RL Weekly: Brodie Bonus, Captaincy Clarity And Cup Fever

This week saw Salford Red Devils' Brodie Croft sign the longest contract in Betfred Super League history
10:00, 10 Feb 2023

The importance of a captain and the value of a contract - two big talking points thrown up in a week that saw rugby league back with a bang. 

As Featherstone Rovers justified their status as favourites for promotion to the Betfred Super League with a thumping 50-0 opening round win, the teams already up there have been making headlines of their own.

None more so than Salford, with their extraordinary Chelsea-esque long-term deal to make playmaker Brodie Croft their marquee man until 2030 on the longest contract in Super League history.


The reigning Steve Prescott Man of Steel was the architect of the Red Devils run to the playoff semi-finals last season and his historic new deal ensures Salford can’t lose him without huge financial gain. His rebirth has been wonderful to watch, labelled a “lost soul” by Paul Rowley when the head coach scooped Croft up from the NRL scrapheap and offered up a chance to prove his doubters wrong that has been taken with both hands. 

Salford are not cash-rich and operate on a tight budget, much to Rowley’s continued frustration as he seeks to build a squad capable of taking that extra step to be genuine silverware contenders. But regardless of finances, the key to taking that step was to keep this team together, and there was a real chance that it could break up over the winter. 

Key men Croft and Ryan Brierley, plus others including Tim Lafai, were heading into the final year of their contracts and could have been lost for nothing at the end of the season. Selling them before this season started had to be an option therefore, but Rowley made it quite clear that he himself would only commit longer term if this side was kept together. Both Croft and Brierley have now been tied down, allowing Rowley to set about plotting another season of perhaps unexpected success.


Over at Leeds meanwhile, the Grand Finalists have decided they don’t need a club captain anymore. For a club boasting iconic leaders like Kevin Sinfield, it seems a very odd move, but with professional sides opting more and more for “leadership groups” is the appointment of a captain really much more than a title these days? 

Sinfield was the epitome of a leader who would be the go-to guy in the heat of battle, and the face and voice of the club off the pitch. But in truth there was a big band of brothers behind him, genuine leaders like Jamie Peacock, Kylie Leuluai, Danny McGuire, Jamie Jones-Buchanan. And it is testament to the current Rhinos squad that Smith feels that kind of strength in number negates the obvious need for a traditional leader.

“Just looking at our club’s history there have been many examples of great leaders within Leeds teams who have not been captain,” Smith says. 

Last year’s skipper Kruise Leeming found himself on the bench at the end of last season, and Smith feels this approach offers him greater flexibility. It begs a wider question across sport - do teams really need a captain?

While the new Betfred Super League season launched with a bang in Manchester this week, the Championship season is already up and running. 

Sean Long could not have wished for a better start in his first competitive game as a head coach. Known as a player for his stylish, defence-destroying attacking flair, it has been building an unbreakable defence that has been the former Great Britain scrum-half’s priority this winter. 

He got both in a 50-0 opening-round drubbing of newly promoted Keighley on Monday night to underline why Rovers are widely expected to be the team to beat this year. It also hinted that Keighley, for whom former Super League Man of Steel Luke Gale was anonymous, could have a very difficult year.


This weekend sees the Betfred Challenge Cup take centre stage with The Sportsman broadcasting the pick of the bunch as local rivals Wigan St Pats lock horns with Ince Rose Bridge. This is the kind of fixture that made me fall in love with rugby league and one I cannot wait to commentate on, as two great community clubs bid for a trip to Workington in round two.

On a much more solemn note, rugby league this week lost one of its journalistic greats.

Ian Laybourn was a hugely popular and respected rugby league writer, having covered the game he loved for almost all of his adult life, and with real distinction and faultless judgement as correspondent with the Press Association. 

His death, so soon after a retirement that was so richly deserved and eagerly anticipated, feels unspeakably cruel. Ian was a brilliant colleague, admired by fellow journalists, players and coaches throughout the sport. But most importantly, he was a thoroughly good human being. Helpful, considerate, engaging, empathetic, funny, thoughtful. A lovely man who will be so sadly missed.

Salford Red Devils Are 3/1 To Finish In The Top 6 With Betfred*

*18+ | BeGambleAware | Odds Subject To Change

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