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St Helens Super League

Champions docked points for salary cap breach

On the eve of the 2019 Betfred Super League season, reigning champions Wigan Warriors have been hit with a two-point deduction after being found guilty of salary cap breaches during the 2017 campaign.

The punishment means Wigan – who start their season tomorrow against big rivals St Helens – will start bottom of the table on -2 points which, while hardly insurmountable, will be an annoyance to those involved with the club. Nevertheless, the Warriors have outlined their intention to appeal the sanctions, believing that it is a “disproportionate punishment.”

An independent tribunal found the club guilty of breaches in relation to six separate payments which combined amounted to £14,700. The club claim that the breach was down to administrative errors where six small payments of between £2000 and £3000 for agents’ fees were overlooked, leaving the club over the £1.825m cap by 0.8%. The 2017 campaign saw Wigan win the Super League Grand Final but the breaches were found following the salary cap audit of that season during 2018.

“This is not an integrity or dishonesty issue, purely an administrative error by a new financial team in an exceptionally busy and disruptive circumstance,” Ian Lenagan said to the media following the confirmation of the club’s ban. This breach clearly did not affect the competitive balance of the competition in 2017 yet the immediate deduction of two points does affect the competitive balance of the competition in 2019. I take full responsibility for an admitted breach by Wigan and apologise unreservedly for the error and accept a fine is justified,” he continued.

Lenagan, though, outlined his belief that a points sanction is an extreme punishment for the breach, using the example of St Helens’ breach of roughly the same amount in 2006 when they were solely fined £18,000. Wigan outlined that, coupled with a new financial team, the breach coincided with an unprecedented number of injuries which demanded multiple salary cap administration charges and dispensation applications.

While Wigan have appealed the two-point deduction – believing that it unfairly impacts on the 2019 playing squad – they will start on -2 points when they face St Helens on Thursday evening in Super League’s season opener.

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St Helens Super League

Saints captain seals new deal

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St Helens’ hugely experienced hooker and captain James Roby has signed a new deal with the club which will take him to the end of the 2021 campaign, a deal which will see him extend his stay with the Saints to two decades with the club.

33-year-old Roby has made over 400 appearances for the 2018 Super League League Leaders’ Shield winners and won the Man of Steel in 2007. Since making his debut in 2004, the thirty-time England international has also been part of two Super League Grand Final winning teams, lifting the trophy in both 2006 and 2014. Boasting a World Club Challenge victory in 2007 as well, Roby has lifted all possibly major trophies during his time with the club.

Understandably, after extending his deal with the club he first joined in 2002, Roby was deilghted. “I have enjoyed many great years at the club and I will be doing all I can to bring more trophies in 2019 and beyond,” he told the media.

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St Helens Super League

Dream Teamer set to miss out on Saints’ opener

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Justin Holbrook has confirmed that French half-back Theo Fages is set to start in St Helens’ season opener on Thursday night ahead of last year’s top Super League points scorer Danny Richardson.

Richardson, named in last season’s Super League Dream Team, has been troubled with a groin problem in the off-season. That injury concern, however, is believed to have eased and the Englishman is instead set to miss out in part due to a tactical decision from the Saints’ Australian head coach. Confirming Richardson’s pre-season injury issue, Holbrook explained his decision regarding the two half-backs. “He’s [Richardson] fine, but Theo has different strengths. He’s a more calming type of guy while Danny is a bit more electrifying. To start the year we will likely go for that more solid start with Theo,” he told the media.

It is unlikely that Richardson will remain on the periphery for long, especially as he has been given the number 7 jersey this season. Indeed, the 22-year-old may be involved from the interchange bench against Wigan on Thursday night. Last season Fages was very much an understudy last season to Richardson and Jonny Lomax but it seems that Holbrook may be willing to give the Frenchman more of a role in 2019.

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Super League Warrington Wolves

Brown hit with serious-injury

One of Super League’s longest serving players has been hit by a season-ending injury after Warrington Wolves’ Kevin Brown was ruled out following an achilles injury sustained in training.

The 34-year-old ruptured an achilles while preparing for the upcoming Betfred Super League season, one where Warrington were expected to mount a serious challenge for silverware after near misses in both of the showpiece finals in 2018. Now, though, the veteran of hundreds of top-flight appearances will miss the entire campaign – and with it possibly his last Warrington match given that England international Gareth Widdop is set to join the club for 2020.

It hasn’t yet been confirmed but there may be the possibility for the Wolves to claim the same salary cap dispensation as Castleford with Luke Gale after their influential talisman was also ruled out for the whole campaign. Another option for Warrington is to pair Dec Patton with new arrival Blake Austin in the halves for 2019, giving the youngster the regular game-time he has been seeking.