RL Weekly: Wembley Shivers, Transfer Targets & Lenagan’s Legacy

There's interest in Brodie Croft...
17:00, 21 Jul 2023

Adrian Lam this week admitted his Leigh Leopards have been on an “unbelievable journey” as they prepare to face Super League champions St Helens for a place in the Betfred Challenge Cup Final.

The Leopards are without doubt the story of 2023. Tipped for immediate relegation back to the Championship, instead the Leopards are second in the league and 80 minutes from Wembley. The target in that dressing room at the start of the year was a top-six finish. That has now changed. There is a very real chance that Leigh could win something. But this weekend - live on the BBC against the mighty Saints with Wembley almost visible - is the acid test.

Players and coaches talk of the heartache of losing finals, but in reality the semi-final is the worst game you can ever lose. Nobody remembers a losing semi-finalist, and the missed opportunity to experience the Cup Final limelight can linger long and painfully for those who get so close.


Jack Welsby acknowledged he was rolling out a cliché this week when the Saints and England full-back told The Last Tackle that the chance to play at a packed out Wembley was “every kid’s dream”. But he’s right, and it’s a cliché for a reason.

An honest, working class, minority sport that rugby league - like it or not - exists as, does not offer up many opportunities like this in a player’s career. So even for successful players like Welsby at successful clubs like Saints, these games are special. Every single time.

But do Leigh have a shot at toppling Saints? You bet they do.

Saints may be showing signs that their engine is belatedly starting to purr, but the Leopards are the most dangerous side around right now. They play with no fear because, quite simply, they have nothing to be afraid of.
Nobody expected this, and their flamboyant millionaire owner Derek Beaumont is loving it. Take out key Saints pair James Roby and Mark Percival who miss the game, and Leigh’s chances increase further.

With that game taking the headlines, Wigan and Hull KR can almost quietly go about their business in the other semi, with the Warriors big favourites against a Rovers side who fell at this hurdle last year. Rovers know this is a chance they need to take, but much will depend on their worrying injury list, with a host of players only “touch and go” to make it according to boss Willie Peters this week.

It’s a special weekend for rugby league with the women’s semis pitting St Helens against York and Wigan against Leeds, and the best of the Betfred Championship seeking a Wembley carrot too in the last four of the 1895 Cup.

These are arguably even more atmospheric occasions than the Challenge Cup semis, given that the clubs involved are far less used to the big-match spotlight.

Grand Final odds with Betfred*

For London and Halifax, who contest the first semi-final on Saturday, and York and Batley, who meet on Sunday, this is a chance for a day out with the fans at Wembley that simply doesn’t come around much anymore. This tournament, only established in 2019, offers up a Cup Final incentive to clubs that would otherwise not have one.

This year in particular we are bound to have a good story, with London having not appeared at the national stadium since their famous Challenge Cup Final defeat to Leeds in 1999, and five times Challenge Cup winners Halifax having last tasted the Wembley buzz in 1988

Both of this weekend’s 1895 semis will be streamed live on the RFL’s Our League app too, which is especially handy news for those unable to get to London on another weekend of train strikes.

While clubs not involved in semi-final weekend get the chance for a mini-break away, those upstairs remain focused on sorting out recruitment and retention ahead of an August 4 deadline to add any new players.

Salford will no doubt be looking to fend off the vultures from their high-quality squad after a surprise downturn in form that has brought five defeats on the spin.

There has already been interest from Super League and the NRL in the Red Devils’ star names and the club’s resolve may now be tested again before the end of the month.


Star man Brodie Croft, the reigning Steve Prescott Man Of Steel, is the prize asset, with Wests Tigers confident of making a move to bring the stand-off back to the NRL. Croft only agreed a seven-year contract earlier this year, but it does contain a buy-out clause that I’m told the Tigers are willing to meet.

“He has been discussed and there’s a lot of halves being discussed that we are looking at both here and in England,” said Wests boss Tim Sheens this week.

“We want an experienced head, we do need an organiser who can run the game for us”

England new boy Tyler Dupree has already had a transfer request rejected following interest from Hull KR and Wigan, and I now understand full-back Ryan Brierley is drawing admiring glances from Super League rivals.

The 31-year-old is in the form of his life, and arguably the stand out full-back in Super League right now. I am aware of at least two Super League clubs who are contemplating testing the Red Devils’ resolve with an offer for their crowd favourite, who is being tipped for an England call-up.

Warrington have snapped up forward Jordan Crowther from Wakefield until the end of the season but Trinity did move to extend the contract of captain Matty Ashurst for a further year, while Wigan have also nailed down popular prop Kaide Ellis to a new long-term deal having already completed the eye-catching capture of versatile Catalans back Adam Keighran for next year.

Speaking of Wigan, the big news this week has seen the club confirm Ian Lenagan is to step down as chairman later this year.

It will bring an end to 16 years of Lenagan family ownership of the club, with Mike Danson set to become the new sole owner and Professor Chris Brookes becoming chairman. Lenagan is a Wigan stalwart who bought the club from

Dave Whelan in 2007, overseeing four Grand Final wins, three League Leaders’ Shields, three Challenge Cups and a World Club Challenge.

In announcing the news, Wigan chief executive Kris Radlinski thanked Lenagan for personally mentoring him “through the difficult transitional period of life after sport.”

Wigan is a proud club, built on and developed through its robust and honest culture. That comes from the very top, and Lenagan’s presence will be missed.

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