Rugby League Weekly: Bad Blood, Wheelchair Thuds & Burrow Love

George Riley rounds up the week's rugby league stories
13:00, 09 Nov 2023

England have had a positive debrief following their series clean sweep over Tonga, the wheelchair game has stolen the spotlight again and Rob Burrow is channelling his inner Michael Parkinson.

You can only beat what’s in front of you and Shaun Wane’s England wiped the floor with a much-fancied but ultimately disappointing Tonga 3-0. 

The bad blood and St Helens v Wigan undercurrent to this series was odd, a narrative largely pushed by Wane and mostly shrugged off by opposite number Kristian Woolf. But do Wane’s motivational methods work? Well his team won what we expected to be a tight series with more than a little room to spare, so who are we to question it?

There was an ocean of space between England and Wales in the women’s international, 11 tries difference in fact, underlining the problem Stuart Barrow will have in progressing his side upwards to a level to compete with world champions Australia, or indeed New Zealand. A 60-0 win maintained Barrow’s 100 per cent start in the job after an equally one-sided 64-0 win over France in April. 

It’s a really tough job this one, with the women’s game having spiralled brilliantly upwards in the last few years, but still without the depth of talent at this level to fill a schedule with meaningful fixtures. It was a fantastic send off for Vicky Molyneux however, having made her England debut as a teenager 16 years ago she now retires with the sport unrecognisable in its profile, participation and public interest. 

Paying tribute to Wigan’s first female Hall of Famer, Barrow cited the development of the sport over the course of Molyneux’s career. “Over 90 players have entered the England women dressing room since she made her debut and she now leaves the squad in the best place possible with a legacy that will be admired for years to come.”


The best of the autumn internationals was left until last though as England and France renewed their Wheelchair World Cup final rivalry. And this time world champions England were felled by a fired-up France gunning for revenge. This is a genuine rivalry. And wheelchair rugby league has given us pure sporting theatre to which the public are fully invested. Fast, ferocious and vicious, the deafening metallic clanking of wheels is addictive and seeing these amateur stars given the limelight of the Leeds Arena, having done the hard yards in leisure centre gyms, was outstanding. Best still there’s a rematch, in Marseille, in a couple of weeks.

The other big story of the week saw New Zealand hand Australia their heaviest ever Test defeat in a stunning 30-0 drubbing in Hamilton. The world champions were hopeless, missing 34 tackles before half-time, with the Kiwis superior in every area of the game. It was New Zealand’s first win over the Aussies in five years and one that reminded us how good international rugby league can be when played like that.

Slightly less eye-catching was this week’s confirmation that the 2024 Betfred Championship will be structure as is is now. League One has shrunk to just nine teams  still standing, who will play out a 20-game season with a few repeat, or “loop” fixtures thrown in. It feels inconceivable that this will last into 2025, where a new amalgamated division underneath Super League feels inevitable.

Of the sides pushing to impress IMG and win next year’s Championship, Wakefield already look formidable with some stellar recruitment for a head coach with a point to prove in Daryl Powell. Points machine Lachlan Walmsley arrives from Halifax already looking Super League-ready, and owner Matt Ellis has his club shaping up for what they hope will be a very short hiatus from the game’s elite league.

York’s move for Richie Myler took a few by surprise given his continued good form at the Leeds Rhinos. But at 33, Myler needed to secure one solid last contract and he has that at the Knights where he will flourish in the Championship.


Speaking of Leeds, our friend Rob Burrow is at it again, this time releasing a series of podcasts with some of sport’s biggest names. With wife Lindsey there too, Rob again underlines his incredible place in the nation’s hearts, given how the likes of Wayne Rooney are happy to lay bare their souls. The Rooney episode features the Manchester United and England legend disclosing his toxic relationship with alcohol. Rob is genuinely stunned and humbled that he keeps getting asked to do things like this. He cannot understand it, and his approach to a life that has dealt him the cruellest hand continues to leave his friends in awe.

And how’s this for an and finally. Rob’s former teammate Kylie Leuluai may have been one of the biggest hitters ever to play Super League, but his son clearly has a little more guile. Burnley have just signed 17-year old Marley Leuluai to their Premier League ranks, and there was one very proud, and very big father alongside him in the officials photos on the club’s social media this week. The way Vincent Kompany’s side have defended this year, they could do worse than bringing big Kylie along to Turf Moor too.

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