Rugby League Weekly: A New Dynasty, Transfer Misery & England Honesty

George Riley rounds up this week's rugby league stories
17:00, 20 Oct 2023

Wigan’s gritty Grand Final win felt like a dynasty starter for the Warriors, Leeds wounded Salford with a stunning transfer coup and England look to heal World Cup wounds against Tonga.

A Grand Final dominated in the build up by the Sam Tomkins farewell, was ultimately tight, compelling at times, but devoid of any of the electric drama offered up by our friends in Australia’s NRL. The atmosphere inside the creaking Old Trafford stadium replicated that, absorbed for a while, before dispersing quietly into the cold night. 

As an occasion it worked well, Sheffield band Reverend & The Makers were entrusted with playing the teams out onto the field with their chart hit “Heavyweight Champion of the World” and they timed this tricky assignment to perfection with a walloping rendition that brought the occasion to life. 
It was an unfortunate that a Grand Final classic did not then ensue. But for that we can credit Wigan, for whom this win not only ended bitter rivals St Helens’ stranglehold on the competition, but appeared to launch a new dynasty of their own.

Coach Matt Peet is adored by his players. In his first season Peet delivered the Betfred Challenge Cup. In his second, this Grand Final success over Catalans. Recruitment and retention has been strong, and there has been a very clear renaissance of the Wigan Way, with culture the watchword of last season under Peet, Lee Briers and Sean O’Loughlin. 
Whisper it quietly around St Helens but Wigan feel like they are on to something pretty special.

The victory set up a weekend double for Wigan who went on to beat Leeds in the Betfred Wheelchair Super League Grand Final too.

So attention turns to the international stage for the next few weeks before rugby league pauses for a well earned rest, but not before a massive domestic move in the transfer market.

Ailing Leeds Rhinos buoyed their disillusioned fans this week with a double raid on two of Salford’s best players, to leave Red Devils fans shell-shocked but the club breathing easier financially. 

This was a move that both clubs felt had to be done for very different reasons, but it also brought home the human side of professional sport with Salford’s players devastated to lose two of their most popular teammates at very short notice. 

“This is devastating,” said their double Player of the Year, full-back Ryan Brierley.

“This is the shit side of sport, not just losing players but losing best mates.”

The club needs that money to plug a few holes but fans will demand a big-name signing in return to avoid an anxious winter ahead of the 2024 campaign.


For Leeds it is not only a brilliant double acquisition, but an excellently-timed statement of intent to their increasingly disillusioned fan base after a mess of a season. 

Interestingly Leeds this week unveiled a brand new home shirt in predominantly white, a bold break from the traditional blue and amber that instead is retained only as trim on the sleeves. 
The club moved to highlight past white kits to carry favour with any disgruntled fans, but in truth those kits were always the away jerseys.
My understanding is that this move is in keeping with the “big city” focus of the sport’s new management giant IMG, with the Rhinos moving to align themselves more closely with the city’s most famous sporting export Leeds United. 

Shaun Wane and Kristian Woolf greeted the media this week ahead of an eagerly-anticipated three-match international series, starting at Woolf’s former club St Helens on Sunday.

Wane was grilled on the many exclusions from his squad, and on just how injured some of those players were. It did sound like some of those declared unavailable, not least Jonny Lomax, may now be a long way from Wane’s thinking going forward. 

This series represents an opportunity for both nations to bury the disappointment of their shortcomings at last year’s World Cup. Big things were expected of the host nation but England failed to reach the final. Tonga, and their plethora of big-name NRL stars, fell at the quarter-final stage to eventual runners up Samoa.

So what represents success in this series? A question The Sportsman put to both head coaches.

“There are a few England standards that we want to be about,” Wane told us.

“A few are personal things that we have discussed as players and as staff. If I see them then we have a chance of getting success in the game. These are not major technical things. It’s just effort and things like that. I want to see a team which is passionate and proud to represent England 

“We fell short at the World Cup and we have to improve. We will have to improve again to beat a talented team.”

For Woolf, and Tonga, it’s about showing England and the world how good they really are.

“We were disappointed with our World Cup, not just the end result and the game against Samoa,” Woolf told The Sportsman.

“We have come over here because we want to challenge ourselves and get a little bit uncomfortable. 

“We want to make up for the World Cup. We want to show that we can come to this part of the world and be at our best over three games and really show what we are capable of. 

“I know that if we do that we will be right in every game and giving ourselves a really good chance of winning every game as well.”

England and Tonga kick off their three-match series at St Helens this Sunday.

england vs tonga odds*

*18+ | BeGambleAware | Odds Subject To Change

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