Fitzhenry wins Benji's No.6 jumper

PREMIERSHIP winger Daniel Fitzhenry has won the first round in the battle to wear injured superstar Benji Marshall's No.6 jumper for the Wests Tigers.Marshall's off-season shoulder surgery had led to speculation about who will partner Scott Prince in the halves for the NRL premiers when they take on Bradford in the World Club Challenge next month.Fitzhenry, who joined the Tigers from Parramatta as a five-eighth but played on the right wing in last year's grand final win over North Queensland, beat rivals Ben Reynolds and Liam Fulton for the job for the joint venture's trial against a combined Group Four side in Gunnedah on Friday.The squad will be trimmed to 17 before the team departs for England on Sunday.Squad: Brett Hodgson, Shannon McDonnell, Paul Whatuira, Dean Collis, Jamaal Lolesi, Daniel Fitzhenry, Scott Prince, Bryce Gibbs, Robbie Farah, John Skandalis, Chris Heighington, Anthony Laffranchi, Ben Galea. Interchange: Liam Fulton, Bronson Harrison, Sam Harris, Ryan O'Hara, Ben Reynolds, Shane Elford, Keith Galloway.

Hagan?s legacy forever linked with Johns

WITH the news this week that current Newcastle coach Michael Hagan will leave the club and take the reigns at Parramatta from 2007, it seems the claws have come out regarding the legacy Hagan will leave behind in Newcastle. This week internet forums have sprung to life over the decision by Parramatta to appoint Hagan as their replacement for Brian Smith following the Newcastle board electing not to renew Hagan?s current contract which expires at the end of 2006. Teaming with Andrew Johns for the 2001 NRL season brought immediate success with the Novocastrians overcoming the favoured Eels in the Grand Final. But reaching that level of success has been beyond Newcastle ever since. The naysayers pinpoint Hagan as the culprit; the facts however suggest a far more logical answer. Those who have written off the Knights this season because of Hagan's impending departure and 'conflict of interest' during 2006 conveniently forget the fact that every year Hagan and Newcastle?s record has lived and died by the availability of one Andrew Johns. Evaluating a coach inevitably comes back to wins on the board and premierships won. While club, player and league-wide profile development are often advertised as critical areas for a coach to improve once given the job ? the fact is no matter how much success a coach has with the club off the field - only Premiership victory and sustained success delivers job security. Having your best player available generally has a lot to do with satisfying the latter. Since taking charge of the Knights in 2001 Hagan has won a premiership (2001), reached the Finals on three occasions (2001-03) and won 53.1% of premiership games coached. The Knights may have taken the Wooden Spoon home in 2005, but the long term injury to Johns and a weakened playing roster (no Ben Kennedy, Timana Tahu, Robbie O?Davis or Matt Parsons) were at the forefront of the reasons they were awarded the infamous kitchen utensil for the first time. Without Johns the Knights don?t win - that has been proven beyond a shadow of a doubt (thanks Matthew Johns for making that saying fashionable again) and reading opinion criticising Hagan for not delivering success without Johns is bewildering. Let's look at the facts ? examining Newcastle?s fortunes with and without Andrew Johns during Michael Hagan?s tenure. 2001 ? PREMIERS.Johns available for most of season (bar knee injury that keeps him out 10 weeks but that is mid-year so Knights get good start with him in the side) and in brilliant form come finals time. Rolling past the Roosters and edging the Sharks in the lead up games they blow the Eels off the park in the Grand Final?s opening 40 minutes and take the title from 3rd position. Johns wins the Clive Churchill Medal and definitively establishes himself as the best in the game. 2002 - Knocked out of the Finals with consecutive losses after finishing 2nd on table.Johns and the Knights look set to repeat as champions with a great regular season. But when Luke Bailey's knees collide with Joey's spine in the qualifying final - it is all over bar the shouting. The Knights lose that game to the Dragons and despite pushing the Roosters in the elimination semi final bow out of the race. The first question of 'what if Johns was fit' arises. 2003 - Knocked out of the Finals in week one by Roosters.Johns leads the NSW Blues in their victorious State of Origin campaign and dominates the NRL once again. Late in the season Johns injures his neck despite playing on for a few weeks finally succumbs to the pain after leading the Knights to a 48 point first half romp against the Cowboys. He doesn't play again and the Knights limp into the Finals where they are easily defeated by the Roosters in the qualifying final. 'What Ifs' abound around Newcastle for a second year running. 2004 - 10th place missed Finals by two points.The Joey led Knights beat Panthers in Round 1, Melbourne in Round 2 and just get pipped by the Eels in Round 3 - the round Joey does his knee. In case you're wondering Penrith won the comp in 2003, Melbourne got knocked out in the semi final stage and Parramatta had just beaten the Broncos in the previous round of the 2004 premiership. A decent start to the season but without Johns in the side there is no realistic hope of a title challenge. Despite having no Joey for almost the entire season the Knights only just miss the Finals. 2005 - Wooden Spoon.A vastly weaker side than any of the Knights teams that ran around from 2002-04 and a bad start having lost their first four games is compounded when Johns breaks his jaw against the Warriors in Round 6 (a game they looked set to win before his injury). By the time Joey returns the Knights are rock bottom and no chance of making the Finals. They win 8 of their last 11 and one Andrew Johns has an awful lot to do about it. Now if Andrew Johns is fit in the 2002 and 2003 campaigns - Newcastle probably make at least one Grand Final. And you can?t deny them the possibility of making it three titles on the trot. In 2004 - he's injured for the whole season and in 2005 his relatively short term injury occurs at the wrong time for the Knights to be able to salvage their season upon his return. So is it fair to say that Hagan is a ?dud? coach because Newcastle didn't win anything in 2002 and 2003 without Johns? And is it fair to expect Hagan to have led the Knights to the Finals without the injured Johns in 2004 and 2005? Whether or not you like Hagan and Johns - surely there must be a general understanding amongst fans that when the coach of an NRL side structures his game plan he does so around his best and most influential player. That game plan only backfires if that player gets hurt at Finals time and your chances of winning the title go out the window, or if you lose him during the season which makes a playoff spot a tough, tough ask. Still whether you agree or not the above are I believe pretty much factual summations of each Newcastle season since 2001. 2006 could be another year of 'What Ifs' for the Knights but I cannot rule them out simply because their coach is leaving in 2007 as has been suggested. The fact is with Andrew Johns back in the side and a very, very good pack assembled for 2006, the Knights can and probably will challenge the more fancied teams this season. And if Joey is fit come Finals time I certainly don't want to bet against the guy. So if Michael Hagan walks away from the Knights with 2 premierships in 5 seasons at the helm - really who are any of us to say that he's not got any credibility as a coach? Not to mention the fact he would leave Newcastle as the club?s most successful premiership coach. And while I've just stated Andrew Johns is the reason for the rise and fall of the Knights in recent seasons, surely everyone doesn?t think Jack Gibson, Wayne Bennett, Tim Sheens, Clive Churchill, Ken Kearney and Norm Provan (all with at least four premierships) won simply because of their own coaching ability? The players you have, the luck you get and yes, the ability of your coach, win premierships (plus many other factors). Coaches need players like players need coaches - and if I had to pick the most important factor it would be the health of your number one player, but that hardly guarantees success. Michael Hagan will leave Newcastle with I believe a legacy of success that may have been tied to the fitness of Andrew Johns but that legacy will have been well earned for backing his number one player to lead the Knights to victory.

Hagan signs three year deal with Eels

PARRAMATTA has signed Newcastle coach Michael Hagan to a three-year contract from the beginning of the 2007 NRL season.One of the NRL's worst kept secret, Parramatta chief executive Denis Fitzgerald has confirmed the deal is done and says talks with Hagan had been going on for some time. Current Parramatta coach Brian Smith was told in November that his 10 years at the Eels' helm would not be extended beyond the 2006 season.Hagan got the same news from the Knights less than two weeks ago after informing Newcastle he had received an offer from another NRL club.

Iestyn Harris to lead the Bulls in WCC

FORMER Leeds captain Iestyn Harris has been chosen to succeed Jamie Peacock as captain of Super League Champions, Bradford Bulls. The Bulls will have a new Captain and Vice Captain when they take on NRL Champions West Tigers in next Friday?s Carnegie World Club Challenge at the Galpharm Stadium.The Bulls have appointed Iestyn Harris as Captain with Paul Deacon being made Vice Captain. Stuart Fielden will take over the role of Club Captain.The Bulls made the announcement today at the Marks & Spencer store in the Owlcotes Centre, Pudsey when they unveiled their sponsorship with the leading retailer.Speaking about the announcement of the M & S sponsorship, Bulls Chief Executive, Gareth Davies said: ?We are really pleased to have the support of the staff at the Marks & Spencer Pudsey store and look forward to developing a long-term relationship with them.?Bulls Coach Brian Noble said:?The three people I have chosen for the roles are all natural leaders and can take the club forward. Iestyn proved last year, during the difficult first part of the season that he had leadership qualities and he will show them this year. Iestyn is the Captain but we have several players within the squad who can all lead by example and I am expecting them to do just that.Iestyn Harris said today:?I am absolutely delighted to be given the role of Bradford Bulls skipper. Captaincy is something I have always enjoyed doing and I hope I can bring something new for the side and bring more success to the club over the next few years. It is a great honour and I am looking forward to the challenge.?For further information about the Bradford Bulls, contact:Stuart Duffy Tel: 01274 762315M: 07966 171991

Bulls name squad for Giants clash

ENGAGE Super League Champions, Bradford Bulls, have named a strong squad for their pre Carnegie World Club Challenge Trial game against Huddersfield Giants on Sunday at the Galpharm Stadium.Coach Brian Noble said today:?We have just returned from an intense week of training in Lanzarote and the players are looking forward to the game. It will be the first opportunity for some of the new players to impress and stake a claim for the WCC game.It is a very important game for us ahead of what will be a difficult game against Wests Tigers. My information from Australia is that Wests Tigers are taking the game very seriously, so this will give us a chance to see where we are against a very good Huddersfield side.?Squad: Michael Withers, Marcus Bai, Shontayne Hape, Ben Harris, Dave Halley, Andy Smith, Karl Pryce, Iestyn Harris, Joe Vagana, Ian Henderson, Stuart Fielden, Brad Meyers, Chris McKenna, Paul Johnson, Adam Watene, Andy Lynch, Janie Langley, Brett Ferres, Matt Cook, Matty Brooks, Ryan Atkins.For further information contact:Stuart Duffy Tel: 01274 762315M 07966 171991

Paul To Make Giants Debut V Bradford

HEAD Coach Jon Sharp has confirmed that major pre season signing Robbie Paul will partner England captain Chris Thorman in the halves on Sunday for the big pre season warm up game versus the Bulls (kick off 3pm). Sharp has named a 19 man squad but has confirmed the starting half back partners.Sharp commented "I am sure that our fans want to see Robbie in action along with the other new boys and after a great week in camp I can confirm that he starts the game alongside Chris Thorman. I have picked 19 players for this game including five of our new signings. I know that the Bulls will be strong too and am sure Stanley Gene is looking forward to his return so I'd echo the clubs views earlier in the week and say to all the supporters get down to the Galpharm on Sunday as it is a game which is very important to us in our build up to Super League XI"19 man squad to face BradfordSunday 22nd Feb, KO 3pmPaul ReillyStuart DonlanMartin AspinwallAlbert TorrensMichael De VereJames EvansChris ThormanRobbie PaulPaul MarchEorl CrabtreeWayne McDonaldPaul JacksonJon GrayshonBrad DrewSteve SnitchChris NeroPaul SmithStuart JonesStephen WildMembers of the press are reminded that Robbie Paul will be available for interview at the Powergen Challenge Cup Launch Event this lunch time at The Royal Armouries in Leeds.For any further media information please contact Stuart Sheard on 07702 023004.

St Helens vs London Skolars to do battle on Sunday!!

THE weekend is here. St Helens, Superleague's most successful club, will do battle against the up and coming London Skolars.Interest in the game has been very strong with Setanta announcing it will cover the game, 106FM have advertised the game all week and will interview Sean McGuire, CEO of St Helens and Hector McNeil, Chairman of the Skolars, tomorrow. The Irish Sun has ran articles all week including a focus on locally produced Skolars trialist Vinnie O?Dowd. The Dublin Metro also featured Vinnie.Leinster Rugby has also shown their strong support by using all their advertising channels to promote the game. It shows the two codes can work well together in Ireland.St Helens and Skolars fans will already be in Dublin or will be on their way. It is expected to draw a strong local crowd from RLIreland supporters and volunteers and hopefully some curious union and GAA fans. All in all it?s a game not to be missed!!!ST HELENS v LONDON SKOLARSSUN 22ND JAN, 2.30P.M,

Millward Responds Angrily to St Helens Statement

IAN Millward today expressed his anger and disappointment at the statement put out by the St Helens club following a lengthy mediation meeting yesterday.Millward said,"The truth of the matter is that I met the St Helens Chairman and Chief Executive yesterday with both sets of lawyers present. It was in fact a mediation meeting held prior to a full court hearing that was scheduled for later this year. The mediation meeting lasted for almost fourteen hours when many issues were discussed. At the end of the day I was getting concerned that if the court case was going to be as protracted as this then it would seriously interfere with my duties at Wigan, particularly as the lengthy hearing would be taking place during the season. I am sure Mr McManus and Mr McGuire could afford significant time but I am Head Coach at a world famous club and I could not afford that kind of time which would significantly interfere with my club duties."Millward continued,"My lawyers were certainly prepared to take my complaints forward but at the end of the day and with the Wigan club in mind, I agreed to compromise.As a result we agreed with St Helens what was an amicable and totally agreed settlement. It is true that St Helens have now made a significant contribution to my legal costs. I have made no contribution to theirs."Millward added,"What disappoints me is the terminology used by the St Helens club in their statement such as' tainted memories'. The fact is, I thoroughly enjoyed my time at St Helens and the supporters were very good to me. I also want to say that I am superbly happy at Wigan and I have had great support from my Chairman, Maurice Lindsay, with whom I have discussed this whole case. Maurice and Dave Whelan have backed me from day one but understand that by discontinuing the case I can fully concentrate on my club duties. That is what I will now concentrate on and the St Helens issue is behind me."

No compensation for Millward: St Helens vindicated

IAN Millward, the Wigan Coach, has dropped his ?150,000 claim for wrongful and unfair dismissal against his former employer St Helens. No compensation in respect of Mr Millward?s wrongful and unfair dismissal claims was paid by the Club.The Club did make a small payment to Millward?s solicitors to make a contribution towards his legal costs.St Helens had always maintained that Millward would not be entitled to a penny in compensation and was wasting his money in bringing a claim. The Club has been totally vindicated in that view.The Board of St Helens stated:?In early May 2005, we offered Ian Millward a substantial settlement in order to avoid personal embarrassment to him, to the club and to the game which would inevitably result from the public airing of the serious allegations of gross misconduct of which we subsequently found him to be guilty.?Ian rejected the club?s offer at the time and instead chose to embark on a press campaign in which he trivialised the charges against him. This campaign could have turned St Helens supporters and the sporting public against the Club and its directors. The affair was a significant ordeal for those directors and their families and they are grateful to the public for the support it has shown throughout.?The Board formed the clear view that Ian was guilty of gross misconduct and that he was acting in a manner which was significantly damaging the club. St Helens had no choice but to dismiss him.?Ian?s decision to bring a case for wrongful and unfair dismissal against the club was misconceived. The Club were advised that his claim was doomed to failure from the start and that he had no prospect of success. That is presumably why he has withdrawn his claim without receiving a penny of compensation. The club?s stance has been fully vindicated.?The fact that our memories of Ian will be tainted by his legal action is particularly unfortunate since he had been a coach to a very successful and talented team.?St Helens have the greatest respect and admiration for their keenest historic rival, Wigan. We are two great clubs in a great game and look forward to continuing one of the great sporting rivalries in a sporting manner.?The Club is looking forward to the new season and is confident that Daniel Anderson and the players will make 2006 a year of scintillating and successful rugby.?

Newtown Jets RLFC Trial Matches - Henson Park - 2006

SATURDAY, 11/02/065:00pm: Newtown Premier League v North Sydney Premier League - Henson Park3:45pm Newtown Jim Beam Cup v Asquith Jim Beam Cup - Henson Park2:00pm Roosters Jersey Flegg v North Sydney Jersey Flegg - Henson ParkSunday, 19/02/065:00pm: Newtown Premier League v Bulldogs Premier League - Henson ParkSaturday, 25/02/065:00pm: Newtown Premier League v South Sydney Premier League - Henson Park3:30pm Roosters SG Ball v South Sydney SG Ball - Henson Park2:00pm Roosters Harold Mathews v South Sydney Harold Mathews - Henson ParkSaturday, 25/03/063:00pm: Newtown Jim Beam Cup v Wentworthville Jim Beam Cup - Henson Park(This match is a curtain-raiser to the Newtown v Raiders VB Premier League competition match) Get along to all these trials at Henson Park and see how the Jets are shaping up for the 2006 season, Newtown?s 99th in Rugby League football! There will be other trial matches at away venues where the kick-off time is still to be finalised. You will receive notices with the details of these away trial matches in the near future.The full draws of the 2006 VB Premier League and Jim Beam Cup competitions will soon be made known to you as well.The VB Premier League competition commences on the week-end of 10/11/12 March 2006.The Jim Beam Cup competition will commence on the weekend of 14/15/16 April.

Johns will only play Origin if fit

CHAMPION playmaker Andrew Johns says he will do the right thing by his NRL club Newcastle and skip the State of Origin series this year if he's not 100 per cent fit.Johns only returned to training with the Knights this week after surgery in November on his right knee, which had been previously reconstructed in 2004. The 31-year-old halfback has admitted that he will have to reduce his training load and "manage" his knee if he wants to coax a few more playing years from the worn-out joint.Johns said despite his love of pulling on the blue jersey in the annual grudge series with Queensland his priority was with the Knights, where he has three years left on his contract.

Robbie says goodbye to Bulls fans

AFTER 11 years of loyal service to the club, Robbie Paul will make his final appearance for Bradford Bulls at Odsal Stadium on Friday, 27 January in a Testimonial Game against Hull Kingston Rovers. Paul, who made his debut in the 1994?95 season, will play in a Bulls side that will include guest appearances by former stars such as Henry Paul, James Lowes, Brian McDermott and Steve McNamara. Robbie Paul said?It will be great to say farewell to all at Bradford. The Bulls have been like my own family throughout my 11 years at Odsal and having Henry, Jimmy, Brian and Steve playing alongside me will add a very special feeling to what I know will be a great and emotional night. Hull KR will come prepared for a tough game and I know the Bulls are using the fixture as full preparation for the Carnegie World Club Challenge on February 3rd. I know the fans will want to come and see the former players and personally I can?t think of any better way of signing off at Odsal ? it should be a great night!? Bulls Chairman Chris Caisley said: ?Anybody who is now or who ever has been a Bulls fan or a Rugby League supporter ought to come to Robbie's Testimonial game. Robbie was the "face" of the Bulls, our "shop window" as it were, throughout the first decade of Super League. He put his heart and soul into the Club, both on and off the field of play and has been a fantastic ambassador for the Bulls, the city of Bradford and the sport of Rugby League in this Country for over 10 years. There will be a chance to not only give Robbie a proper Bulls send-off but also an opportunity to see some other Bulls legends who are supporting his Testimonial. I urge everyone to come along to Odsal on 27 January, whatever the weather, and make it a big night to remember for Robbie.?Tickets are available through the ticket office at Odsal Stadium (tel. 08701 202040) with cash turnstiles open on the night. The match kicks off at 8.00pm with turnstiles opening at 6.30pm. Admission is priced ?12 adults and ?6 concessions. The Stadium Road terrace will be closed for this match with seats in the Tetley?s Main Stand issued on a first come first served basis. The Rooley Lane Terrace (behind the posts) will only be opened if required. For further information contact:Stuart Duffy Tel: 01274 762315M: 07966 171991

Wigan Warriors unveil new away kit for 2006

WIGAN have unveiled their striking new away playing kit, which will see the Warriors wearing blue for the engage Super League XI campaign.The new 2006 playing kit has been manufactured by JJB, the club's Technical Sponsor, and will be worn for the first time in Wednesday's friendly at Leigh. The navy blue shirt, which sees a return to the colours worn when the Warriors last lifted the Challenge Cup in 2002, will feature a round neck, white sleeves and red piping. This will be worn with navy shorts and navy socks.The strip will be officially launched on Wednesday 15th February at the JJB store on Robin Park and also at the JJB Soccer Dome on Stadium Way in Wigan from 6pm, priced at ?25 for junior sizes and ?35 for adult sizes.The shirt will also go on sale that night from the two stores with first team players celebrating the launch at the Robin Park store. The kit will go on general sale on Thursday 16th February from selected JJB Stores along with Warriors World in Wigan Town Centre and online at wiganwarriors.comWigan Warriors Marketing Director Simon Collinson said:"Our home kit is on course to become a best seller and we are confident that our new blue alternative strip will follow suit."

Head stalls return, Barrett scotches rumours

ST George Illawarra halfback Mathew Head's recovery from a knee injury has been set back three weeks.The talented playmaker underwent an arthroscope last week on the knee, which forced him to miss most of the 2005 season. Head is likely to miss the Dragon's Charity Shield hit-out against South Sydney on February 18.Meanwhile Dragon's captain Trent Barrett says he has not held talks with any English Super League clubs about his future despite reports recently that had linked him with Maurice Lindsay at Wigan. In the reports, Barrett was said to be contemplating a big money move to the UK by enacting a get-out clause in his contract with the Dragons at the end of this season.

Bulls strengthen ahead of World Club Challenge

ENGAGE Super League Champions Bradford Bulls have today added to their squad ahead of next month?s Carnegie World Club Challenge with the capture of former Leeds Rhinos and Huddersfield Giants utility back, Marcus St Hilaire.St Hilaire, who is 28, has joined the club from Halifax where he had signed after being released by Huddersfield Giants at the end of last season. He will be a member of the Bulls first team squad but will not be on their 20/20 register and has signed a one year contract to play at OdsalBulls Coach Brian Noble said today:?We felt that we needed to strengthen the squad ahead of the season and we are delighted that Marcus has agreed to join us. We are getting a player who can cover all the outside back positions and who has a wealth of Super League experience behind him. What we are getting too is a player who is looking to make the most of the opportunity we have given him to prove that he is still a Super League player and it is always good to have that kind of person at the club.?Marcus St Hilaire, who jetted out to Lanzarote last Sunday to join his new team mates, is delighted with the opportunity to join the Bulls.?This is a tremendous opportunity for me to prove that I am a Super League player and there is no better club to do that at than the current Super League Champions.?In other news:BULLS TO LAUNCH SEASONengage Super League Champions, Bradford Bulls, have today announced that their Season Launch will take place on Monday January 30th at 7.00pm for 7.30pm at the Cedar Court Hotel Bradford. The event is in association with Bulls Sponsor, the Aagrah Group of Restaurants. All of the Bulls First Team Squad will be in attendance and they will be presented with their squad number and shirt for Super League XI. The Bulls new dance team will also be unveiled at the event and it will be an opportunity for Bulls supporters to meet the new players ahead of the Carnegie World Club Challenge game against Wests Tigers on February 3rd. There will be an opportunity to have your photo taken with the Super League Trophy and collect autographs at the event.Tickets Now on Sale from the Odsal Stadium Ticket Office, Tel 08701 202040 and are priced as follows: ?3 for Season Ticket Holder, ?5 for Non-Season Ticket Holders For further information contact:Stuart Duffy Tel: 01274 762315M: 07966 171991

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