RL Weekly: McGuire’s Mission, The Coaching Carousel & More Referee Rants

Wembley week has a special feel this year
11:00, 10 Aug 2023

Two teams are bouncing with excitement in Wembley week, three others have changed their coaching teams and one head coach has gone on holiday after delivering some home truths about the state of refereeing.

For players and staff at Leigh Leopards and Hull Kingston Rovers, this is a week like no other. Wembley week is special enough anyway, for the attention, exposure, London hotels and fanfare that few league players get to experience. So for two teams who weren’t supposed to get there, this one is extra special.

Monday’s press briefing was the usual carnage of journalists trying to find new quotes from players giving a conveyor belt of interviews, but there did feel an extra sense of 'cup fever' given that these were not the usual big-name teams preparing for another final.

To not have a Leeds Rhinos, Wigan Warriors, St Helens or Warrington Wolves at Wembley hasn’t happened since 1986 when Castleford edged out Hull KR by a single point. This is a glorious opportunity for these players to etch themselves into rugby league folklore, and you can tell they are all soaking up every drop of the Wembley build-up.


Two of the most popular interviewees at the media feeding frenzy were Leigh’s Zak Hardaker and the Rovers assistant coach Danny McGuire, former team-mates during the Leeds Rhinos’ era of dominance, now one game away from more glory elsewhere.

McGuire believes these finals are decided by what he calls a ‘Rob Burrow moment’, in reference to the iconic 2011 Grand Final try scored by his friend at Old Trafford. McGuire remains in close touch with his stricken mate, and admits that when he walks out at Wembley for the first time in eight years, he will be thinking of Burrow, with whom he won that 2015 Challenge Cup by thumping his current employers 50-0.

“Big games are all about moments,” McGuire tells The Sportsman. “There will be four or five moments in this final that will decide the game. It might be a try-saving tackle or it might need to be a piece of genius like Rob’s try in 2011.

“That was a bit of magic from nowhere that shaped the game and allowed us to win and we might need that Burrow moment. You don’t know who is going to come up with those big plays and that is what makes sport so exciting.”

If that moment comes from Leigh, then it may well come from Hardaker, revitalised at the surprise package Leopards in his latest redemption story.


Leigh was very much last-chance saloon for the enigmatic 2015 Man Of Steel, and his new-found maturity has proved a key component in this year’s stunning success for Adrian Lam’s promoted side. Relegation favourites at the start of the year, they are now genuine contenders for the double.

“I didn’t expect this when I signed, although the sky was the limit,” Hardaker explains to The Sportsman. “It was more about what can we do, while all the outside noise was about us not getting relegated.

“I’ve personally created a lot of adversity for myself so I’ve had to find a way to use it all as fuel.”

The 2023 Betfred Challenge Cup Final has stories everywhere and feels like it could be one of the most compelling watches for years.

A Wembley triple-header opening with the St Helens v Leeds women’s final and closing with the 1895 Cup Final between Halifax Panthers and Batley Bulldogs feels almost guaranteed to deliver sporting theatre.

Away from the cup spotlight there has been coaching chaos. With top choice Justin Holbrook turning Warrington down - as predicted by The Sportsman - the Wolves have opted instead for the showbiz appointment of Sam Burgess.

Sean Long was linked in the move as a potential assistant coach for Burgess but that was a made-up story. Long was sensationally sacked by the Betfred Championship leaders Featherstone Rovers on Monday, just hours before Warrington announced Burgess.

But the two remarkable pieces of news were pure coincidence, and Long was back in work within 48 hours as assistant boss at nearby Super League strugglers Wakefield Trinity. Ironically that role was vacated earlier this year by James Ford, who moved to Featherstone to work with Long as Director of Rugby. He now has Long’s job at Fev, charged with getting promotion over the line. All this make sense? No, me neither.


And with local rivals Fev and Wakefield busy, the third nearby club, Castleford Tigers, may have felt left out. So they sacked coach Andy Last following a home defeat by Huddersfield Giants that briefly saw the Tigers bottom of the table. He has now been replaced by former Cas prop Danny Ward, who has twice previously been interviewed for the job at the Mend-A-Hose Jungle without being appointed. And just to add to the soap opera, with Wakefield and Cas level on points in the relegation scrap, they face each other when battle resumes next weekend.

If you are after a battle, you won’t want to pick a fight with Paul Rowley at the moment. The Salford Red Devils boss has taken himself away for a few days in Marbella this week after an explosive tirade at the standard of officiating in the British game. The likeable Rowley - who was heavily linked with the Warrington job but never spoken to by the Wolves before the Burgess appointment - let rip after Salford’s home defeat by Saints, a seventh successive loss.

Rowley called ref Jack Smith “a disgrace” and believed the match was decided by the officials. Both he and opposite number Paul Wellens have been referred to the RFL’s compliance department, after Wellens called out Leigh forward John Asiata’s tackling technique last month.

Rowley, like Wellens, is fed up with certain aspects of rugby league right now, and the RFL to its credit has listened and may review its practices for next season. But the pair may yet be reminded that it is unwise to call out the governing body so publicly.


*18+ | BeGambleAware | Odds Subject to Change

Suggested Searches:
The Sportsman
Manchester United
Manchester City
Premier League
Sportsman HQ
72-76 Cross St
Manchester M2 4JG
We will not ask you to provide any personal information when using The Sportsman website. You may see advertisement banners on the site, and if you choose to visit those websites, you will accept the terms and conditions and privacy policy applicable to those websites. The link below directs you to our Group Privacy Policy, and our Data Protection Officer can be contacted by email at: [email protected]

All original material is Copyright © 2019 by The Sportsman Communications Ltd.
Other material is copyright their respective owners.