, Wigan has once again found themselves in the hunt for the Super League crown.

The 2019 Man of Steel nominee may be on his way down under but the is certainly making sure he goes out with a bang.

Notable mentions:

Zak Hardaker (Wigan)

Josh Jones (Salford)

Ken Naiqama (St. Helens)

Konrad Hurrell (Leeds)

Coote ‘has proven his commitment’ to Scotland

Scotland fullback Lachlan Coote

EX-SCOTLAND coach Steve McCormack has backed Lachlan Coote’s inclusion in the Great Britain squad – and revealed the full-back lost money to play for the Bravehearts.

Saints No.1 Coote was this week included in Wayne Bennett’s 29-man training panel for the Lions tour in autumn, having qualified through his Scottish ancestry.

His selection was met by criticism in some quarters because he was born and raised in Australia.

But Wiganer McCormack says the 29-year-old has more than proved his commitment to Scotland and shed light on the sacrifices he made to play for the nation during the Four Nations in 2016.

“He’d just come off the back of an NRL season, his body need fixing up but he really wanted to play for Scotland and he was immensely proud to do so,” said McCormack.

“I can’t speak highly enough of him and the commitment he showed to representing Scotland.

“He was over here for six weeks, away from his family, and he lost money to play for us.

“It would have cost him money to play for Scotland, but he was so motivated to represent his heritage, and he did with some fantastic displays.

“He’s very proud of his ancestry and he was absolutely top class, and I’m delighted he’s been selected in this squad.”

Warrington Wolves utility Blake Austin

Another Aussie – Warrington’s Blake Austin – is also in the squad, having previously been included in the England training squad because of his heritage.

McCormack, who left his role with the Warriors earlier this year for a role with the charity Rugby League Cares, coached Scotland for more than a decade before stepping down in 2017.

“I do understand the criticism of picking Australian-born players, I do – and sport is all about opinions,” he added.

“But Lachlan is eligible under the rules and as I said, he has certainly shown his commitment to Scotland.”

Chase sticks with Doncaster

Doncaster RLFC halfback Rangi Chase

FORMER England half-back Rangi Chase has signed a new contract with Betfred League One club Doncaster.

The 33-year-old one-time Man of Steel began playing for the South Yorkshire club in July following the completion of a two-year suspension for cocaine use and has now decided to extend his stay until the end of 2020.

“I’m happy to get it over the line,” Chase told the club’s website.

“In my mind, I was always going to stay here but it is good to get it all sorted and I can look forward to the future.”

Doncaster chief executive Carl Hall said: “Rangi has shown his class both on and off the pitch since joining the club and has given us an added threat in our attacking game.

“Richard Horne made it clear how important it was that we got the deal done, with Rangi being such an important player and other clubs showing a keen interest in him.

“To have secured his signature for next season is massive for our club.”

Minichiello on his dream Hull FC finish and 18-year career

Retiring Hull FC veteran Mark Minichiello

MARK Minichiello isn’t one to make a fuss over his lengthy career in rugby league.

He keeps himself to himself, leads a private life and he doesn’t sing about his considerable achievements.

But as he prepares to reflect on his 18-year career as a professional, he wears the expression of a man who is about to start a new chapter in his life.

Last month, Minichiello announced that, as many people expected, he will hang up his boots at the end of the season and draw the curtains on a playing career that has seen him play for some of the most historic clubs in the sport.

Depending on Hull FC’s success this season, Minichiello has a minimum of just three games left before he leaves the KCOM Stadium and heads back to Australia for a new start.

The 37-year-old’s exit will be one of several this autumn, spelling the end of an era for Lee Radford’s side and despite his age, he didn’t make the decision lightly.

“It’s always difficult when you’ve done something for so long,” he says.

“After almost 20 years playing professionally, you never want to give that up, it almost becomes part of you.

“It was a difficult decision but it’s one that has to be made.

“You can’t play forever that’s for sure but I’m still enjoying it and the body still feels good.

“There comes a time when you need to move on and do something else. I feel like this is the right time.”

Mark Minichiello playing for the Gold Coast Titans

In fact, having picked up a rugby ball at the age of six, the sport has shaped his personality and his life. But will he miss it?

“No one likes doing pre-seasons, do they?” he laughed.

“It’s part of the game and I’ve done almost 20 of them. It’s quite strange but I think my body is going to thank me.

“I’ve already been laughing with the blokes in the dressing room that they’ll be doing pre-season next year and I’ll be on the beach somewhere.

“This is my 18th full-time season so it’s a lot of games.

“Not many players get to play to 37.

“I’ve had a great time playing the game I love and not many players get to play that long.

“I’ll come across different sorts of challenges out of the game and I’ll meet them face on and see where that goes.”

Prolonging his career for a few more games is at the forefront of the back-rower’s mind at present, though.

The Black and Whites sit fourth in the Super League table and should they land a top three spot this season they could be just two games away from reaching the Grand Final.

It would not only be the club’s first since losing to St Helens in 2006, but also give Minichiello the chance to end his career with what would undoubtedly be a career high.

Despite featuring for Sydney Roosters, South Sydney Rabbitohs and Gold Coast Titans, the first silverware he got his hands on was the Challenge Cup in 2016.

A Grand Final berth has eluded him in both hemispheres so far, having lost a number of semi-finals, but with time running out, the Super League trophy is firmly in his crosshairs.

“It’s something that growing up in Australia you always want to play in a Grand Final because it’s the only trophy you play for,” he said.

“I know the Challenge Cup is held in high regard here but I believe that Super League trophy is the pinnacle. To win that you have to be consistent and that’s something I’d love to finish on.”

Mark Minchiello playing for the South Sydney Rabbitohs

Former Wigan Warriors coach Shaun Wane eyes NRL vacancy

Former Wigan Warriors coach Shaun Wane

Shaun Wane is set to throw his hat into the ring for the coach’s job at NRL side Newcastle Knights.

And that in turn may help St Helens in their search for a new boss, which appears to have settled on Tonga’s Kristian Wolff.

Former Wigan Warriors boss Wane has always been keen on coaching in the NRL and has previously been strongly linked with the job at New Zealand Warriors.

Now after former Saints coach Nathan Brown was fired, he is believed to be ready to apply for the position.

Wane has been working part-time as High Performance Director with Scotland Rugby Union, as well as running a sideline business as a motivational speaker and leadership mentor.

But the lure of coaching in the NRL remains strong and he is set to put himself in for the Knights job.

“I’ve always been a big admirer of the NRL and the Australian game,” said Wane.

“I’d very much like to get an opportunity to test myself as a head coach in the NRL.

“I played with loads of Australian players and I’ve coached loads of Australian players so the interest has always been huge.

“There’s no better challenge than testing yourself in the toughest arena and on a week-to-week basis, that’s the NRL.

“I’ve had success in Super League, now I want to transfer that to the NRL.”

Warrington’s Steve Price has also been mentioned in the running for the Newcastle job, along with Sydney Roosters assistant Adam O’Brien and Jason Ryles.

Hughes plays through the pain to help Warrington win the Challenge Cup

Warrington Wolves co-captain Jack Hughes

Warrington co-captain Jack Hughes wore a cricketer’s box to help him get through the pain and play a huge role in his side’s shock Challenge Cup triumph.

The Wolves turned the form book on its head with an 18-4 victory over neighbours St Helens, the runaway Super League leaders who went into Saturday’s game as heavy favourites.

Hughes was one of Warrington’s heroes, pushing hooker Daryl Clark for the Lance Todd Trophy as man of the match, just three weeks after suffering a ruptured testicle that put his Wembley appearance in doubt.

“I was always confident of playing,” he said.

“There was just that contact side of things that meant there was a bit of doubt.


“I had a box on, similar to what the cricket lads wear, and it did the job.

“It was pretty uncomfortable at the start but, once you get out there, you don’t think about it.”


Hughes’ former Wigan team-mate Josh Charnley led the praises for the England Knights captain, who has been promoted to Wayne Bennett’s senior squad for the end-of-season Great Britain tour.


“I came through the system with Jack and played many games with him so I’ve seen him grow into the player he is,” Charnley said.


“I reckon he’s the most underrated player in the comp.

“He’ll play anywhere and he’s a true leader.”

Steve Price’s men rode their luck early on, withstanding a torrent of Saints pressure, before gaining confidence from substitute Joe Philbin’s solo try and adding a second before half-time when Hughes got Ben Murdoch-Masila charging over to open up a 12-0 lead.


St Helens threatened a comeback when Theo Fages went over for a 56th-minute try but Clark finished them off with his side’s third try nine minutes from the end.


After receiving the trophy with co-captain Chris Hill from Prince Harry, Hughes says the victory helped make up for their defeat as favourites to Catalans Dragons 12 months earlier.


“This is something we’ve been striving for since Steve arrived at the club,” he said.

“We reached two finals last year and we felt we had to take that next step as a team.


“They say third time lucky but I don’t think it was lucky. There was a lot of talk about our form going into it but we had that confidence, that belief.”


St Helens, 16 points clear at the top of Super League, remain favourites to win at Old Trafford but Warrington’s victory will give renewed hope to the chasing pack and Hughes says they have found the secret to beating them.


“It’s a matter of containing one or two individuals, starting with Tommy Mak (Makinson) and Regan Grace coming out of their half and then you’ve got the two big boppers in (Luke) Thompson and (Alex) Walmsley,” he said.


“We put a massive emphasis on those individuals and I thought we did a pretty good job on them.


“You’ve got to do it against Saints for the full 80 minutes.

“Previously this season we got to 60 or 65 and then sort of crumbled. We made sure we didn’t crumble again.


“We got one over on Saints last year when it mattered and we’re confident we can do it again this year.”

Date switch for 2020 Wembley final

THE Rugby Football League in England have confirmed the 2020 Challenge Cup final will be played on Saturday, July 18. 

The July date is available as a result of Wembley’s extensive involvement in the UEFA Euro 2020 football finals in June and July.

It will be the first time since 2004 when St Helens beat Wigan in Cardiff on May 15, that the Challenge Cup final has not been staged in August.

Tickets will go on general sale in October.

RFL chief commercial officer, Mark Foster, said: “Moving the 2020 Coral Challenge Cup final to mid-July in 2020 presents us with a real opportunity to attract a capacity crowd for rugby league’s showpiece event at Wembley.

We wanted to give our supporters as much time as possible to plan for that.

“It means that rugby league’s big weekend at Wembley will occur on the weekend after the final of the Euros and Wimbledon and the weekend before the Opening Ceremony of the Olympics, so a fantastic opportunity within the summer of sport next year.

“It will also be at a time when fewer people are away on holiday and we will be working hard over the next 11 months to make sports fans, families and event-goers aware of what an amazing event it is with such extraordinary athletes performing on the pitch.

“With the final being played during term time, it gives us a great opportunity to work with schools that play rugby league, particularly focusing on the significant number of schools in London that play our sport.

“It will be the first time in the Challenge Cup’s 123-year history that the final has been played in July.

“We hope that rugby league supporters will embrace that opportunity and help us make it a big success.”

Bryson Goodwin on the highs of travel and cookies to the lows of swing bridges and Challenge Cup final defeat

Departing Warrington Wolves utility back Bryson Goodwin

NEW Zealand international Bryson Goodwin admitted that he didn’t really know what to expect when he made the move to Warrington at the start of last year.

A proposed move to Leigh fell through after the Centurions lost their place in Super League before the centre was snapped up by the Wolves.

But after spending the best part of two years in the town, Goodwin will say goodbye at the end of the year to re-join the South Sydney Rabbitohs.

And after experiencing some real highs and lows during his spell in England, he will always reflect fondly on his time at The Wire.

“I’ve loved my time in Warrington, especially making the two finals last year, and I’ve got the Challenge Cup final and the back end of the Super League season to look forward to,” said Goodwin.

“I didn’t really know what to expect when I first came over, but the club and the people of Warrington have made it really easy to fit in.

“All I can do is go out there and try my best, so if the fans are happy with me then it must mean I’m doing something right.”

A definite blot on his time at the club though was last season’s Challenge Cup final defeat, which is something Goodwin is looking to put right this week.

“A lot of people wrote Catalans off going into the game, but they played really well and managed to get the win,” he continued.

Bryson Goodwin with Warrington

“We didn’t play our best game that day, but hopefully we can put in a better performance this year and we know as a team that if we play good, we win.”

“Nobody ever wants to feel that losing feeling and plenty of the boys in this team have experienced losses in big games, so we need to get that feeling out of our club and start to build a winning culture.”

Away from rugby though, Goodwin insists he has thoroughly enjoyed living in England, and there are certain parts of British life he will sorely miss.

“One of the biggest things I’ll miss are these cookies from Tesco that I probably eat too many of but they’re just unreal,” he admitted.

“Aside from that, the biggest thing will be not having Europe on my doorstep, as I’ve got the travel bug and try and jet off somewhere new whenever I get the chance.

“Since I’ve been here, I’ve visited Iceland, the French Alps, Spain, Italy and a heap of other places, so it’s been great to experience other parts of the world.

“In Australia, you can’t really go anywhere unless you go for a few weeks because of the distance, so having Europe so close has been a highlight.”

Kiwi international Bryson Goodwin

Of course, living in England and Warrington in particular does have its downsides, and there are some things Goodwin is happy to be leaving behind.

“The swing bridges are like something from the Stone Age and they really wind me up, so I definitely won’t miss them,” he joked.

“I find it outrageous that you have to pay for a TV licence over here and I hardly watched any TV last year, so I refused to do pay for one this year and I just watch Netflix in my spare time.

“The weather is obviously not great as its supposed to be summer and it’s rained for the last four weeks, but I will miss the cold Christmases as we don’t get them back home.

“But living near the beach in Sydney is a pretty good lifestyle and the kids will be close to the family and all of their cousins.

“I will be sad to leave at the end of the season and I’ll miss the people of Warrington, my teammates and just being a part of the town in general, but it was the right decision in the end for me and the family.”

Fonua set to return to Hull FC for a second stint

Departing Wests Tigers player Mahe Fonua

He went to England, returned to the NRL with the Wests Tigers and will now rejoin Hull FC on a three-year deal. Yes, that’s right, everyone’s favourite mullet in Mahe Fonua is back at Hull FC!

Joining the Tigers at the start of the 2018 season, Fonua quickly became a hit with fans, even if support wavered here and there.

Although currently sidelined and unlikely to play again this year, Fonua played 21 games and scored eight tries for the Tigers.

As he departs, Fonua believes he has learnt some new things about his game as he seeks to become a better player.

“Certain aspects of my footy game have improved during my time at Wests Tigers,” Fonua said.

“I have played under two great coaches here; I have learned a lot from them and I’m grateful for the knowledge they have passed onto me.”

Although unlikely to play again this year, Fonua is hopeful he can still contribute to the Tigers finals hopes in 2019.

“The club are in a good position at the moment and could be competing in a finals campaign,” the cult hero continued.

“I’d love to be back fit and ready before the end of the season and get a few games under my belt to hopefully represent the club before I leave.”

As for his decision to return to Hull FC, Fonua says it was an easy one.

“I’m really pleased to be heading back to Hull FC,” he went on.

“Me and Lee (Radford) have kept in contact over the past few years while I’ve been in the NRL, so to come back to a club that I have a history with is special for me and my family.

“For me, it was an easy decision.

“There isn’t any other Super League team out there that I would have the same chemistry with than Hull FC.”

In the end, the love of the fans no matter where he has been, and the allure of potentially winning more titles was a big part.

“From the get-go when I first arrived at Hull FC in 2016, the fans welcomed me with open arms and they have followed my career back to the NRL,” Fonua said glowingly of the fans.

“Even though I haven’t been at the club, they’ve shown me some mad love.

“Obviously with the two Challenge Cup wins, that made some really special memories for me and my family, so when the opportunity to come back to Super League, FC was always going to be my number one choice.”

Returning Hull FC cult hero Mahe Fonua

Titans sign talented Englishman Watkins

Soon-to-be Gold Coast Titans utility back Kallum Watkins

Already departing at season’s end, Kallum Watkins’ move will take place quicker, as he signs with the Gold Coast Titans from July 1. 

Watkins deal with the Gold Coast club will run until the end of the 2021 season.

Although their last dive into the English player market in Dan Sarginson did not go according to plan, they are hopeful Watkins can provide some intensity.

“Kallum is an exceptional talent,” Titans Head of Performance and Culture Mal Meninga said. “I have had to coach against him with the Kangaroos, and he is a very dangerous player.

“Importantly for the Titans however, he is also a very experienced player and a terrific leader.

“As captain of the Rhinos, he has shown the leadership qualities that will be a tremendous asset for the Titans.”

Meninga also said the signing of Watkins and young half Tanah Boyd is signalling the club’s intent to compete.

“After the signing of Tanah Boyd, we have made a statement about the future of the Titans,” Meninga continued.

“Now with Kallum, we are showing that we are also investing in immediate success, and that this club is capable of attracting the best talent in the game, from right around the world.”

Although he is excited about the new deal and what lies ahead, Watkins’ focus remains on the remainder of the Leeds Rhinos campaign.

“I am excited to be going to the Titans and the new challenge for me and my family,” Watkins said.

“It has all happened so quickly but my focus for now is on helping the Rhinos climb the table.

“I have had so much great support from our fans, sponsors players and staff and I will be doing my best, as I always do, before I leave.”