RL Weekly: Phantom Punches, Magic Moments & Burrow’s Battle

St Helens win over Leeds Rhinos at Headingley raised this week’s most controversial talking point
13:00, 01 Jun 2023

Another week, another cheat storm, but thankfully enough sensational action to drown out the dissenting voices. 

More on Magic Weekend, Summer Bash and Origin in a moment, but it was last weekend’s thrilling Golden Point win for champions St Helens at Headingley that has thrown up this week’s most controversial talking point. 

The game again demonstrated the drama of the Golden Point, with Sky Sports recording one of its highest viewing nights of the rugby league season as Lewis Dodd slotted over the winning drop goal – like it or loathe it, much like penalties in football, for pure theatre it works.


The controversy however happened earlier, as Leeds were reduced to 12 men when James McDonnell was sent off for punching a visibly bloodied Jonny Lomax. Yet in an extraordinary turn of events, the Rhinos man emerged from his disciplinary hearing with a two-match ban overturned after the panel admitted that no punch was apparent on any footage available. 

Worst still for Saints, the panel ruled that England international Lomax “was injured and bleeding heavily before the incident.” So what on earth happened? 

It is pretty rare to see rugby league trending on social media, and sadly when it does it tends to be for the wrong reasons. “Rugby league” and “Lomax” have both trended this week, with some fans thinking Lomax conned the officials into believing he had been punched, with a rash red card having then been administered as a reaction to the injury. The panel’s appeal verdict itself stated that the touch judge who made the call “may have been genuinely mistaken”. 

All this prompted a huge debate amongst fans this week, some alleging unsportsmanlike conduct from Lomax, the usual pile on to match officials, and many Leeds fans wanting some form of retrospective compensation for going on to lose the game. 

The latter of course would never happen, the nature of sport is taking the rough with the smooth, and Saints may well have won this game in any case. The referee in question, Liam Moore, is one of the sport’s top officials and has taken the controversy in his stride. 

He confirmed to me this week that the decision was made entirely from the touch judge’s report that he had seen a punch to the head. Having received that information, Moore had no option but to produce an automatic red card. How the tough judge saw a punch that never happened is something only he can explain. 

What is for certain is that Lomax will receive some pretty hostile treatment when the two sides next meet. The bad news for Saints’ opponents however is that their champion players usually thrive off this.

Moore was in fact lucky enough to be involved in the two best games of the Betfred Super League weekend, as video referee at Salford Red Devils’ entertaining home win over Hull FC. Talk of the Salford Stadium was Tyler Dupree who, having seen his transfer request rejected, produced a powerful display that will only raise his value higher. 

Hull boss Tony Smith was far happier with his side’s performance than he was when witnessing a humiliation to the same opponents earlier this season. His side just didn’t execute. 

Interestingly, Smith also told me afterwards that it was more of a struggle as coach of a Hull side to attract the best players to move there, having enjoyed such rich success at Leeds and Warrington Wolves where he was able to bring in players left right and centre without them having to relocate. 

So it’s on to Newcastle for Magic Weekend, where the RFL will be confident of a more successful event than was enjoyed by the Championship sides at last weekend’s Summer Bash in York. 

These special weekends are both under threat in the brave new world of IMG who are keen to see the back of them. But the clubs love them, indeed Super League clubs have already rejected IMG’s proposal to bin next year’s Magic – the first rally back against the game’s new decision makers. But Summer Bash was a big disappointment, with eight games over two days drawing a total gate of just 6,741 and leaving the RFL with a sizable financial loss in getting the weekend on.

I travelled into the venue on the Saturday afternoon and you would not have known there was a big event on, in fact all of the traffic around York was at York Races, taking place unfortunately at the same time. Again, it was the clubs who were desperate to get this event on, where I’m told the RFL would have been more than happy not to bother. The concept seemed to work okay while at Blackpool from 2015-19, but has felt like more of a burden on both calendar and resources since.  

There should be more hope for Magic however. Newcastle offers a terrific location for sport, the weather will help, and the fixtures are appetising. Crucially, Sky Sports love Magic. The broadcaster can set up camp at St James’ and host the round of fixtures with relative ease of cost and resources in comparison to what would go into hosting each game individually at different venues. For this reason alone, with that broadcast deal also in the balance, Magic could yet be here to stay.


The players too should all be fired up to put on a show at Magic fresh from watching an enthralling first Origin match Down Under. The Aussies may have adopted our Magic concept into their calendar, but how we would love to be able to produce a domestic series like Origin. Yorkshire v Lancashire was tried and scrapped, and in truth was not in the same stratosphere as a Queensland v New South Wales. But with the international game struggling so badly, surely there is scope to reintroduce some kind of Origin series into the British game once more. 

It was great to catch up with Rob Burrow this week at his parents’ home in Pontefract. As friends we try and check in and spend time with Rob monthly at least, although he’s become such a media tart recently that it’s been tough to squeeze us in! Contrary to some awful disinformation on social media over the weekend, Rob is in stable health and fine form. 

MND is a devastating disease and it has been pretty horrifying to witness first hand what it has done to my friend. But rest assured he is still razor sharp mentally, good company, and very funny. He is just completely trapped by this brutal illness. A large part of this latest visit was spent recalling with great humour Rob’s headbutt on Jake Connor in his final year in 2017. The little man actually had a far worse disciplinary record than you may realise.

And a final word this week for another rugby league great whom the sport is rallying around. St Helens’ treble-winning coach Daniel Anderson has been left a quadriplegic after a horrendous bodysurfing accident in the sea in New South Wales. Current Saints coach Paul Wellens led the tributes to his old boss this week, revealing that even in his current plight Anderson remains in head coach mode.

“I was speaking to Daniel on the phone about the stuff he’s going through but he was more interested in trying to help me and talk about coaching. It’s a real sign of him as a man.”

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