Things to look forward to in 2019 #1

A new year means a new rugby league season and, with that, there comes many things that fans of the greatest sport on earth can look forward to.

Here, Get ’em Onside gives the first five of it’s extensive list to whet the appetite of rugby league fans ahead of the big kick off at the end of this month…

Lunt’s return

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There are certain events in sport which unite all the fans and when Hull KR’s Shaun Lunt returns to the field in 2019, that will be one of those moments. After being rushed to hospital last September, Lunt was left wondering whether he would survive after being diagnosed with bacterial meningitis. Further issues with an abscess in his spinal cord and sepsis followed before the Cumbrian rake was able to return home. Thereafter, he still had regular visits from medical professionals and had to take antibiotics through an IV drip as well as more tablets than you could shake a stick at. Now, the 31-year-old former Super League winner is back with the KR squad preparing for their Super League campaign and, while it isn’t believed that Lunt will be ready for their season’s big kick off against Hull FC, he will no doubt be a beneficiary of the substantial well-wishes of the rugby league family when he returns to the pitch.

Rhinos’ resurrection and revamped ground

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2018 was a season of disappointment and change for the Rhinos. After winning the 2017 Super League Grand Final, Leeds started the season reasonably well with early victories over Warrington and St Helens away from home as well as edging at tight clash with Hull FC at Headingley. That, however, wouldn’t last and a shocking run of form saw the club sack Brian McDermott mid-season. The decision wouldn’t arrest the club’s slide towards The Qualifiers, though, and the club only just managed to survive. The arrival of legend Kevin Sinfield as the club’s Director of Rugby saw changes made and, following the culmination of the Rhinos’ season, bigger changes have occurred. Backroom staff have been shuffled, new head coach Dave Furner has arrived from the NRL and he has brought with him top quality recruits.

Trent Merrin (Penrith) and Konrad Hurrell (Gold Coast Titans) have both arrived and the pair have very recent experience of international rugby with Australia and Tonga respectively. Hurrell’s international teammate Tui Lolohea has also arrived in Super League and the club are now being touted as challengers for a top-five spot and qualification for the new play-off structure. 2019 is likely to be one of transition for Leeds as Sinfield, Furner and CEO Gary Hetherington aim to restore the club to former glories but, with the new South Stand already open and the revamped North Stand set to shortly follow, this season is one full of promise for the Rhinos.

New stadium for York

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Those of you who may have followed the fortunes of York’s two professional sports clubs will be aware of the long drawn out saga over the city’s new stadium. The best part of two decades in the planning and various suggested start and open dates passed without a spade in the ground but, alas, this summer York City Knights are set to move into a new community stadium. While the team will only play two matches there this season – Bradford Bulls and Featherstone Rovers – the optimism and excitement is palpable. The club’s return to the second tier after a lengthy absence has only served to intensify that and there is a belief that, under the stewardship of highly rated head coach James Ford and chairman Jon Flatman, the Knights are a club certainly on the up. Already boasting top quality training facilities in the city, the new stadium promises to be a huge boost for rugby league in the Minster city.

Capital presence back in SL

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For the first time since 2014, Super League rugby will be heading to the capital club after London Broncos stunned Toronto with a 4-2 victory in last season’s Million Pound Game. While many are tipping Danny Ward’s men to finish bottom and suffer an immediate return to the second tier, the Broncos upset the odds last year and will be striving to do the same this. With a young squad at their disposal – many of the players either being from London or having learned their trade in the city – the talent on show through The Qualifiers suggests that the Broncos will be able to mix it with the lesser lights in Super League. While the loss of talisman Jarrod Sammut will have been a disappointment, the arrivals of Jordan Abdull and Morgan Smith from Hull FC and Warrington respectively show that the Broncos are an attractive proposition for youngsters. The pair were highly rated at their former clubs and, in the shape of Abdull, Ward has a player with a level of Super League experience many of his squad don’t. Even if the Broncos do end up struggling and go down, the return to Super League of London can only be a good thing for the sport as a whole and there is plenty of talent in the squad who will be keen to showcase their ability at the elite level.

Trueman stepping up to the plate once more


Luke Gale’s season-ending achilles injury has probably cemented Jake Trueman’s already-strong chances of being one of Castleford’s first choice halves this season. Handed the number six jersey after being named Super League’s Young Player of the Season in 2018, the teenager will be expected to further develop and truly establish himself as the Super League star he is more than capable of being. Without Gale in the squad, much of the Tigers’ playmaking will come through the 19-year-old and his ability both to organise and play with ball in hand makes him a threatening opponent to come up against. Twenty-eight appearances last year saw the youngster score eight tries for Daryl Powell’s Tigers and, while some are suggesting that the team’s lack of recruitment against their other top Super League rivals could see them drop out of the play-off picture, Trueman’s performances will go a long way to determining Castleford’s season.

Leeds Rhinos Super League

Donaldson signs Leeds deal

Former Hull KR forward James Donaldson has signed a one-year deal with 2017 Super League champions Leeds Rhinos after a period on trial with the club.

After being surprisingly released by the Robins at the end of last season, 27-year-old Donaldson has suitably impressed new Rhinos coach Dave Furner both in training and the club’s thus-far sole pre-season friendly against Wakefield. The Cumbrian utility forward has been handed the number 25 jersey for Leeds and was understandably delighted to have secured his immediate future. “It is a really big opportunity for myself and I am looking forward to continuing to work hard to earn my spot in the team,” he told the media following his signature.

“My aim from day one has been to try and impress Dave Furner and the rest of the coaching staff here at the Rhinos. I am glad I got the opportunity to come and train with Leeds and, I would like to think that, I have taken that chance with both hands. I am looking forward to kicking on now and I am hoping to prove myself at a top team,” Donaldson added. He will be in line to feature in Leeds’ next pre-season friendly against Doncaster this weekend.

Leeds Rhinos Super League

Rhinos announce squad numbers as Walker moves up

Leeds Rhinos are expecting an improved year in 2019 after the arrival of new head coach Dave Furner and, after assessing the squad, the Australian and his staff have revealed the club’s squad numbers for the upcoming campaign – with more than one surprise.

After breaking through towards the end of 2017, teenager Jack Walker was promoted in the numbers for 2018 and have been promoted further and will swap the number 24 for the number 1 jersey for 2019, indicating that Furner believes the recently-capped England Knights man will be his first choice full-back. In turn, that has seen Ashton Golding taking the number 21 jersey and, being a player rumoured to be available to leave the club, he may not get chance to pull on the Leeds jersey next year.

Following Ryan Hall’s NRL departure as he links up with reigning champions Sydney Roosters, Walker’s fellow England Knights squad member Ash Handley has been handed the number 5 jersey. After starring as the Rhinos’ top Super League try scorer last season in the centres, the arrival of Tongan international Konrad Hurrell coupled with the imminent return from injury of captain Kallum Watkins was always likely to see the 22-year-old miss out in the centres. He will, however, start 2019 as one of the two first choice wingers and has beaten competition from Luke Briscoe for that spot, the former Featherstone flyer picking up number 24.

Walker and Handley’s England Knights teammate Mikolaj Oledzki’s continued development has been rewarded with the number 19 jersey, the first time the Gdansk-born giant has been included in the squad’s top twenty. Fellow forward Jamie Jones-Buchanan will be marking his twentieth year with the club next season and, suitably, he will be wearing 20 in what is expected to be his final season before retiring. Taking JJB’s newly-vacant number 11 will be one of Leeds’ three new NRL acquisitions, former Australian test international Trent Merrin. Newly arrived from Penrith Panthers, the 29-year-old is adept at playing in the front row but, if the numbers are to offer positional guidance, he is intended to be in the back row. Fellow new boys Tui Lolohea and Hurrell will wear the number 6 jersey – free due to Joel Moon’s retirement – and number 4 respectively.

In order for Hurrell to take 4, Liam Sutcliffe – who made his England debut against France recently – has moved down to 15. Brett Ferres moves from 19 to 16 while Dom Crosby, after making his loan move permanent from Warrington in the close season, has been handed number 17 for his first full Headingley campaign. Other changes see Anthony Mullally drop from 16 to 26, Cameron Smith promoted to 22 while youngster Callum McLelland will wear 23 following his return to rugby league after a brief stint in rugby union.

Leeds Rhinos Super League

Merrin looking forward to being part of something special after Leeds move

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After weeks of rumours and new head coach Dave Furner admitting interest in the player, Leeds Rhinos have this morning confirmed the signing of Australian forward Trent Merrin from the NRL’s Penrith Panthers on a four-year marquee player deal.

With over two hundred appearances in the NRL and having pulled on the Kangaroos jersey seven times, 29-year-old Merrin arrives in Yorkshire with a wealth of experience. Indeed, Leeds have been keen through the off-season to recruit top quality players as Furner and director of rugby Kevin Sinfield plot to revive the Rhinos’ fortunes after an inconsistent period which culminated in a second campaign in The Qualifiers in three years. Merrin had been identified as one of the players who could improve the squad and, after plenty of speculation surrounding the possible move, it seemed that the transfer had fallen through after the Australian forward looked to have turned down a move to Super League in favour of staying in the NRL.

However, the announcement was made this morning by the club and, following the departure of Mitch Garbutt to Hull KR, Merrin’s arrival will fill a front row shaped hole in 2019, although he is also more than capable of playing elsewhere in the pack. “He is an international class forward who was a regular last season for Penrith Panthers in the NRL,” Sinfield told the Rhinos’ official website. “He has an outstanding reputation in Australia for his leadership within a group and is someone who has played for a decade at the highest level of the game,” he added.

He will be joining a Leeds team who have already recruited Konrad Hurrell – also on a marquee player deal – Tui Lolohea, Callum McLelland and Dom Crosby ahead of 2019. It is still believed that the club are in the market for further recruits in their bid to return to the upper echelons of Super League, something Merrin is keen to do also. “I have done everything I possibly could in the NRL and this is a great opportunity for me to come to a great club with a fantastic culture and hopefully achieve some goals together,” he remarked. During his time in the NRL, he won both the Grand Final in 2010 and World Club Challenge in 2011 with St George Illawarra Dragons with whom he enjoyed a seven season spell.

Penrith’s official website remarked of Merrin’s off-field qualities as another positive, commenting on his work away from the pitch in promoting mental health with his #MoveOutOfYourHead campaign. Joining a club with Stevie Ward and Kallum Watkins in their ranks, both of whom have spoken publicly about their struggles, he will no doubt be an asset to both Leeds and rugby league as a whole in promoting well-being among the community. “We wish him well with his new challenge in the English Super League. Leeds has secured itself a very good man,” the Panthers’ statement added.

In bringing Merrin to Headingley, the Rhinos are believed to have beaten off competition from other NRL clubs in securing his signature, something chief executive Gary Hetherington is a statement of intent for both the club and the competition. “This is hugely significant for not just Leeds Rhinos but the Super League competition and shows the ambition of our club to compete at the very top of the game,” he noted.