The 2019 Rugby League season has been eventful in many memorable and significant ways, both positive and negative in equal measure, with moments to remember both on and off the field.
League Express looks 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.
First of all we should define the scope of the moments that we will include in this series 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.”
Here we consider moments 41 to 50, with the countdown continuing on TotalRL.com each day as we head into the New Year
50 Jason Baitieri walks out of French tour
Jason Baitieri (pictured) was appointed as the captain of the French touring team that headed for Australia in October, but he shocked the French Federation by walking out of the tour, claiming a “lack of professionalism” from the French governing body.
He added: “I cannot continue to play and sacrifice my body for a President and a Federation with whom I do not share the same dimension of values, respect, equality and above all honesty.
“As long as the Federation is the one it is today I will not be able to wear the blue jersey and I fully accept the possible repercussions.
“The lack of professionalism needs to change so that our sport can continue to move in the right direction. Things need to change because Rugby League suffers enormously and not only in our country but internationally as well.”
49 Raiders win at last
Since changing their name from South Wales Ironmen and moving to Llanelli’s Stebonheath Park in 2017, the West Wales Raiders had suffered 44 straight defeats, including all 15 in 2019.
But on Saturday 20 July they finally ended that dismal run, giving some hope for the game in Wales, when they defeated Coventry Bears 44-16, scoring eight tries with a dominant performance.
“What was so good about Saturday was not just the win, but the manner of it,” said West Wales Chairman Andrew Thorne.
“Once we’d gone into the lead early on I think they just thought ‘sod it’ and went for it. They’ve been so disappointed with results in the past that they knew they had to perform.
“If it had been a two-point win, though, I’d have been just as pleased.
“Seeing the reaction of the fans and everyone involved with the club made it an even better day.”
48 Brad Dwyer’s winning field-goal
One of the innovations brought in at the start of the season by Super League chief executive Robert Elstone was the golden point, which is intended to find the winner in extra time of a game where the scores are tied after 80 minutes.
On the night of Thursday 28 March at Headingley Brad Dwyer created a magical Rugby League moment, when he dropped a goal to win the game for Leeds Rhinos against Castleford Tigers in the first minute of golden-point time. It was entertainment of the highest order, and it wasn’t just the field-goal that Dwyer kicked, nor the fact that it was the first one-pointer of his career, that made it such a special occasion.
What really made it so compelling was the Leeds coach David Furner’s reaction to Dwyer’s kick, at first looking horrified that the ball had gone to the former Warrington hooker, clearly mouthing the word ‘no’, then looking on in disbelief as he shaped to take the kick, and then jumping up in ecstasy, thumping the air with joy and grabbing James Bletsoe, the Rhinos’ chief analyst, when it went over.
That footage went viral, was broadcast on several news and sports news programmes, featured widely on social media and was discussed on several radio programmes.
47 The tragedy of Archie Bruce
On 17 August Batley Bulldogs played Toulouse Olympique in France and gave a debut off the bench to their 20-year-old scrum-half Archie Bruce.
The following day the Bulldogs issued a statement revealing that the youngster had been found dead in his hotel room on Sunday morning.
“Batley Bulldogs are greatly saddened to announce the passing of their player Archie Bruce, who was found in his hotel bedroom early this morning having made his debut against Toulouse the previous evening,” said the statement by Chairman Kevin Nicholas.
Archie was later found to have died from asphyxiation and a promising career had been cut short.
His funeral was held on 3rd October and his junior club, Dewsbury Moor, paid tribute to him.
“Archie was truly loved at Dewsbury Moor by all. He first joined the club at the age of five, raring to go upon reaching his 6th birthday. The world of Rugby League has lost a future star, a star that could have gone a long way. We have lost a friend, a team-mate, a ray of light. Archie should be a role model to others, to follow your dream and never give in.”
46 Morgan Smithies’ 72 tackles
When Wigan faced Salford in the opening week of the Super League play-off, their young forward Morgan Smithies (pictured) created a new Super League record by making 72 tackles, according to the official figures published by Opta Stats, which was three ahead of the previous record, which was 69 tackles made by Malcolm Alker in a match for Salford against Castleford on 25 April 2010, a record that was equalled by Hull FC’s current captain Danny Houghton for Hull against Widnes on 23 March 2014.
Earlier this year Smithies had signed a new four-year contract at Wigan and his contribution in this game enabled Wigan to defeat the Red Devils 18-12, although the Warriors’ joy would be short-lived, as they lost to St Helens the following week and then suffered a home defeat against the Red Devils to miss the chance of returning to Old Trafford to defend their title.
45 Red Star Belgrade at Millom
In January Red Star Belgrade made an unsuccessful debut in Rugby League’s oldest competition against the game’s oldest amateur club as they lost 38-10 to Cumbrian side Millom in the first round of the Challenge Cup.
Their football counterparts from the multi-sports club from Serbia won the European Cup in 1991.
“It was an honour to play in one of the biggest tournaments in any sport. And in the place where rugby was made,” said Red Star centre Aleksander Djordjevic, a basketball-playing sporting all-rounder who has also represented his country at rugby union and became the first Serb to score a Challenge Cup try.
Red Star’s director of rugby, Englishman Mark Pullen, conceded that his side’s chastening experience in the face of a biting gale and resolute hosts was maybe exactly what they need in order to evolve.
“I wanted them to take a beating,” said Pullen.
“It was about our boys being tested by a traditional team in the game. They will take a lot away from this experience. It’s a long-term project. We would love to get the chance to return to the Challenge Cup next season.”
44 Robins sign Kiwi star
Hull Kingston Rovers were too close for comfort to relegation in 2019 and the club is determined not to suffer that fate in the 2020 season.
In September, after the club had secured its Super League future, the Robins announced that they had signed Kiwi Test star Shaun Kenny-Dowall, who had represented New Zealand in 21 Tests from 2007, scoring nine tries for his country.
The 31-year-old had also made 277 NRL appearances, scoring 139 tries for Sydney Roosters and Newcastle Knights.
“I’m excited to be experiencing a new competition after so long in the NRL,” said Kenny-Dowall.
“I love the way the Super League is played. It’s a new challenge to move out of my comfort zone of the NRL and step into a different arena and test myself on the other side of the world.”
43 Richard Agar at Leeds
In September, with one match of the regular season remaining, Leeds Rhinos appointed their interim head coach Richard Agar as their permanent head coach on a rolling 12-month deal.
Agar, 47, had been in charge since David Furner was sacked in May, winning seven of his 14 Super League games since then to secure Leeds’ survival in Super League.
The former Hull FC and Warrington coach initially joined Rhinos in a player development role in the previous December.
“The manner in which Richard has conducted himself this season, during very challenging circumstances, has shown us he is the right man for the job,” said Leeds director of rugby Kevin Sinfield.
“I have enjoyed working with him this season, despite the tough position we have found ourselves in and I look forward to seeing him put his stamp on this squad during pre-season and next year.”
42 Valiant Broncos go down
At the start of the season most pundits predicted that London Broncos, who had shocked Toronto Wolfpack in the Million Pound Game in 2018 to earn promotion, would be certainties to go straight back down, with some even predicting they wouldn’t win a single game.
The Broncos, however, defied their critics, stacking up regular victories. The previous week they had won at Hull Kingston Rovers, so they found themselves in the final round of the season with a game against Wakefield Trinity, with four clubs – Trinity, Huddersfield Giants, Hull Kingston Rovers and the Broncos – all level on 20 points and each of them battling to avoid defeat and possible relegation.
But the Broncos had the worst points difference, so they had to win to stay in Super League and, sadly for them, but to the relief of their rivals, they couldn’t pull off a final victory, going down 19-10 to Trinity.
Their season had been a heroic one, with two notable victories over Champions St Helens, and it demonstrated that a promoted side could compete effectively at the highest level.
41 Tony Smith back in the game
In early June Hull KR appointed former England and Great Britain coach Tony Smith as head coach less than 24 hours after Tim Sheens left Craven Park.
Smith, 52, had left Warrington in 2017 after almost nine years in charge. He had suggested at the time that he needed a break from the game and had lost some of his enthusiasm for it. He had been doing some consultancy work in football.
But by mid-2019 he was keen to get back into the game.
“It’s a great opportunity to get back coaching again,” Smith said.
“It’s been a whirlwind couple of days, but I’m very excited about the opportunity.
“I’ve had a good break and I’m very excited. With the talent available, there’s a good, strong chance of climbing the ladder to a place which is far greater to where we are at this moment.”
In his previous roles Smith had enjoyed great success with Huddersfield, Leeds and Warrington, while he also coached Great Britain to a 2007 Test series whitewash of New Zealand, and was in charge of England at the 2008 World Cup.
(First published in League Express, Mon 2nd Dec 2019)
Part two of our countdown – from 40 to 31 – will be online from 6pm tomorrow.