Panthers Fancied to Go One Better in NRL in 2021

Penrith Panthers gave everything in their pursuit of their first NRL Championship since 2003 in this year’s Grand Final but just came up short against Melbourne Storm.

That defeat was all the more agonising because their opponents played the final 10 minutes a man light. Storm ended the game with 11 men on the field after a second sin-binning but somehow managed to hold on thanks to the commanding first-half lead they built up.

It left the Panthers with regrets about how they started their biggest game for 17 years. After topping the regular season ladder and beating two of Sydney’s biggest clubs in the Roosters and the Rabbitohs to reach the Grand Final, there is plenty of positives to take from the campaign, though. Penrith won 20 of their 23 NRL matches in 2020 and some telling statistics show they were among the best at other key aspects of play. Stephen Crichton got 17 tries and only three players managed more.

Kicker Nathan Cleary scored the second-most points of any NRL player in the entire campaign, and he was also third best for goals scored. He also kicked the most metres and nobody had their foot on the ball more. While interceptions and offloads weren’t a major feature of the Panthers’ rugby this year, Jarome Luai finished joint top of the try assists table and was also second for linebreak assists. Apisai Koroisau saw plenty of the ball as was one of only two NRL players that had over 2,500 receipts and put in more than 1,000 tackles.

Penrith also provided smart support play with James Fisher-Harris making a whopping 161 decoy runs, with Cleary also frequently available if teammates needed to pass into his boot. These positive stats explain why they are made clear favourites at 7/2 rugby league odds for the 2021 NRL Grand Final. As they just came up short against Melbourne, who are only 13/2 chances to retain their crown next season, there are some small areas of room for improvement. Crichton made 32 mistakes overall and 27 handling errors which suggest he could’ve scored even more try if he can take the ball in better.

Discipline has also been an occasional issue. Five Panthers players conceded nine or more penalties in the course of the campaign with Luai the main offender on 14. This is something which could be tightened up.

There is enough in these statistics which focus on individual performance rather than the team overall to suggest that Penrith can again be a force next term. The only downside is the loss of their captain and veteran prop James Tamou, who joins the Wests Tigers for the next couple of seasons.

Dressing room and on-pitch leaders are often difficult to replace, but bookmakers clearly believe that the Panthers can respond to both their NRL final defeat and the skipper moving on. Penrith has often found it difficult to follow-up on a fine season, so must prove worthy of market confidence behind them going into 2021

Abram and Carr sign on for the Rams

Dewsbury Rams have announced the signing of young utility player Jamie Abram and highly rated winger Lewis Carr ahead of the 2021 season.

Abram is capable of playing in a variety of positions, including fullback, halfback and hooker.

The youngster is keen to prove his worth as he makes the step up to Championship rugby, having come through both the Salford and Warrington’s academies.

His new side’s odds ahead of the new season are now widely available with Corals new mobile app, and are getting ahead of the pack to get a good squad together, so may be worth a closer look.

Rams head coach Lee Greenwood spoke following the signing, saying: “Jamie could be a real find for us.

“At the moment he covers 9, half and fullback equally well and this utility value should give him a good opportunity of getting onto the field.

“He comes from a strong Rugby League family which means he knows the game and knows what it takes to be successful.

“This is without doubt a step up for him but he certainly has the capabilities to make his mark at Dewsbury and in the Championship.”

The Rams other signing, Carr, has risen through the Castleford Tigers academy system, and holds the record for the most tries scored in a single season, with 39 in just 21 games.

He has also been selected at international level and played for Yorkshire.

Dewsbury Rams announce two re-signings

The Dewsbury Rams have begun announcing their squad for Rugby League’s return with the re-signing of full back Joe Martin and winger Andy Gabriel.

Coach Lee Greenwood’s men were sitting in sixth when Coronavirus brought a halt to the season.

The Rams are gearing up for the re-start in the Championship, with the bookies not currently eyeing them as potential suitors for success.

With that said, if you read more on Unibet Cash Out you could go for a punt on them as they are currently sitting pretty, and cash out if things start to turn sour.

Martin’s signature will please the Rams fan, with the player a firm fans favourite with his dependable performances on the pitch.

Speaking to the official site after signing, Martin said: “I am looking forward to training, and seeing the boys is always good.

“People clicked from the first session so we have all been enjoying it, I think that showed in the performances we were putting in during the 2020 season.

“I’d say thanks for the support so far but do comeback for 2021 and help us get the good times rolling! 

“I look forward to seeing them all when we can UTR.”

Meanwhile, Greenwood was delighted to secure the signature of Gabriel, a player he says has shown he is more than capable of performing at Championship level.

“Gabes has proved himself to be a Championship player since signing 2 years ago.

“He had to be patient in 2019 but ended up being our first choice winger. He has areas to work on like everyone does but his speed and toughness stand out.

“I’m really pleased he has decided to stay with us for 2021.”

Rochdale get two more signed up for 2021

Rochdale have secured new deals for Ben Calland and Luke Fowden ahead of the 2021 campaign, it has been announced.

Calland initially signed for the Hornets ahead of the 2020 season, joining from nearby Oldham.

Whilst Fowden, who originally played for the club in 2016, also joined ahead of the 2020 season.

Rochdale coach Matt Calland said: “Ben’s attitude has been first class since signing with the club.

“He is very strong with ball in hand and is sound defensively. I’m expecting a big season from him in 2021.

“I am delighted to have Luke onboard for next season. He is developing nicely and has great punch in his carries.

“He is another local lad who has a great appetite for the game and I look forward to working with him again.”

A Ladbrokes mobile free bet ahead of the new season on Rochdale may be worth looking into, if the club continue to re-sign some of their better players from last season.

Fowden spoke to Hornetsrugbyleague.co.uk, saying: “I’m delighted to have signed a new contact with the club and I can’t wait to get started again.

“It’s great to see other teammates re-sign for 2021 and we are all looking forward to a big year under Matt Calland and his staff and under the new board in a new era.”

 

Could a 14-Team Super League Finally Become a Reality?

It’s an idea that has been floated around for a number of years. But is now finally the time to expand the Super League to 14 teams?

There is a balancing act between maintaining the integrity and the quality of what is the pinnacle of rugby league in Europe, but also in expanding the competition, introducing new fans to the sport and even opening up the tournament to new teams from overseas.

The feeling among many in the game – including, notably, the Bradford Bulls coach John Kear – is that the present fixture format isn’t working. The introduction of the six ‘loop’ fixtures has been met with a mooted response, with some turned off by the prospect of playing the same teams as many as five times per season.

As Kear said: “you get sick of watching Wigan versus Warrington when you get around to what is game five or game six between the clubs that season.”

The Magic round of games is universally popular, and that would likely stay in some format, but increasing the number of teams in the Super League from 12 to 14 would enable 26 games to be played – 13 home and away – with a Magic Weekend too.

A straightforward system of promotion/relegation, with the top four teams in the regular season battling it out in the play-offs for a chance to play in the Grand Final, simplifies matters while maintaining competitiveness and ensuring that all teams have something to play for each campaign.

The reality is that the likes of Leeds Rhinos, St. Helens and Wigan Warriors will continue to dominate the bookmakers’ Super League rugby league odds because they are the strongest teams, but long term the hope is that by expanding the competition the quality gap will soon close.

The Championship could easily be reshuffled within a couple of seasons via promotion and relegation, and promoting teams up the ladder should, in theory, help to eventually improve the quality and competitiveness of the second tier.

One potential spanner in the works could be the various broadcasting deals that the Super League have in place. Right now, revenue from Sky Sports in the UK is separated between 12 teams, and so an increase to 14 sides would mean each makes less money from such a crucial commercial partnership.

Growing the Game

When Paris Saint-Germain were among the founding teams in the Super League, it opened the door for outfits from outside of the UK to be part of rugby league’s premier competition in the Northern Hemisphere.

The Catalans Giants soon followed suit, and they were later joined by the Toronto Wolfpack – proof positive that rugby league is a global concern.

Expanding the Super League to 14 teams offers an opportunity for more international teams to compete at the highest level, thus enhancing the visibility of the sport around the world.

Of course, they will need to achieve this ascension through the appropriate channel, e.g. by being promoted from the Championship, but Toulouse are already knocking on that particular door.

In 2021, the Ottawa Aces will join the pyramid in League 1, while there is a proposal for New York City to enter at the same level – they would be the first professional rugby league outfit from America.

Eventually, the hope – not from traditionalists, perhaps – is that New York can ascend to the Super League, introducing a whole new audience to the sport. The switch to a 14-team Super League would certainly aid that quest.

Will St Helens remain on top of the Super League?

St Helens ended their five-year drought without the Super League crown, easing past the Salford Red Devils in the Grand Final by a 23-6 scoreline. The Saints were dominant throughout the campaign and they epitomised their term by storming their way to the championship.

However, the triumph was the end of Justin Holbrook’s time with the club. The Aussie had great success in his two-and-a-half years on Merseyside, reversing the fortunes of the team from mid-table battlers to champions at the end of his tenure.

Kristian Woolf now takes over head coaching duties with the pressure of having to maintain the high standards set by his predecessor. Woolf arrives with a fine reputation, having guided Tonga to the semi-finals of the 2017 World Cup, defeating New Zealand and England in the process.

St Helens are still the leading contenders in the rugby league odds to win a second title on the bounce, although it will be a challenge now they are the team to beat. The last side to win successive titles was Leeds Rhinos in 2012, and that is the task at hand for Woolf to keep the Saints at the top of the pile, although he still has an incredibly strong squad of players at his disposal.

The club will be returning almost all of the squad that won the title last season. Outside of Holbrook there have been no major departures from the roster that has been outstanding over the last two seasons. The only question remaining will be whether they are able to maintain their imperious levels of play under a new head coach. Under Holbrook they were relentless in 2019, losing only three of their matches in their run to their ultimate triumph.

Surprisingly two of those defeats came at the hands of the London Broncos, who were relegated to the Championship. Despite those setbacks, the Saints were a model of consistency, producing elite performances on a weekly basis against the best sides in the league.

No display perhaps signalled their dominance more than their victory over Wigan Warriors in the playoff semi-finals, hammering their rivals 40-10 at Totally Wicked Stadium. It banished the demons of their defeat at the same stage in the previous campaign, establishing the mentality that helped them brush aside Salford in the Grand Final. Not only did St Helens produce quality rugby under Holbrook in 2019, they were also a mentally tough unit that was ready to grind out results.

Woolf has the talent at his hands to blow away average teams and the elite sides of league. With Tommy Makinson, Lachlan Coote, Theo Fages, Jonny Lomax, Regan Grace and Kevin Naiqama, there’s too much quality for them to fail. However, the questions will be whether they are able to close out tight games and remain a cohesive unit. That’s the difference between great teams and ones that fall short. Holbrook formed an imperious side that conquered the Super League with their all-round play and it will not be an easy task to replace that level of dominance.

Widnes duo make Super League step up with Warrington

Betfred Super League side Warrington Wolves have snatched two players from Championship club Widnes Vikings as centre Anthony Gelling and Keanan Brand swap second division for first division.

Centre Gelling has signed a two year deal with the Wolves whilst teammate Brand has committed himself to a three year deal at the club.

Gelling who is 28 years old made over a 100 appearances in Super League for the Wigan Warriors between 2012-17 before moving back to the place of his birth New Zealand.

On signing for the club Gelling said: “I’ve always liked playing here; even when I was at Wigan, this was one of my favourite stadiums to come to. To now call this my home ground and to play here every week will be awesome.

“To link up with some of my old Wigan buddies in Jack Hughes and Charners (Josh Charnley) too was one of the key factors in signing here.”

Meanwhile 20 year old Brand started his career at Wigan St Patricks before moving on to the Widnes scholarship programme as a teenager. He made his Super League debut in 2018 and has now moved to the home of Warrington.

On both players joining the club head coach Steve Price said: “Both players will give us depth to our squad. Anthony comes on good recommendations from people that I trust.

“He is a big, athletic, strong centre, who carries the ball well and has a sound knowledge of the game. He is a big personality and it will be great to have him around the team.

“Keanan is a young player with a lot of potential. He is a centre that is also capable of playing on the wing and has the ability to beat people with ball in hand but is also strong in defence. He has a bright future ahead of him and I am looking forward to working with him and developing his game.”

 

Morris signs on for a further two years with Dewsbury Rams

Dewsbury Rams recently announced the re-signing of Frazer Morris on a two year deal, the prop has committed his future to the club until the end of the 2021 campaign.

Morris arrived at the Rams halfway through last season after he left rivals Halifax to come to Dewsbury.

On signing his new two year deal at the club the 23 year old said: “I’m really excited to have signed with the Rams and develop myself as a player and hopefully make a big impact from the start of the season.

“It’s a chance for me to be a key player for the club and hopefully over these two years I can develop into a better player and individual.”

Morris insisted that he settled into the Tetley’s Stadium side quickly and felt at home right away in the club.

On coming into the club last year, Morris commented: “I settled in quite fast because both players and staff were very welcoming and so were the fans from the get go. I’ve really enjoyed my time at the Rams especially for giving me the chance to prove myself.

“It’s important to develop a bond between the fans and players because you want to be thankful for their support no matter the result.”

Morris believes he can push on this season and make the position in the team his own, he says he wants to push the boundaries and develop as a player.

He said: “My aim at the club is to keep pushing boundaries and developing myself as a player.

“As a team we want to be able to give ourselves a better chance of improving and hopefully finishing in a much better position than we did last season.”

 

Ward staying put in the south despite relegation

London Broncos have announced that head coach Danny Ward will be staying at the recently relegated club and has signed a new two year deal at the Broncos.

Having being a Broncos stalwart for many years he joined the club back in 2008 as a player and eventually became the club’s head coach. He performed miracles and got the Londoners promoted to Super League when they defeated Canadian side Toronto Wolfpack in the Million Pound fixture in 2018. He then went on to guide his side through a gruiling Super League campaign and took it to the final day for them only to fall short as they were relegated with a defeat to Wakefield Trinity.

Ward who has been praised by all corners of the Rugby League community has been rewarded with a two year contract.

On signing the new contract Ward said: “I am very happy to extend my contract with Broncos and a big thanks to the gaffer, David Hughes, for putting faith in me again. London is our home and I am truly privileged to coach RL in the greatest city in the world. What a job!

“It has been an incredible journey so far, suffering incredible highs and lows along the way, with a fantastic bunch of players and performance staff and I am really looking forward to next season and the challenges that come our way.”

Broncos chairman Hughes said: “Danny is almost a Londoner now and has done incredible things with the squad here in the capital.

“You can tell by the way the boys play that they have a huge respect for him and he has instilled a togetherness here that is second to none.

“I am delighted that he has decided to stay here for another two years and I have every confidence that he and his backroom team will be working harder than ever to get us back to Super League as soon as possible.”

 

Catalan Chairman Blasts Players

Bernard Guasch

Catalan Dragons chairman Bernard Guasch has called out some of his players on their poor attitude this season.

The French side have had a poor campaign compared to last year and although it was always going to be hard to replicate it hasn’t been good enough according to the man at the top.

In an interview with Perpignan newspaper L’Independant, Guasch said that some of the players out of contrace have had poor attitudes and that he has had six or seven problems with players this season.

He said: “We’ve had six or seven problems with players who do not accept being told that they will not be with us next season”.

Among the so called trouble causes is Franch international player Tony Gigot who has rejected a new contract at the club and Guasch is adamant that that offer is now off of the table.

He commented: “We gave him all the cards this season. I am very affected by his attitude, Tony Gigot does not listen to the right people, at some point you have to be serious and I am.”

On another note Guasch expressed his confidence in head coach Steve McNamara and says that a new deal will be on the way to him in the coming days and weeks.

He said: “We will extend his contract in the coming weeks of one or two years more, I cannot overstate what Steve McNamara brought to the club, saving us (from relegation) in the Million Pound Game in 2017, winning the Cup in 2018 and this year we were third in June.

“I’m not one of those people who say, ‘When we play a good game, the players are very good and when we lose and we’re bad, the coach is bad, we will learn from the good lessons to make 2020 a big year.”