Leeds defeat Wakefield in Boxing Day clash

LEEDS Rhinos' preparations for Super League XI got off to a solid start with a 42-18 victory against Wakefield Trinity Wildcats.Youngsters Ashley Gibson and Jordan Tansey both crossed twice as a new-look Rhinos outfit made fewer errors than their Yorkshire rivals in this festive friendly.Leeds' assistant coach Brian McDermott handed debuts to overseas signings Scott Donald and Mark O'Neill while Nathan McAvoy and Shane Millard also made their first appearances for Leeds.But it was lively Wakefield hooker David March who shone during the early exchanges, scooting over from close range to give the visitors a brief lead and then threatening the line on two more occasions.The Rhinos, who will be determined to make up for both Challenge Cup and Grand Final disappointments in 2005, soon kicked into life.Danny McGuire, making his return from injury after missing Great Britain's Gillette Tri Nations campaign, combined with Willie Poching to send Ryan Bailey diving over to level the scores before the hosts cut loose with some inventive attacking rugby.The afternoon's biggest cheer came for O'Neill - captain of Australia's NRL champions Wests Tigers in 2005 - when he made his introduction from the bench midway through the first half.He lasted only four minutes but produced two huge tackles and created enough space to allow Donald to scorch down the right flank and send centre Gibson clear.Gibson got his second within five minutes when McGuire's bomb was fumbled before Donald registered his first touchdown on English soil when he squeezed over in the corner.McGuire's superb interplay with Lee Smith saw Tansey left with a clear route to the line and the Rhinos continued after the break when Danny Williams crossed after collecting Carl Ablett's smart ball.Former Leeds forward Jamie Field touched down for Wakefield before McAvoy and Tansey's second completed the Leeds rout and although Paul White grabbed a late consolation, this game was never about the result.Both clubs are less than a month into their pre-season training schedules and both will take heart from what they saw ahead of the new campaign. - - - - -Thanks to www.superleague.co.uk for this news.

Peachey debuts in Widnes surprise win

STEVE McCormack got his Widnes career off to a winning start as the relegated Vikings overcame their engage Super League neighbours Warrington Wolves 24-18 at Halton Stadium.Two tries from Vikings second row Paul Alcock put the seal on victory as a side featuring 11 debutants - including Australian full-back David Peachey - secured bragging rights over their arch-rivals.New signings Bob Beswick, Gavin Dodd and Mick Nanyn also got on the scoresheet for the Vikings in a competitive clash.Widnes' first try came after Wolves captain Lee Briers sent a loose pass to the ground on the left flank. Beswick was the quickest to react and outpaced the Warrington defenders to touch down.Wolves hit back 10 minutes later through former Vikings winger Richie Barnett, who finished off a smart Warrington counter-attack.Widnes replied straight away through pacey wing man Dodd, who latched onto another dropped ball from the Warrington backs to score and burly centre Nanyn added the extras.Barnett sneaked in in the corner for his second to bring the Wolves back within two points just before the break and they went ahead seven minutes into the second period with a well-worked try from Chris Riley.In a real see-saw affair, Nanyn got on the end of Mark Smith's neat cut-out pass to power over and swing the advantage once again. Nanyn converted to make the scoreline 16-12 but the Wolves put themselves back in the frame through Mike Wainwright's 61st-minute effort, with Chris Bridge converting.But resilient Widnes kept persevering and they got the try they were searching for through youngster Alcock, who then added another soon after to settle the match. - - - - -Thanks to www.superleague.co.uk for this news.

Matterson coaches Castleford to first win

NEWLY-PROMOTED Castleford overcame spirited resistance from local rivals Featherstone to comfortably secure a 28-4 win in Australian coach Terry Matterson's first match in charge.The Tigers, who fielded only seven first-team players, took a 12-0 lead with two tries shortly before half-time.Featherstone defended superbly to soak up pressure before Tigers stand-off Andy Kain darted over in the 30th minute.Featherstone's best first-half attacking moves were spoiled by handling errors and they fell further behind eight minutes later when scrum half Paul Handforth chased his own kick to score and Richard Fletcher added the second of his three goals.Featherstone, who were relegated to National League Two last season, continued to battle gamely but Castleford sealed victory with further touchdowns from Jack Goodacre, Michael Shenton and Kain, who kicked one goal.Featherstone's only reply was a late try from Wayne Sutcliffe.Castleford's Matt Whitaker and Featherstone's Jim Carlton were sin-binned after a 52nd-minute altercation. Featherstone's Gavin Swinson and Sutcliffe were sin-binned in other incidents.- - - - -Thanks to www.superleague.co.uk for this news.

Gower apologises

EMBATTLED Penrith skipper Craig Gower has "unreservedly" apologised to rugby league legend Wayne Pearce's family as his NRL club prepares to consider his immediate future.Gower has finally broken his silence over allegations that emerged after his appearance at last week's Jack Newton Celebrity Golf Classic at Peregian Waters. The most serious claim was that a drunk Gower groped Pearce's 17-year-old daughter Tatum at the event's after-party at the Twin Waters Resort.Penrith Chief Executive Glenn Matthews has confirmed Gower could be fined up to a quarter of his annual salary - around $100,000 - when his fate is decided at a Panthers board meeting.

League supporting national Harmony Day

THE NRL has announced that next year's March 17 clash between the Bulldogs and premiers Wests Tigers at Telstra Stadium will be league's Harmony Day game.The NRL joins the Australian Government, major businesses and other major Australian sports in asking all Australians to support the country's national diversity and to send a clear message against racism. While Harmony Day takes place on March 21, the NRL match will be played on March 17.NRL players will take part in promotions in the lead up to and during Harmony Day itself as well as staging a special children's coaching clinic on March 21 itself.

Top 25 players of 2005

SEASON 2005 saw the Wests Tigers win the first Premiership by a joint venture club in the history of the game, New Zealand knock Australia off their perch and become the new Tri Nations champions and NSW recovering from a heartbreaking Game I loss to dominate Queensland in the State of Origin series. So who are the Top 25 players from the season just past? NSC delivers the verdict based on NRL, Test and Origin performances in 2005*. Counting down from #25 to #1 26. Dallas JOHNSON, Storm & Cameron SMITH, Storm/QLD. Could not split the Melbourne pair. Johnson is a clone of defensive weapons Trevor Gillmeister and Dean Lance, while Smith proved in season 2005 he is the best Queensland hooker since Steve Walters. (Yes it is now a Top 26 but these two demanded selection) 25. Aaron PAYNE, Cowboys. Absolute bolter from the clouds on this list but every week he was vital to the style of football the Cowboys showed us in 2005. Rarely gets noticed but has tremendous attacking instincts from dummy half and has adapted to the workload in the centre of the ruck despite his smaller frame. 24. Ty WILLIAMS, Cowboys/QLD. Scored some of the most memorable (and controversial) tries of 2005 for the Cowboys and Queensland. Had a great year on the flank but could be even better if switched to the centres in 2006. 23. Benji MARSHALL, Tigers/New Zealand. Setting up That Try in the Grand Final alone is a good enough reason to make this list. But throw in his step/step/step/pass on That Other Try against Cronulla and his touch of genius for The Other Other Try in the Anzac Test and there are two more good ones. 22. Matthew KING, Storm/NSW/Australia. Few will forget his barnstorming State of Origin Series on the wing for NSW but his quality performances year round earned him this spot in the rankings and recognition as a fine attacking three-quarter. 21. Mark GASNIER, Dragons/NSW/Australia. When Gasnier brought his A Game there was no defender who could shut him down on his favoured right hand edge. Watching Gasnier in 2005 made it easy to believe his Uncle Reg more than lived up to the Immortal tag. 20. Robbie FARAH, Tigers. Came along in leaps and bounds during 2005 and is developing into an incredibly skillful hooker and accurately drawing comparisons with Benny Elias. 19. Nathan CAYLESS, Eels/New Zealand. Quietly put together his best season since making the grade in 1997. Shrugged off injuries and lead his Parramatta team to the Minor Premiership with superb go-forward each week. 18. Stacey JONES, Warriors/New Zealand. New Zealand would not have won the Tri Nations had the little halfback not come out of a premature international retirement and commit to play for New Zealand coach Brian McClennan. His NRL form was so good that his move to France is sadly just as premature as that International retirement was. 17. Matthew BOWEN, Cowboys/QLD. Dynamic for most of the season for the Cowboys but lacked the kind of consistency needed to force his way into the Top 10. Stole Origin I with a memorable intercept and thrilled crowds with his natural attacking skills and breakaway speed. 16. Luke BAILEY, Dragons/NSW. Bailey will take over from the next man on the list as the NRL's most consistent prop when the latter retires but he came very close to taking the crown in 2005. Arguably the finest front rower from the Illawarra region to play in the top grade since Craig Young. 15. Shane WEBCKE, Broncos. Focusing his efforts on club football had immediate results as he turned in another stellar season leading the way for the Brisbane pack. Will not be around for too much longer so seasons like his 2005 should be remembered fondly. 14. Ruben WIKI, Warriors/New Zealand. Wiki along with Steven Price formed the foundations that kept the Warriors out of the cellar in the NRL but his International performances stood out. Still one of the most feared players running around at 32 years of age and he could keep playing for a few more years yet. 13. Luke O'DONNELL, Cowboys/Australia. Deserved his Kangaroo jumper after a great regular season and impressive Finals Series. Delivered on the promise he showed with the Tigers earlier in his career and with Paul Rauhihi off to England O'Donnell becomes the leader of the North Queensland pack. 12. Ben HORNBY, Dragons. Having a season that showcased him as the best player on a great football team proved that Hornby has only got better since his surprising Origin debut in 2004. Played his best football at fullback (without the defensive chores of halfback), with his ability to join the backline at his leisure making him deadly in attack. 11. Nathan HINDMARSH, Eels/NSW/Australia. The what if's surrounding his injury during the Finals aside, Hindmarsh was at his workaholic best during 2005 giving the Eels quality and quantity for their investment. After a great defensive Origin series, smart coaching from Brian Smith gradually helped him rediscover his running game before injury struck. 10. Tim SMITH, Eels. Sure the tricks didn't work in the Preliminary Final but this kid was by far the best of a very good rookie bunch in 2005. His kicking game was pure genius for a 20 year old. As he matures and gains experience in the halfback role the Eels may well take that (evidently tough) next step with Smith at the helm. 9. Jason SMITH, Raiders. Age before beauty is a term that definitely applies to this ranking. The crafty veteran toyed with opposition defences on a weekly basis and his undoubted class was the backbone of the Raiders early season success. Convinced himself he could go around again in 2006 with a superb year. 8. Roy ASOTASI, Bulldogs/New Zealand. His development from bench boy to a leader of men as the cornerstone of the Bulldogs forward pack was nothing short of astounding. His consistency in an inconsistent side was a testament to his drive and determination to take his game to another level. 7. Darren LOCKYER, Broncos/QLD/Australia. Before the Broncos late season slide Lockyer was a class above his peers as he directed Brisbane to the top of the table. Even during their losing streak he still showed his class more often than not and Australia missed him dearly in the Tri Nations. 6. Scott PRINCE, Tigers/Australia. Thrived in his coach's halfback orientated system and the Tigers became an attacking team to be reckoned with. Prince was the driving force behind the Tigers playoff run capping off string of outstanding performances with the Clive Churchill Medal in the decider. 5. Ben KENNEDY, Sea Eagles/NSW/Australia. The most influential NRL forward of 2005 and made a significant impact at Origin level. Held the Sea Eagles together with his determination during a late season fade that threatened Manly’s first playoff appearance since 1997. 4. Brett HODGSON, Tigers. There is simply no better support player in the game and Hodgson turned many half chances into points during a prolific 2005. His all round play improved and he was simply brilliant week in week out for the Premiers. 3. Anthony MINICHIELLO, Roosters/NSW/Australia. Another blockbusting season from the NRL's best custodian. It has been a long while since we've seen a running fullback as powerful as the Count and his durability is remarkable given the workload he has carried over the past few seasons. 2. Johnathan THURSTON, Cowboys/QLD. Emerged as a magician with the football and fully deserved his Dally M Award as the best NRL player over the course of the season. His Grand Final performance proved he could lift for the big game despite the result going against the Cowboys. And the #1 player of 2005 is: 1. Andrew JOHNS, Knights/NSW/Australia. When fit there is no more dominant player in the game and his incredible Origin performance rivaled King Wally at his best. The exclamation point on his value to a side came when Newcastle were transformed from easy beats to world beaters post-Origin. Ten on the Cusp (in alphabetical order): Danny BUDERUS, Knights/NSW/Australia;Paul GALLEN, Sharks;Michael MONAGHAN, Sea Eagles;John MORRIS, Eels; Matt ORFORD, Storm; Steven PRICE, Warriors/QLD/Australia; Luke PRIDDIS, Panthers/Australia; John SKANDALIS, Tigers; John SUTTON, Rabbitohs; Dean WIDDERS, Eels. * Super League performances and UK based players exempt from this list.

You did it again...

I love a beer, and I love my League. But again there has been an incident in our game that helps drag the League community back towards comparisons with Cro-Magnon Man. Just when you thought we?d been through enough with Coffs Harbour, phone messages and broken doors in fast food ?restaurants? we are again confronted with an alcohol related incident.You do have to be careful when separating fact from fiction in these stories however. Sometimes those incorruptible media types get hold of it and beat it up a little. Trent Barrett?s little workout in his brief?s was a prime example of this. I couldn?t have cared less about that.But the Craig Gower incident is proving to be a thorn in the side. I have a problem with this one I?m afraid. And given what has come out about it, I doubt anyone in the media is smart enough to make it up themselves.A week or two after the National coach resigns, citing concerns over the drinking culture of our game, the Premiership winning captain of the Panthers and the current Australian halfback decides to tie one on for all to see.Not that I care if people drink. Or even if they decide to go a bit overboard with the grog on their buck?s weekend. I don?t care that he might have crashed a golf cart. Those things are hard to drive when you?re drunk and you can always pay for the damage later.The throwing cutlery bit seems a little dangerous, as does chasing someone with a bottle. But if it stops there you?d probably say: ?Well, things got a bit loose, but no one was hurt?.Unfortunately things didn?t stop there.I?ve never understood why blokes feel the urge to get their gear off and run about as though they?re Greek Gods parading their gifts to humanity, especially when they were thrown out of the Australian team six years ago for doing exactly that.Surely, a man who has already been out in the representative cold would be traumatised enough to know he doesn?t ever want to visit that place again. Surely, when you?re removing your pants, no matter what state of inebriation you are in, bad memories come flooding back and the voice in your head tells you to put them back on.But no, things get worse.Despite having rebuilt his credibility as a human being since his incident in 1999, and gaining the trust of a beautiful woman like Amanda Flynn, he decides to grope another woman. I don?t know about everyone else, but whenever I get caught looking at another woman I get daggers from the missus. Imagine how much fun Craig is having right now explaining things to his fianc? with their nuptials only three weeks away.It might actually be worse that Gower picked the daughter of Wayne Pearce considering the man has a conscience for the game and could be torn between exposing the situation in full and defending his daughter?s honour. If it were any other ordinary citizen I dare say all the gory details would have been fleshed out in our self-sacrificing newspapers by now.So, Junior?s commentary on Foxtel should be interesting next season when he?s covering Penrith games.But where does this leave Craig Gower the person? Well, all I could think of was an early episode of The Simpson?s when Lisa wires up a cupcake to give off an electric shock during an experiment. Her pet hamster tries it once and runs away. Bart has a go and also gets a shock. But he just keeps going back for more and more. Like Bart, Gower has now proved himself to be dumber than a hamster.Sure, people make mistakes. But fools make the same ones twice.

Fitzgibbon new Roosters captain

THE Sydney Roosters have named Test backrower Craig Fitzgibbon as their new captain and South Sydney recruit Ashley Harrison as his deputy.Fitzgibbon was handed the reins following skipper Luke Ricketson's retirement at the end of the 2005 season. But the big surprise was the elevation into the new role of vice-captain of backrower Harrison, one of the Roosters' prize signings for the 2006 season along with NSW Origin pivot Braith Anasta.The honour capped a dream year for ex-South Sydney skipper Harrison who earned his Queensland Origin debut in 2005.

I want full Gower investigation ? Gallop

NRL chief executive David Gallop wants a full investigation from Penrith into allegations its international halfback Craig Gower groped the daughter of rugby league legend Wayne Pearce at a charity golf event.Gallop says he's waiting on a full report from the NRL club on the Panthers skipper's behaviour at this week's Jack Newton Celebrity Classic on the Sunshine Coast. Gower's manager Greg Willett said his client had held his buck's night at the event.Gower is set to marry long-time girlfriend and Footy Show regular Amanda Flynn in three weeks.

Waite put in charge of Dragons

FORMER Newcastle and St George Illawarra NRL coach David Waite has been installed as caretaker coach at Catalans Dragons following the sacking of Steve Deakin six weeks before the French club's Super League debut.The French club parted company with Englishman Deakin due to differences between him and the players, it was reported on the Super League website. Waite, whose last coaching appointment was with the Great Britain side, had been working as a consultant to the Perpignan-based outfit.He will take charge until a permanent successor can be found.

Gower in drunken groping allegation

PENRITH halfback Craig Gower is at the centre of another alcohol-fuelled incident in rugby league.It's alleged the international footballer groped the daughter of a prominent former player after the Jack Newton Celebrity Golf Classic on the Sunshine Coast. The Nine Network reported the 27-year-old had groped the woman and later became involved in separate heated altercations with both the former player and his son.Gower's manager says he denies any wrong-doing. The Penrith club is investigating the matter.

Holdsworth in line to fill Anasta's boots

BULLDOGS coach Steve Folkes says recruit Daniel Holdsworth will get first crack at filling the club's vacant number six jumper next season, but has warned fans not to expect a second coming of Braith Anasta.The former St George Illawarra lower grader will play five-eighth in the Bulldogs two trial games as the club begins its search for a new pivot following the off-season departure of Anasta to the Sydney Roosters.Holdsworth was limited to five top grade games at the Dragons due to the presence of Test five-eighth Trent Barrett at the club.

Leeds sign promising young duo

LEEDS Rhinos have announced that young stars Danny Williams and Ashley Gibson, both 19, have signed new three-year contracts with the club and will be part of the Rhinos full-time squad for the 2006 engage Super League season.Gibson signed for the Rhinos from Stanningley ARLFC in 2003 and made his Super League debut last season, scoring a hat-trick in the win at Leigh.Winger Williams joined the Rhinos from Whinmoor Warriors ARLFC, trained with the first team squad during last season and, like Gibson, toured New Zealand and Australia with the England Academy team two years ago.Both players will feature for the Rhinos in the Tetley's Festive Challenge against Wakefield on Boxing Day at Headingley, kick off 11.30am.Commenting on the announcement Chief Executive, Gary Hetherington, said: "We have a policy of promoting players to the first team squad each season and Ashley and Danny are outstanding candidates to join the full-time squad?Both players impressed Tony Smith last season when they trained with the first team squad and this will allow them to continue their development. The fact that 70% of our first team squad have come through our academy system is something we are very proud of and it is important to us as an organisation."Both players will be awarded squad numbers in the New Year, outside of the top 20.- - - - -Thanks to www.superleague.co.uk for this news.

Bulls Chairman to stand down

CHRIS Caisley today announced his intention to step down as Chairman of the Bradford Bulls immediately following the Super League Champions' World Club Challenge game against Wests Tigers on 3 February. Caisley has been at the helm of the Bulls for over 16 years, since 1989, and during his stewardship the club has moved from relative obscurity to become the most successful club in the Super League era.Caisley said, "I have been Chairman since 1989 and 16 years is a long time, but it is the right time to stand down for many different reasons. Throughout the lengthy period of my Chairmanship I have always had in mind the best interests of the club and our fantastic supporters, and I firmly believe that the time is right for us to close this particular chapter in the club's history and move forward positively into the second decade of Super League.""My departure will present a fantastic opportunity for the Bulls to seek and attract the best possible replacement, someone with the necessary resources and business acumen, someone who can recognise the terrific opportunity which exists to build on our tremendous success and further develop the Bulls' brand, one of the most recognisable brands in UK professional sport."Caisley added, "In addition, my goal was always to get the Odsal Sporting Village development scheme off the "ground" and in conjunction with Bradford City Council we have got the scheme to the point where it is just about there, subject to planning. The sports village will deliver superb sports and leisure facilities for the whole of Bradford and the surrounding area and it will enable the city of Bradford to play a major role in the Olympic Games in 2012. It has the very positive and invaluable support of Sport England and it will play a major part in the ongoing regeneration of the Bradford. The new Chairman will have a major role to play in this very exciting scheme"During the period of Caisley's tenure as Chairman the Bulls won every major honour in Rugby League, being crowned Super League Champions in 1997, 2001, 2003 and 2005 and Minor Premiers in 1999, 2002 and 2004. They won the Challenge Cup in 2000 and 2003 and were beaten finalists in 1996, 1997 and 2001. The Bulls were crowned World Club Champions in 2002 and 2004 and are going for a hat trick of wins against the Australian champions, Wests Tigers, in February. Prior to the start of the Super League, in 1996, the Club also won the old Yorkshire Cup in 1989/90 and were beaten finalists in 1991/92 as well as being beaten finalists in the Regal Trophy in 1990/91 and 1992/93. In 2002 the Bulls even went to the home of English Rugby Union and won the Twickenham Sevens. The Club has appeared in 6 of the 8 Old Trafford Grand Finals that have taken place in the Super League era.As to his successor, Caisley said, "I hope that he or she enjoys the privilege of heading up this great club half as much as I have done over the past 16 years or so. The World Club game will be my last as Chairman and Director and I hear that Wests Tigers are really preparing themselves well, so it is going to be a real tough game. I hope we can post the "house full" signs; it would be terrific to see the Galpharm Stadium packed out and supporting the Bulls on 3 February. I will save my goodbyes to Brian Noble, the players, directors and staff and all Bulls' fans who have given me such fantastic support over the years until we have got that game out of the way".

Riddell, Hindmarsh will be fit for season opener

PARRAMATTA hooker Mark Riddell will be fit for next year's NRL kick-off despite sustaining an ankle injury which required surgery last week. Riddell tore ankle ligaments at training last Tuesday and had surgery on Friday to repair the damage.Meanwhile, Parramatta teammate Nathan Hindmarsh will return to full training on January 10 as he recovers from the knee injury which prevented him from playing in the Tri Nations series.

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