In just three weeks’ time we will all be getting ready for the opening round of Super League 2019 and round one weekend in the Challenge Cup. This week we’ve had financial wrangling for Salford and Catalans, a long suspension for Thomas Minns, and Luke Gale being ruled out for the season through injury.
We’ve had a look back at the news over the last week to pick up on stories which you might have missed to keep your finger on the pulse of what is happening inside the greatest game.
It is understood that Salford Red Devils have approached Super League and requested a six figure loan to assist them over immediate cash flow problems. It is believed that they request was turned down after the club failed to meet some of the stipulations laid down by the other Super League clubs.
Rugby League will be using the Steeden ball for the next three years after they were chosen to replace the Rhino balls which have been used over the last four seasons. This move brings northern hemisphere rugby into step with Australia. Steeden balls are being used in pre-season and for all matches in Super League, Championship, Championship One and cup competitions.
The Catalans Dragons may not defend their Challenge Cup title after being asked for a £500,000 bond by the RFL to cover any losses through poor attendances at the final should they repeat their success of 2018. It is understood that Toronto and Toulouse have also been requested for bonds but the RFL has been asked to reconsider its position.
York City Knights and the Dewsbury Rams progressed in the opening round of the newly resurrected Yorkshire Cup. York beat Hunslet Club Parkside by 34-4 while the Rams took the scalp of the Featherstone Rovers
It is becoming apparent that Luke Gale will miss the entire 2019 Super League season after rupturing an Achilles during training on his return from a knee injury which kept his out for a substantial part of last season. It is understood that Gale had been progressing well but that this is a massive setback both personally and for his club.
Batley Bulldogs put Hunslet to the sword in the Yorkshire Cup and recorded a 36-0 victory while Bradford Bull had a harder afternoon as they beat Halifax by 26-16. Bradford will face Dewsbury in the semi-final next Saturday while Batley will take on York in the other game on Sunday afternoon.
Former Leeds Rhinos and Hull KR star Chris Clarkson is back in West Yorkshire after being given a trial with the Castleford Tigers ahead of the 2019 season. Clarkson has a chance to earn a full playing contract with Daryl Powell’s side after being released by the Robins at the end of last season.
The BBC will live stream the opening round Challenge Cup fixture between Millom and Red Star Belgrade at 13:30 on the 27th January as they begin their coverage of the great old competition. Last year the early round games attracted an online audience approaching 100,000 people.
As we speculated last week, James Donaldson has been given a one year playing contract with the Leeds Rhinos after impressing in pre-season training and friendly games. The former Hull KR forward had been without a club but made an impression on new Rhinos coach David Furner.
Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook has pledged his immediate future to St Helens by signing a contract extension which will see him plying his trade at the Totally Wicked Stadium until the end of the 2020 season, which will be his tenth at the club since joining from London.
Thomas Minns has been handed a sixteen month suspension from the game after testing positive for a metabolite of cocaine after Hull KR’s game against the Huddersfield Giants on the 15th March 2018. The suspension is backdated to the offence meaning that Minns can return to training from the 15th May 2019 and will be available for selection from the 15th July.
Following the loss of Luke Gale it is believed that the Castleford Tigers are looking to apply to the RFL for salary cap relief to allow them to recruit a replacement while retaining Gale on the books through his injury.
Only Hull FC and St Helens showed any improvement in their average home attendances in 2018 over 2017 in a depressing analysis of Super League attendances. The Leeds Rhinos were the best supported side but their average home attendance fell by over 2,000 per game, a symptom of a poor season and ground disruption. Wigan Warriors were also down over 2,000 per game while Castleford Tigers dropped an average of 1,700 per game. Salford Red Devils average home attendance almost halved from 4,703 to 2,748.