opinion Super League

Opinion: Burrell and SBW show the new-found attraction of Super League

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In the week where Warrington Wolves confirmed the signing of former England rugby union international Luther Burrell from Northampton Saints, Toronto Wolfpack are being strongly linked with a move for former NRL star and current New Zealand All Black Sonny-Bill Williams with owner David Argyle confirming that the Canadian club have approached the 33-year-old cross-code superstar.

“We would love to have him join the Wolfpack family and we will pay whatever it takes to make that happen,” Argyle told Fox Sports earlier in the week. “The excitement he would bring to the sport of rugby league in this country would be incredible,” he added, referring to the impact his arrival would bring to the sport in the UK. Indeed, Toronto are viewed as huge favourites to be playing in Super League next season and the sight of Sonny-Bill rampaging through the competition certainly would be a sight to behold.

With an array of NRL stars including Blake Austin and Konrad Hurrell arriving ahead of the 2019 Betfred Super League season and Gareth Widdop’s 2020 arrival at Warrington Wolves confirmed, the moves for Burrell and Williams suggest that the lure of Super League is growing after many years where fans felt the competition was stagnating. 

With new rule changes and high-profile moves being completed and rumoured, there is a genuine feel-good atmosphere around Super League once more whereby the most talented players in the world are seeming to look at the competition as one to venture to in their prime rather than for one final pay-day, a charge which had been often levelled at some NRL imports in the past.

The arrival of Burrell to the sport also indicates that the bleeding of talent from rugby league across codes to union may have, if not ended, dramatically slowed down. The Northampton man – who started his rugby career in Huddersfield as a league player – will join the Cheshire club at the end of the rugby union season this summer and his move to league comes at a time where he could easily have continued his career in union. Super League and rugby league, however, appear to be more appealing to these talented stars.

“I’m excited about the challenge ahead as it’s fresh for me,” 31-year-old Burrell told the media following the announcement earlier in the week. “I’ve had some great times in rugby union and I’ve had some adverse times so to have this opportunity to play rugby league and see how far I can get with a great team is exciting.”

After years where fans and former players bemoaned the lack of star players in the competition, the pendulum is now swinging in Super League’s favour. Robert Elstone has previously suggested that making stars out of our sport’s players is imperative for the future of the game – the likes of Burrell and Williams are two prime examples of possible candidates.

Super League Warrington Wolves

Wolves sign former RU international Burrell

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Warrington Wolves have today confirmed that they will sign former England rugby union international centre Luther Burrell on a deal until 2021, joining this summer following the culmination of the rugby union season.

31-year-old Burrell currently plays for Northampton Saints in the Gallagher Premiership and has fifteen England caps to his name, the last of which coming in 2016. Rumours emerged suggesting that the powerhouse centre could switch codes to league late last week and he becomes the latest big signing for Warrington following the recent acquisition of Blake Austin and the signature of Gareth Widdop from the start of next season.

The Huddersfield-born player initially played rugby league as a youngster, playing for his hometown team at under-14 and under-15 level prior to embarking on a rugby union career with Huddersfield RUFC before joining Leeds Carnegie – now Yorkshire Carnegie. Burrell has spent his entire professional career in union with over 200 senior appearances to his name but, after signing for Warrington, he couldn’t hide his excitement at the challenge that awaits him.

“I’m buzzing to get involved with rugby league and the Super League,” said Burrell. “My background is predominantly in Rugby League as I grew up in the north, in Huddersfield, surrounded by the sport and playing it at school,” he added. Steve Price, his soon-to-be head coach at the Wolves, was also delighted after signing the former England international. “He’s a quality signing, being a former England International who has played at the highest level in rugby union,” the Australian said. “He has still got a number of games left this season with Northampton, once that season is completed we look forward to getting him here and involved in our team”.

With Warrington already having two wins in as many matches to their name in the 2019 Betfred Super League season, it is no surprise that Price is looking forward to adding such a player to his ranks come mid-season and he will be hoping that the addition of Burrell will help The Wire take that final step to silverware after falling short in both showpiece finals in 2018.

It is believed that Burrell is being considered for a range of positions including his union role of centre, a position which could see him line up inside Josh Charnley, another player in the Warrington ranks with union experience after a stint with Sale Sharks. “I know him from his time in Union and I’ve been spoken to him; his message was about how great the club is and from the outside you can see it has aspirations,” Burrell remarked.

Super League Warrington Wolves

Widdop to Wire confirmed

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Warrington Wolves have today confirmed the long-speculated rumour of Gareth Widdop’s signature after announcing that the England international will join the club from St George Illawarra Dragons for the 2020 season and beyond.

The move is seen as something of a coup after The Wire completed the signing of one of the world’s best players with Halifax-born Widdop having won the NRL’s stand-off of the year award in 2017 while with Melbourne Storm. During his time with them, he won the Grand Final in 2012 as well as the World Club Challenge in 2013 before moving to St George for the 2014 season.

The 29-year-old has penned a three-year deal with the club and Warrington CEO Karl Fitzpatrick suggested the move was one of the most significant in the Super League era. “This is arguably the biggest signing in the club’s history and quite possibly in the history of Super League. Bringing in this world-class player is a major boost for the sport in this country. In 2020 Gareth will be a fantastic addition to an already formidable squad,” he told the media following the announcement.

Providing Blake Austin – who, along with Widdop, will be the Wolves’ marquee players – remains with the club for 2020, Warrington will have one of the very best half-back pairings in world rugby league – let alone Super League. Widdop has made over 200 NRL appearances with the Storm and the Dragons and it is believed that, while they have allowed him to leave despite being under contract, the Dragons were keen to keep him Down Under.

However, Widdop’s wish to play Super League before his retirement is set to be realised and it will likely be a privilege for rugby league fans on these shores to see him on a weekly basis. The man himself noted the Wolves’ ambition as one of the key reasons behind signing for the Halliwell Jones Stadium club. “I think Warrington, in terms of the club itself, has got a lot of history, is a great team and is run very well. I have a lot of mates in the team and it’s been a top club for a number of years,” he told the media. Widdop further added that his experience at the very top in both the NRL and internationally will stand him in good stead for his time in the UK: “I am hoping I can draw from my leadership and bring that to Warrington. It’s a good team with some great players in the squad already; playing in the halves it’s a key position and hopefully I can do my part for the team whatever that might be.”

Betfred Championship Championship and League One Featherstone Rovers

Rovers sign Eel King

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Championship side Featherstone Rovers have confirmed the signing of former Parramatta hooker Cameron King on a one-year deal, the club have confirmed.

King, 27, was out of contract with the NRL Eels at the end of 2018 and had been using social media in a bid to find a club for 2019 after offers were otherwise not forthcoming. Rovers’ new head coach Ryan Carr, himself also an Australian, has taken advantage of King’s situation and the Fev faithful will no doubt be excited to see what their ex-NRL man can offer the club as they look to rebuild through this season.

“I’m very excited to have Cameron joining our club for the 2019 season,” Carr told the media following the announcement of the 43-time NRL player signing with the LD Nutrition Stadium club. “He is a very talented hooker with plenty of NRL experience and will be a huge asset for us at Featherstone this year,” the Rovers head coach added. Noting his personal relationship with King, Carr outlined his confidence that the hooker – who scored the match-winning try for the Eels against Wigan in the 2011 World Club Challenge – would be a good fit for the club. “I know what a great person he is to have in a club. His work ethic and commitment are extremely professional, and he will bring great leadership both on and off the field,” he explained, continuing that “I’m very excited to be working with him and having him at our club for the upcoming season.”

Featherstone will host leading amateurs Hunslet Club Parkside on Saturday afternoon after the pair lost their opening Yorkshire Cup fixtures last weekend.