opinion Super League

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

Embed from Getty Images

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

Embed from Getty Images

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.

North Queensland Cowboys NRL Super League

RFL to stand by Barba NRL ban

Embed from Getty Images

Late last week North Queensland Cowboys confirmed that recent signing Ben Barba has been sacked by the club, the NRL outfit terminating his deal and citing an alleged assault on his partner at a Townsville casino – a move which could see the end of his rugby league career.

Despite once welcoming him to these shores after being hit with a drugs ban during his time with Cronulla Sharks, the RFL are believed to be set to back the ban imposed by the NRL meaning that the former St Helens man could find it impossible to find another club in the thirteen-man code. “I haven’t seen the footage as yet, but if it shows violence towards a woman, really there is no debate. Ben Barba will be out of the NRL immediately and I can’t see him ever returning,” NRL CEO Todd Greenberg said to the media following the news’ emergence.

If the RFL and, in turn, Super League were to support the NRL’s stance on the full-back – last year’s Man of Steel and top try scorer – it will in all likelihood leave solely European rugby union as his only option if Barba wishes to continue a rugby career. He previously plied his trade with Toulon in France before joining St Helens in May 2017 but it may well turn out that rugby union clubs take a similar view to the NRL on his future in sport.

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.