Part three of our countdown…
30 Warrington win the Challenge Cup
Warrington Wolves produced a supreme effort to shock St Helens at Wembley on 24 August, defeating their neighbours 18-4 to finally win a trophy for their coach Steve Price after they had suffered defeats in both the Challenge Cup Final and the Grand Final in 018.
But it was a final tinged with controversy, as St Helens scored what looked like a legitimate try by Morgan Knowles early in the game. Knowles appeared to touch down Theo Fages’ grubber into the Warrington in-goal, but referee Robert Hicks surprisingly disallowed the try without going to the video-referee.
St Helens were unable to recover from the decision as Warrington gradually asserted their superiority on the day, with tries from Joe Philbin and Ben Murdoch-Masila. They pulled back a try by Fages in the second half, but when Wolves hooker Daryl Clark scored the decisive try on 72 minutes it not only won the Cup for Warrington, but the Lance Todd Trophy for Clark himself.
Their Challenge Cup victory turned out to be the high point of the Wolves’ season, while St Helens would go on to win the Super League Grand Final.
29 Luke Thompson wins Harry Sunderland Trophy
St Helens prop forward Luke Thompson emphasised his status as perhaps the leading young forward in the game by winning the Harry Sunderland Trophy at Old Trafford for his performance as Saints defeated Salford Red Devils.
Thompson was the first prop forward to win the Harry Sunderland trophy since Any Platt won it for Wigan in 1992.
And it was a remarkable effort for St Helens by Thompson, defying the conventional wisdom of a prop forward having to be spelled in the game.
Only when he suffered cramp with seven minutes to play did he finally leave the field. For a middle forward to play a solid 73-minute spell in a Grand Final, probably the quickest and most intense game of the season, shows just what a special player he is.
Thompson received eleven votes from the media for the Harry Sunderland Trophy, while fullback Lachlan Coote got eight and his fellow prop Alex Walmsley had seven, with no other players receiving any votes.
“It’s an unbelievable feeling,” said Thompson.
“We have worked so hard all year and we work so hard in training. It’s been a long time since we have been here and I’m just made up for Justin (Holbrook) so that we can send him home with a trophy.”
28 Magic Weekend back to Newcastle
In October Super League confirmed that the Magic Weekend will return to Newcastle United’s St James’ Park in 2020.
The event was staged in Newcastle for four years between 2014 and 2018 before being held at Liverpool’s Anfield in 2019.
But the fans made clear their preference for St James’ Park and its central location in Newcastle, compared with the location of Anfield away from Liverpool city centre.
The event will take place on the weekend of 23-24 May next year and the clubs insisted to Super League CEO Robert Elstone that they wanted to return to Newcastle, which will stage the opening game of the 2021 World Cup.
“Super League had a great time at Anfield,” said Elstone.
“In particular, it will be an experience that will live long in the memories of our players.
“However, we have now spoken at length to our fans and listened to what they have had to say.
“As a result, we are delighted to announce that the Magic Weekend 2020 will return to Newcastle and St James’ Park.”
27 David Furner sacked at Leeds
In early May Leeds Rhinos shocked the Rugby League World when they sacked their coach David Furner after he had been in charge for only 14 games.
Leeds Rhinos have sacked head coach David Furner, who had been in charge for only 14 Super League games.
At the time Leeds were third from bottom of Super League after just four league wins.
“This was a very difficult decision and not one we have taken lightly,” said Leeds director of rugby Kevin Sinfield.
“David was an outstanding candidate to be our head coach and was my first choice for the job.
“Unfortunately, we have not started the season as we had all hoped and action was needed to move in a fresh direction with this group of players this season.”
It was no coincidence that Furner was sacked in a season when compulsory relegation had returned to Super League, with the Rhinos unwilling to risk being drawn into the relegation battle. Richard Agar was appointed to be the interim head coach after Furner’s sacking, and later in the year his full-time appointment was confirmed.
26 George Williams signed by Canberra
In July Canberra Raiders confirmed their signing of Wigan stand-off George Williams on a three-year deal commencing in 2020.
Williams will follow in the footsteps of his former colleague John Bateman to the Australian capital.
“George is an experienced half who joins us after a very successful career with Wigan in the Super League,” said Raiders CEO Don Furner.
“The club’s had success in recent times in recruiting proven performers from the Super League and we believe George will fit into our system like others have.”
Williams will join a tranche of current England and Great Britain stars plying their trade in the NRL and he explained his motivation.
“I’ve been at Wigan since I was 12-years-old and I have managed to live my dream playing 170+ games and winning two Grand Finals for my hometown cub, along the way making some incredible memories and friends for life,” said Williams.
“Another dream of mine was always to play and to test myself in the NRL so I want to thank Ian Lenagan and Kris Radlinski for their understanding in allowing me to do this. It is something I have always wanted to pursue and playing in the NRL is a big goal of mine, so I’m excited and very much looking forward to the massive challenge ahead.
25 Wolfpack appoint Bob Hunter
In August the Toronto Wolfpack made an appointment that cements their position in the sporting landscape of the Canadian city, when they appointed Bob Hunter as their Chairman and Interim CEO.
Hunter is a major figure in the Toronto sporting scene, having worked with a variety of major sports clubs in the city and his appointment signals the arrival of the club as a major player in the city.
“With Bob’s experience and reputation in the Toronto sports market, I am confident that he is the right person to help build and increase our organisation’s foothold in the Canadian sports landscape,” said David Argyle, the owner of the Wolfpack.
“One of our goals is to improve and reshape our fan’s experience at Lamport Stadium and there is no one better than Bob to help lead us in that direction.”
24 Nigel Wood buys majority stake in the Bulls
In October it was announced that the family of former RFL chief executive Nigel Wood had bought a majority stake in Bradford Bulls from his friend, the former Chairman of the New Zealand Rugby League, Andrew Chalmers.
Dewsbury Rams Chairman Mark Sawyer has also acquired a 25 per cent stake in the club, which is allowed under RFL regulations.
They had already agreed to play at Dewsbury in 2020 but Wood, who is also the International Rugby League chief executive, has pledged to get the ‘Bulls back to Bradford.’
“As some people know my family and wife’s family are lifelong Bradford supporters through Northern and the Bulls and we have watched closely and sadly recent events unfold,” said Wood.
“We’ve been asked if we would assist and while it would be much easier and, frankly, much simpler to leave it to others to try to sort things out we have concluded that we can not stand by without doing so.
“As I hope it can be appreciated, my professional duties in the international game means I cannot and will not get involved with the day-to-day running.
“I am prepared to offer whatever advice and help that I can to the group with one clear, simple aim: we must bring the Bulls back to Bradford where they belong.”
23 Jonny Lomax wins Albert Goldthorpe Medal
Jonny Lomax (pictured) was the winner of the Albert Goldthorpe Medal in the twelfth year in which the Medal has been awarded.
Lomax won a tight struggle for the Medal, gaining 32 points from 26 matches, finishing just two points ahead of Salford’s Jackson Hastings, with his St Helens team-mate Lachlan Coote two points further back.
Lomax is the first St Helens player to win the award since it was inaugurated in 2008.
He had been among the leading candidates throughout the season and the race for the medal wasn’t decided until round 28 of the Super League competition.
Hastings may have lost out to Lomax in the final standings for the Albert Goldthorpe Medal, but he turned the tables in the voting for the Steve Prescott Man of Steel award, after Super League had effectively copied the voting structure of the Albert Goldthorpe Medal to change the way the Man of Steel is decided.
Surprisingly, Lomax wasn’t included on the shortlist of five players who were the main contenders for the Man of Steel award before the winner was finally revealed.
22 Women’s Grand Final screened live
History was made in October when the Women’s Super League Grand Final was broadcast live on Sky Sports for the first time.
Leeds Rhinos won the trophy, defeating Castleford Tigers 20-12, with teenage winger Fran Goldthorp scoring two tries for the Rhinos.
The Grand Final took place at St Helens’ Totally Wicked Stadium the night before the men’s Super League Grand Final at Old Trafford.
“Women’s Rugby League has made rapid strides in the last couple of years, and the development of the Women’s Super League, now sponsored by Betfred, has been at the forefront of that,” said RFL Chief Executive Ralph Rimmer.
“The quality of Rugby League on the pitch is attracting bigger crowds and greater media profile off it, and having the Grand Final live on Sky will be a perfect reflection of that – especially coming on the Friday night before the climax of the men’s Super League season at Old Trafford.”
Leeds coach Adam Cuthbertson paid tribute to his charges.
“They truly showed great character tonight, especially in the second half and I am just so pleased for them. They have worked so hard for this and they deserve every bit of it,” he said.
21 James Maloney joins Catalans Dragons
In July the Catalans revealed that Australian halfback James Maloney will join them next season from Penrith Panthers on a three-year contract at the age of 33.
He will be the Dragons’ first official marquee player, under rule which allows only the first £150,000 of wages to count against the salary cap.
Maloney will bring vast experience to Perpignan, having played 14 State of Origin games for New South Wales and won two NRL Grand Finals, while he has three caps for Australia, one of them during the last World Cup when he played in a group game against Lebanon.
“James is a huge signing for both the Catalans Dragons and the Super League competition,” Dragons head coach Steve McNamara said.
“He is quite simply a winner, a great player with outstanding game management skills.
“As the current NSW stand-off this is a real coup for us. Having coached Jimmy during my time as an assistant coach at the Roosters, I know full well the huge impact he will have both on and off the field.”
(First published in League Express, Mon 16th Dec 2019)
Part four of our countdown from 20 to 11 will be online from 6pm tomorrow.