The 50 most significant and memorable moments in Rugby League in 2021: 50-41

The 2021 Rugby League season has been historic in several ways, with emotions ranging from the depths of despair to the greatest elation, with stories both positive and negative in equal measure and moments to remember both on and off the field.

League Express introduces our annual five-part series of articles that look back at the season just gone and picks out the significant and memorable moments we’ll all remember, whether they are triumphs, tragedies, great moments in games or memorable matches.

We hope that you will enjoy reading and reliving some of these significant and memorable Rugby League moments of 2021.

For the purposes of this series, we should define the scope of the moments included with the dictionary definitions of our two key terms.

“Significant: important, large, or great, especially in leading to a different result or to an important change.”

“Memorable: worth remembering or easily remembered, especially because of being special or unusual.”

50 Neil Hudgell commits to Hull KR

Hull KR had a season to remember on the field but Neil Hudgell’s decision in August to retain ownership of the club was of even greater significance.

The previous summer, solicitor and lifelong fan Hudgell said that he would step aside from the club he had been with for 16 years, stating that “now is the right time for change” as the “stresses and anxieties” meant he did not believe he could “do it justice any longer”.

Having supported the club for so long, the news was understandably of great concern to supporters.

However, the success of Tony Smith’s team, on a charge towards the play-offs which would result in them going within 80 minutes of a Grand Final, and progress off the field brought a change of heart as Rovers were taken off the market.

“The club is no longer for sale,” explained Hull KR’s chief executive, Paul Lakin.

“Neil, who has been the owner for 17 years, wants to continue to own the club. He’s encouraged by what we are doing on and off the field.

“He’s a fantastic owner for this club and we are all delighted.”

49 Mose Masoe round raises £100,000

More than £100,000 was raised when Super League dedicated a round of fixtures to former Hull KR star Mose Masoe.

At the beginning of April, the second round of fixtures in the league season were all played at the Totally Wicked Stadium, the home of another of Masoe’s former clubs in St Helens and named the Mose Masoe Round.

Fans were encouraged to buy virtual tickets for the behind-closed-doors matches, whilst in the NRL a ‘We Stand With Mose’ campaign was also launched.

A six-figure sum was raised for the Mose Masoe Foundation, which was set up to help him cope with the career-ending spinal injury suffered in 2020, as well as others who suffer similar life-changing injuries from rugby.

Masoe was a guest on Sky Sports as his two former teams played each other, while over the round some players carried his name on their jerseys, which were then auctioned off.

“What has happened over this past couple of weeks, with the forming of the Foundation and now over these past few days, has been truly overwhelming,” said Masoe.

“It is really humbling to see so many people, from former playing colleagues and opponents to fans of all clubs showing their love to our family. We are truly thankful to each and every person who has supported us. It is something we’ll never forget.”

48 England lose to All Stars

More than 16 months after being appointed as England head coach, Shaun Wane was able to take charge of his country for the first time in June against a Combined Nations All Stars team.

It was far from how Wane would have envisaged leading England for the first time – against a resurrected and renamed team (which would feature some of England’s own stars), clashing with a round of Super League fixtures, with far from his best side available, having had few training sessions with his players.

Any concerns about the quality of opposition were proven to be misplaced though, as it turned out to be a very testing assignment indeed with the All Stars triumphing 26-24.

Liam Farrell crossed twice while Morgan Knowles and Tom Davies also scored tries for England, captained by Sam Tomkins who drove to Warrington from the South of France to play.

But the All Stars won out with two tries from Ken Sio plus Peter Mata’utia and Jermaine McGillvary scores, and the boot of Aidan Sezer.

The circumstances did enable a few notable England debuts, with Paul McShane getting his long-awaited opportunity along with Davies, Knowles, Ash Handley, Mikolaj Oledzki and Joe Philbin.

47 Castleford appoint Lee Radford

Lee Radford’s return to Super League for 2022 was confirmed early in the year, as he signed on the dotted line for a two-year contract in April.

Following his axing by Hull FC in early 2020, Radford had accepted a job with rugby union club Dallas Jackals in the US, though due to Covid he had yet to be able to start.

However, when Daryl Powell’s switch across the Pennines to Warrington Wolves was confirmed, the opportunity presented itself for Radford to be head coach at Castleford Tigers.

“I’m really excited for the opportunity with a fantastic club and I’m really looking forward to taking up the challenge,” said the former Bradford and England player.

“I like what the club is about, from the outside it is a hardworking, honest, hard-faced club and I think you know what you’re getting when you come here. I think all those descriptions suit me down to the ground.

“I’m very aware of the brand of rugby that is played at Castleford and it’s one I’m looking forward to having an effect on as well.”

46 Ben Crooks scores fastest Super League try

History was made in Hull KR’s home win over Huddersfield Giants in April. Just seven seconds into it, in fact.

Jordan Abdull’s kick-off found a pocket of space between Giants defenders, bouncing twice unpredictably before the third made a fool of Sam Wood. By that time Ben Crooks had legged it into prime position to pounce and touch down on the line, putting himself in the record books in the process.

It turned out to be an important try in itself – Rovers would go on to register a one-point victory and without that they would not have made the play-offs.

But the Guinness Book of World Records were happy to confirm that Crooks had scored the fastest ever try in Super League, which is a neat piece of history for the centre to treasure.

It broke the previous best of 14 seconds held by Tim Jonkers, who scored a try for St Helens after 14 seconds of a match against Wakefield Trinity in 2002.

The fastest try ever in the sport is of course impossible to verify, but with the NRL record standing at 11 seconds it is certainly the quickest in modern professional Rugby League.

While records are meant to be broken, this particular feat will surely take some beating.

45 Workington win League 1 play-off final

It was a fine season for Cumbrian clubs with Whitehaven earning a shock place in the Championship play-offs and Barrow winning the League 1 title. Workington Town made it a clean sweep of success in October by beating Doncaster in the third tier’s play-off final.

Workington had finished second in the final table, meaning they only had to see off Keighley Cougars – done thanks to a Carl Forber penalty in extra time – to earn a home final.

Doncaster, on the other hand, had to battle through three rounds, beating Keighley even more dramatically themselves by snatching victory from defeat with the final kick.

While there were plenty of thrills on the route, the final itself was comfortably Workington’s in the end. They led by six at half-time thanks to Joe Brown, Conor Fitzsimmons and Forber, with Matty Henson stretching the lead shortly after the break before Marcus O’Brien and Brad Holroyd completed a 36-12 triumph.

Chris Thorman, his players and the majority of the 3,000-strong crowd celebrated promotion to the Championship jubilantly at Derwent Park after the final whistle, although the most memorable scenes came later in the evening.

Assistant coach Neil Frazer had to miss the match as he was isolating at home, so Town instead brought the party to him, making the trip to his house with the play-off trophy so he could celebrate with them from his garden.

44 Tony Clubb suspension

At a time when the issues of racism and discrimination have never been more prominent in sport and in society, Rugby League faced its own storm at the end of April.

Late in the first half of Wigan Warriors’ home match against Hull FC, Andre Savelio alleged to referee James Child that Wigan’s Tony Clubb had used a racist remark, with the incident placed on report at the time.

The Warriors soon suspended Clubb, with executive director Kris Radlinski saying that they took the allegations “very seriously” and would support the investigation.

Within five days of the incident, the verdict was made by an independent tribunal, banning Clubb for eight matches.

They found the prop forward guilty of using “unacceptable language based on national or ethnic origin” towards New Zealander Savelio.

Tribunal chair Guy Kearl QC said: “We have considered the evidence of both players and the circumstances surrounding the allegation and find that we are reasonably satisfied, taking into account the seriousness of the charge, that the words were said, albeit in the heat of the moment, but nevertheless were said.

“They do constitute unacceptable language based on racial and ethnic origin and therefore we find that this was serious misconduct which has brought the game into disrepute.”

However, he did add of Clubb: “We do not find that he is a racist, simply that on this occasion he used unacceptable language in the heat of the moment.”

43 Super League target RFL realignment

Huddersfield Giants’ Ken Davy was elected interim chairman of Super League in March following the resignation of Robert Elstone, and soon made his mark by stating his intentions to realign the top-flight with the RFL.

Super League only went alone in 2018, but Davy was voted as its head with a mandate to bring the two organisations closer together again.

“I would like to see an agreement between the Super League clubs and the RFL which realigns the commercial and strategic assets of the game so we can maximise our impact on the field and from a marketing point of view,” said Davy.

“That was the position I outlined to the board as my stance, and I was delighted when I was voted in. However, the quicker we can get this dealt with and be totally focused on what is going on, on the pitch, the better.”

It marked a sharp about-turn following the ‘breakaway’ of three years previously, when Super League sought to take control of its own operation to increase revenues.

The Covid pandemic, and the anticipated drop in the value of Super League’s deal with Sky Sports, changed that picture drastically, and Davy admitted ahead of talks beginning in July that “together we can be stronger” and “there are more opportunities for Super League in a realigned working relationship with the RFL”.

42 Steve Price announces Warrington exit

It was mid-February when the Super League coaching merry-go-round for next season was kick-started by Steve Price’s announcement that 2021 would be his final campaign at Warrington Wolves.

The move would prompt Daryl Powell’s early agreement to replace him at the Halliwell Jones Stadium, and subsequently Lee Radford to take charge at Castleford Tigers.

Price said that his fourth season at the Wolves would be his final one and he would return home to Australia at the end of the year.

“Warrington Wolves is a wonderful club and one that I am hugely proud to be able to represent,” he said. “I cannot thank everyone enough for the opportunity given to me.

“It has been a huge decision, but after speaking at length with my wife and daughters, we all feel that it will be the right time to return home once my current contract expires at the end of the forthcoming season.”

He was not able to see out his tenure in style though, as his Warrington side fell at the first hurdle in the play-offs to miss out on any silverware. Price claimed just the one trophy in his spell, the Challenge Cup in 2019, when the Wolves upset St Helens at Wembley.

41 RFL U-turn on Academy licences

In May, the RFL announced that only ten clubs would be handed Elite Academy licences from 2022.

Cue great uproar, but from three sources in particular: Bradford Bulls, Castleford Tigers and Hull KR would all lose their licences, a significant blow for the clubs and for talent in their respective areas.

There had been 15 clubs applying for a licence, with Leigh Centurions and Salford Red Devils seeking to join the established academies of all the other Super League clubs plus Newcastle Thunder and London Broncos.

A panel convened by the RFL and Super League had decided to award a maximum of twelve licences, and up to nine in heartland areas, yet that trio still all missed out on a final list of just ten, the main explanation for the cutback being concern for the health of the community game.

However, within two weeks a U-turn had been forced. ‘Probationary’ licences were given to Bradford, Castleford and Hull KR for an initial two-year period, providing at least a temporary reprieve, while the RFL also said they would work with Leigh and Salford to consolidate their development academies.

“We are pleased that it has been possible to reach this agreement for the benefit of all, while respecting the process that led to the initial decision,” said the RFL’s chief on-field officer, Dave Rotherham, at the end of the saga.

Our top 10 moments will be revealed in the Monday 3rd January edition of League Express, which is available on newsstands every Monday in the UK and as a digital download. Click here for more details.