Category Archives: NRL News

Regular and General NRL News Articles and Information

Cherry-Evans sensationally backflips on Titans deal to stay with Manly

Daly Cherry-Evans

The decision will not impress Gold Coast Titans fans, as their star recruit, one Daly-Cherry Evans, has sensationally backflipped on his current deal to remain with the Manly Sea Eagles.

Although the rule will be changed from after this season, currently, players have until Rd 13 to change their minds and renege on a deal when they sign elsewhere. After what Cherry-Evans said was much consultation, thought and deliberation, he opted to stay with Manly.

Cherry-Evans said that he is looking forward to the opportunity of staying at Manly.

“It is with great pleasure and humility I can confirm I will be continuing my stay with the Sea Eagles, Daly said.”

“This gives me an opportunity to become a one club player which is something I have always dreamed of since I arrived as an 18-year-old.

“I like to thank the Manly Warringah Members and supporters for all their support. I hope they are just as pleased with this decision as I am.”

A junior with the Mackay Brothers, Cherry-Evans came through the junior ranks at Manly and the club, particularly Chairman Scott Penn, are pleased to keep him on board.

“Daly is the calibre of player that the Club can continue to build a premiership winning culture around,” Penn said.

“Daly has already played in 2 Grand Finals for the Club and won a Clive Churchill medal. He is at the top of his game and this contract reflects how valuable he is to the Sea Eagles and how important he will be for our future success.”

“We are very confident that this signing will be the tipping point for the Sea Eagles future recruitment plans.”

CEO Joe Kelly was also ecstatic with the decision, labelling it a massive boost for the club.

“Today is a wonderful and historic moment for the Sea Eagles, our sponsors, members and supporters. Daly is one of the best halves in the game and has a long-term representative career in front of him at both State and National level,” Kelly said.

“To now know that he is committed to being a one Club player for Manly Warringah is extremely satisfying.”

Coach Geoff Toovey has seen a lot of Cherry-Evans over the years and is pleased to see the elite half remain with Manly.

“Daly is an integral member of our team, and his experience and leadership skills are invaluable, especially to the younger players coming through,” Toovey said.

“This is a great confidence boost heading into the business end of the season.”

Some of his comments at today’s press conference are sure to displease Titans fans.

“(The Gold Coast) probably have the right to be angry but that’s something I can live with,” said Cherry-Evans.

“I definitely left the door open for this speculation to continue. I was curious to see what was on the table.”

“I’m sincerely sorry to the Gold Coast but I’m happy with the decision I’ve made.”

The reaction from Titans camp was disappointed but blunt, as coach Neil Henry stated succinctly.

“He’s made his decision & we have to move on,” said Henry.

CEO Graham Annesley went into a bit more comment and admits he is disappointed at how things panned out for the entire club.

“It’s very unfortunate and we are obviously very disappointed by it,” said Annesley.

“I feel for our staff, players loyal members and sponsors that this saga has played out the way it has.”

He went on to say that despite what has happened, the club still have a desire to be successful and they will go back into the market to find the right players.

“This will not in any shape or form diminish this clubs determination to be successful,” said Annesley.

“We will target other players that fit into the culture and aspirations that this club has.”

“Daly made his own decision. It’s disappointing that it’s taken as long for that decision to be made as it has. Having said that, it’s within the existing rules.

With what happened obviously out of their control, the Titans know they have to regroup, reassess and get back on the market.

“It’s obviously had an enormous impact on our club … we have made recruitment and retention decisions based on the personnel we thought we’d have in place next year. That’s now changed. We’ll reassess, we’ll regroup,” said Annesley.

“Disillusioned is a better word than angry … you’d like to think that when someone makes a commitment, they honour that commitment.”

Ricky’s View: Greatest Samoan Team

Francis Meli

We had the best Fijian side named in our view and now, we turn our attention to another Island nation. Samoa. Blessed with some remarkably talented players throughout their history of rugby league, many currently play in the NRL and overseas, all full of talent. Just who will make the cut in this team and will there be any modern players selected or will it be the retired brigade of players? Time will tell.

Here is what we believe to be the best Samoan rugby league side across their history:

1. Tangi Ropati – A World Cup stint led to the first major opportunity for Ropati and it was one that he took with both hands. That opportunity came with the Sheffield Eagles back in 2009, where he enjoyed decent success with the team and scoring a good number of tries over his two seasons there. That led to a move to Widnes for the utility back and although he only spent one season at the club, it was fairly productive. Perhaps the club where he was revered the most and the club where he was the most productive was during a 1-year stint with the Featherstone Rovers. 16 tries in 16 games, not a bad strike rate. After that, he was in the New Zealand Warriors NSW Cup side for a couple of years, before opting to play in the local New Zealand rugby league competition for the Akarana Falcons. Over the course of three years, he played for Samoa seven times in a World Cup and numerous Pacific Tests.

2. Sam Panapa – One of the best players to have donned a Samoan jersey, Panapa enjoyed success as a player wherever he went. The bulk of his success came during a successful era in the 90’s with the Wigan Warriors. Starting out as a junior for the Te Atatu Roosters in the local Auckland rugby league competition, Panapa’s skill and development were on show and it was a matter of time before a club came knocking to sign him. That first club was the Sheffield Eagles. His first stint with the club was not great and that led to a return to his junior club for some years. Fast forward 6 years into the future at that time and Panapa rejoined the Eagles, this time enjoying more success. In 24 games for the club, he scored 14 tries. His greatest successes came during a four year stint with the Wigan Warriors. During his time at Wigan, Panapa won two World Club Challenges and numerous Super League titles, playing in a total of of 119 games for the club. He then moved onto the Salford Reds and helped them gain promotion into the Super League, after a grand final win against the Keighley Cougars in 1994.

3. Anthony Swann – Capping off his career with several World Cup appearances for Samoa in 2000, Anthony Swann is a player that the Samoan fans would know well. Starting out his career for the Waitakere City Raiders in the Lion Red Cup in 1994, he went on to have some success with numerous NRL sides and overseas rugby league sides. His first major foray into the rugby league landscape came in 1996, when he was signed up by the then Auckland Warriors side. His form over those three years and his subsequent 36 games in total, saw him represent New Zealand on a few occasions, but Samoa is where his heart was. After a short stint with the North Sydney Bears in 1999 and then a couple of seasons at the Canberra Raiders, he joined the Warrington Wolves in 2001 but with limited success. The centre then ventured into the world of rugby union where he played for the Bay of Plenty Streamers and had some success. He then returned to rugby league, this time in the Bartercard Cup, and played for the Mt Albert Lions as well as the Auckland representative side.

4. Francis Meli – Revered and loved no matter where he went, Francis Meli was all about the longevity as he took pride in playing for a particular club for as long as possible. From the NZ region of Titirangi, Meli was approached to join the New Zealand Warriors after an impressive stint with the Marist Saints in the Auckland Rugby League competition. His time at the Warriors spanned 8 years, to which Meli played in 110 games for the club and scoring 63 tries in the process. At the time, a feeder arrangement by the Warriors meant that Meli played for Brisbane Souths on a few occasions. In 2000, he represented Samoa at the World Cup before changing his allegiance to the Kiwis. 2002 saw Meli and the Warriors side make the grand final, although they lost the game. In 2003, Meli scored a club record 23 tries in a season, 5 of which came in a finals game against the Canterbury Bulldogs. To this day, that is still the record for most tries in a finals game by one player. To cap off the 2003 season, Meli was then named the Warriors’ Player of the Year. Come 2006, a move to the Super League beckoned and the winger/centre joined St Helens. His time with the Saints was filled with numerous championships and cup wins including the 2006 Challenge Cup Final win, the 2006 Super League grand final, the 2007 World Club Challenge and two further Challenge Cup wins. All of that came in his first three years at the club. Representing Samoa once more at another World Cup in 2008 and in the 2009 Pacific Cup, Meli finished his club career with the Salford Devils, playing with them for one season.

5. Misi Taulapapa – Most of his success as a rugby league player has come outside of Australia but if rugby league fans cast their minds back to 2006-2009, they will remember Misi Taulapapa in Australian rugby league circles. He had two short stints spanning four years in total, one with the New Zealand Warriors – playing just 5 games in 2006 – and the other with the Cronulla Sharks, where he played 33 games over a period of three years.
Originally a rugby union player from the Waitemata Football Club in New Zealand, he was a part of the winning Gallagher Shield team in 2003 and was also a member of the Kelston Boys High School XV side. 2004 was when the foray into league began for Taulapapa when he joined the Marist Richmond Brothers in the Bartercard Cup, which then led to being signed by the Warriors. It was not all smooth sailing, though – rather the opposite, in fact – with Taulapapa then let go by the club after playing just 6 games due to turning up to training intoxicated. That led to a move to the Cronulla Sharks where he established himself as a solid fringe utility back, playing a total of 33 games and scoring 7 tries over a 3-year stint with the club.
After those somewhat turbulent stints in the NRL, Taulapapa found a home, signing with the Sheffield Eagles in 2010. Initially, Taulapapa could have been headed to the then Gateshead Thunder, but financial difficulties on their part effectively ruled out a move to the club. A versatile player throughout his career – covering fullback, wing and centre – Taulapapa also has captaincy honours to his name, having been named captain for certain periods during his current lengthy stint with the Eagles. Taulapapa was a member of the Samoan World Cup side in 2008 and also represented Samoa in the 2009 Pacific Cup.

6. Smith Samau – Enjoying the bulk of his success as a Central Queensland Capras player, there was a time where Smith Samau could have played more NRL games, only to be shifted around to accommodate another player staying with the club. 2006 was the year that could have been for Samau after he was named to play in his debut NRL game with the Melbourne Storm but at the end of the year, in a bid to retain then winger Steve Turner, the Storm let Samau go and he signed with the Gold Coast Titans. When he was not playing for the Storm in 2006, Samau was a member of the Norths Devils side, a team in the Queensland Cup. That move to the Titans led to a further 10 first-grade games, eight of which came in 2007, as well as stints for the Ipswich Jets, also in the Queensland Cup. 2009 saw a move to the Roosters, though Samau did not play first-grade at the club and that culminated in a return to the Ipswich Jets for the 2010 season. After that, Samau moved to the Capras side where he has enjoyed individual success as a player, even if the team themselves have not always performed. For Samoa, Samau was awarded with 9 caps over two years, representing Samoa in both the 2008 World Cup and other Test matches over a span of three years.

7. John Schuster – One of Samoa’s greatest dual internationals, it was all about the rugby union for John Schuster growing up. Coming from a prominent rugby union family in Wellington, Schuster first played for Western Samoa in 1986. It was not until 1988 that Schuster made his debut for the All Blacks during the Bledisloe Cup and over the course of his rugby union career, he played in 10 Tests for the All Blacks. There was an exodus of players from rugby union in 1990 with Schuster one of the individuals to leave. This paved the way for a move to rugby league and it was the Newcastle Knights who pounced on the back-rower/five-eighth. He had some solid success at the Knights over the three years he was at the club, scoring 41 tries and kicking 101 goals, for a total of 266 points. He set two early records – they were later beaten by Andrew Johns – that included highest number of career points for the Knights and most points in a season. After spending much of 1993 in reserve grade, Schuster wanted and needed change, and English side Halifax came knocking. Playing there for five years, by the time his career with the club had ended, he had scored more than 1000 points – the result of 50 tries, 399 goals and five field goals. It was during the 1995 World Cup when Schuster became a dual international and his talents were on show to the rugby league arena. In the tournament, he scored 22 points, all goals. There was a return to Union once more for Schuster and he played for Harlequins for a couple of seasons, resulting in an international stint for Samoa at the 1999 Rugby World Cup where he scored 17 points.

8. Leeson Ah Mau – Currently enjoying a successful stint with the St George Illawarra Dragons, life in rugby league started in New Zealand for Leeson Ah Mau. Playing for the Papatoetoe Panthers and Otahuhu in the Auckland Rugby League competition, it was no surprise to see Ah Mau signed on a development contract with the New Zealand Warriors in 2007. He played for the Junior Kiwis in 2006 and the New Zealand U18’s side in 2007, and was a part of the inaugural New Zealand Warriors Holden Cup side in 2008, making 22 appearances for the Warriors in the competition. Right off the bat in 2009, Ah Mau was thrust into the firing line and made his NRL debut for the Warriors. The joy did not last long unfortunately, given that after just 2 games into his career, he injured his hamstring and did not play for the Warriors again. This led to him leaving the club and he ended up heading North to play for the North Queensland Cowboys. Ah Mau’s first career try came for the Cowboys and after playing in 18 games and scoring a try in his first season, Ah Mau was named as the Cowboys’ Rookie of the Year in 2010. Finishing up at the Cowboys in 2011 after a further 15 appearances for them, a new move beckoned for Ah Mau and he headed back towards Sydney when he signed with the Dragons. He has not left since that time and has become a mainstay forward in their side for the last couple of seasons. With a total of 9 Tests played for Samoa throughout his career so far, he has played in both a World Cup and numerous Pacific Tests during that time.

9. Pita Godinet – The path to rugby league success was not always a smooth one for Godinet and if he was not biding his time for a first-grade opportunity, he was in and out of the side regularly for varying reasons. Godinet’s career started in the Bartercard Cup in 2007 for the Waitakere Rangers, before he moved to rival side Auckland for the 2008 competition. During that time, he also played for the then Auckland Vulcans in the NSW Cup and was named Rookie of the Year for the club. In 2010, he moved to the Te Atatu Roosters, played for Auckland in the Albert Baskerville Trophy and played for the Auckland Vulcans on numerous occasions, playing well enough to be named in the NSW Cup Team of the Year for 2010. Late in 2010, the first major step came when Godinet was signed in an official capacity by the New Zealand Warriors for training purposes, before it was extended to a formal contract in early 2011. After making his debut in Rd 11, he put the Warriors fans on notice and showed that he has some skills, scoring on his debut. Despite that impressive showing first-up, Godinet only managed 18 games for the Warriors across three seasons and in search of greener pastures, he joined the Wakefield Wildcats from the 2014 season. In regards to his Samoan playing career, his first opportunity came in 2010 when Ben Roberts was injured and again, he excelled on debut, scoring the side’s only try. Godinet also represented Samoa at the 2013 Rugby League World Cup.

10. Tony Tuimavave – One of the older members of the Tuimavave family, it was Tony who paved the way for the family name to continue in the rugby league world. Starting out locally in the Auckland Comp, for a long while, the name Tony Tuimavave was an unknown one in rugby league circles. He played for both the Northcote Tigers and the Mt Albert Lions in the local Auckland Competition and played in 30 matches for the Auckland province over a 7-year period. The semi-big break came in 1991 when he was signed by the Sheffield Eagles, where he stayed for two seasons before he returned to Auckland. That led to a stint for the Waitakere City side, before he finally got the biggest break of all, a stint with the New Zealand Warriors. Joining the then Auckland Warriors in 1995, he remained a crucial part of their side for the duration of his time there – until 2000 – and he was the last member of the inaugural Auckland Warriors side to leave the club. For Samoa, Tuimavave played in the 1990 Pacific Cup, the 1992 Pacific Cup and the 1995 Rugby League World Cup. Right now, he coaches local New Zealand rugby league side, the Ponsonby Ponies.

11. Frank Puletua – A fan favourite during his many years at the Penrith Panthers, Frank Puletua donned the Samoan jersey with pride. A junior out in Western Sydney with the St Mary’s Saints, the Penrith Panthers picked him up as a young player and he made an early debut at just 20 years old in 1998. His first experience with the Samoan side came in 2000, when he was selected in their World Cup squad. Playing in four seasons for the Panthers to begin his career, he moved away from the club to sign with the South Sydney Rabbitohs. Two years at the Bunnies followed before he returned to the Penrith Panthers, where he forged a long-standing, positive relationship with the fans. Over the next eight years, he became an integral part of the Panthers line-up and was a committed player to the tee, never giving an inch. Overall, he played for Samoa a total of 7 times and was named in the 2008 Samoa training squad for the 2008 Rugby League World Cup.

12. Philip Leuluai – A modern-day veteran of Samoan rugby league, Leuluai was actually born in New Zealand but had Samoan heritage in his blood. Starting out in NZ as a local junior with the Otahuhu Leopards, he also had stints with the Eastern Tornadoes – another Bartercard Cup side – and with the Newtown Jets, before an opportunity arose to represent the Cronulla Sharks. That opportunity was preceded by an appearance for Auckland in the 1997 Super League Challenge Cup and appearances for Auckland South in the 1999 Super Provincial Competition. He toured Australia with the New Zealand Residents side in 2000, as well as touring France and the USA with the New Zealand A side. A prop or back-rower by trade, Leuluai spent three years at the Sharks from 2005-2007 where he played 30 games, before he moved to the other side of the world to play with the then Salford Reds. Over a four year period at Salford, he played 40 games, before he moved to France to play with highly rated French side, the Lezignan Sangliers. In 2008, Leuluai was named as a part of the Samoan training squad for the World Cup but did not make the team. He did however make the 2009 Pacific Cup squad.

13. Harrison Hansen – An Auckland boy through and through, Hansen has enjoyed success as a player throughout his career so far. Now considered a veteran having made his debut way back in 2004 at just 19, the bulk of his success came during a successful stint at the Wigan Warriors. Life for Hansen in rugby league started at Folly Lane ARLFC, where the son of ex-Salford and Swinton professional Shane Hansen plied his trade. Interestingly, Hansen is of Samoan, Chinese and Scottish descent and after impressing in Wigan’s academy set-up at a young age, he was rewarded with a two-year deal in mid-2003. The icing on the cake for Hansen came in 2004 when he was selected to make his Super League debut with the club and his game-time only increased from there, after several departures ahead of the 2005 season. During his time at the Warriors, Hansen won numerous trophies including two Super League grand finals and two Challenge Cups. His time at Wigan came to an end after 10 years and with it, came a move to the Salford Devils. The eligibility of Hansen is an interesting one to monitor. Having played for the English youth team to begin with, Hansen was then named in a Test for New Zealand. Soon after, he changed his allegiance to Samoa and he made his debut for the Pacific nation in 2007. That was followed by appearances at the 2008 World Cup and the 2009 Pacific Test. He was named in the Samoan 2013 World Cup squad as captain but was forced to withdraw because of injury.

14. David Solomona – A cult figure wherever he went, David Solomona forged a career in rugby league through hard work and a trademark offload. Attending St Paul’s College in Auckland as a young player, wherever Solomona played, he was always among the top offloaders at his clubs. His professional career began with the Sydney Roosters, signing with them for the 1999 season. After two years and 21 games at the club, a move to the Parramatta Eels beckoned where he arguably, forged his cult hero status. Revered and loved by the Eels fans, he lost his second consecutive grand final in 2001 – the first coming in 2000 whilst at the Roosters. After four seasons with the Eels and 57 games played in total, he moved to the Wakefield Wildcats and helped them stay in the Super League. After that, he moved onto the Bradford Bulls and enjoyed some success there has both a ball-runner and a ball-player and again, maintained his cult hero status. The last team he played for was the Warrington Wolves and he was a part of the club’s 2010 Challenge Cup success. Although Solomona represented New Zealand as well as Samoa and winning a Tri-Nations series in the process, he had the honour of representing Samoa at two different World Cups, most recently in 2008.

15. Apollo Perelini – A Samoan dual international, Apollo Perelini was everywhere in both rugby league and rugby union throughout the course of his career. Related to Australian soccer star Tim Cahill, it was rugby union that first piqued Apollo’s interest. He represented Samoa in the 1991 Rugby World Cup and a few years later, an offer from rugby league came his way. He rejected it first but then accepted the overtures of St Helens and opted to sign with them in 1995. In the same year, he represented Samoa at the 1995 Rugby League World Cup and became the first Samoan dual international. Perelini found immediate success at St Helens in 1996 as helped the side to a Challenge Cup victory. The icing on the cake came when he was named in the Super League Dream Team of the Year at prop. Further success came in 1999 when he helped St Helens win the Super League grand final and again in the year 2000 when the Saints again won the Super League grand final. After much success at St Helens and at age 33, Perelini sought a move back to union with the Sale Sharks. In total, Perelini won four Challenge Cups and two Super League titles.

16. Matt Utai – Born and raised in Auckland, the Berala Bears were the first club that Matt Utai called home, playing his junior footy there. He came through the Canterbury Bulldogs developmental squads and emerged through the ranks in the then Jersey Flegg competition as well as reserve grade. In that year, Utai was a part of the winning reserve grade. The big opportunity came soon after when Utai was named to make his NRL debut in 2002. Named Dally M Rookie of the Year after a quality season after scoring 13 tries in 21 games, it was tarnished as the club did not play finals footy in 2002 due to salary cap breaches. 2003 came along and Utai was in even greater form, scoring 21 tries in 27 games including a hat-trick in three straight games. In 2004, the ultimate success arrived when Utai was a part of the Bulldogs grand final winning side. He continued to perform for the Dogs over the years but was demoted to the NSW Cup playing for Bankstown. He became the only Bulldogs player to win five premierships across all grades after Bankstown’s win. He was then set to sign for the now defunct Crusaders side but failed a fitness test because of a knee injury and instead joined Group 9 side, the Young Cherrypickers. Following that, he joined the Auburn Warriors before the Wests Tigers came calling and signed him up for a few seasons. He played in 40 games and scored 14 tries during that period before being released, rejoining the Auburn Warriors. Utai’s representative games for Samoa came during the 2008 Rugby League World Cup.

17. Vila Matautia – A hulking Samoan forward, there was always success destined for Matautia as he developed into a quality player. After an early stint with Doncaster RLFC, a move to St Helens was on the cards and it was this move that shaped Matautia’s career. Playing at the club for seven years, he was a part of the team’s winning Super League season in 1996. He played off the bench in their 1999 Challenge Cup victory and was again part of the Saints winning 2000 premiership season. Additionally, he also won the World Club Challenge with St Helens in 2001 and had the opportunity to represent Samoa at the 1995 World Cup.

Raiders young gun re-signs at the club

Mitch Barnett

The Canberra region has produced many quality players over the years and often, they have re-signed the ones destined for big things.

That trend has continued, with the Canberra Raiders re-signing talented player, Mitch Barnett. The new deal will see him remain at the Green Machine for a further two seasons.

Impressing at Mounties so far in 2015, the 20-year old was the club’s NYC Players Player of the Year in 2014, and is destined for a stint in first-grade in the near future.

On and off the field, Barnett has matured as a player and a person and is grateful for the chances awarded to him by the club. As a result, it made the decision to re-sign easier.

“The clubs been good to me and one of the big reasons I decided to stay,” Barnett said.

“They showed faith in me so I thought I’d show some back in them by re-signing and hopefully I can keep playing good footy and take the next step in my career.”

With a positive vibe among all Canberra teams this season, Barnett wants to work hard as he hopes to advance his career further.

“It’s a great bunch of blokes in our NRL squad. We’re working really hard together and we’re building a good culture which I want to be a part of and that’s why I chose to stay,” he said.

“I’m just looking to keep contributing to the Mounties each week and if a debut comes that’s great but I’m certainly not expecting to have it handed to me I know I have to keep working hard.”

Storm cruise to victory against spirited Sharks

Tohu Harris

Melbourne is not a happy hunting ground for the Cronulla Sharks and that trend continued, as the Sharks were outplayed by the Melbourne Storm in every facet of the game, eventually losing 36-18.

Two late tries made the score more respectable but it was the Storm who dominated most of the match, in front of a crowd of just over 13,000 at AAMI Park.

The loss is the third straight in Melbourne for the Sharks, at an average margin of 30 points per loss.

Melbourne showed that when you hold onto the ball and complete your sets, you score. They finished up with a percentage of 89 when it came to their completions, asserting absolute dominance.

One player who led the charge was Tohu Harris, who produced one of the best games of his career – two tries and 153 metres – was involved in everything.

Although Storm coach Craig Bellamy was pleased with aspects of his side’s performance, he knows that they took their foot off the accelerator late on and wants to see improvement in that regard.

“I was really happy with our first 30 minutes I thought he was tremendous…We planned what we wanted to do tonight and I thought for the first 30 minutes we were really good with that plan,” Bellamy said.

“Lost our way a little bit in that last 10 minutes of the first half when we went away from what we were doing.

“But I thought it was a pretty good performance overall and certainly something we can build on.”

There was nothing but praise for Harris from captain Cam Smith, who always knew that the back-rower was capable of such performances.

“Myself, the senior players and the coaches have been looking for more of a presence from Tohu on the field and he’s certainly provided that this year,” Cameron Smith said.

“We need that on our edge from him this year, we’ve been waiting for that for a while. He is a quality player, we’ve known that but we just needed him to realise that himself.”

The focus for the Sharks was on Luke Lewis in particular who made his return for the club. Admitting he might have been underdone, Sharks coach Shane Flanagan knows the more he plays, the better it will be for him.

“He was probably a little bit under done but played a little bit longer than we expected,” Shane Flanagan said.

“It will be good for Luke to get that time out there and he will be better for it.”

3. Tohu Harris
2. Jesse Bromwich
1. Marika Koroibete

Ricky’s NRL Previews Pt 14: Sydney Roosters

Blistering attacking play and steely resolve are the traits we associate with the Sydney Roosters and after a setback in 2014, they will be looking to hop back onto the saddle and show the NRL they mean business. The question will be, though, can enough of their players step up and can coach Trent Robinson instill some new found tricks into the side’s attacking play.

The biggest talking point about the Roosters heading into 2015 would be no surprise – and that is Blake Ferguson. The former troubled superstar has made his triumphant return with decent trial form and is set to be rewarded for that and for his hard work with a starting berth at the club in Rd 1. Despite that and despite his comeback to get back into the NRL, the question does have to be asked – was it too soon for him to come back? Was he truly in the right state to make a return and if so, can he adjust and adapt to the changing nature of the NRL or will he take time to become accustomed to it once more? Regardless of whether you think he was ready or not, Ferguson has always been blessed with a natural ability to play the game and with a coach like Trent Robinson, he will be primed and ready to make an impact where required.

The signing of Ferguson does raise some interesting questions about the Roosters back-line, though. Roger Tuivasa-Sheck at the back is a shoe-in but the bigger question is, do you play Ferguson at centre or on the wing? Equally adept to both, that is the decision that Robinson has to make with both Ferguson and Shaun Kenny-Dowall vying for a spot, either spot. Both can play centre and wing, both have their preferred positions and the fans will no doubt have views of their own as to who should start where. The general consensus would appear to have Ferguson starting at centre and Kenny-Dowall on the wing but such is the NRL world that it could change in the blink of an eye. They say when a player starts out or returns, centre is a harder spot to play and adapt to – so would picking Ferguson on the wing ease his transition back into the NRL?

With so much riding on success, as usual, the Roosters chances will hinge on how James Maloney and Mitchell Pearce can perform. Last year it was Pearce who excelled and the year before, it was Maloney. In 2015, the Roosters fans will want to see them both play well and create attacking opportunities with remarkable accuracy and precision. Of course, not every half has their day or the game of their life every week. This will mean that through a collective team effort, both Pearce and Maloney will be able to shine in their own respective manner and prove themselves to be an elite halves combination. Individually, both have the talent to succeed in the NRL and the past has proven that but as a duo, where one has been consistent, the other has not been. The challenge is to unify the team, lead from the front and help the club with the attacking nous to put the points on the board and to get the crucial wins each week.

Another big talking point – at least at the end of last season that has carried over into this year somewhat – is the loss of Sonny Bill Williams. Widely regarded as one of the best back-rowers the game has ever seen in the modern era, it often came down to sheer x-factor with Sonny Bill. He had the ability to change a game on his own, to deliver an offload so remarkable and so uncanny, that you would not think it were possible to do so. He had a knack for producing such offloads that led to points or breaks and that, coupled with his dynamism, unpredictability and ability to cover multiple positions, means that in general terms, he will be a loss for the club.
With that said, it would appear that the responsibility of taking over SBW’s position rests on the shoulders of Aidan Guerra. Proving that he has what it takes to play rugby league, the responsibility is one that Guerra is ready for and with recent Queensland and Australian representative games to his belt, that will add to his already impressive resume. He, much like SBW, is a player that runs hard and can pull off a decent offload. So as much as the club may lose in SBW no longer being there, they have found the ready-made replacement in Aidan Guerra.

Best buy: The easiest option is to say Blake Ferguson but we’re not going down that path. Whilst his return is a boost for the club, the addition of Matt McIlwrick is, in our eyes, a lot more helpful. Particularly with Jake Friend ruled out for some weeks due to a previous off-season surgery, things were looking rather bleak at the hooker position for the Roosters. That is, until they signed Matt McIlwrick, Formerly of the Canberra Raiders, McIlwrick was admittedly in and out of the side during his years there, but that is not because he is a bad player by any means. Despite his small stature, he plays beyond his size and this is demonstrated by the versatility he has shown in the past to play both hooker and lock on a regular basis. He is a nippy player, a smart player and was after an opportunity to show what he could do on a more regular basis. He now has the opportunity and will look to make the most of it.

Most Promising Talent: Perhaps a player that fans outside of the Roosters have not heard a lot of yet, is Willis Meehan. That will all change once he gets his opportunity in first-grade, though. A talented, hulking utility, Meehan was rewarded with a couple of games last year for his good form across the Holden Cup and the NSW Cup, where he showed that he is more than capable of playing alongside and against the men. A promising young player who has an equally promising boxing career, Meehan is one to watch in the future and there have been comparisons made to Sonny Bill Williams already, such is the dynamic style and approach he brings to footy. Whilst he may not start the season, it would seem but a mere formality before he plays first-grade again and stays in the side for the long-term.

2015 Gains: Blake Ferguson (2015), Martin Kennedy (Brisbane Broncos), Willie Manu (St Helens RLFC), Matt McIlwrick (Canberra Raiders), Abraham Papalii (New Zealand Warriors), Lagi Setu (Canberra Raiders), Nathan Stapleton (Mid Season: Cronulla Sharks)

Our predicted line-up:

1. Roger Tuivasa-Sheck
2. Daniel Tupou
3. Michael Jennings
4. Shaun Kenny-Dowall
5. Blake Ferguson
6. James Maloney
7. Mitch Pearce (C)
8. Jared Waerea-Hargreaves
9. Jake Friend (Matt McIlwrick whilst Friend is injured) (C)
10. Sam Moa
11. Boyd Cordner
12. Aidan Guerra
13. Dylan Napa

14. Kane Evans
15. Martin Kennedy
16. Mitch Aubusson
17. Issac Liu

Coach: Trent Robinson.

Ricky’s 2015 Season Previews Pt 1: Brisbane Broncos

Another pre-season and another round of season previews. Time flies but we go with the flow as the first installment of the season previews covers the Brisbane Broncos

The Broncos are the sort of team that can have a great run and surge towards a finals berth or struggle and falter, leaving their fans remarkably frustrated. Despite those inconsistencies, though, there’s a back-to-the-future era beginning at out Broncos headquarters.

Why is that you ask? Well, prodigal son and the club’s most successful coach in Wayne Bennett is back at the helm and looking to take Brisbane back to the glory that they saw under his last long, successful reign as coach of the club. Bennett is the perfect man to lead the side forward. He knows a good chunk of players at the club, he is known for promoting juniors if and when they are ready and he knows how to get the best out of players, all of whom are drawn to his coaching style.

Perhaps the big unknown in the Broncos line-up this year comes with the uncertainty over crucial positions within their spine. Ben Hunt and Andrew McCullough are mainstays at halfback and hooker respectively, having performed brilliantly in season 2014 but the five-eighth role and the fullback role continue to generate discussion and talk as this very article is published.

Before the injury to Darius Boyd, things were set in stone. They were set for a spine of Boyd at fullback, Milford at five-eighth, Hunt at halfback and McCullough at hooker.
Boyd’s injury causes some headaches, though, especially with the possibility that Milford might move back to fullback. Even if that is not the case and despite what Bennett has said – we all know he can say one thing and then do something completely different – the fullback role in particular is still wide open and up for grabs.

Whilst Jordan Kahu has the support of the coach for the time being, will be pull a rabbit of a hat and surprise us all with a selection out of left field like Englishman Greg Eden or young gun Kodi Nikorima? Both have enjoyed decent trial form to date and will make a case to have first crack at the vacant fullback role along with Kahu. Whoever is selected in the role will have a tough task ahead of them as they adapt to the Broncos first-grade system and to the ever-changing dynamics of the NRL.

Despite all that, though, the Broncos are a team that you would expect to see in the top 8. With a coach like Bennett, a half that came off a career-best year in Ben Hunt, a young, exciting half in Anthony Milford, a veteran centre in Justin Hodges and veteran forwards in Corey Parker and Sam Thaiday, the club have all the tools in place to mount a challenge. Couple that with some promising young kids coming through the ranks, all of whom are chomping at the bit to play first-grade, and the Broncos have themselves quite a formidable side.

Best Recruit: It should come as no surprise that our pick for the Broncos best recruit is Anthony Milford. Playing at both fullback and five-eighth for the Canberra Raiders in 2014, Milford single-handedly out-maneuvered defensive lines on his own with nifty feet and acceleration out of the blocks. Whilst he might be a new team, the expectation is on him to continue to perform to that degree and with a new club. With big, mobile forwards pounding the middle of the ruck and the fringes, he is the sort of player that can exploit a hole in the defence and create countless opportunities.

Most Promising Talent: This was an easy one, especially based on the way he performed last year in the NYC – hulking prop, Joe Ofahengaue. A man mountain of a kid and still growing and developing, Ofahengaue is a player that is going places and fast. Whilst coach Bennett has said that he might not play first-grade in 2015, that will not stop the talented forward from working hard, playing hard and putting his hand up for a spot should it arise. One of the best forwards in the entire NYC competition in 2014 – big, big metres and consistently – Ofahengaue is a player that excites many Broncos fans for the future.

2015 Gains: Adam Blair (Wests Tigers), Darius Boyd (Newcastle Knights), Greg Eden (Hull Kingston Rovers), Mitch Garbutt (Melbourne Storm) James Gavet (Wests Tigers), Anthony Milford (Canberra Raiders), Matt Parcell (Ipswich Jets) & Travis Waddell (Newcastle Knights).

Predicted Broncos line-up:

1. Jordan Kahu
2. Daniel Vidot
3. Jack Reed
4. Justin Hodges (C)
5. Dale Copley
6. Anthony Milford
7. Ben Hunt
8. Josh McGuire
9. Andrew McCullough
10. Adam Blair
11. Sam Thaiday
12. Matt Gillett
13. Corey Parker

14. Alex Glenn
15. James Gavet
16. Mitch Garbutt
17. Darren Nicholls

Two talented back-rowers head North to the Gold Coast

Matt Robinson

Finding young, talented back-rowers is often hard but the Gold Coast Titans have managed to grasp two of them – signing Canterbury Bulldogs back-rower Lachlan Burr and Penrith Panthers back-rower Matt Robinson.

Robinson started out his career with the New Zealand Warriors in the Holden Cup system and after a move to the Panthers, Robinson missed out on considerable action after fracturing a vertebrae in his back.

Earlier injury setbacks this season meant Robinson had to work harder to get into first-grade and he achieved that.

“I’ve got a lot of confidence from the last few weeks after having to overcome some injuries and I’m really excited about joining the Titans next year and hopefully playing my best football,” Robinson said today.

“Obviously the neck was a major shock at first but I’ve made a full recovery. I had to play a bit of catch up this season with a couple of other injuries too but I’m feeling good now and hope to finish the season well and then head to the Gold Coast.”

For the other talented back-rower in Burr, he is familiar with one player at the Titans. That one player is Paul Carter who played alongside Burr at the Bulldogs.

Having played together for several years at the Dogs and with the Australian Schoolboys side, Carter was quick to praise the addition of Burr.

“He’s a very athletic player, big and rangy, pretty fast and strong and I think he’ll do well here,” was the endorsement from Carter.

Also familiar with Titans half Aidan Sezer, Burr is looking forward to the new challenge on the Gold Coast Titans.

“I’m looking forward to getting back together with Aidan and Paul who I played a lot of footy with and making the most of the opportunity with a new club and new place after spending all my junior and senior career at the Bulldogs,” said Burr.

“Obviously with so much depth in the forwards here, my opportunities have been limited and I’m keen to work hard and make the most of my chances on the Gold Coast.”

Lachlan Burr

Cronulla Sharks coach resigns

Peter Sharp

The poor Cronulla Sharks cannot catch a break. Implicated in the ASADA scandal that is still ongoing, a previous run of poor results, the sacking of Todd Carney and now, another blow.

This time, Peter Sharp, who was filling in for the suspended Shane Flanagan as Sharks coach, has resigned from his position.

After accepting his resignation from the role yesterday, the club and CEO Stephen Noyce appreciate what he did when confronted with tough circumstances.

“While very sad to see him go, it was fitting that Peter departs on his own terms, that being on the back of a record-breaking comeback win for the club last Friday night in Brisbane,” Noyce said.

“The club certainly appreciates his efforts in what has been a very difficult season and while he may have expressed a reluctance to take on the role when first handed the reins, once appointed Peter worked exceptionally hard and always acted in the best interests of the players and the club.”

For Sharp himself, he believes the decision was the best one for both he and the club moving forward.

“I’ve certainly enjoyed my time at the Sharks and I’ve met a number of wonderful people. I thank the Sharks for the opportunity both as an assistant and as the head coach, even with the challenges we’ve faced this year,” Sharp said.

“But I think the decision I’ve made to step down is in the best interests of the club and I believe for me it is in my best interests as well.

“I hope the players can fulfill their potential and finish the season on a positive note.”

In the coming days, the club will announce a new coach.

Former NRL utility to return after signing with Melbourne

Blake Green

Some fans around the NRL will know him well as he enjoyed previous stints with their club and after a successful period at the Wigan Warriors, Blake Green is set to return to the NRL in 2015.

The talented utility has signed a 2-year deal with the Melbourne Storm and will help to aid their halves especially, with a fair bit of inexperience tucked away in their depth.

Before joining the Storm, Blake Green will see out his current Wigan deal which expires at the end of the season.

Satisfied with his time at Wigan, Green was quick to thank the club for their continued hospitality and knows it was the right time to return home.

“I would like to thank Shaun Wane and Kris Radlinski for giving me the opportunity to play at this historic Club,” said Green.

“I have thoroughly enjoyed my time here and made some wonderful friends and created memories that will stay with me forever. I would also like to give special thanks to Shaun and his coaching staff for improving my game and giving me the tools that I will need to be a success in the NRL.

“It was always my ambition to establish myself as a number 6 in First Grade and being part of Wigan has built my profile that will stand me in good stead in the future.

“2013 was a fantastic year for Wigan – winning the double – and I am confident that my injury will be sorted soon so I can play my part in trying to retain the Super League trophy again. The Wigan Club and the fans will remain part of me forever. I leave with a heavy heart but it is the right time for my career and for my family to return to home to Australia.”

Although disappointed to see Green leave, Wigan coach Shaun Wane understands the decision that Green has made to return home.

“Blake has been outstanding for us and a pleasure to coach over the past 18 months,” said Wane.

“I would have loved to have kept him but following discussions it was clear that he wants to return home to Australia with his young family and has the opportunity to join a top club over there.

“His departure provides a great opportunity for one of our young halves to step up and I have every confidence that the likes of George Williams, Sam Powell and (Ryan) Rocky Hampshire will grasp the opportunity and cement themselves as first team stars during Blake’s injury absence, making the transition at the end of the season a seamless one.”

Australian half departs the Dragons and joins Catalans

Sam Williams

Moving from one Dragons side to another, talented halfback Sam Williams has opted to leave the St George Illawarra Dragons and join French Super League side, the Catalan Dragons.

The deal will see Williams at the club until the end of the current season and at just 23, Williams has a lot to offer any side that signs him up.

The added versatility and depth to the Catalans’ halves is a bonus, with Scott Dureau still out due to a bicep injury.

“We were looking for another player to be able to do rotations and to create a good healthy competition in our halves,” said Catalans coach Laurent Frayssinous.

“Sam was looking for an opportunity. He is a talented and ambitious young player and will fit in well to our style of play.”

With some big games coming up and a demanding schedule ahead of them, the club knows just how crucial depth and talented players are, and they believe Williams fits the sort of player they were after.

“We have a tough end of season with big games at the Gilbert Brutus Stadium and we are still on course to reach our objective of qualifying for the play-offs,” said Catalans chief executive Christophe Jouffret.

“Sam will boost our squad in this crucial period and he will bring his experience to our group.”

His now former club, the St George Illawarra Dragons, explained that they would not take up the option to re-sign Williams and thus allowed him to explore other options.

“The Club had made the decision that we were not going to take up the option on Sam’s contract for next year and advised Sam and his management accordingly and at the same time, we indicated that we were not looking to limit his potential to advance his career,” said Dragons Recruitment Manager Ben Haran.

“An offer for the balance of the season from the Catalan Dragons presented itself to Sam and out of respect to Sam, the Club did not wish to stand in the way of this opportunity to play in the UK Super League each week.

“Sam is a good person, he has been great for our Club in his short time and we wish him all the best for his future and career.”

As for Sam himself, he was grateful to have the opportunity to play for the Dragons and he looks forward to the challenge of playing for Catalans.

“I’d just like to thank you all for the warm welcoming I’ve had over the past seven months here,” said Williams.

“It’s been a great privilege to play with a club that has such a great stature.”

“I’ve been given an opportunity to go to France and play with the Catalan Dragons, so I’m very excited to do it.”