There was sad news this week with the confirmation that Manu Vatuvei has had to retire from the sport after a number of injury setbacks.
International Rugby League, NRL and Super League News
St Helens have been installed as the clear favourites to win the Challenge Cup after they thrashed Wakefield to power through to the semi-finals on Saturday. The Super League leaders were at their majestic best in the first half of a 48-10 triumph at Lachlan Coote, Tommy Makinson, Morgan Knowles, and Regan Grace all scored. Further tries from Zeb Taia, Mark Percival, Jonny Lomax and Kevin Naiqama after the break wrapped up a comprehensive victory. They have won this trophy 12 times previously and they are now odds-on to make it 13 after enjoying such a strong season on all fronts.
Super League and Betfred have today announced the biggest commercial deal in the history of the competition by extending their partnership for a further two seasons.
This weekend marked a key moment in the history of Super League, with Rugby League fans turning out in force at Nou Camp, Barcelona to break the Betfred Super League attendance record.
St Helens have not been successful in the Challenge Cup since they won the competition for the third consecutive year in 2008, however, the bookmakers make them the 3/1 favourites to lift the trophy at Wembley in August.
The Super League Magic Weekend has developed into an integral part of British rugby over recent times and Anfield, home of top Premier League football club Liverpool FC, takes over hosting duties this year.
Six rugby league matches packed into the late May Bank Holiday weekend (Saturday 25 and Sunday 26) come thick and fast. But who is playing who and when during Magic Weekend 2019? Let's take a look.
Wakefield Trinity v Catalans Dragons (Saturday, 14:00)
Perpignan based Catalans can use their maiden Challenge Cup triumph last year as a springboard for greater success. Ex-England and Bradford Bulls boss Steve McNamara has done a great job since joining the French outfit and his side open Magic Weekend with a fixture against Wakefield Trinity.
Wakey have Scotland half-back Danny Brough in fine form this season, both assisting tries and kicking plenty of points. Full back Sam Tomkins was an eye-catching signing for Catalans from Wigan, meanwhile, and he's sure to have added plenty to their ranks.
Hull FC v Huddersfield Giants (16:30)
A Yorkshire derby is second up on Magic Weekend as Hull FC of the old East Riding tackle Western opposition in Huddersfield. The Giants haven't started the season that well, but Hull are already putting forward their claims of a playoff place.
Marc Sneyd remains a very handy player for them among the backs. Huddersfield, meanwhile, could well be missing the aforementioned Brough from their ranks, as well as retired Australian forward duo Ryan Hinchcliffe and Tom Symonds.
Wigan Warriors v Warrington Wolves (19:00)
It's only fair to have a Red Rose derby as well as a White one on Magic Weekend. Two Lancashire sides do battle in a repeat of the 2018 Grand Final as Wigan face rivals Warrington once again.
Warriors do not look the same proposition without long-serving manager Shaun Wane in the dugout though. They are off the pace in the running for the League Leaders' Shield and, according to the latest rugby league odds with bet365, are 33/1 to finish the regular season top.
Wolves are 11/8 second-favourites for that honour, however, and equally fancied with St Helens in the market on the Grand Final to go one better. Josh Charnley has come back to haunt Wigan more than once since joining Warrington and the prolific try scorer could do so again here.
Salford Red Devils v Hull KR (Sunday, 13:00)
Day two of the Magic Weekend begins with what looks to all intents and purposes like a midtable clash between Salford and Hull Kingston Rovers. Loose forward pair Weller Hauraki and Ryan Lannon left the Red Devils to join KR for this season.
That makes for an interesting subplot among the packs on show in this fixture. KR have also made some international signings too with halfback Josh Drinkwater arriving from Catalans and Kane Linnett coming in from North Queensland.
Leeds Rhinos v London Broncos (15:30)
This fixture pits two sides that are struggling and have made poor starts to their Super League campaigns. Memories of Leeds doing the treble in 2015 seem somewhat distant now, but their Magic Weekend opposition are top-flight newcomers the Broncos.
Rhinos come up against a side which after the first 10 games have conceded the most points and score the fewest. Only the side that finishes bottom of Super League after the regular season will be directly relegated and both they and London will hope to avoid the drop.
St Helens v Castleford Tigers (18:00)
Closing out Magic Weekend 2019 are the regular season favourites Saints against the Tigers. Both of these teams were finished in the top three of last year's Super League, but lost in the playoff semi-finals.
St Helens are leading contenders again this term, but have lost the 2018 Man of Steel and Australia back Ben Barba, although did draft in Lachlan Coote from North Queensland to cover this. Paul McShane and Samoa back Pete Mata'utia have been creating tries aplenty for Castleford during the first few months of this season though, and this promises to be another absorbing game of rugby.
At the start of any league, regardless of what sport it may be, early predictions are made on how the season will shape up. The big talking points often revolve around who will be made champions and who be relegated with teams celebrated or written off before a ball has even been kicked. Saturday’s Super League opener was a great example of this as Wakefield Trinity travelled to West London to take on the supposedly lowly London Broncos.
Write the Warrington Wolves off at your peril. It was a case of close but no cigar for Steve Price’s side in 2018 as the Wire fell at the final hurdle once again. Reaching the Grand Final was an achievement in itself though after a difficult start to the calendar year and Price can take Warrington to the Super League summit with a full year of experience now under his belt.
There’s a lot of talk in recent weeks about the marquee signing and the possibility of the Super League extending its use. Chief executive Robert Elstone said that clubs are interested in doing so, with a number of them open to discussion. However, as we all know, all clubs need to ratify the decision, and that’s where we may hit a stumbling block or two.
On 31st January, the Super League will get back underway for a new season when St Helens and Wigan clash at the Totally Wicked Stadium. It is in, fact, a clash between the two favourites for the Grand Final.