Talking Rugby League: Hull KR’s surprise decision to say goodbye to Jordan Abdull

A YEAR ago I thought that Hull KR had three excellent halfbacks in Rowan Milnes, Mikey Lewis and Jordan Abdull.

I rated Milnes and Abdull very highly and I thought that Lewis had tons of promise that I hoped would be realised as the season unfolded, which it most certainly did, although some of it was when he played at fullback in the absence of Lachlan Coote in that position.

Lewis and Abdull were the combination for their opening game of the 2023 season, when the Robins registered a 27-18 home victory over Wigan, putting down a marker that clearly indicated the progress that the club would make last year.

To my way of thinking, Abdull was clearly the dominant player in the Hull KR team, with a smart football brain and a wonderful kicking game, while Milnes had a very good short kicking game near to the opposition line.

So I was surprised when the Robins let Milnes depart to Castleford and I was shocked when the news came out last week that Abdull would be heading for Perpignan to join the Catalans Dragons.

Danny McGuire, the Robins’ former assistant coach, who left for Castleford after an apparent disagreement with head coach Willie Peters, was presumably instrumental in signing Milnes for the Tigers.

You have to give Peters his due, however, for being decisive and being prepared to release some players if he thinks he can get better ones in their place.

Abdull and Milnes both played only 14 games each for the Robins during 2023, with latecomer Brad Schneider, who didn’t arrive until early July, playing twelve matches and settling into the halfback role from that point onwards while Abdull was out with injury.

In 2024 the Robins will presumably run with Lewis and Tyrone May in their halves. And that combination should certainly provide plenty of excitement for the Robins’ faithful who gather in the East Stand.

Apparently Sam Tomkins played a major role in the deal to get Abdull to Perpignan in his new position with the club after his retirement.

What every Dragons fan will be hoping is that Abdull can enjoy the same freedom from injury that we saw with Tom Johnstone after his move from Wakefield in 2023.

He will combine with Theo Fages, who also suffered an injury-hit season at Huddersfield in 2023, and perhaps another newcomer, Jayden Nikorima.

The Dragons’ success or failure in 2024 will no doubt be very strongly affected by the ability of Fages and Abdull to avoid serious injury.

I wish them both good luck.

Meanwhile my colleague Steve Brady, who is based in the south of France, has reminded me that 2024 is the Chinese Year of the Dragon.

Is that an omen for the Catalans?

No doubt they will certainly hope so.

Downgrading the overseas quota

The RFL has effectively agreed to loosen the restrictions on overseas players coming into our competitions.

From this year, our clubs will be allowed to sign players from Australia who have played in the QRL or NSWRL competitions, but haven’t necessarily played in the NRL.

The clubs will still be able to register a maximum of seven players on their overseas quota, but the RFL’s decision is an admission that in many cases our clubs are no longer able to sign NRL players, even when they are edging towards the end of their careers, because they earn far more playing Rugby League in Australia than they would if they came over here.

The players who do sign from the NRL now tend to be those whose ambition is to see Europe as much as to play Rugby League over here.

We can’t blame them for that but it does reflect the declining status of our leading competition relative to the booming NRL.

Super League – to stay or go?

In this column exactly a year ago I wrote an article about the name ‘Super League’ and I wondered openly whether IMG would recommend that the leading Rugby League competition in Europe should drop that brand name.

There had been rumours up to that point that IMG would indeed recommend that our leading competition should change its name, primarily because ‘Super League’ isn’t a name that is exclusive to Rugby League, meaning that the brand name has lost some value over the years.

I’m rather sceptical of that argument and if we do move away from that name, it isn’t easy to see what the best alternative would be.

But in the last twelve months, we have heard absolutely nothing from IMG on this subject.

Does that mean we are going to retain the name of Super League?

I suppose it does, but IMG’s silence on the issue reflects their silence on most aspects of Rugby League.

Their lack of profile is becoming quite embarrassing.

The Dragons v St George

Over Christmas I took the opportunity to read a new book published by London League Publications.

‘The Dragons versus St George’ is a complete history of matches between England and Wales since the first one on 20 April 1908, when Wales defeated England 35-18 at Tonypandy in front of 12,000 spectators, until 1996.

Written by the historian Graham Williams it is an excellent account of a fascinating subject, with some of the greatest players in the history of our sport appearing in its pages.

In many respects it’s a sad story of our inability to capitalise on the interest that has been shown over the years in Rugby League in Wales.

One of the RFL’s great historical failures is is not being able to secure a viable long-term presence in Wales, despite there having been so many great players coming out of the Principality.

Nonetheless, this is a fine book that costs £14.95.

I’m happy to recommend it and I congratulate LLP on having produced it.