Rugby League and transfer deadline forgotten by the sports world | Super League
So, it was rugby league transfer deadline day. Oh, did you miss it? No matter. If you’ve forgotten there was one, let alone that it was last Friday, in the words of St Etienne – the band, not Arthur Mourgue’s home town – join our club. You’re not alone.
You didn’t miss Robin Park’s Dave Woods reporting on Wigan’s latest big-money signing. There was no Stuart Pyke with hourly updates from the University of Chester Sports Complex on new faces trying out Warrington training equipment. No Steve Brady coming live from a roasted parking lot at Stade Gilbert Brutus. No Mark Wilson excitedly informing TalkSport which NRL star was spotted peering through a property agent’s window in Hull. And clearly no countdown on Sky Sports News.
Deadline day — in fact, the entire week’s countdown to it — has flown under the radar, again. It’s a major missed opportunity, one of many in a sport that, in the wise words of Tony Collins, never misses a chance to miss a chance. There are very few stagings each season where the game can give the media – and therefore fans and the wider sporting public – reason to focus on the league. Transfer deadline day should be one of them. And this year came one of the deadliest days of the sports year.
One of the reasons could be the lack of action. Rugby league, more than any other sport, likes to “do its business early”. Anti-tampering laws theoretically prevent players from talking to other clubs until they have just six months left on their contracts, but that just encourages deals to be done quietly. The impending transfers are announced in May and June, six months before the players even train with their new clubs.
In the NRL, some signings were announced two seasons before a player moved. In a classic faux pas, Penrith’s gorgeous Fijian second rower Viliame Kikau foolishly – or naively – posed in a Canterbury Bulldogs jersey last year, thinking the photo wouldn’t be seen until he only joins the club in 2023. He was wrong. None of this seems fair.
With just seven rounds of Super League fixtures to go after this season’s deadline, many clubs have kept their powder dry. Most clubs are calmly building their squads for 2023 – the biggest surprise of deadline week was Huddersfield bringing Kevin Naiqama back to the Super League after just one season in the NRL, but it won’t happen until January – with only teams desperately need to want new talent in the middle of summer.
Daryl Powell had a miserable first half at Warrington, as did Lee Radford at Castleford, so it was inevitable that they would embark on major recruitment drives. Barely a day passed without movement at Halliwell Jones and Wheldon Road. Earlier this month, Powell brought in Saints stalwart Kyle Amor until the end of the season (when he joins Widnes) and let Josh Charnley go to Leigh, signing both international strikers Paul Vaughan (Italy and Australia) and Josh McGuire (Samoa and Australia) for next season. Whether these signings have any Super League-only clauses in their contracts remains to be seen, as Warrington is undoubtedly under serious threat from a cataclysmic drop.
Last week, Powell signed Matt Dufty from the Canterbury Bulldogs to replace Gareth Widdop, whose contract expires in the fall and could be a Castleford player by the time he recovers from a shoulder injury. After having a falling out with Powell, England striker Mike Cooper was due to join Wigan after the World Cup but instead showed up for them on Thursday night in Leeds. He put on an unusually chaotic performance, suggesting he was confused by his sudden change in surroundings.
Cooper could, however, prove to be one of the shrewdest signings in the window. Wigan have challenged admirably for the title, although there has been no one with extensive Super League experience in the front row since Tony Clubb’s retirement last winter, a role Cooper can fill perfectly.
Jungle drums also rumble across the Pennines at, uh, the Jungle, where Radford lost patience and swung the axe. Hull-linked half-back Jake Trueman is set to be one of several high profile names to leave the club when their contracts expire in November. But as Powell’s Wolves nightmare continues – every time he thinks he’s woken up from it another gruesome performance sends him shivering back into the abyss – Cas boss Radford has managed to win some victories while gradually changing personnel, a considerable feat. What is certain is that the Wire and Tigers teams that end this season will bear little resemblance to the rosters that started it, and the class of 2023 will be very different from those of 2021.
Freefalling Hull FC are also rolling and negotiating now to get the squad their manager wants for next season. After fielding a half-team of foreigners – who have played like this – in the last two games, Brett Hodgson has bolstered his decimated squad, signing former Gold Coast utility player Will Smith until the end of the season and trapping NRL halfback Tex Hoy at partner. Trueman next season. Hodgson said the loan trio of Leeds young full-back Jack Walker, St Helens outside back Josh Simm and Warrington striker Ellis Longstaff could also all sign permanently. There’s room on the salary cap given their star rower Manu Ma’u is heading to the Catalans Dragons at the end of the season.
Radford was apparently keen to bail his former star full-back Jamie Shaul out of his misery and reunite with Cas, but it was Wakefield who saved him from Hull purgatory, Trinity blinking first in the relegation shootout. Willie Poching had already brought in veteran NRL winger Jorge Taufua and Hull striker Josh Bowden, allowing Tom Lineham to join Featherstone on loan. With Max Jowitt injured, the Dreadnoughts needed another full-back immediately, with Shaul filling in until the end of the season.
Toulouse stuck to their guns for the survival shootout, only to see striker Justin Sangare head towards Leeds. Whether he is joined in the Super League next season by Toulouse, Wakefield or Warrington may simply depend on the recruitment decisions made last week – although no one cared much.
world cup watch
We already knew that the eight teams that reach the quarter-finals of the World Cup this year would be awarded places for the 2025 tournament, but now we have a better idea of how the other eight teams will qualify. It is entirely possible that England will be the only European nation to qualify by reaching the last eight, with France guaranteeing a place as hosts, which leaves the others vying for between four and six places via the return. of the European Championship next autumn.
The RFL have finally committed to fielding an England team in the Euros, which will see two groups of four, while the winner of the six-nation Euro B can also qualify for the World Cup. The seven Pacific places in France in 2025 could be taken automatically by the quarter-finalists. And the eight women’s and wheelchair teams will automatically be at France 2025, a logical decision that gives each program another three years to develop.
One last thing
Having featured as an exhibition sport at the previous two Commonwealth Games, you might be expecting another rugby nines tournament in Birmingham this week. Not so.
The long-term plan to bring the nine leagues into the Olympics began with an under-19 tournament ahead of the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow in 2014. Although low-key, the games were well received by people involved. Two brothers, Wellington and Stanton Alberthelped Papua New Guinea win the gold medal, sparking wild celebrations at home.
Four years ago, the Brisbane Games were preceded by an under-23 tournament. A team of English amateurs, including current Hull KR star Frankie Halton, and a Scottish mix of students and part-time antipodeans coached by current World Cup boss Nathan Graham, come unsurprisingly not to threaten the podium. Poasa Faamausili played for Samoa, while Tonga Tongotongo – now a professional boxer – played for…wait…Tonga.
Australia gave coach Adrian Lam the NRL’s top emerging talent to go for the gold. Corey Allan, David Fifita, Harry Grant, Paul Momirovski, Jack Murchie and Kotoni Staggs duly delivered, with Staggs scoring the gold medal try in the final against Tonga.
The plan was for the nine to be an elite event open to the Commonwealth Games this year, but with the 2021 World Cup postponed to this year and the Commonwealth Federation recategorizing members and sports, the International Federation has decided not to not continue 2022. Will we see the nine again at the Commonwealth Games? Don’t hold your breath.