Category Archives: NRL Club News

Individual NRL Team and Club News

Widdop’s 2020 return to England confirmed with Wolves deal signed

St George Illawarra Dragons half Gareth Widdop

He requested a release and it has been granted, with Gareth Widdop to depart the St George Illawarra Dragons to return home to play for the Warrington Wolves in 2020. 

Countless reports of his apparent desire to return to England emerged, with release now officially confirmed by the Dragons.

There is a condition on the release, however; should Widdop return to the NRL, it must be with the Dragons and no other team.

Moving to Australia at a young age to play with the Melbourne Storm, Widdop eventually moved to the Dragons with 119 club games to his name to date.

The Englishman admits that it was not an easy decision but that he always wanted to play in the Super League.

“I’ve made a big decision in my career having decided to move back to England next year,” Widdop said.

“It certainly hasn’t been the easiest decision but sometimes in life we have aspirations and playing in the Super League has been one of mine for a while now.”

With his decision made, Widdop thanked the Dragons for how they dealt with the situation in allowing him to leave.

“The Dragons have played a big part in my career,” Widdop continued.

“I’ve been here a long time now and to get to where we have with the roster we’ve got, to leave it all behind especially being the captain will be difficult.

“This situation has been handled in the most professional way possible.

“I worked really closely with the club who have been great. We worked towards getting the best outcome and I thank the Dragons for that.”

When it came to picking a club, the Wolves felt like the right fit for Widdop due to several reasons.

“With decisions like this there are a lot of things to look into. I think Warrington, in terms of the club itself, has got a lot of history, is a great team and is run very well,” the half continued.

“I have a lot of mates in the team and it’s been a top club for a number of years. It’s a club I want to be a part of and win some silverware with.”

New blockbuster deal for Graham at the Sharks

Cronulla Sharks back-rower Wade Graham

Seen as a future captain of the club, a new long-term deal will see Wade Graham remain at the Cronulla Sharks. 

The new deal will see Graham a Shark until the end of the 2022 season.

Seen as a future captain of the club, Graham has been at the Sharks since 2011.

In that time, he has proven his mettle as a consistent performer, primarily as a back-rower.

With 219 NRL games to his name so far, 177 of which have come to the Sharks, Graham looks forward to continuing his Sharks tenure.

“I have tremendous belief in the club and in our playing group and I’m looking forward to the next four years and to the next chapter of my career,” he said.

Although Graham is set to miss the start of the season due to a previous ruptured ACL, his return is slated for mid 2019.

 

Smith set to crack elusive 400-mark with new Storm deal

Melbourne Storm captain Cameron Smith

Set to become the first Australian player to play 400 NRL games, Cameron Smith has finally put pen to paper with the Melbourne Storm.

A polarising figure in the rugby league landscape, Smith’s new deal with the Storm will run for two seasons.

Although his signing was key for the Storm, Smith was adamant that re-signing a young core around him was an important first step.

“We had some talented young guys coming off contract with the club looking to attain or extend their contract,” he said.

“I recognised that was important and I was wary of that – there is no use going in and signing a contract and having no quality players around me.

A special player and a one club man with the Storm, the club praised him for just how much he has put in for them.

“Cameron made it clear to us through the season he wanted to play on in 2019 but he saw it was more important to secure the future for the likes of Cameron Munster before him,” Donaghy said.

“Being a one-club player is rare in footy these days and it’s a credit to Cameron for sticking with us.

“There’s no doubt having Cameron around to help with the development of our next wave of players will be of enormous value to the team and the Club more broadly.”

Coming off one of his best seasons fitness wise, Smith felt like he was ready and able to go for another two seasons.

“I was feeling really good after the 2018 season… as good as I’ve ever felt and that was the reason I asked the club for two years,” Smith said.

“There was no haggling or pushing the club into a decision, I just posed the question.

“If it was a dead-set no from the club I would have been happy to go ahead with the 12 months and reassess during this season.”

Ricky’s NRL Previews Pt 1: Brisbane Broncos

Back again for another season, it’s Ricky’s NRL previews for the 2019 season, kick-starting with the Brisbane Broncos! 

With so much uncertainty around the head coaching role, questions over the halves and juggling the number of young guns, can the Broncos get themselves back into the second or third week of the finals in 2019?

The coaching saga

All off-season, everyone has been talking about Wayne Bennett and Anthony Seibold. Will they swap or will they stay? What would be the differences with either as coach in 2019?

As we know, Bennett is very old-school. One of the greatest coaches that Australian rugby league has ever seen, Bennett is a tough and stern but fair and honest coach.
That sort of approach is one that his players often appreciate.

However, as the game has changed,  Bennett’s inability to often change with it has affected his side, the way they play and their unison and cohesiveness as a team.
If Bennett cannot adapt to the ever-changing NRL atmosphere, can he continue to get the best out of any side?

As for Seibold, many see him as one of the coaches on the rise. Surprising many in just how much he managed to extract from the South Sydney Rabbitohs side in 2018, can he do the same at the Broncos?

In the Craig Bellamy mold of coaching, Seibold has an affinity with Queensland and the Brisbane area and so coaching the Broncos seems like a perfect fit. Or is it?
With so much uncertainty surrounding the Broncos side and their overall makeup, fitting in all the young players and satisfying the egos will be difficult.

Brisbane Broncos utility Kodi Nikorima

The halves make-up

Kodi Nikorima or Sean O’Sullivan? One is a relatively established half that has his critics, the other is a young, budding half, yearning for consistent opportunity.

For as long as he has played, Nikorima has always had criticism. Whether it be in general or whether it be specifically related to attack, the naysayers have been there.

A quiet achiever in terms of the way he goes about his business, he has proven on occasion that he is up to the task of leading a team or at least contributing to it.
Alongside Anthony Milford, who is very much a natural ball-runner rather than creator, Nikorima has been forced in some ways to be that creative source.

Despite being a natural ball-runner himself and a player whose versatility has perhaps limited him from developing one particular position in the past, it raises some interesting questions.

Is the Seibold era the one where Nikorima finally has a chance to settle as a half and adapt his game to complement that of Milford’s? Or do you run with the same game plan and just hope that they are both able to penetrate the defence and use quick feet and guile to bamboozle defenders?

Of course, the man on the outside looking in at all of this, is Sean O’Sullivan. A relative newcomer to the first-grade atmosphere, Sydney Roosters fans were and have been impressed with his ability for some time.

Now a Bronco, is it feasible for O’Sullivan to nab a starting spot or even a bench spot in the eyes of the Broncos fans?
Despite his relative inexperience, O’Sullivan impressed enough that some think he deserves a chance.

Is that chance now or will he be forced to wait?

Brisbane Broncos forward Tevita Pangai Jr.

The Young Ones

Blessed are they who are young and able to perform at the NRL level. The Broncos, a team able to produce a litany of talented kids destined for bigger things.

With so many on the horizon, though, and so many already getting a taste of first-grade, who features regularly?
Whether Bennett or Seibold are in charge, tough decisions will have to be made and not everyone will be pleased with those decisions.

Tevita Pangai Jr, Jaydn Su’A, Kotoni Staggs, Gehamat Shibasaki, David Fifita, Payne Haas and Patrick Carrigan.
All have the talent and ability but not all will be playing first-grade week in and week out.

One thing is for certain, though. When the Broncos need some quality depth, they won’t be lacking on recruits to call upon.

Player to Watch

One of the best emerging props you will see in 2019, David Fifita is ready to take the rugby league world by storm.
A hulking young forward, Fifita is at the Broncos for the long-term and will be looking to make the most of his opportunities.

Although injury cut his 2018 campaign short, his 11 games were impressive and have many Broncos fans eager to see him run around again.

Whether he starts or comes off the bench remains to be seen but his sheer power and tenacity, are sure to provide a big impact either way.
If he had not of played a total of 11 games, a rookie of the year award may have been on the horizon.

2019 Gains and Losses

Gains:  Shaun Fensom (North Queensland Cowboys, 2019), Thomas Dearden (2019), Thomas Flegler (2019), Myles Taueli (2019) and Sean O’Sullivan (Sydney Roosters, 2020).

Losses: Josh McGuire and Tom Opacic (both North Queensland Cowboys), Jonus Pearson and Korbin Sims (both St George Illawarra Dragons), Marion Seve (Melbourne Storm) and Sam Thaiday (retired).

NRL News Predicted Line-up

  1. Darius Boyd (C)
  2. Corey Oates
  3. James Roberts
  4. Jack Bird
  5. Jamayne Isaako
  6. Anthony Milford
  7. Kodi Nikorima
  8. Matt Lodge
  9. Andrew McCullough
  10. Joe Ofahengaue
  11. Matt Gillett
  12. Jaydn Su’A
  13. Tevita Pangai Jr.

14. Alex Glenn
15. Payne Haas
16. David Fifita
17. George Fai

Coach: Wayne Bennett/Anthony Seibold

 

 

Fensom makes a move to the Broncos

Former North Queensland Cowboys forward Shaun Fensom

Needing some more forward depth after several departures, Shaun Fensom has joined the Brisbane Broncos on a 1-year deal. 

Fensom, who made a name for himself at the Canberra Raiders, before playing for the North Queensland Cowboys, has a chance to start fresh.

With 174 NRL games to his name to date, Fensom hopes to add to that number at the Broncos.

It is a welcome addition for the Broncos whose forward pack needed some experience with many promising youngsters making their mark.

Norman officially joins Dragons after Eels release

Former Parramatta Eels half Corey Norman

Initially haggling with the Parramatta Eels over a small amount, the club has finally released Corey Norman who has signed with the St George Illawarra Dragons.

Norman, who had an up and down time during his Eels career, will join the Dragons until the end of the 2021 season.

With the release from the final year of his contract confirmed by the Eels, they wished Norman all the best for the future in a statement.

“The Parramatta Eels Club has released Corey Norman from his final year of his NRL playing contract.

Corey played 106 NRL games for the Eels and we thank him for his contribution to our Club and his community efforts off the field.

The Parramatta Eels Club wish Corey all the best for the future.”

Norman, a Beenleigh junior, has played in 169 NRL games to date with the Eels and previously the Brisbane Broncos.

With his Dragons move confirmed, he looks forward to what lies ahead in his career.

“It’s a big day for myself and my family,” Norman said.

“There are some exciting times ahead.

“The Dragons squad at the moment is really good and coming off a good year so I’m really looking forward to playing with the boys and spending plenty of good seasons here.”

As expected, the club are pleased to have Norman on board as it bolsters their halves and fullback depth ranks.

“Corey is a player who will entertain all members and fans with his ability in attack,” Dragons Director of Rugby League Pathways and List Management Ian Millward said.

“He is a player who we see will take us to the next level with the way he plays the game.

“When we make these decisions, it’s not always about pure recruitment.

“We talk to our senior players, we speak to our coach. Overall, we have been impressed.”

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The New journey begins

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Stellar season pays dividends for Sims with new Dragons contract

St George Illawarra Dragons back-rower Tariq Sims

After a strong individual season, Tariq Sims has been rewarded by the St George Illawarra Dragons with a new contract.

Already contracted for the 2019 season, Sims’ new deal is from 2020 and will run for three seasons.

The local junior hails from Gerringong and played in all club games except one in 2018.

In the end, the opportunities to stay at his local club and in his local area were too good to pass up.

“The Dragons has always been a club I’ve wanted to play for and represent being from Gerringong,” said Sims.

“To have the chance to extend my time with this special playing group, it was too good an opportunity to go anywhere else.”

Initially, the chance to work alongside Paul McGregor lured Sims to the club and he looks forward to continuing that.

“Mary (Paul McGregor) is a coach I’ve always wanted to play for and he has always wanted to coach me, which was very important when I first came to the Dragons,” continued the back-rower.

“I’d like to think I’ve taken my opportunities here at the club with both hands.”

With his aim to win a premiership, Sims is also excited with the young talent coming through the club ranks.

“The goal is always winning a premiership, but I can’t wait to help develop the players coming through,” added Sims.

“To see some of these young kids kick on in their careers from the Under-20s to the NRL in the coming years will be a real highlight.”

The club knew that retaining Sims long-term was a key priority, given how well he played in 2018.

“There’s a lot of things we like about Tariq on the field, but there’s also plenty of things we like about him off it,” said Director of Rugby League Pathways and List Management Ian Millward.

“He’s a real leader and will be a great mentor for some of our young players.”

“Tariq personifies personality and commitment, and what he does around the club on and off the field is enormous.

“His enthusiasm is infectious and his standing in the game at present is very important to our club.”

Mann returns to the Knights where it all began

Former St George Illawarra Dragons utility Kurt Mann

After being granted an early release by the St George Illawarra Dragons, Kurt Mann will return to the Newcastle Knights, his hometown club.

The Knights deal for Mann is for three seasons as they round out their roster ahead of the 2019 season.

The Knights aim is to utilise Mann’s versatility as often as possible, with an eye on him making a more permanent move to hooker.

“We identified Kurt as a player of interest quite some time ago,” Coach Nathan Brown said.

“We believe Kurt has the potential to become a hooker and his ability to play a range of positions is an added bonus in today’s game.

“Kurt expressed a desire to secure a regular position and he’ll be given every opportunity to do that.”

Having played SG Ball and NYC at the Knights and coming through their ranks, Mann is pleased to have the chance to return.

“I’m really excited to return to the Club,” Mann said.

“It all began for me in Newy. I left Queensland as a young kid and was fortunate enough to play SG Ball and 20s for the Knights.

“It’s a homecoming of sorts. I can’t wait to meet everyone and get to work.”

For the Dragons, they admitted that, in the end, Mann received a better offer that they could not match.

“We have been in dialogue with Kurt and his management for a long period of time,” Millward said.

“He was offered a long-term contract and more security in regards to his playing minutes and being a starting player.

“We understood his desires regarding this, one he’s been persistent about it.”

As for his time at the Dragons, Mann thanked the fans for their hospitality over the last three seasons.

“I want to thank the Dragons and its members and fans for all their support over the past three years – it has meant so much to have worn the Red V jumper,” Mann said.

“I am also very appreciative to the Dragons for allowing me the opportunity to shore up my long-term future in the NRL by agreeing to release me.

“It wasn’t an easy decision as I’ve formed many lifelong friendships over the years I’ve spent at the Dragons, and I wish them all the best in the coming season.”

Fans the reason behind Lodge’s decision to re-sign with Broncos

Brisbane Broncos prop Matt Lodge

Some are still annoyed he is in the game but Matt Lodge will be at the Brisbane Broncos for at least two more seasons after re-signing.

After a solid comeback season in 2019 from numerous indiscretions, Lodge won the club’s best Forward award and was second in the Paul Morgan Medal tally.

Lodge paid tribute to the fans for their support as a reason behind his decision to stay.

“Thank you (members and fans) for getting behind me – it was a massive part of why I made the decision to stay in Brisbane,” said Lodge.

“We think we owe something to them and we’re working hard to bring back what everyone wants.”

With his new deal sorted, Lodge is pleased to have some stability and to working under new coach Anthony Seibold.

“It’s good to have some stability, I’ve made the decision to stay up in Brisbane.

“I’m happy with that decision and looking to put in some work with the group that we’ve got coming through to achieve what we all want.

“I’ll always respect Wayne (Bennett) for giving me the chance to come back… but we’re moving on now and we’ve got a new coach in Seibs (Anthony Seibold).

“Training has changed and we’ve all on board with that and we’re excited at what the future holds.”

As he looks to change the perception many have of him, Lodge says that becoming a father has given him more responsibility.

“It’s awesome – he just turned one a few weeks ago and he’s running amok but I love it,” said Lodge.

Lodge also has the full backing of the club who have praised his achievements so far and know he is capable of even more.

“Matt continues to work on every aspect of his life both on and off the field, and he knows he has our full backing as he travels along that road,” said Broncos CEO Paul White.

“He has taken some big strides this year through his dedication and hard work. We applaud what he has achieved and we welcome what is to come in the years ahead.”

Huge boost for Rabbitohs as live-wire Cook re-signs

South Sydney Rabbitohs hooker Damien Cook

Some thought he would follow Anthony Seibold but Damien Cook has the South Sydney Rabbitohs a huge boost, signing a new long-term deal.

Cook, who is coming off a career-best season (representing both NSW and Australia and winning the Dally M Hooker of the Year), has re-signed for five years.

With 74 NRL games to his name to date, Cook’s NRL debut came with the St George Illawarra Dragons before he joined the Canterbury Bulldogs.

With a new lease on life since joining the Bunnies, Cook is pleased to have his long-term future sorted.

“I’m very excited to be extending my contract with the Rabbitohs and I’m happy to have my future sorted,” Cook said.

“Souths has been my home for the past three years and I didn’t think it would be possible to be able to secure things for the next five years, but I’m so happy that that will be the case.”

Cook is confident that the club is building nicely moving forward under new coach Wayne Bennett.

“I’ve loved every moment of my time here, even the tough times, and I think we’re building to something nicely,” Cook continued.

“It’s exciting times at the Rabbitohs and I’m looking forward to seeing where we can take it in 2019 and beyond.”

Rabbitohs General Manager of Football Shane Richardson also praised Cook and his recent form.

“Damien has not only proven that he is a top-level NRL hooker, he’s shown that he has what it takes to compete at the highest representative levels of the game,” Richardson said.

“He has taken on every challenge that has been put in front of him and he has overcome them.