Afoa extends Warriors stay

New Zealand Warriors forward Bunty Afoa

With a spot now open and a chance to make it his own, Bunty Afoa has today re-signed with the New Zealand Warriors.

Afoa’s new deal will run until the end of the 2021 season, as Warriors coach Stephen Kearney praises the young forward.

“Bunty has been terrific for us, even more so when you consider he was only 21 for almost the entire season,” he said.

“What he gives us is real consistency in effort and performance which makes him one of the most impressive young forwards in the game.

“He also brings a wonderful attitude in all he does as well and will improve even more.”

Afoa, who can play both as a front or back-rower, is just pleased to be playing as often as he is.

“I love being part of this club and I’ve really enjoyed my football this year having the chance to play in the middle,” he said.

“I felt a lot more comfortable about my role whether it was coming off the bench or starting but I’ve got a lot more to learn and I want to do all I can to help the team do better next year.

“I feel blessed with the coaching staff and players I have around me to guide me.”

Starting seven games in 2018, that number could increase as the club gave Afoa nothing but praise.

“Bunty is another terrific young player who has come through our nursery,” Vodafone Warriors General Manager of Football Brian Smith said.

“What he has done in such a short time in the NRL is inspirational, a fine example for all young kids in this country who have dreams of making it.

“He’s a pleasure to have at our club in the way he conducts himself as a footballer and in the community.

2019 NRL Trials Thread

Season 2018 may still have a grand final to go but trial news for 2019 has already filtered in. 

We have you covered here; every NRL trial announced over the coming months in the lead-up to the 2019 season will be written by date.

So sit back, relax and enjoy the wave of emotion, as you find out where your team is set to play in the 2019 trials.

And, as more trials are slowly confirmed, we will be sure to add them all in.

Saturday February 23

Canberra Raiders v Canterbury Bulldogs (#NRLTrials #NRLcancby); Bega Recreation Ground, Bega. Kick-off: TBA.

Barba returns to NRL signing one-year deal with the Cowboys

St Helens fullback Ben Barba

After a brief stint in the Super League with St Helens, Ben Barba will return to the NRL with the North Queensland Cowboys.

On the back of what has been a great individual season for Barba in England with 26 tries (1st in league) and 24 try assists (third), he’ll play for his fourth NRL club.

Needing just one more try for 100 career NRL tries, Barba has played in 168 NRL games to date.

Initially contracted to St Helens for next season, the club gave him an early release to return home.

A local Mackay product, Barba is being welcomed with open arms by the club.

“Ben’s form this year for St Helens has been of the highest standard,” Cowboys Director of Football Peter Parr said.

“He’s been the best fullback if not the best player in the English Super League.”

The club are pleased to be able to give Barba the opportunity to play for them.

“He is from Mackay and has always had a desire to play for the Cowboys, but for whatever reasons the stars never aligned until now,” Parr continued.

“Ben has been looking to return to the NRL and with an opening at the fullback position at our club it presented the opportunity for him to do that.”

Equally pleased is club coach Paul Green who knows how much value Barba will add to the side.

“Ben is an extremely gifted player and I believe he can be a huge asset for our side next season,” Green said.

“He has been in fantastic form for St Helens and he still has a great deal to offer at NRL level.

“Ben hails from North Queensland and he is excited to be able to return home and represent the region.”

Lino granted early release to join Knights

New Zealand Warriors half Mason Lino

Opportunity is what every player seeks and Mason Lino will depart the New Zealand Warriors after signing with the Newcastle Knights. 

Lino, who has played in fewer than 20 games for the Warriors since making his NRL debut may be presented with more opportunities at the Knights.

Although they made the decision to release Lino early, it was not necessarily an easy decision for the Warriors.

“It’s not an easy decision to let Mason go because he is the epitome of a true club man and we all love having him around,” said Vodafone Warriors general manager football Brian Smith.

“He has been totally dedicated to the Vodafone Warriors but we didn’t want to stand in the way of him having a look at options with other clubs.”

The club knew it was only right to allow Lino to pursue other opportunities and wished him all the best.

“His opportunities for NRL football have been limited here and he has more than earned the right to look at the chance of more regular exposure,” continued Smith.

“While we’re sorry to see Mason go we’re also excited for him and wish him all the best.”

The Warriors are a proud club and club coach Stephen Kearney praised Lino for respecting those during his time at the club.

“Mason has always provided a wonderful example to everyone at the club,” he said.

“He has been totally loyal and supportive in all he does,” said Kearney.

“When we needed him, he came into the side and did a really good job for us every time.

“He certainly goes with our blessing and leaves a tremendous legacy.”

Coming through the ranks at the club, Lino has played at all levels for the Warriors and is thankful for the chances he received.

“It’s tough leaving the club because it has been my home and I’m so thankful for all the opportunities I’ve had here but I’m also excited about what’s ahead for me,” he said.

Able to play five-eighth and halfback, the signing of Lino by the Knights now presents some healthy competition.

“Mason is a talented young man,” Knights Player List Manager Troy Pezet said.

“He provides us with good depth for Mitchell, Kalyn and Connor.”

Home is where the heart is as Cleary re-signs with Penrith

Penrith Panthers halfback Nathan Cleary

The saga went on for what seemed like an age but it can be laid to rest, with Nathan Cleary today re-signing with the Penrith Panthers. 

Ultimately, it came down to where Cleary felt most comfortable with and that was Penrith.

“I’m excited to re-sign with the Panthers and commit the next six years of my career to the club,” Cleary said of his new 5-year deal.

“There was always going to be speculation but in the end it was an easy decision for me to make.

“This club and this community mean a lot to me.

“Panthers gave me the opportunity to debut as an 18-year-old and I will always hold that close to my heart.”

Cleary is determined to become not only a great leader but to help his side win a premiership.

“I’ve grown up with this team and I couldn’t ask for a better group of players and coaches to work with moving forward,” the young halfback continued.

“I want to become a leader here at the Panthers and I’m determined to help deliver a premiership to Penrith.”

The club itself is thrilled to have their star retained long-term.

“Today is a very special day in our club’s history,” Panthers Executive General Manager Phil Gould AM said.

“Everyone at Panthers is delighted to know Nathan Cleary has committed to this club until at least the end of the 2024 season.

“This is a significant contract for Nathan but it’s also a major investment by Panthers in its own future as an NRL club, and it’s an important signing for the future of rugby league in Western Sydney.”

Gould believes that Cleary’s best footy is still ahead of him and future captain material.

“Nathan is an outstanding young man and I have no doubt he will be a future captain of this club,” continued Gould.

“His best football is still well in front of him and we believe he will be the face of rugby league in this region for many years to come.

“To sign a deal of this significance with a player we have seen develop through our own pathways system, from a young age, is a special moment indeed.”

Storm overpower Sharks to advance to consecutive grand finals

Melbourne Storm fullback Billy Slater

In a year where Ryan Hoffman and Billy Slater are both retiring, the veteran Melbourne Storm duo will play in another NRL grand final.

Looking to become the first team since the Brisbane Broncos to win back-to-back titles (92 and 93), the Storm now await their opponents.

In the end, steely defensive resolve and too much class got them over the line in a 22-6 win.

There will be a nervous wait and some concerns over an alleged shoulder charge from Billy Slater in stopping a try, however.

The views across social media are rampant; either you think it was a shoulder charge or you don’t.

Despite missing both Paul Gallen and Wade Graham, the Cronulla Sharks would have given themselves every chance to win heading into the match.

Unfortunately, a good start eluded them. Poor ball control and ill-discipline eventually gifted the Storm a penalty goal to go up 2-0.

Felise Kaufusi then made a half-break, found Billy Slater on the inside before halfback Brodie Croft finished the play off to score.

Slater assisted the first try and got his name on the scoresheet for the Storm’s second.

Outpacing and outgunning Matt Moylan, he made it look all too easy as the Storm went up 14-0.

Another try ensued as a rare mistake from Luke Lewis saw Slater score another try.

Moving away from marker, a gap opened up, as Cameron Smith put in a deft grubber and Slater pounced on it for his second.

Despite the Sharks scoring one try to the retiring veteran Luke Lewis, that was all she wrote.

They were unable to break down the Storm’s resolute defence after that as the Melbournites continue to celebrate at yet another grand final berth.

Despite all the talk surrounding Slater’s shoulder charge, he received support from Lewis.

“He put his body on the line,” Lewis said.

“If someone was to miss a game for something so simple as that, I don’t know what our game is coming to. It’s a contact sport.

“I don’t think there was anything in it to be honest.

“If there’s anyone I’d like to see out there grand final day it’s Billy Slater.

“Hopefully nothing comes of it.”

Sharks coach Shane Flanagan did not mince his words. The near perfect Storm side were just too good for his side.

“We were outplayed in the first half,” said Flanagan.

“We didn’t play our best and were up against a professional outfit that performed near perfection in the first half, and we weren’t good enough.”

Player of the Game:

3. Billy Slater

2. Felise Kaufusi

  1. Dale Finucane

 

Late bloomer Pereira rewarded with new Dragons deal

St George Illawarra Dragons winger Jordan Pereira

A late bloomer to the NRL, the St George Illawarra Dragons have rewarded winger Jordan Pereira with a new 2-year deal. 

His new deal will see him remain with the club until the end of the 2020 season.

Since making his debut back in round 19 of the current 2018 season, the winger played in all games up until the Dragons finals loss.

His journey has seen him go many places.

Born in New Zealand, Pereira has lived and played rugby league in Samoa, Perth, Mackay and then the Dragons.

For that reason, the new deal means so much to the NRL journeyman.

“Five years ago I was playing park footy,” Pereira said.

“Now I have to pinch myself considering I’m playing with the likes of Jack de Belin, Tyson Frizell, Ben Hunt and Gareth Widdop.

It’s definitely a blessing.”

The stability and security as well as enjoying his time at the club are what Pereira was hoping for.

“It’s really good news for my fiancé and I to add that stability and security to our future,” he continued.

“Being here gives us that extra bit of happiness.

“We wanted to stay and the two extra pre-seasons will be so beneficial to me, particularly for my development.”

Proud to represent the Dragons, Pereira has no plans to relinquish his winger spot in 2019.

“I’m very happy to be running around in first grade now and it’s definitely something I don’t want to give up,” Pereira continued.

“I’m very proud to be representing this club and hopefully there’s more NRL games to come.”

Pereira’s hard-work was praised by the club and it is a sign that it does indeed pay off.

“We have rewarded Jordan for his step up into first grade,” Dragons Director of Rugby League Pathways and List Management Ian Millward said.

“He’s very mature for his age and with another two pre-seasons under his belt, his efforts will become even greater.”

“He’s a focused individual who appreciates the environment he’s in, but also understands what he’s here for.

“He’s played quite a few first grade games now and it’s really pleasing to see his hard work pay off and for him to take his chances.”

A move West beckons for Matterson after signing with Tigers

Sydney Roosters back-rower Ryan Matterson

In a bid to strengthen their back-row stocks, the Wests Tigers have signed Ryan Matterson from the Sydney Roosters. 

Matterson, who joins the club on a three-year deal, has so far played in 57 NRL games, all with the Sydney Roosters.

His debut came in 2016, and he also for the NSW U20’s side, the Junior Kangaroos and the City Origin side in 2016.

Praising Matterson for his transition into first-grade, Wests Tigers coach Ivan Cleary looks forward to working with him.

“Ryan is a talented young man and we’re very pleased to have him join the club next season,” said Cleary.

“He has developed in to a quality forward since his debut and we’re looking forward to seeing him grow further at Wests Tigers over the next three years.”

Also praising Matterson is Tigers CEO Justin Pascoe, with the back-rower to join the club in November.

“Ryan is another excellent addition to our playing squad and we’re all looking forward to having him for the coming three seasons,” said Pascoe.

“We’ve worked hard to bring players to the club who will have an impact on and off the field and Ryan is another great example of this.”

Furner takes up vacant Rhinos head coaching role

South Sydney Rabbitohs assistant David Furner

All coaches eventually aspire to coach first-grade or re-enter that arena and David Furner will once again get that chance. 

Furner, currently an assistant at the South Sydney Rabbitohs, will return to a head coaching position.

Previously, he was head coach of the Canberra Raiders for five seasons in addition to numerous assistant roles.

The former Leeds player drew praise from Souths General Manager of Football Shane Richardson.

“I would like to thank David for his service to our club over the past two seasons,” said Richardson.

“He has played a leading role in returning our team to the top four.

“He goes on to a great club in Leeds and I’m sure he will be a success as their Head Coach.

“He goes with our blessing and we wish David, his wife Kellie and his family the best of luck in the UK.”

Although his coaching future beyond this year is sorted, Furner looks forward to finishing the year with the Bunnies.

“I have had two wonderful seasons at the Rabbitohs and this was not a decision that I took lightly.

“Returning to England is something my family and I are excited about come the end of the season.

“In the meantime, I am looking forward to finishing my time at South Sydney in the best possible fashion and wish Kevin Sinfield and the team at Leeds good luck for the remainder of their campaign.”

Furner is excited to return a team that played an important in his playing career.

“First of all, it is fantastic to be heading back to a club where I have so many fantastic memories from my playing days,” said Furner himself.

“I would like to say thank you to the Board of Directors, Gary Hetherington and Kevin Sinfield for offering me this opportunity and I am looking forward to helping the club progress in the future.

“I know that Kevin and the team are working hard to get through the Qualifiers at present and I have every confidence they will do that with the backing of the fantastic fans at the Rhinos.”

The chance to return to England is an exciting one for Furner and his family.

“I have had two wonderful seasons at the Rabbitohs and this was not a decision that I took lightly,” Furner continued.

“Returning to England is something my family and I are excited about come the end of the season, in the meantime.

“I am looking to finishing my time at South Sydney in the best possible fashion and wish Kevin and the team good luck for the remainder of their campaign starting on Sunday at Widnes.”

Late Munster field goal gives Storm opening finals win over Rabbitohs

South Sydney Rabbitohs centre Greg Inglis

In a dogged contest at AAMI Park, it was the Melbourne Storm who prevailed over the South Sydney Rabbitohs courtesy of a late Cameron Munster field goal. 

Having never won at AAMI Park nor in Melbourne in 15 games, it was an uphill battle from the start for the Rabbitohs.

Finals footy always goes up a gear and this game was no different; both teams giving it their all in a physical contest.

Souths would draw first blood as a cross-field kick was spilled by Josh Addo-Carr and Dane Gagai was there to pounce and score.

Adam Reynolds missed that conversion but would atone for it soon after, slotting a penalty goal to put the Bunnies up 6-0.

An overlap then gave the Storm their chance to score and they took it.

Swift hands eventually saw centre Curtis Scott score for the Storm with Smith converting, locking scores up at 6-apiece.

Souths captain Greg Inglis was flattened by a Suliasi Vunivalu hit leaving him with sore ribs and a possible non-return.

He would return, however, going to on to score twice.

Both sides went tit-for-tat, as the scoreboard went back and forth.

Suliasi Vunivalu opened his finals account after Billy Slater evaded a defender and popped a basketball-like pass to the winger.

Putting the Storm up 10-8, the Bunnies responded with a try of their own.

Running to the line, Robert Jennings managed to keep his arm off the ground and pop an offload to Inglis for his first try.

A spectacular try then ensued for the Storm on the stroke of half-time.

The much maligned Brodie Croft stood up when it mattered, busting through the Souths defence to make a break.

With the Souths line up and a fullback ahead of him, Croft kicked to the right wing with a flying Fijian in Vunivalu getting to the ball first and scoring.

The second half could not have started worse for the Bunnies; George Burgess was sin-binned for blocking a runner in the lead-up to a try.

That did not phase Souths, however, who still managed to score with a man down and level things up.

Reynolds put in another cross-field kick and the ball was plucked out of the air by Inglis who scored despite steely resolve from Slater.

The Bunnies would then score another try; Robert Jennings getting one of his own when he scored in the left corner.

Not to be denied, though, the Storm hit back with two straight tries of their own, both to Cheyse Blair.

Then, with someone needing to step up, it was Munster who etched his name into finals folklore.

With everyone expecting Cameron Smith to step up, Munster coolly waited in the wings, slotting the field goal to give the Storm a win and a week off.

Munster’s overall performance drew praise from captain Smith.

“He had some really crucial plays for us – a couple of half line-breaks and setting guys up,” Smith said.

“He’s becoming more and more confident within himself to do that.

“Each time I see him come back from a representative game, he’s more confident about his ability and what he can produce on the field.”

Souths coach Anthony Seibold says his side has nothing to turn around as you usually win when you score 28 points in a game.

“We don’t need to turn it around, we know what we need to do. We build pressure with effort, that’s our game model that’s served us well all year,” Seibold said.

“We defended for 10 minutes there with 12 men, when George [Burgess] got sent to the sin-bin, and that really solidified our effort.

“We came through the other side so that’s another good take-away for us. But normally when you score 28 points you expect to win a game of footy and we didn’t.”

Player of the Game:

3. Greg Inglis

2. Cameron Munster

  1. Brodie Croft

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