Will Sydney Rule the Roost Once More in 2019?

Sydney Roosters

The Sydney Roosters warmed up for the new NRL season in style by swatting Wigan aside in the World Club Challenge at the weekend.

A hat-trick from Brett Morris provided the inspiration for a famous victory, as the men from Bondi raced into a commanding lead and flourished in the face of second-half pressure.

It left fans daring to dream of a second consecutive Grand Final triumph in 2019 and the bookmakers have made them the clear favourites to pull it off. However, competition is fierce and they will need to be at their very best if they are to better the likes of Melbourne Storm and South Sydney Rabbitohs once again.

Last season they secured a first Grand Final victory in five years with a dominant 21-6 win over Melbourne. It was the first time these heavyweights had ever battled it out for an NRL premiership, despite being the two most successful teams since this era began in 1998.

They finished neck-and-neck in the ladder, with 16 wins, eight defeats and 34 points apiece, so it always promised to be an epic showdown. The Roosters vanquished South Sydney with relative ease in the preliminary finals and Melbourne swept aside Cronulla-Sutherland to set up an epic clash.

Melbourne went into the game as defending premiers and they received a huge boost when Billy Slater was cleared to play. That saw them installed as 2.5-point favourites and Sydney went to the ANZ Stadium as plucky underdogs.

Yet they delivered a fantastic performance, with Cooper Cronk helping to destroy his old club’s hopes of becoming the first team in 25 years to secure back-to-back titles.

His threat was blunted due to injury, but his leadership on the pitch was vital and Luke Keary stepped up with a sensational showing, helping his team open up an 18-0 lead that Melbourne never recovered from.

If you take a look at the NRL betting odds, you will see that the Roosters are the shortest priced pre-season favourites in the history of this ultra-competitive league. However, no team has successfully defended the premiership in the NRL Grand Final era.

The last team to win back-to-back titles was Brisbane, all the way back in 1993. Penrith Panthers captain James Maloney, a dual premiership winner during his glittering career, claims it is impossible to successfully defend the title.

“They’ll have a really good side and they’ll be tough to beat, but history says it’s tough to do,” he said. “As much as people say you’ve still got the hunger, it’s hard when you actually achieve what you try do all year and finally get it.” He contested that every team will be extremely motivated when they face Sydney, desperate to claim the scalp of the reigning champions. “Whether you’re running second or 16th, you’ll play your best game of footy against them,” he added.

History is certainly against this team, but it is hard to argue with the depth of quality at their disposal and they could finally break that trend.

Former Kangaroo Morris is a great addition to the side and he showed his worth with a man of the match display to put Wigan to the sword in the World Club Challenge.

He showed he has lost none of his finishing power as he produced two magnificent tries in the opening eight minutes to stun the near capacity crowd at the DW Stadium, before wrapping up a first-half hat-trick in style.

Former South Sydney second-rower Angus Crichton is another star recruit and his defection from Souths marks a real coup for the club, who saw off significant competition to capture his signature.

The arrival of England star Ryan Hall gives the team a further boost and freshens things up. “A natural finisher blessed with size, speed and strength, we believe that Ryan will be a terrific fit within our squad and we look forward to welcoming him to the club,” said recruitment manager Adam Hartigan.

Hall scored 231 tries in 327 appearances and won six Grand Finals with Leeds Rhinos since making his debut in 2007, so he brings a winning mentality to the team.

Keary is expected to go from strength to strength after winning the Clive Churchill Medal and being elevated to a Kangaroos debut. He was the dominant half again as the Roosters beat Wigan at the weekend, and it will be interesting to see if the Roosters start to rebuild their attack around him. But there are so many big guns at this club. Kangaroos fullback James Tedesco enjoyed a perfect first season in red, white and blue, winning an Origin series and a premiership, scoring 62 points per game from mid-July as he stepped up his game.

Jake Friend is one of the busiest defenders in the business, while the hard-hitting Victor Radley will continue to rock opponents and the likes of Cronk, Latrell Mitchell, Boyd Cordner, Siosiua Taukeiaho and Isaac Liu will be up for the battle as they for another premiership.

Melbourne will be back with a vengeance, it would be folly to rule Souths out and teams like North Queensland and Cronulla-Sutherland look dangerous, but right now the Roosters deserve their status as heavy favourites and they will take some stopping in 2019.

 

Five Things We’ve Learned From The Opening Weeks Of The Super League

Shaun Wane

We are now a few weeks into the new Super League season and the table is already starting to take on a familiar look.

Heavyweights Warrington, Castleford and St Helens have stormed to the top of the standings after beginning the campaign in immaculate fashion.

Teams tipped to struggle are already bracing themselves for a long battle to avoid relegation, while there has been a bountiful supply of drama, intrigue and controversy. Here are the top five things we have learned so far:

Shaun Wane’s absence is already being felt

Wigan’s legendary head coach bowed out in style last year as his team put Warrington to the sword in the Grand Final. It marked the culmination of a 40-year career with the club for a local lad who started as a volunteer and then served as prop, scout, academy manager and head coach. He was always going to be a huge loss after he left for a high performance coaching role with Scottish Rugby, and Wigan’s early season form has suggested that the transition into a brave new era will not be plain sailing.

There is no shame in losing to Syndey Roosters or St Helens, but they have conceded soft tries and there is plenty of work for Adrian Lam to do. They have also been deducted two points due to a salary cap breach in 2017, but there is plenty of time for them to bounce back. Lam insists this is not a team in transition, and he is making the right noises about Wigan defending their crown, but it remains to be seen how these players will react to his demands for a more flamboyant style of rugby.

Warrington and St Helens looking strong

Warrington’s wait to be crowned champions now stretches back 64 years and fans will probably be glad to see the back of Wane, who vanquished them in the 2013 and 2016 Grand Finals too. Yet they have made a strong start to the new campaign and a look at the sports spread betting at Sporting Index shows you that they are the favourites to finally end their trophy drought this year.

Comprehensive victories over Leeds and Hull KR have seen them surge to the top of the table, and those long-suffering fans will be delighted by the impact that Man of Steel favourite Blake Austin has made. He inspired them to a thumping victory against the new look Rhinos, sparking fresh optimism that this might finally be Warrington’s year. Yet Saints are also looking extremely menacing, having swept aside the defending champions in contemptuous fashion in their opener and then getting the better of Wakefield. If Wigan cannot rediscover their best form, it could develop into a fascinating tussle between Warrington and St Helens to seize glory this season.

Expectations tempered at London Broncos

The Broncos are back in the Super League after a five-year absence and they marked their return with a thrilling 42-24 victory over Wakefield at the Trailfinders Sports Ground. Rhys Williams and Eddie Battye both scored two tries and generated a party atmosphere inside the stadium. Those proclaiming that the Broncos would finish bottom of the table were urged to reconsider, and fans dared to dream of a decent season. However, those aspirations have been somewhat dashed by the team’s subsequent form, as they lost 24-0 to Salford and 22-12 to Hull KR. They are still the clear favourites to finish bottom, but they look as though they will battle valiantly throughout the campaign.

New rules have changed the look of the games

All eyes have been on the new rules in the early weeks of the season after Super League chief executive promised they would make the competition faster, more intense and more dramatic. The shot clock is a welcome addition as it has improved the pace of games, and reducing the number of permitted interchanges from 10 to eight should result in more late drama as legs grow weary. We are yet to see the controversial golden point extra-time, but that should provide some exciting moments further down the line too, and the rule changes appear to be largely positive thus far.

Clubs might start looking at Barba

Ben Barba has started a new job driving trucks in Mackay after being sacked by North Queensland Cowboys before he even had the chance to make his debut. Footage has emerged of the former Dally M and Man of Steel winner allegedly assaulting his girlfriend and he has been handed a lifetime ban from the NRL.

Nobody condones such actions, but there is no real precedent in Super League for excluding players on those grounds. Former England international John Wilkin, who played with Barba last year, said he expects the RFL to allow him back into Super League, where he was the top try scorer last year.

Zak Hardaker, Scott Moore and Gareth Hock are still playing, despite their transgressions, and it might not be long before Barba is given another chance in England. There are many clubs that would love to have someone of his talent, provided they can stomach his alleged actions off the pitch.

 

Anderson announces retirement plans

Louis Anderson

Catalans Dragons forward Louis Anderson has announced he will retire at the end of the Super League campaign.

The experienced player has played at the highest level of rugby league for many years, and the 33 year old has played the last 11 years in Britian’s Super League, he is the third overseas player to make over 100 appearances for the Frinch club.

Anderson is a former New Zealand international; he first came to Britian’s top flight in 2008 where he joined Warrington. He has spent the last sevent years at Catalan becoming a mainstay in the team over those years.

He has won the Challenge Cup twice, in his four years at Warrington and was involved in Catalans first ever major trophy win, when they were victorious in the recently played Challenge Cup final at Wembley.

On retiring from the game, Anderson told the Dragons webstie: “After 15 years, the time has come to chase something different. I am so grateful to have worn this jersey for the last seven years. What an amazing journey. Thank you.”

Dragons head coach Steve McNamara commented: “Louis has been a fantastic servant not only for the Catalans Dragons but also the whole of rugby league. He is highly respected by everyone within the game.

“His decision to retire after a glittering career will leave a big void to fill within our team. He has contributed enormously in the development of our club and we wish Louis well in the next stage of his career.”

Salford desperate to sign Jackson on permanent deal

Jackson Hatings

Jackson Hastings is a wanted man at Salford Red Devils and their head coach Ian Watson is desperate to keep ahold of the star man.

Hastings was again impressive when Salford thrashed Halifax in the recent Super 8 Qualifiers game, Salford won 62-4.

The Red Devils signed the former Sydney Roosters and Manly Sea Eagles half-back in mid-July on a deal until the end of the season. Manly released the Australian in June and since coming to England he has been on of the most consistent best performers for Salford.

The 22-year-old ended up scoring two of the 12 tries that was scored against Championship side Halifax. A lot is resting on whether Salford can guarantee top flight rugby to whether they can sign Hastings on a permanent deal.

On whether the club can keep hold of the talented player, Watson said: “Time will tell if we can keep Jackson but we have asked the club to give us the best shot we can of doing so. He’s really keen on us securing our Super League future before moving forward.

“There will be other clubs looking at him and want to have a little look at him now whereas they probably didn’t before because of his reputation.

“We did our homework on Jackson, spoke to an awful lot of people over in Australia, and they all gave us really positive feedback on him.

“We were happy to take that punt and it’s to our benefit at the moment. Hopefully we can keep him.”

 

Ryan Hall Still Has a Big Task on His Hands Before Departing Leeds

Ryan Hall

The 2018 season has been a nightmare for the Leeds Rhinos, who for the second time in three seasons find themselves fighting for their life in Super League having failed to secure a place in the Super 8s. 

After winning their eighth Super League Grand Final in 2017, the Rhinos have flopped, just as they did in 2016 after winning the competition. Without Danny McGuire in the halves, Leeds are lacking direction, and now, the West Yorkshire outfit are losing another member of their famous golden generation.

Over the last three years, Kevin Sinfield, Jamie Peacock, Kylie Leuluai, Rob Burrow and McGuire have all departed, with Ryan Hall now confirmed to be leaving the English game for a crack at the NRL at the age of 30. Hall has been a regular on the wing for Leeds since his debut in 2007, but the colossus winger will end his spell with his boyhood club in October before linking up with the Sydney Roosters in the NRL.

Over Hall’s time in the first-team at Headingley, he has been superb on the wing, constantly developing his game. The 30-year-old started out as a try-scoring winger, but in recent times, he has become almost like a seventh forward, with his powerful running becoming a trademark, alongside some impressive finishes. His efforts haven’t gone unnoticed, with the NRL constantly monitoring him and the Roosters eventually getting Hall’s signature. He has become a world-class talent at Leeds, featuring regularly for England over the years under a number of coaches. His try-scoring record for his country stands at an impressive 36 tries in 38 appearances, with plenty of those coming against Australia, which will have enhanced his reputation down under. We will soon find out if Hall is a success in Australia, but before that, he has plenty to play for with Leeds. The 6ft 2inch winger will not want to leave his boyhood club in the second division, which is looking a possibility, with Leeds left fighting for survival in the Qualifiers. Currently, Leeds are expected to come through, with bet365’s Rugby League betting market pricing the Rhinos at 5/4 to put a difficult season behind them and secure Super League status next season.

Although they will be going up against lower league opposition, who have a much lower budget, things will not be straightforward, with the inexperienced Sinfield leading the Rhinos. Of course, Sinfield as a player was untouchable, he was once the world’s best and will go down in Super League history as the competition’s most successful captain. However, off the field, he is about to find a lot out about himself in the Qualifiers.

Sinfield will be turning to his old teammate Hall to have an impact between now and the end of the season. The winger deserved to go out on a high like Sinfield, McGuire and co, but that isn’t to be, with Leeds not competing for a ninth Super League trophy. However, as exciting as Hall’s new challenge is, it will be devastating for the winger to leave his boyhood club without their Super League status. He will want to go out on a high.

 

Bateman moves to Australia

The latest news to come out of Wigan Warriors is that 24 year old John Bateman is to leave the English club and move to the other side of the world to play for Canberra Raiders.

The England international has signed a two year deal at the National Rugby League side from the beginning of 2019.

Bateman scored 36 tries in 125 games since his 2014 move from Betfred League 1 side Bradford Bulls. The player will return to Wigan to sign a three year deal on the conclusion of his contract in the NRL, which is two year plus an extra year if the Raiders want to take it up.

He said: “It’s great to know I’ll be returning here to Wigan, this has been an incredibly tough decision for me to make as I have enjoyed my time at Wigan so much.

“ultimately, I have always had the desire to play in the NRL at some point in my career, this opportunity is something I didn’t want to turn down.”

In a statement, Warriors confirmed Bateman also has a further year option on his deal with the Raiders.

Hock Signs New Deal at Featherstone

Featherstone Rovers have agreed a new deal with former Great Britain and England player Gareth Hock, he’ll remain at the club until the end of 2019.

Hock has played for both Wigan and Leigh and has so far scored three tries in 14 appearances for Featherstone.

He said on signing his new deal: “I am over the moon to have signed for Featherstone for another year, it is fantastic to be staying with such a great club.

“I have loved every minute of my time here so far, despite it taking me a bit of time to get going due to the injuries I suffered last year. I feel fit now, though, and am improving with every game, the fans have been superb and I cannot wait to rip in for the rest of this season and next. We want to nail our place in the top four and have a good go in the Qualifiers.”

Rovers head coach John Duffy commented: “Gareth has been great and has really bought in to what we are trying to achieve. It has been fantastic to have him around the club and he is getting better every time he steps onto the field. He is a born winner.

“He leads by example in everything he does and is very popular with the players and staff. With a full pre-season under his belt, Gareth will only get better. He is focused on finishing this season on a high and he knows where we want to be.”

Betts Leaves Whilst Cummins Takes Over

Widnes Vikings have parted company with long standing head coach Denis Betts who has been with the club for eight years.

The Vikings have decided that Francis Cummins will take interim charge until a permanent replacment can be found.

On the departure of Betts, James Rule, CEO of Widnes Vikings, said: “Denis can be proud of his contribution to this club over the past eight years. Whilst it is regrettable to lose someone of his experience and commitment, we believe that it is now the right time for a change in leadership. Denis leaves with the absolute best wishes of everyone at the club for the future.

“Naturally, it will take time to identify and recruit a long-term successor for the role. However, we are grateful that Francis Cummins will be stepping up as our Head Coach, on an interim basis. Francis has proven himself to be a talented, dedicated and knowledgeable coach, and has earned the respect of staff and teammates from across the club for his contribution since joining Widnes Vikings in September. His appointment brings stability to the team at an important stage of the season and allows us to plan for 2019, whilst offering him the chance to make his own mark on the team. We are thankful to our Stronghold Members, supporters and partners for their support at this time.”

Denis Betts commented on leaving the club: “I have been grateful to have had the opportunity to lead Widnes Vikings, as Head Coach, for eight years. It is with sadness that I leave the club, but I feel proud of what has been achieved during my tenure, and of the contributions of our players and back-office staff.

“I would like to thank everyone who I have worked alongside during my tenure at the club, and all who have supported the Vikings both on and off the field. The club has many reasons to be positive for the future, not least the ongoing emergence of its young talent, and I give my best wishes to those who continue to lead the team in the future.  I hope that the club continues to progress in the seasons ahead.

“I am looking forward to my next chapter in the game and I am grateful for the considerable experience that I have gained with Widnes Vikings.”

On becoming interim head coach Francis Cummins, added: “It is never easy to take on a role in circumstances like these, but I am ready to step up and support the team at this time. On behalf of myself, and all of the coaching, playing and back-office staff, I would like to thank Denis and wish him every success in the future.

“In stepping up as Interim Head Coach, I will be looking to support our players to fulfil their potential, to express themselves on the field, and to grow in confidence. The backing of our Members and supporters is absolutely vital to achieving this. We have a number of tough away fixtures coming up, before our next home game in July, so this collective unity and support will be key. I am hoping that everyone can rally around the team, to support them to have a strong finish to the season.”

Kelly looking forward to Summer Bash

Dewsbury Rams head coach Neil Kelly was delighted with his team’s performance and result against Halifax.

The game ended 22-22 in what was an exciting game in which the Rams dominated for long parts – which meant a happy day for any Rams backers who used the bet365 bonus code.

On the game against Halifax, Kelly said: “I think just about everyone in the game would forgive me when I say, woopee.

“I thought we were good value for the point, Halifax fought tooth and nail and had their time in ascendancy. I thought we showed the character which has been missing in recent weeks in the last 15 minutes of the game, when we had to drag ourselves through the fixture by our boot straps.

“I have to say that I thought our middle’s played superbly well, especially playing the ball quickly, I thought Shannon Wakeman’s input into the game was superb.

“When your 14-0 up and you’ve lost your previous eight or nine games obviously it’s going to be a bit worrying about the confidence. Then when your opponents come back and take a slender lead with about 15 minutes to go, then you worry about your team’s ability to drag yourself back into the game.

“That is why I am really impressed and pleased with the character and spirit we showed in that last 15 minutes, clawing our way back into a game that maybe in previous weeks we would have put a white flag up and be beaten by the inevitable. What this shows is that we can fight against the inevitable and it doesn’t have to be the inevitable.

“It is brilliant that we have managed to stop the run of defeats, but now we have laid a platform or a bench mark of what the minimum has to be for us here on in. This has to be the minimum of performances and character going forward. If we now get used to playing at that pace and at that level then we’ll have more good times than bad times.”

On Paul Sykes’s performance and crucial kick to put the scores level, Kelly commented: “I thought he led the side really well, especially for someone who isn’t 100% fit, he has been out with a hamstring injury. If anyone out there who’s had a hamstring injury will know it plays with your mind as well as the body. His kicking may need to improve but I thought character wise and defensively wise he led the side back through that difficult period in the game.

“Whilst they were preparing for it I was thinking did we come here for a draw or a win and for a brief second I thought let’s go for broke and go for the win, because they were shot as well. Certainly when the ball left Sykes’s foot I thought we should have tapped it, but it managed to crawl across the bar.”

The Rams face local rivals Batley Bulldogs at the Summer Bash in Blackpool next weekend, and Kelly says that the team should take great confidence from the draw against Halifax into next week.

He said: “We should have a lot more confidence going into the Summer Bash next week than what we did going into this game against Halifax.

“We can look at those games in a different light, yor not going into them with a bit of a monkey on your back with all the previous defeats.

“I’m looking forward to it, they’ve had the Indian sign on us over the last few times we have met. However when we played at Batley earlier on in the season I think we created a situation where it was easier to win than lose, but we managed to lose. That’s indicative of how we have been over this period, but again you have to do the right thing, 85% completion rate in the first half is now the bench mark going forward.”

Magic Weekend 2018 preview: Who plays who?

“Warrington Vs. Wigan Scrap” (CC BY-SA 2.0) by roblawton

St James’ Park in Newcastle hosts rugby league’s Magic Weekend for the fourth consecutive year on the weekend of 19-20 May.

All 12 teams in the Super League will play a match on Tyneside over the two days which opens with a Championship clash between Canadian club Toronto Wolfpack and French side Toulouse Olympique.

The Magic Weekend has produced already produced thrills, spills and drama aplenty in its 11-year history, so what will happen at the twelfth edition of this event designed to promote rugby league to a wider audience? Here’s a brief overview of the six Super League encounters on show.

Widnes Vikings vs. St Helens

League leaders St Helens have Australian back Ben Berba in blistering form with his tries and assists for centre Mark Percival a key factor in their strong start to the season. Kicker Danny Richardson has also been prolific with his boot.

When they met Magic Weekend opposition Widnes away on Easter Monday, Saints ran in six tries during a comprehensive 28-6 victory. Vikings had injuries to contend with then, but that’s impacted their campaign.

St Helens, meanwhile, are already odds-on favourites in rugby league betting on who will finish the regular Super League season top and 7/4 to win the Grand Final.

Wigan Warriors vs. Warrington Wolves

Two of the top four and local rivals meet in what could be the game of Magic Weekend 2018. Wigan and Warrington have to contend with kicking off at the same time as the FA Cup final at Wembley if you’re thinking of watching on TV.

There are lots of subplots surrounding this derby encounter, including former Warriors wing Josh Charnley back in Super League with bitter rivals Wolves after a finding crossing codes to rugby union with Sale Sharks a difficult transition. Wigan and Warrington met at the Magic Weekend last year and honours were even thanks to Joe Burgess’ hat-trick.

Wolves ran out 16-10 home winners over Warriors back in February and this is a repeat of the 2016 Grand Final which Wigan won 12-6. They are 3/1 to go all the way again, with Warrington available at twice that price.

Castleford Tigers vs. Leeds Rhinos

Another top six encounter rounding off Saturday, 19 May is a White Rose battle between the Tigers and Rhinos. Just a single point in favour of Castleford separated these Yorkshire rivals at Elland Road back in March.

Last year’s Super League man of steel Luke Gale kicked four goals and a drop goal back then. These proved decisive despite braces from Leeds duo Kallum Watkins and Ash Handley.

Salford Red Devils vs. Catalans Dragons

The Red Devils can move further clear of the bottom four when they clash with struggling Catalans in the lunchtime kick-off of Sunday, 20 May.

Wing Jake Bibby and the kicking of Robert Lui will be key for Salford and was over Easter when they ran out 32-16 winners over Dragons.

Wakefield Trinity vs. Huddersfield Giants

The second Yorkshire derby of the Magic Weekend gives Wakefield the opportunity to trounce lowly Huddersfield again, having done so 22-4 in March. Ben Jones-Bishop bagged a brace in that match and is Trinity’s main try threat.

The Giants have looked anything but their name in Super League this season but have Scottish veteran Danny Brough still kicking points. No team has lost more matches than Huddersfield, however.

Hull KR vs. Hull FC

Super League wouldn’t be the same without Hull’s two team doing battle in derbies. KR’s promotion back to the top-flight for this season means there’s a Magic Weekend matchup to look forward to.

Although KR centre Thomas Minns hit a hat-trick in the first Hull derby of the campaign, FC ran out 30-22 winners thanks to two tries from Fetuli Talanoa and the kicking of Marc Sneyd.