2019 Review of the Year – Part 1 (Jan-Mar)

2019 Super League Launch - Old Trafford Thursday 24 January

The new Super League season, the first since the competition broke away once again from the RFL, started under the shadow of Wigan’s points deduction for salary cap breaches – though they were re-instated on appeal.

The reigning champions started the season away at derby rivals St Helens, who were the stand out team for much of the previous year, but failed to make it count in the play-offs.

For Saints, Lachlan Coote showed signs of what was to come with an impressive debut, while fellow new signings Kevin Naiqama and Joseph Paulo also immediately settled in as Saints ran out 22-12 winners.

January was time for the typically hopeless season predictions – both myself and Drew got Saints finishing top and winning the Grand Final, but went for Salford to finish 11th and Leeds in the top four. Championship ones were better, with Toronto predicted to run away with it, though the points deduction for Widnes affected predictions. Swinton and Dewsbury also did much better than what the predictions offered.

The host venues for the 2021 World Cup were revealed, with the Emirates Stadium a notable selection for a semi-final. Football stadiums and northern venues dominated the selection.

History was made in the first round of the Challenge Cup, as Red Star Belgrade participated for the first time, going down 38-10 to amateur club Millom.

Irish side Longhorns almost pulled off an upset against NCL Premiers Lock Lane, while Edinburgh Eagles also put up a fight in losing at Normanton Knights.

The Challenge Cup had already hit the headlines over the off-season due to the demand placed upon Toronto and Catalans to pay a bond to enter – although a deal was eventually negotiated with Catalans, the Wolfpack said no and their participation was ruled out. A new sponsor in Coral did come on board though.

After a turbulent off-season, Cougarmania returned to Keighley, though it came at the cost of a 12-point deduction, which left them hampered come the start of the League 1 season.

The Man of Steel award was reformed, with legend Ellery Hanley named as the chair of the new voting panel.

Must read January 2019

Rugby league: where even the strongest suffer

Jamie Jones-Buchanan: I’ve loved, lived and learned, now I need to leave a legacy

Referees take on the burden for a faster game

February almost saw the demise of one of the sport’s founding clubs, as Widnes came within hours of liquidation having been put in to administration by disgraced chief executive and shareholder James Rule.

Their game with Sheffield was postponed during the period of administration, before the fans rallied round to raise more than £100,000 to help save the club, eventually taken on by a consortium of local businessmen.

Warrington made an interesting signing in swooping for England rugby union international Luther Burrell, while Hull handed a chance to Fijian Ratu Naulago.

On the field, St Helens made an ominous start – making it four wins from four with a 26-4 win over Salford.

Sydney Roosters were crowned world champions as they beat Wigan 20-8 in the World Club Challenge. Brett Morris scored a hat-trick of tries for Trent Robinson’s men, with Wigan coach Adrian Lam calling for the concept to continue despite the defeat.

Marc Sneyd – who else – was the first man to score a golden point in Super League history, kicking his Hull side to a 23-22 win at Wigan, with Zak Hardaker having failed to convert a late Oliver Gildart try.

Among the favourites for promotion to the Championship, Newcastle parted company with coach Jason Payne after opening their season with defeats to Doncaster and Coventry.

Reigning Man of Steel Ben Barba saw his NRL return ended before it had even began, sacked by his new club North Queensland Cowboys and banned from registering elsewhere, while moves were also made to prevent him making a return to Super League.

Former Super League winner Brett Delaney was forced to retire through injury, having moved to Featherstone from Leeds, while a Dream Team member from 2018 in Danny Richardson turned out for Championship side Leigh on dual-registration having been frozen out at Saints.

Must read February 2019

Editor’s Column: Widnes fans rally round the club in fight for its future

Ricky Leutele explains why he turned down NRL and Super League offers to join Toronto

Expansionist Blog: Blake Austin explains how playing for Portugal came about

St Helens made it eight from eight with a win over Hull KR, while Wigan looked like finding their feet by thumping Catalans.

The Warriors though had bigger issues to worry about, with a contract (or no contract) stand off with club legend Shaun Edwards, who would end up reneging on an agreement to coach the club from 2020 and beyond.

One of the most memorable moments of the season saw Brad Dwyer kick an unlikely drop goal to be the golden point hero as Leeds beat Castleford at Headingley.

Leeds were having issues off the pitch, with the first murmurings of marquee signing Trent Merrin suffering from homesickness

Widnes parted company with Wellington Albert, Adam Tangata and Krisnan Inu, who wound up at Salford, though they had no approaches for Anthony Gelling.

Warrington-bound Gareth Widdop suffered a season ending shoulder injury, though he would make a return at the back end of the campaign. Wakefield winger Tom Johnstone wouldn’t be so lucky, an injury costing him his season.

Wakefield announced they had purchased Belle Vue ahead of its planned re-development, and they almost celebrated that with a stunning comeback at home to Warrington, which ultimately fell just short.

Noise built around the Ottawa and New York applications to join League 1, where Denis Betts returned to the game as director of rugby at Newcastle, above head coach Simon Finnigan.

There was a fuss at Rochdale, who postponed their game at home to York after the scheduled kick-off time due to high winds.

And the Great Britain Lions tour return and dates were announced – we’ll leave that there.

Must read March 2019

Drew’s views: Why have England announced their squad with no games planned?

Leeds leading the way on social media as rugby league impresses v other sports

Carolina the latest American name to be linked with rugby league

Put Super League reserve teams in League One, suggests club chairman

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