In a tremendous boost for the Lebanese rugby league and their ambitions, they have announced that Brad Fittler as their new coach.
Fittler’s first primary task will be coaching the side at this year’s Rugby League World Cup and with a wealth of playing and coaching experience to his name, he looms as a key contributor to their success.
As someone who has been involved in developmental elements with other budding rugby league nations, Fittler is a perfect fit for the Cedars and will adopt the same approach.
“The opportunity to guide a developing nation to this year’s Rugby League World Cup was one that I’m eager to take up,” said Fittler.
“I also look forward to going to Lebanon to provide knowledge to assist them further develop their well-established local championships.”
Equally pleased – as you would expect – are the Lebanon Cedars themselves with CEO Remond Safi hailing the appointment as a positive one for Lebanese rugby league across the board.
“Brad’s appointment shows that the LRLF continues to pursue excellence of standards and is confident of competing in the World Cup behind an elite coach,” said Safi.
“The LRLF was really pleased with the calibre of candidates who applied for the role, but Brad’s ability and desire to engage with the Lebanese rugby league community, not just the national team, has been the most pleasing aspect of our discussions.
On behalf of the LRLF, I would like to welcome Brad on board and we are all really excited about working with him.”
Opportunity is everything in rugby league nowadays and when an offer is too good to refuse, you take it. Jordan Turner did just that, signing with Super League side Huddersfield after being given an immediate release by the Canberra Raiders.
Joining the Raiders in pre-season, Turner has been playing for their feeder side Mounties in the Intrust Super Premiership.
He thanked the Raiders club for the opportunity they gave him.
“I want to thank the Raiders for the opportunity to come over to Australia and be a part of the Raiders squad,” said the utility.
“They understand the deal for me and my partner to return home to England to play for Huddersfield was too good for me to turn down.”
Experience in Australia is invaluable and something that Turner will use to his advantage back home.
“I’ve enjoyed my time with the Raiders and will take the experience with me as I return to the Super League,” said Turner.
I want to thank everyone at the Raiders and most of all the players for making me feel welcome while I’ve been in Canberra.”
With no likely return for this season possible for Ben Barba given the suspension he would have to serve for his prior indiscretion, the live-wire fullback has instead opted for a move to Super League side, St Helens.
Barba will join the Saints on a two-and-a-half-year deal after the club took advantage of an additional marquee exemption provision to the salary cap.
Still only 27, Barba has enjoyed his fair share of on-field success; winning the Dally M Medal in 2012 and an NRL premiership with the Cronulla Sharks in 2016.
With the need for such a player, St Helens coach Justin Holbrook praised the signing and believes Barba can and will perform for the club.
“I’ve known Ben for some time and am confident that he will add a new dimension to the Saints and is a great capture for Super League,” said Holbrook.
“He is a multi-talented and world-class rugby league player.
“Everyone in the team will benefit from him joining us and are really looking forward to his arrival. The fans also have a lot to look forward to.”
Rarely do players of Barba’s ability become available and Holbrook knew that he and the club had to jump at the chance.
“Given Ben’s abilities and reputation, his signing was extremely competitive and the Club have done exceptionally well to secure him,” Holbrook continued.
“It is not often that players of his calibre become available and the Club has pulled out all the stops to fight off competition from both rugby codes around the world.”
Spotted in the stands during St Helens clash over the Magic Weekend, speculation was rife that he would join them and Barba admits he met up with officials and players to talk about the club.
“I feel very privileged to be joining such a historic rugby league club as St.Helens,” said Barba. I was able to meet up with some of the players and key people from the Club at the Magic Weekend and know they are a great set of people. The fans also showed me just how passionate they are.
“I was able to meet up with some of the players and key people from the Club at the Magic Weekend and know they are a great set of people. The fans also showed me just how passionate they are.
The fans also showed me just how passionate they are.”
Family played a key role in Barba’s decision and the swiftness of the deal will allow he and his family to make a seamless transition to English life.
“I wanted to make an early decision so that I can get my family settled in England and kids enrolled at a school,” said Barba. I have certainly enjoyed my time in France at Toulon, but I am a rugby league player and St.Helens, especially with Justin Holbrook as head coach, have made me very comfortable with the decision.
“I have certainly enjoyed my time in France at Toulon, but I am a rugby league player and St.Helens, especially with Justin Holbrook as head coach, have made me very comfortable with the decision.
“I look forward to pulling the Saints’ jersey on and playing beside my new teammates as soon as possible.”
Currently, Barba is the subject of a 12-match ban from the NRL and the view of the RFL is that this ban also applies to playing Super League.
St Helens are expected to seek clarity on this issue.
James Hasson was not without a club for long, signing with Super League outfit Salford Devils with immediate effect.
Recently released from his playing contract by the Parramatta Eels, Hasson was previously a member of the Manly Sea Eagles side and a part of their 2013 NRL grand final squad.
Making 40 appearances in total in the NRL, Hasson will provide the Salford team and forward pack with some international experience, having represented Ireland on numerous occasions.
Hasson drew praise from Salford coach Ian Watson who believes that the utility forward will be able to make an impact for the team.
“James is a player that adds some real competitiveness to our squad. We’ve had some injuries to our middles with Adam Walne and George Griffin, and James is exactly the kind of player that can step into that role. His NRL experience with Manly and Parramatta will be invaluable.
“James is a tough, no-nonsense player who runs hard and direct lines but also has the ability to play a good offload game. His defence is first-rate and he is a good fit for our style of play.
“His attitude and desire to come on board with us has been superb, and I’m sure he will slot straight into the playing group over the coming weeks.”
Club CEO Ian Blease is also pleased to see Hasson at the club.
“James is a player that brings a lot to the table both on and off the field,” Blease said.
“He has bought into the culture that Ian Watson is building here and has the talents to have a big impact on the second half of the season as we look to keep our place in the top four.”
The short statement from the Eels regarding Hasson’s release was as follows:
“Parramatta Eels have released James Hasson, effective immediately.
The English-born prop forward made his NRL debut for Manly in 2013, before joining Parramatta in 2016.
Parramatta Eels thank James for his contribution to our Club and wish him all the best for the future.”
Perhaps a surprise to some, St Helens have appointed Justin Holbrook as their new head coach on a two-and-a-half-year contract.
Looking for a new coach after the sacking of Kieron Cunningham, the club’s search took them overseas as well as national, on the lookout for a coach that is the right fit for their club and their goals.
In the end, a recent interview conducted with Holbrook was enough to convince the club that he was the man for the role.
“We are delighted to secure Justin; he is widely experienced and has a track record of coaching at the highest level,” Mike Rush, the club’s chief executive.
“He impressed us with his knowledge of the British game and his work with younger players,” Rush added.
Holbrook himself is looking forward to the role ahead and is well aware of the rich history of the club.
“I’m excited about the opportunity to be the head coach of St Helens. The club has a rich and proud history and I am very grateful to have been given the opportunity,” Holbrook said.
“St Helens are one of the top teams in the Super League competition with a history of success. I will be working hard to continue that tradition and I cannot wait to get started.”
With Zeb Taia headed to England as part of the player swap, Joe Greenwood is the man joining the Gold Coast Titans. Initially agreeing to a deal for the 2018 and 2019 seasons, the two teams came to an agreement about an immediate swap.
Whilst the St Helens side are disappointed to lose a promising player like Greenwood, they had no intention of standing in his way should he want a move.
“We wouldn’t want to stand in the way of any player wishing to ply their trade elsewhere and Joe has been given a good opportunity at the Gold Coast,” said St Helens coach, Kieron Cunningham.
“It’s always difficult to lose a homegrown player and personally I will be sad to see him leave. I’ve worked hard with Joe to develop his game and help him grow as a person – and he has done just that.
They are hopeful that one day later on in his career, Greenwood will opt to return to the English side.
“Hopefully, one day after a successful NRL career, he will pull on the Red V again,” he added.
As for the Titans, Chief Operating Officer Tony Mestrov is pleased to have it all done and dusted.
“We were excited about Joe joining us for seasons 2018 and 2019 but to be able to do a deal and have him at the club this season is a good result,” Mestrov said.
“He adds some size to our forward pack and will provide some good impact on the edges.
“Hopefully we can get him here relatively quickly and he will be pushing for an NRL start in the near future.
In what will be a player swap – although the Joe Greenwood to the Gold Coast Titans transfer is yet to be confirmed by the Titans – Zeb Taia has headed in the direction, signing a deal with English side St Helens effective immediately.
The veteran back-rower signed a deal until the end of the 2019 season and has experienced at both the NRL level and the international level.
Initially making his debut for the Parramatta Eels, Taia then moved to the Newcastle Knights. Following that, he signed with Super League side, the Catalan Dragons, and became a different player whilst he was there.
Upon his return to the NRL, Taia signed with the Gold Coast Titans and enjoyed a successful 2016 season which, in the eyes of some, makes the decision to sell him even more interesting.
With more than 200 first-grade games to his name, that experience is what Saints coach Kieron Cunningham hopes to draw upon throughout the season.
“We’re delighted to have signed a player of Zeb’s calibre and he will bolster our squad immediately,” said the St Helens coach.He is powerful, possesses a great offload and like our other signings this season, will bring big game experience to the Saints.”
“He is powerful, possesses a great offload and like our other signings this season, will bring big game experience to the Saints.”
In the end, despite his departure from the Titans, the club applauded Taia’s efforts at the club.
“Zeb wanted to prove last season that he was still able to perform in the NRL and he certainly did that, playing in every game except the finals fixture,” Henry said.
“He was a regular mainstay in our starting 13 last season and he provided great leadership both on and off the field.
“I’d like to wish Zeb, Nikki and their young family all the best for the future. I’m sure he will be a strong addition to the St Helens playing roster.”
Relaunched as a club, the new Bradford team have made an astute performance in the head coaching department, appointing former Manly Sea Eagles coach Geoff Toovey.
Finding the right candidate was the key and after searching for that, new club owner Graham Lowe said Toovey was the man for the job.
“We wanted a coach that was courageous, experienced and was a good person. Respect was important as well,” said Lowe.
“At this time of year, it’s not an easy thing to come up with, to appoint a coach of the calibre that this club deserves.
“We scratched our heads and identified a number of people that could do a job and deliver the club to where it needs to be.”
Lowe is familiar with Toovey and what he can do during his time also working with the Manly club and knowing Toovey as a coach and person convinced Lowe he was the right fit.
“I started to think about coaches that I knew and players that I’d coach who I’d seen perform under pressure and perform courageously,” Lowe added.
“When I went to Manly in Sydney I met a gentleman that quickly became one of my dearest friends and one of the greatest players I’ve coached.”
Lowe is confident that the fans and players will like Toovey and backs him to guide the new Bradford side in a positive direction.
“Everybody is going to like Geoff. He’s a proud person and he’s not coming here to muck around. He’s a fantastic coach, a proven coach and an uncompromising coach,” said Lowe.
“He’s up for a challenge all the time and I can’t wait for him to get here. I think we’ve got a great rugby league person in this part of the world.”
Toovey, who can understand how tough the process has been on everyone, is looking forward to the role and making the most of it.
“I understand how tough it has been for everyone attached to the club but this is our time now to turn things around and get Bradford back to where they belong – playing entertaining rugby league,” said Toovey.
“I’m well aware of the challenge ahead of us but as coaches and players, these are the things that encourage us to do better and achieve our goals.
“I’m really excited about this role and can’t wait to start getting things together at the Bulls.
“The club, staff, players and fans deserve the best and that’s what I aim to deliver.”
A player that many Dragons fans wanted to have play more first-grade, Shannon Wakeman – for the time being – will not be doing so, having signed a deal with SL side, the Huddersfield Giants.
A strong performer for the Illawarra Cutters in the NSW Cup or Intrust Super Premiership, Wakeman was a fan favourite of Dragons fans.
With the move now done, though, Wakeman says he looks forward to the challenge of playing in a new league and with the Giants.
“I am happy to have a new challenge overseas and in the Super League at Huddersfield,” said Wakeman.
“I’ll be teaming up again with my front row partner Sebastine Ikahihifo who played last year with us for a while before he moved to the UK so it’ll be good to have a familiar face when I get there.”
The opportunity is one that he looks forward to and Wakeman is eager to get stuck in and perform.
“I’ll spend Christmas here in Australia and then as soon as my documentation comes through I’ll be straight across and ready to rip in for the Giants,” he added.
“I’ve wanted a crack full time in the top grade for a long time now and reckon I’ve served my apprenticeship so the opportunity at Huddersfield is great for me and one that I want to make the most of.”
The Giants decision to sign Wakeman came after a sudden departure by Craig Huby.
“Obviously the move away by Craig came a bit out of left field and left us searching for an established and experienced out and out front row forward,” said Huddersfield coach, Rick Stone.
“I had already considered Shannon for further down the line for us but when our situation changed then Shannon was my go to guy to come across.”
Stone says he Wakeman is the exact type of forward the club wanted to sign, citing his high motor and work-rate.
“I have seen plenty of him in action back home and he is a big mobile type of front rower and I know he wants a crack at the top flight which is something I am pleased we can give him,” said Stone.
“He is at the stage of his career now where if he is going to make the big breakthrough then he needs an opportunity and a start – we can provide both for him and I am quietly confident that he can bring a lot to our squad.
He is a big man around 6’2 and as you’ll have seen from his highlights clips he can motor a bit.”
Not quite getting the first-grade exposure he was after in the NRL with the St George Illawarra Dragons, Adam Quinlan has opted to return to England, signing a deal with Hull KR.
The recently relegated team has signed the utility back on a 2-year deal and whilst that surprised Quinlan, he knows that Hull KR are still a big club and he is excited to don the jersey.
“I feel very privileged to be offered the opportunity to come and play for Hull KR,” Quinlan said.
“When I played in Super League a couple of seasons ago, Rovers were a big team and they still are so it’s a great opportunity for me to come over and represent a good club.
“It came as a bit of a shock to me to hear they had been relegated but from what I’ve heard I think we’ve got what it takes to bounce back and get the club back into Super League where they belong. I’m truly excited to help do that.”
Quinlan, who had a previous stint in England with St Helens, looks forward to the new adventure and believes that the style of play suits him more than the NRL.
“I really enjoyed my time over in the UK the last time I was there so this was a no-brainer for me when I got the offer,” he said.
“The style of play over there suits my game a lot more. There’s a lot of offloads and it’s more free-flowing, so it really benefits how I like to play.
“It’s not going to be ideal coming over a bit later in pre-season but I’m sure my time over there before will stand me in good stead. Hopefully, I’ll get used to things pretty quickly.”
Set to be coached by top Australian coach Tim Sheens, Quinlan looks forward to working under him.
“I’m really looking forward to working with Tim as well,” said Quinlan.
“I’ve never played under him before but he was another big factor in me coming over. I’ve played with a few guys who have been coached by him and I’ve heard nothing but good things.
He’s a Grand Final winner in the NRL and an international coach so he knows what he’s doing and I’m sure I’ll learn a lot from him.”
Sheens himself praised the new signing, highlighting the versatility that Quinlan provides.
“Adam’s speed will be really important for us as well as his experience out the back,” the veteran coach said.
“He’s a good talker who organises the line and he’s played in the halves too. That’s what you want from your number one, somebody who can move the ball and provide another option.
“He’s had a great year winning the State Cup in New South Wales and then beating the Queensland side to be Australian champions. He’s been in good form and he’ll be a great fit for us with the style we want to play.”