In a busy week of out-of-season rugby league we’ve had friendly matches, Yorkshire Cup semi-finals, player exchanges, player signings and a 2020 coaching prospect appearing to get cold feet. It’s never dull in our game and with just over a fortnight to go until the kick-off it is all warming up nicely.
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.
Ed Barber (Halifax) and Robbie Ward (Dewsbury) both felt the wrath of the disciplinary committee with one and two game suspensions, for a trio and dangerous contact.
Salford Red Devils have signed journeyman Adam Walker for the 2019 season. Walker played seven times for Wakefield Trinity last season but is best known for his four seasons at Hull KR. The twenty-seven year old Prop has also played for the Huddersfield Giants, Barrow Raiders, Swinton Lions and St Helens.
Joel Tomkins will be wearing the captains’ armband for Hull KR this season after Shaun Lunt stepped down from the captaincy following a health scare at the end of the 2018 season which saw him spend several weeks in hospital with what turned out to be an abscess on his spine. Tomkins was voted into his new role by his team-mates.
The Castleford Tigers confirmed that the RFL had granted them salary cap relief over the season-ending injury to Luke Gale. This means that they can keep Gale on the books but his salary doesn’t count towards the club limit.
Huddersfield and Castleford have completed a player loan swap ahead of the new season with Joe Wardle heading to the John Smith’s Stadium and Jordan Rankin moving in the opposite direction. While the deal is initially a loan, both clubs will look to make the moves permanent. It is believed that this is a straight swap deal with no cash changing hands.
Dewsbury Rams pushed the Bradford Bulls all the way in the first semi-final of the Yorkshire Cup as they lost out by 20-18.
In the second semi-final of the Yorkshire Cup Batley Bulldogs beat the York City Knights by 22-18 at Mount Pleasant to set a final with Bradford Bulls on Sunday 20th January at a venue yet to be announced.
Leeds Rhinos blew away the pre-season cobwebs with a 60-0 defeat of Doncaster at the Keepmoat Stadium. The Rhinos led 28-0 at the break and coach David Furner was delighted that his side shut out the opposition.
Wakefield Trinity win their pre-season friendly against Hull FC by 30-24 thanks to a hat-trick from Tom Johnstone in front of a crowd of just under 3,000.
Leeds Rhinos will give first team run-outs to close season signings Trent Merrin and Konrad Hurrell in the pre-season Kallum Watkins Testimonial game at Headingley on Sunday. Watkins himself also hopes to be fit to take part in the game.
Hull KR chariman Neil Hudgell announced that their season ticket sales have hit a seven year high with almost 6,000 tickets being issued with over a fortnight remaining until the season kicks off. This surpasses last season’s sales of 5,600.
Warrington Wolves have secured the services of England half-back Gareth Widdop from the start of the 2020 season after beating off competition from other sides including the Catalans Dragons. The twenty-nine year old has signed a three year deal to star at the Halliwell-Jones. Widdop starts his final season at St George Illawarra Dragons in March before returning to his country of birth to complete his playing career.
Barrow Raiders player James Duerden has been handed a four year suspension after being found guilty of “Presence of a Prohibited Substance or its Metabolites or Markers in an Athlete’s Sample” after an out of season test in December 2017. Duerden will not be eligible to play again until December 2021.
The troubled full-back sensation and 2015 Man of Steel Zak Hardaker will make his Wigan Warriors debut on Sunday in the pre-season friendly against the Salford Red Devils. It will be his first game in fifteen months after missing out of the whole of the 2018 campaign while serving a suspension for the use of cocaine and after recently attending an alcohol rehabilitation clinic.
2019 will see a major overhaul of the Man of Steel award after last season’s player voting fiasco made a mockery of the process. This year a panel of experts will attend matches and award points to three players each game for their contributions. Points will be tallied over the season before the winner is declared.
The Catalans Dragons have confirmed their entry into the 2019 Challenge Cup to defend their title after reaching an undisclosed arrangement with the RFL over the requested bond to cover a likely drop in attendances should they reach the Wembley final for a second consecutive season.
Shaun Edwards, in line for the coaching job at Wigan in 2020, has suggested that should Adrian Lam be successful in 2019 he may step aside and allow the current coach to continue his tenure causing some confusion about his future at the club.