Top 50 moments of 2020 – Part 4 (20-11)

We continue our countdown of the significant and memorable moments for Rugby League in 2020. Here we cover the events from positions 11 to 20.

20 Hull FC sack Lee Radford

Hull FC owner Adam Pearson sacked his coach Lee Radford on 12 March after Hull had been humiliated by Warrington Wolves, who had spanked Hull 38-4 at the KCOM Stadium.

Radford has been in charge of Hull for the past seven seasons, and had led the club to back-to-back Challenge Cup wins in 2016 and 2017.

Whereas Radford would normally have come out of the dressing room to speak to Sky Sports after the game, instead it was Pearson who strode out to speak to Sky’s Jenna Brooks and confirm the decision he had just made.

“Lee and I have decided to call it a day tonight and it was a decision that didn’t rest easily with me,” said Pearson.

“I don’t think we are going in the right direction at the minute so we have decided to go our separate ways.

“I’d just like to place on record the unbelievable job that he has done. He has been a loyal guy who works tremendously hard and he has put his life and soul into the club for seven years, so we are going to miss him.

“Lee is no fool and I think he realised with that performance today that aspects of that performance are just not acceptable. We have got to re-group as a club and a team, and pull together.

“It is not a decision that has given me any pleasure whatsoever, because he is quality.”

19 Wigan announce John Bateman’s signing

Wigan Warriors announced in July that John Bateman would be back in Super League in 2021 after signing a four-year deal with the club after two seasons in the NRL.

Bateman would become a marquee player for the next four years with the option of a fifth year.

And Bateman, who had helped take Canberra Raiders to the NRL Grand Final in 2019, revealed that it was the pull of his family that was drawing him back to Super League.

“It’s been a tough decision but to be back to Wigan,” Bateman said.

“To be at home with my little girl, my mum and the rest of my family is something I can’t wait to experience once again,” he said.

Wigan director Kris Radlinski was delighted to welcome Bateman back to the club.

“Wigan are thrilled to be bringing John back to the DW Stadium,” said Radlinski.

“John is one of the best players in the world. He has the respect of players and coaches in both hemispheres and is a natural born competitor and leader.”

“We’ve been extremely proud to see him take the NRL by storm in 2019 and we’ve always looked forward to welcoming him back to Wigan when the opportunity presented itself.”

18 Queensland win deciding State of Origin in front of a capacity crowd

Queensland won the State of Origin series for the first time since 2017 with a game-three deciding 20-14 win over New South Wales in front of a near capacity 52,000 post-Covid-19 record crowd in Brisbane.

The attendance was the highest attendance at a sporting event anywhere in the world in the Covid era. It was higher than the 46,061 crowd at Auckland’s Eden Park in November, where New Zealand beat Australia in a rugby union Test, the 37,303 that attended the NRL Grand Final in Sydney, the 36,212 that attended the Blues’ Origin game-two victory in Sydney and the 29,707 that watched the AFL Grand Final at the Gabba.

Full capacity was permitted after the limit on open-air stadiums, which had been set at 75%, was lifted by Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk.

About 2,000 tickets were given to local frontline healthcare workers and emergency services personnel in recognition of their work during the coronavirus pandemic.

Suncorp Stadium’s partisan crowd produced an intimidating atmosphere for the Maroons, fortifying their performance, which had also been stimulated by a comment from former NSW star Paul Gallen that they were the worst Queensland team to have played Origin.

“On behalf of the worst-ever Queensland team, thank you very much,” said Queensland captain Daly Cherry-Evans before lifting the State of Origin Shield.

17 RFL announces post-Covid rule changes

The RFL directors announced a number of law changes for Rugby League on 6 July that would be applied when the game returned to action at the beginning of August.

The proposed changes had been recommended by June’s meeting of the Laws Committee, and they were intended to protect the welfare of players and mitigate the risks of the Covid virus.

The changes included the suspension of scrums, and the adoption of the ‘Six Again’ rule that had been introduced to the NRL from its return to action on 28 May.

The RFL directors also agreed to remove the overseas quota rule at all levels of the game. This meant that at Super League the only restriction would be that clubs could employ a maximum of seven non-Federation trained players.

At the same meeting the RFL directors agreed that the Reserves League would be suspended for 2021, although the suspension will be lifted ahead of 2022, while the Academy Competition would be extended to Under-19s in 2021 but will be realigned to Under-18s for 2022, with the resumption of the Reserves. The Scholarship Competition would be extended to Under-17s in 2021 only.

Simon Johnson, the RFL Chairman, said: “The Covid-19 pandemic has presented all sports with immense challenges. We continue to work through these challenges in Rugby League, and our approach throughout has been to consider the interests of all our member clubs, and of the game as a whole.”

16 Shaun Wane becomes England coach

The RFL announced the appointment of Shaun Wane last February as the new England coach on a two-year contract, which would culminate in the 2021 Rugby League World Cup.

Wane would replace Australian coach Wayne Bennett in the role, after Bennett had been in charge of Great Britain’s disastrous tour of New Zealand and Papua New Guinea in the autumn of 2019.

The decision to appoint the former Wigan coach Wane, and end Bennett’s four years in charge, followed a review into all aspects of Great Britain tour.

“Everyone who knows me knows that I’ve always loved the game of Rugby League, and been proud of British Rugby League,” said Wane.

“I’m looking forward so much to starting work with the outstanding Rugby League players we have in this country, and also the guys who have enjoyed success in Australia in recent years, to do all we can to win the World Cup next year. ”

Although the Kangaroo tour would be cancelled because of Covid, in August the RFL extended Wane’s contract to the end of 2022.

15 Toronto membership of Super League withdrawn

Super League terminated Toronto Wolfpack’s Super League Participation Agreement for the 2020 season on 3rd August, following its withdrawal from the competition two weeks earlier.

“Super League’s action reflects the seriousness of the breach of contract by Toronto Wolfpack, which has impacted Super League and its member clubs,” said a statement issued by Super League.

The Wolfpack would now have to enter into a new Participation Agreement before being able to play in the competition in 2021.

“As previously stated by Super League and The RFL, any application received from the club will be given full and timely consideration,” added the Super League statement.

The Super League Participation Agreement, which had been signed by Toronto Wolfpack in February, is a contract all clubs must sign as a condition of taking part in the competition. It outlines the terms that clubs must meet in order to take part in Super League. One of them is a commitment to fulfilling fixtures.

The decision to throw the Wolfpack out of the competition, without the club apparently having any right of appeal, was an ominous one for the Wolfpack, who would subsequently find that their application to return to Super League would be unceremoniously turned down.

14 Headingley pays tribute to Rob Burrow

Leeds Rhinos fans saw their hero Rob Burrow take to the Headingley pitch for the very last time ON 12 January last year.

The Rhinos were hosting Bradford Bulls in a pre-season game that had originally been planned as a testimonial game for Jamie Jones-Buchanan.

The Rhinos won 34-10, but in reality the result was the last thing that mattered on the day, because 23 days earlier Burrow had revealed that he was suffering from motor neurone disease (MND). Jones-Buchanan immediately announced that the money raised from the game would be shared with his former team-mate.

And, in front of a sell-out crowd at Headingley, it was a deeply moving occasion.

Burrow had tears in his eyes when he crossed the line to return to playing, with five minutes of the game remaining, as every one of his team-mates – legends and current players alike – moved in to embrace him. But typically for Burrow, he wasted no time in getting in the thick of the action, immediately slotting in at dummy-half.

He said: “It’s hard to put into words. I’m struggling with words anyway but I’m overwhelmed. It really meant something to me. I went straight to the wing when we were defending, just like the good old days.

“I was tired but I absolutely loved every minute of it.

“You don’t know how much it means. No words will come close to describe how I feel right now. Thank you so much.”

13 Super League restarts on 2nd August

On the second day of August last year the Super League season finally came to life again, with two matches scheduled for Headingley.

In the first of them, St Helens faced the Catalans Dragons, and came away with a convincing 34-6 victory behind closed doors. The game was a deferred game from Round 4, when Saints had played Sydney Roosters in the World Club Challenge.

For a long time it had looked as though the 2020 season might have ended in March when, coincidentally, St Helens had also played in the final game before the lockdown, when they had suffered a shock defeat at Castleford Tigers.

But the game that was played on that August day was very different when compared to the games that had been played before the lockdown.

To start with, there were no spectators in the ground. Instead the game was played in front of cardboard cut-out spectators in the stand and the TV coverage included artificial crowd noise.

And on the field there were no scrums and the game was played with the ‘six-again’ rule in operation that had been imported from the NRL.

Another major difference compared to the pre-lockdown Super League was the presence of a ‘Black Lives Matter’ banner in the main stand at Headingley, with the players from both sides ‘taking a knee’ before the game, although Israel Folau was a notable exception.

12 Mose Masoe suffers career ending injury

Hull Kingston Rovers co-captain Mose Masoe suffered a catastrophic spinal injury on 12 January last year in a pre-season game at Wakefield Trinity that ended his career and led to fears that Mose would suffer permanent paralysis.

Mose was injured making what looked like a wholly innocuous tackle.

Tragically it meant that his career was over and he had suffered a serious spinal injury. He had lost all feeling from the chest down after one of three artificial discs in his neck gave way and pinched his spinal cord.

“This is a career-ending injury,” confirmed Rovers coach Tony Smith.

“If Mose is able to walk, that will be a success. All that is still unknown and we’ve got to be careful what we set our sights on as an outcome.”

“Mose has two lovely daughters here in this country and a young son in Australia that are suffering and worrying about their dad, and an unborn child on the way. There are different measures of success. I know he’s looking forward to just hugging his children again.”

After the operation Masoe would spend almost three months in the specialist spinal unit in Pinderfields Hospital in Wakefield. He was told that he would be very lucky if he were ever to walk again.

Eight months later, however, he was able to take his first unassisted steps using crutches.

11 Leigh Centurions promoted to Super League

Leigh Centurions emerged triumphant in the battle to succeed the Toronto Wolfpack in Super League in the 2021 season.

The decision was announced on 14 December, and it was made by a seven-man panel chaired by Rugby League fan Lord Jonathan Caine, who announced the decision himself.

The Centurions beat applications from Toulouse, Featherstone Rovers, London Broncos, Bradford Bulls and York City Knights.

Lord Caine said: “I was determined from the outset that this process should be robust and conducted to the highest standards of professionalism, integrity and on the basis of rigorous impartiality between each of the applicants.

“Each application was judged strictly but fairly against the agreed criteria that were circulated to clubs and published in November.

“All of the applications were of high quality and I would like to pay tribute to the clubs for the energy and effort they have put into this exercise in what was of necessity a very short time period.”

Super League Executive Chairman Robert Elstone added: “Six weeks after Super League clubs chose to return to a 12-team format, we are delighted to welcome Leigh Centurions to our 2021 competition.

“The independent panel was impressed by Centurions’ application which scored highly on all published criteria, and it is a credit to everyone at the club that they were able to produce such a comprehensive submission in such a demanding timeframe.”

The above content is also available in the regular weekly edition of League Express, on newsstands every Monday in the UK and as a digital download. Click here for more details.