Category Archives: ESL/International RL

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.”

Linnett’s English adventure begins after signing with Hull KR

North Queensland Cowboys centre Kane Linnett

As the North Queensland Cowboys go through a rebuild of sorts, Kane Linnett was one player allowed to leave and he has signed with Hull KR. 

His new deal with the Super League side is for three seasons.

Linnett, an NRL premiership winner in 2015 with the Cowboys, began his NRL career as a Sydney Roosters player in 2010.

A Scottish international, Linnett is a player that brings experience to the Rovers side and a signing coach Tim Sheens has praised.

“Kane is obviously a very experienced NRL player with over 180 first-grade games, he’s 29 years old and plays both centre and second row which will give us a lot of depth in that area,” Sheens said.

“Kane is a very professional player, a very good player but also a very good person so I think he will add to the culture of the club.”

For Linnett, playing in the Super League has always been an ambition of his.

“I always wanted to finish my career in the Super League,” the veteran centre said.

“I’m really excited to get over there and meet a new bunch of boys, get settled in, work hard and hopefully have a good year.”

With experience under his belt, Linnett is keen to help the younger players develop in any way he can.

Having a senior role, I’ve got a lot of experience in the NRL so I’d like to help some of the younger boys through and it would be great to win a Super League title,” he continued.

“I’ve played a couple of finals here in the NRL, so that would be the ultimate achievement.”

Merrin becomes Rhinos latest signing

Penrith Panthers prop Trent Merrin

Just a week ago, he was staying at the Penrith Panthers. Today, Trent Merrin will join the Leeds Rhinos. 

The representative prop will join the Super League club on a four-year deal.

A premiership winner with the St George Illawarra Dragons in 2010, Merrin is a player Leeds are excited to sign.

“We are delighted to have signed Trent and look forward to welcoming him to the Rhinos club,” said Director of Rugby Kevin Sinfield.

“He is an international class forward who was a regular last season for Penrith Panthers in the NRL. ”

Sinfield went on to praise Merrin’s leadership, experience and knows he will become a valuable piece to the side.

“He has an outstanding reputation in Australia for his leadership within a group and is someone who has played for a decade at the highest level of the game,” the former Leeds player continued.

“He will complement our current group of forwards and is another indication of the ambition of the club to move forward into a new exciting era.”

Merrin also drew praise from Panthers Executive General Manager Phil Gould, who gave him a glowing endorsement.

“Trent Merrin has given our club three years of outstanding service, both on and off the field,” said Gould.

“Panthers played finals football in each of the three seasons he spent at the club.”

Gould wished Merrin all the best with his new side.

“Apart from the tremendous football he has played, Trent has been instrumental in mentoring the careers of a number of our young players,” continued Gould.

We wish Trent well with his new challenge in the English Super League. Leeds has secured itself a very good man.”

As for the man himself, his goals in the NRL are complete and he felt ready to take on a new challenge.

“I have done everything I possibly could in the NRL and this is a great opportunity for me to come to a great club with a fantastic culture and hopefully achieve some goals together,” said Merrin.

“It is good to have clarity about my future, I am looking forward to coming to a new country, stepping outside of my comfort zone and being part of something special with Leeds.”

Although his NRL journey is over, there is plenty he has his sights set on and he wants to start on the right foot.

“There is a lot I still want to achieve. I want to put my best foot forward and, when I eventually come back home, I want to be able to look back on a special period in my life,” continued the prop.

“I have spent time with Dave Furner in camp before and enjoyed the experience.

“He is obviously well respected at Leeds from his time there as a player and has built an impressive coaching career in the NRL since then.”

Sio to return to England after signing with Salford

Newcastle Knights winger Ken Sio

After a previous stint in the Super League with Hull KR, Ken Sio will depart the Newcastle Knights and head back to England, signing with the Salford Red Devils.

Sio’s ability to find the line has been on show over the years at the Parramatta Eels, Hull KR and the Knights.

With that knack for scoring also comes back-line versatility, with Sio able to cover fullback, wing and centre, a trait that pleases the club.

“We are delighted to add Ken to our team and would like to welcome his wife and children to Salford,” said Salford head coach Ian Watson.

“This signing is an outstanding capture for the Club as Ken is a player who can play full-back, winger and centre and comes with great experience.”

With his future sorted, Salford look forward to having the calibre of Sio on board.

“Ken is a fantastic person with an excellent work ethic which is essential in our environment here at Salford Red Devils,” continued Watson.

“His all-round ability and track record as a proven finisher in both the Super League and NRL will only add to our back line and help us build momentum as we head into the 2019 season.”