Leeds sack Great Britain forward Ward

LEEDS has sacked Great Britain forward Danny Ward just one month before the new Super league season gets underway.The Rhinos' blamed serious breaches of club rules over the past year for the 25-year-old's shock dismissal, without going into further details. Leeds chief executive Gary Hetherington says he is not prepared to go into detail.

McRae stays at Redfern

SOUTH Sydney coach Shaun McRae will remain at the Rabbitohs until the end of the 2007 NRL season after agreeing to a one-year contract extension today.McRae was rewarded for a promising debut with the Rabbitohs in 2005, guiding the perennial strugglers to 13th spot on the ladder, their best finish since being re-admitted into the league in 2002. Souths finished last season in solid form, winning six of their last eight games.The Rabbitohs open their pre-season campaign against St George Illawarra in the annual Charity Shield clash on February 18 at Telstra Stadium.

Saints to appoint new Board of Directors

ST Helens have announced that it intends to appoint four new directors, plus an advisor to the board. Saints Chairman Eamonn McManus stated: "I am delighted that Donal McGuire, Paul Barrow, Chris Green and Joe Nichol have accepted my invitation to join the board of the Saints. "In addition, Tony Colquitt will be appointed advisor to the board. They bring a wealth of relevant professional and business experience aand talent to the board as well as being individuals of the highest standing. They are also long-standing and dedicated fans of the Saints and of the game. "I am confident that they will provide invaluable support to Chief Executive Sean McGuire and his management team as we strive to continue to rapidly improve every aspect of our business and to maintain a world-class squad to entertain our growing supporter base." Additional Information Donal McGuire is a leading barrister on the Northern Circuit. Paul Barrow is a commercial solicitor and partner with Liverpool firms Quinn Melville and Quinn Barrow. Chris Green is currently Head of Commercial at Liverpool Culture Company, and was formerly a Director of Camelot and Marketing Director of the Rugby Football League. Joe Nichol is the Managing Director of an engineering group with a successful personal background in corporate turnarounds. Tony Colquitt is Commercial Director of Gillette with responsibility for Rugby League sponsorship, in particular the Gillette Tri-Nations. For more information, please contact Alex Turner on 0870 756 5258 / 07841 371343.

St Helens and Skolars Squads - Annual Dublin RLI Challenge

THE mighty Rugby League legends, St. Helens, have announced their squad to play against the London Skolars in an exhibition match in Dublin at Donnybrook on Sunday 22nd January.The Saints, as they are known as, are the most successful rugby league side in England topping the Super League championship this year in the run up to the play offs.Their squad includes their 18 ? Stone Captain Paul Anderson, prop for the Great Britain and Lions team. Maurie Fa'asavalu, the hugely exciting powerhouse flanker in the Samoan Rugby Union world cup squad of 2005 is also playing.19 year old James Graham who captained the Under 17 Great British team that beat the Australians two years ago will join his team mates on that night, Ste Tyrer and Full Back/Winger Ian Hardman.Another young player of outstanding ability to watch out for is the super fast Scott Moore, already being compared to Alex Murphy at his age.This exciting line up is for the match against the London Skolars, which is being played in Donnybrook with Kick off at 2.30pm.Tickets are available on the day with under 16 year olds FREE when accompanied by an adult.(Tickets are: ?15 Stand, ?10 Ground and ?5 Concession)The St Helens Squad (in no particular order) is:1. Paul Anderson (Captain) 2. Ste Bannister 3. Liam Bland 4. Paul Clough 5. Danny Cooper 6. Kyle Eastmond 7. Maurie Fa'asavalu 8. James Graham 9. Miles Greenwood 10. Ian Hardman 11. Gaz Langley 12. Paul Leyland 13. Craig Littler 14. Dean McGilvray 15. Scott Moore 16. Matty Smith 17. Ste Tyrer 18. Ian Webster 19. Sean WeedThe London Skolars Squad (in no particular order) is: 1. Alan Barker 2. Alex Walker 3. Austen Aggrey 4. Ben Joyce 5. Bobby Wallis 6. Charlie Oyebade 7. Corey Simms 8. Dave Roberson 9. Dean Callis 10. Gareth Honor 11. Huy Le 12. Jermaine Coleman 13. Josh Garden 14. Keir Bell 15. Mat Pitman 16. Mike Castle 17. Nathan Meishke 18. Rubert Jonker 19. Tane Taitoko 20. Tim Gee 21. Todd Egan22. James Massara (assistant) 23. Daryl Fisher (assistant) 24. Jon Jackson (video) 25. Sally Evans (Physio) 26. Latham Tawhai (Coach)

Women's Rugby League results and fixtures

KEIGHLEY Cats 0 Hillside Hawks 22Copeland Wildcats 0 Wakefield Panthers 44Shaw Cross Sharks Castleford Panthers No ResultYork Acorn Warrington No ResultDevelopment League:Crofton Cougars Rochdale Ravens No ResultSheffield Hawks18 Middleton 34Peterlee Pumas 50 Stanningley 0Swinton Ladies 46 Pendle 4Brighouse Rangers Bradford Victoria No ResultFixtures for 22.01.06:Hull v Shaw Cross SharksDevelopment League:Rochdale Ravens v MiddletonPeterlee Pumas v Shaffield HawksCrofton v Swinton LadiesPendle v Bradford VictoriaStanningley v Brighouse Rangers

Thuga?s Thoughts on 2006

AFTER the unpredictability of the 2005 National Rugby League season the question remains, can 2006 be even better then the previous year? Here?s my preview to how each team shapes up for the new season, which includes their strengths, weaknesses and my final verdict on the team. Brisbane BroncosLikely Team1. Karmichael Hunt2. Brent Tate3. Justin Hodges4. Shaun Berrigan5. Leon Bott6. Darren Lockyer (c) 7. Brett Seymour8. Shane Webcke9. Barry Berrigan10. Petro Civoniceva11. Brad Thorn12. David Stagg13. Tonie Carroll14. Sam Thaiday15. Corey Parker16. Neville Costigan17. Michael EnnisStrengthsObviously Darren Lockyer is still their main attacking weapon. Had a form slump towards the end of last season but will be back better then ever in 2006. They still have strong power in their pack with Shane Webcke, Petro Civoniceva, Corey Parker, Brad Thorn and Tonie Carroll.Two of their big problems over the past year or two have been their hooker position, and their goal kicking. With Michael Ennis into the squad he makes those problems into a strength with his sharp dummy-half skills and his pinpoint goal kicking. The forwards on the bench are solid as well, with Thaiday, Parker and Costigan all capable of doing the job. Attacking flare on the wings and a strong centre combination has the Broncos in good stead for 2006. WeaknessesAgain Darren Lockyer is the key here. Lockyer must stay fit and fresh from burnout, as Brisbane still heavily rely on him and rightfully so. Brett Seymour still hasn?t been as consistent as you would like a halfback to be and must realise his potential. The Broncos suffer more than anyone from representative football, and can continue to put major dents into their end of season form. Gains: Michael Ennis, Ben HannantLosses: Tom Learoyd-Lars, Darren Mapp, Stuart Kelly, Berrick Barnes.VerdictDefinitely a top 8 team and I like the inclusion of Michael Ennis to the team. If they can survive the burnout stage then they will be big premiership contenders. Consistency over 26 rounds is what they need and is what they will strive for. 4th PositionCanterbury BulldogsLikely Team1. Luke Patten2. Hazem El Masri3. Reni Maitua4. Willie Tonga5. Matt Utai6. Daniel Holdsworth7. Brent Sherwin8. Mark O'Meley9. Adam Perry10. Roy Asotasi11. Willie Mason12. Andrew Ryan (c)13. Tony Grimaldi14. Nate Myles 15. Corey Hughes16. Chris Armit17. Sonny Bill WilliamsStrengthsOne of the strongest forward packs going around today. O?Meley, Asotasi, Mason, Ryan and Sonny Bill Williams are all international forwards, then throw in the veteran Grimaldi, the young blood in Nate Myles and that?s one hell of a forward pack. Great strike power out wide with El Masri, Utai and the forgotten man in Willie Tonga and to add to all that they have the best goal kicker in the game. WeaknessesThe loss of Braith Anasta to the Sydney Roosters is a big loss, and will have to give the number 6 jersey to the inexperienced Daniel Holdsworth. He is well capable of doing a great job, the question is can he and Sherwin form the combination that Anasta and Sherwin did in the 2002-2004 stage. Injuries hit them hard last season, and they?ll need their fair share of good luck this year to stay in touch with the top teams in the competition. Gains: Daniel Holdsworth, Namila Davui, Jon Green, Chris Tuatara, Nick Kouparitsas, Billy Ngawini, Ben Roberts, Jamie Small.Losses: Braith Anasta, Charlie Tonga, Trevor Thurling, Jamaal Lolesi, Filinga Filiga, Jamie Frizzo.VerdictIf injuries are good to them this year they could go a long way in this competition. A lot depends on the halves and how fit the forward pack can stay. They posses one of the best centers in the game in Willie Tonga, and the best goal kicker in the game. Will be a force in season 2006.7th Position Canberra RaidersLikely Team1. Clinton Schifcofske (c) 2. Marshall Chalk3. Phil Graham4. Adam Mogg 5. Craig Frawley6. Jason Smith7. Todd Carney8. Josh Miller 9. Simon Woolford 10. Michael Weyman 11. Dane Tilse12. Tom Learoyd-Lahrs13. Jason Croker 14. Alan Tongue15. Andrew Lomu16. Troy Thompson17. Lincoln WithersStrengthsClinton Schifcofske is one of the most dependable fullbacks in the game, and is a solid goal kicker to boot. The veteran five-eighth Jason Smith proved last year that he can still match it with the best in the NRL and his organisational skills last year guided the Raiders to many victories. A young forward pack that has potential, and could lay a good platform for the likes of Withers, Woolford, Smith and Schifcofske to take advantage of. Josh Miller impressed last year, and Michael Weyman when fit has the potential to be anything. While it wasn?t a strong point of their game last year, teams still fear to head down to play in the nations capital. The Raiders always seem to lift a gear or two at home and will have to bring back that ?graveyard? philosophy when playing at home. WeaknessesLost a fair share of experience with the likes of Matt Adamson, Ian Hindmarsh and Ryan O?Hara, and don?t appear to have the ?x-factor? in their team. Don?t have that consistency you need to be a top team in the competition and have an inexperience forward pack. Their halfback Todd Carney is getting better with every match he plays but hasn?t shown us his true potential as a halfback. Gains: Tom Learoyd-Lars, Trevor Thurling, Dane Tilse.Losses: Matt Adamson, Ian Hindmarsh, Michael Robertson, Ben Cross, Ryan O'Hara, Michael Howell, Damon Alley-Tovio.VerdictAre going through a rebuilding phase and will fight for one of those lower positions in the top 8. I like the buys of Learoyd-Lahs and Dane Tilse, they will add that young fire power into the team. Will go well at the start of the season then will tumble down the ladder.11th PositionCronulla SharksLikely Team1. David Simmons2. Darren Albert3. Nigel Vagana4. Beau Scott5. Luke Covell6. Adam Dykes7. Brett Kimmorley (c) 8. Ben Ross9. Kevin Kingston10. Hutch Maiava11. Matt Hilder 12. Lance Thompson13. Paul Gallen14. Reece Williams15. Greg Bird16. Phil Bailey17. Phillip LeuluaiStrengthsThe number 7 and captain is still the strongest part of the team, and will again need to have a big year. Kimmorley can worry any team on the back of some quick play the balls and along with Adam Dykes formed a strong combination at the start of last season. The Albert ? Vagana combination has the ingredients to become one of the deadliest in the game. Ben Ross adds that star power in the front row, and they have a workaholic back-row with the new inclusion of Lance Thompson.WeaknessesThe loss of Danny Nutley, Jason Stevens and David Peachey are a big blow to the team. A lot of experience lost with their departure, particularly in the front row. Nigel Vagana seems to be getting starved of attacking opportunities, and needs more ball for the attack to be more dangerous. Sometimes have the habit of conceding too many penalties in a match, which in today?s game needs to be sorted out. Gains: Ben Ross, Ben Pomeroy, Lance Thompson, Darren Mapp, Darren Albert, Tevita Latu, Brett Kearney.Losses: Jason Stevens, David Peachey, Danny Nutley, Michael Sullivan, Nathan Merritt, Paul Mellor, Keith Galloway, Bryson Goodwin, Jon green, Russell Aitken, Ryan McGoldrick, Vince Mellars.VerdictWith the tragedy of Steve Rogers passing away, the Sharks have a big motive to win their first premiership this year. They definitely have the line up, but the question remains can they be consistent enough to make it to the finals. Could be a dark horse come the back end of the season.10th Position Manly Sea EaglesLikely Team1. Brett Stewart2. Michael Robertson3. Steven Bell4. Ashley Alberts5. Chris Hicks6. Michael Witt7. Matt Orford8. Jason King9. Michael Monaghan10. Brent Kite11. Steve Menzies12. Anthony Watmough13. Ben Kennedy14. Luke Williamson15. Shane Dunley16. Mark Bryant17. Kylie LeuluaiStrengthsThe back-row is one of the best going around, with all 3 having represented New South Wales last year. Ben Kennedy was in career best form last year and if he fires again this year Manly will be a thorn in the side of many teams. Picked up some big buys in Matt Orford and Steven Bell and they will add that flare they need in the backline. Michael Monaghan in my view plays better at hooker then he would in the halves, and him being played at hooker would suit the Eagles game more in my view. A great attacking fullback and solid outside backs has the Eagles in good stead for next year.WeaknessesI don?t see toomuch strike power in their bench to be honest. Luke Williamson and Shane Dunley are both solid players, but nothing spectacular. The halves/hooker combo is yet to be seen, and the Eagles have proven over the years to be a little ill-disciplined and inconsistent. A better defence work ethic is required as well, as that proved to be one of their down points towards the end of season 2005.Gains: Matt Orford, Steve Bell, Michael Robertson, George Rose.Losses: Terry Hill, Chad Randall, Scott Donald, Sam Harris, Jye Mullane, Nathan Hollingsworth.VerdictThe Sea-Eagles look very strong this year, with that superb back-row and great halfback they could be anything. Brett Stewart is improving with every year he has in the top grade, and could play a Billy Slater type role with Matty Orford. A team that should perform well with the line up they have, question is can they meet their potential? 8th PositionMelbourne StormLikely Team1. Billy Slater2. Matt Geyer3. Greg Inglis4. Matt King5. Jake Webster6. Scott Hill7. Cooper Cronk8. Ben Cross9. Cameron Smith10. Brett White11. David Kidwell12. Michael Crocker13. Dallas Johnson14. Antonio Kaufusi15. Garrett Crossman16. Dennis Scott17. Ryan Hoffman StrengthsThey have an exciting backline filled with speed and attacking brilliance. Billy Slater and Matt Geyer have both had represented their states, and Matt King and Jake Webster have done the same for their countries. Young exciting rookie Greg Inglis looks to have found a permanent first grade spot in the centres, and they have the experienced head of Scott Hill in the number 6. They have a very smart dummy half in Cameron Smith and a hard tough back-row.WeaknessesThe Storm has lost a great deal of experience and quality in Matt Orford, Steven Bell, Robbie Kearns and Alex Chan. The loss of Matt Orford is the biggest, with him being their best player for a number of years now. Depth and experience in the forwards is skinnier than in previous years particularly in the front row. There is a lot of pressure on young Cooper Cronk, who has huge boots to fill and needs to guide this team around the paddock.Gains: Michael Crocker, Chris Walker Ben Cross, Garrett Crossman, James Aubusson.Losses: Matt Orford, Steven Bell, Robbie Kearns, Alex Chan, Peter Robinson, Josh Graham, Robert Tanielu.VerdictHave lost a lot of good talent and it?s hard to see them making the finals. A lot will rely on how young Cooper Cronk adapts to the number 7 jersey and how good of a combination he can form with Scott Hill. The front row lacks experience but their back row is extremely strong. I can?t see the Melbourne Storm being a huge threat this year. 13th PositionNewcastle KnightsLikely Team1. Milton Thaiday2. Brian Carney3. Matt Gidley4. Brad Tighe5. Anthony Quinn6. Kurt Gidley7. Andrew Johns (c) 8. Josh Perry9. Danny Buderus10. Craig Smith11. Steve Simpson12. Clint Newton13. Daniel Abraham14. Kirk Reynoldson15. Adam Woolnough16. Luke Davico 17. Dustin CooperStrengthsThe worlds best halfback in Johns, the best hooker in Buderus and one of the best wingers in the world in Brian Carney. They have bought experience in the front-row with Luke Davico and retained the services of Craig Smith for this year. An ever improving back row and a solid bench have the Knights engine room looking bright. Brad Tighe proved to Knights fans that he is the future of the backline, and Milton Thaiday showed his attacking brilliance many times last year. WeaknessesInjuries have played a major part in the Knights seasons of late. The key to the team is Andrew Johns and it seems as if he can?t play a full season without an injury coming along. Danny Buderus suffering from burnout is a concern for the Knights as no player has endured the physical workload he has in the past 3 seasons. Gains: Brian Carney, Luke Davico, Luke Hession, Chris Bailey.Losses: Mark Hughes, Dane Tilse, Craig Hall, Andrew Price, Blake Mueller.VerdictIt will come down to injuries like it has in the past. If they can keep the nucleus of their players on the field they?ll be a big contender for the title, if they lose big name players like Johns and Buderus throughout the season they will be fighting for a spot in the finals. With the financial troubles behind the Knights, all they have to concentrate on is their football. 5th PositionNorth Queensland CowboysLikely Team1. Matt Bowen2. Ty Williams3. Josh Hannay4. Paul Bowman5. Matt Sing6. Jonathon Thurston7. Brett Firman8. Carl Webb9. Aaron Payne10. Shane Tronc11. Luke O?Donnell 12. Steve Southern13. Travis Norton (c)14. Mitchell Sargent15. David Faiumu16. Justin Smith17. Ray CashmereStrengthsEveryone in the backline (except Brett Firman) have played for Queensland. The back 3 are phenomenal in scoring tries, and all have a good understanding of each others game. Add to that they have two great defensive centres and a high-quality five-eighth, the Cowboys backline looks very strong. A strong pack upfront with Webb and Tronc leading the way, along with Steve Southern, Travis Norton and Luke O?Donnell who represented Australia last season. Good rotation in the hooker position with Payne and Faiumu, and a fine bench which included Sargent, Justin Smith and the large Ray Cashmere. WeaknessesThe loss of Paul Rauhihi leaves a dent in their forward pack, and more players are being picked to play rep footy. Graham Murray has been given the coaching job for NSW, which will put a speed bump in the premiership road of the Cowboys. Not many weaknesses along the board at the Cowboys, and they are looking good to go one better this year. Gains: Ray Cashmere, Brett Anderson, Robert Tanielu, Leigh Coghill, Russell Aitken, Jamie Frizzo, Scott Smith, Mark Henry.Losses: Paul Rauhihi, David Myles, Leigh McWilliams, Jaiman Lowe, Michael Luck.VerdictWith the team they have they can win this thing. Matty Bowen is my early tip for player of the year, and Jonathon Thurston will only get better the more footy he plays. I like the buy of Ray Cashmere and believe he could become a real weapon off the bench if they use him that way. Their backline is pure class and I like the look of the back row. 1st PositionParramatta EelsLikely Team1. Wade McKinnon2. Luke Burt3. Ben Smith4. Timana Tahu5. Eric Grothe6. John Morris7. Tim Smith8. Nathan Cayless9. Mark Riddell10. Paul Stringer11. Nathan Hindmarsh12. Glen Morrison13. Chad Robinson14. PJ Marsh15. Dean Widders16. Michael Vella17. Fui Fui MoimoiStrengthsTheir bench is the best in the competition. They have the dynamic hooker in PJ Marsh, then hard front-rowers in Vella and Moimoi and a blockbusting second-rower out on the flanks in Dead Widders. Great pace and attacking venom out wide with Ben Smith, Timana Tahu, Luke Burt and the much improved Eric Grothe has their backline looking like one of the most deadly in the competition.WeaknessesNot many physically, but mentally there seems to be that problem. They fell just short again last year and were dominated by the Cowboys. A couple years before they were favorites in the Grand Final against Newcastle, but again just weren?t switched on mentally. This situation has been addressed by the Eels, the question is can they make amends in 2006? Gains: Nil.Losses: Brett Anderson (Cowboys), Chris Muckert (Toowoomba).VerdictThe Eels will finish in the top eight, they?ve got the class and their forwards at full strength are up there with the best of them. I don?t think the coaching dramas will faze them too much and a top 6 finish should be their minimum expectation. With them being able to field the same team as last year the combinations will already be there, which is a huge plus. 6th Position Penrith PanthersLikely Team1. Rhys Wesser2. Brett Howland3. Luke Lewis4. Mark O'Halloran 5. Luke Rooney6. Preston Campbell7. Craig Gower8. Joel Clinton9. Luke Priddis10. Bryan Norrie11. Trent Waterhouse12. Tony Puletua (c) 13. Shane Rodney14. Frank Puletua15. Matthew Cross16. Frank Pritchard17. Danny GaleaStrengthsThe halves are very strong with Preston Campbell and former captain Craig Gower. Great speed on the flanks with Howland and Rooney and an electric fullback in Rhys Wesser. They have one of the best hookers in the game in Luke Priddis and a very solid back row. Ended last season on a high and will be looking to continue that form into the new season.WeaknessesAll of the drama surrounding their playmaker Craig Gower doesn?t help them kick off the new season too well. They have lost some young players that could have been the future of the club in Rogers, Pomeroy and Crossman, and lost the representative players like Ben Ross and Joe Galuvao. Their start to the season reminds me of the Newcastle Knights from the previous year, with off field dramas and them having lost a great deal of talent and we all know how the Knights finished last year. Gains: Bryan Norrie, Nick Youngquet, Mark O'Halloran, Bob Blair, Matt Bell, Wayne Bond, Liam Georgetown, Chris NewtonLosses: Ben Ross, Joe Galuvao, Ben Rogers, Ben Pomeroy, Garrett Crossman, Shannon Donato, Trent Clayton, Paul Franze.VerdictThey lost so many players who had great potential and that could have been the foundation for the club. The off field dramas in the off season always puts that dent in the clubs new season and with them having so many away games early in the draw might rock their confidence around. I?m going to have to tip the Panthers to come last, but bear in mind I tipped them to come last in 2003 and look what happened.15th Position South Sydney RabbitohsLikely Team1. Todd Polglase2. Luke MacDougall3. Adam MacDougall4. Yileen Gordon5. Shannon Hegarty6. John Sutton7. Ben Walker8. Peter Cusack (c) 9. Stuart Webb10.Scott Geddes11.Joe Gulavao12.Luke Stuart13.Mark Minichiello14.David Fa'alogo15.Manase Manoukafoa16.Jaiman Lowe17.Beau ChampionStrengthsA strong and enthusiastic forward pack, mixed with Ben Walker who really steadied the Bunnies ship at the end of last season. They have a wonder kid in John Sutton, who showed last year that he has what it takes to become one of the games best players. They have lethal attacking weapons out wide with the McDougall Brothers, Buddy Gordon and former Queensland winger Shannon Hegarty all capable of scoring tries. They possess a smart coach who is heading the team in the right direction. They have bought well for the new season as well. WeaknessesThe Bunnies lost two of their best players in the off season with Ashley Harrison and Bryan Fletcher packing their bags. They can never seem to find that winning formula enough throughout the season. The Bunnies don?t have that great of depth particularly in the forwards, which has to be a concern to Shaun McRae. South?s simply don?t have the players to cover for injuries in most positions. Gains: Joe Galuvao, Jaiman Lowe, Stuart Webb, Nathan Merritt, Ben Rogers, Paul Mellor, Balin Cupples, Jack Rampling. Losses: Ashley Harrison, Scott Logan, Bryan Fletcher, Glen Hall, Brett Kearney, Garth Wood, Lee Hookey.VerdictThe Rabbitohs will definitely fight for one of those top 8 spots, but I just can?t see them making it to the finals. A lot depends how their halves combine this year, and if they can keep the same team on for most of the season. Souths have the team to chalk up their best season yet since making their return, it?s just a matter of can they play to their potential. They have a good mix of young talent but with that youth comes inexperience. 12th PositionSt George Illawarra DragonsLikely Team1. Ben Hornby2. Colin Best3. Mark Gasnier4. Matt Cooper5. Wes Naiqama6. Trent Barrett7. Matt Head8. Luke Bailey9. Dean Young10. Jason Ryles11. Ben Creagh12. Ashton Sims13. Shaun Timmins14. Justin Poore15. Michael Henderson16. Corey Payne17. Clint GreenshieldsStrengthsStar power mixed with youth is an ingredient for success. Ben Hornby is one of the best fullbacks going around, and Gasnier and Cooper are the Australian centre combination. Trent Barrett has improved his game and they have the two big boppers up front with Jason Ryles and Luke Bailey, who will play his final year for the Dragons. The young blood like Ben Creagh, Ashton Simms, Justin Poore and Michael Henderson are improving with every game they play and they have Matt Head coming back into the team after that knee injury last season. WeaknessesThey seem to struggle with the pressure of finals football. Last season they had an unconvincing win over the Sharks and a loss to the Tigers and the year before they let the Panthers get a huge lead and they weren?t able to recover in time and were eliminated. The Dragons are a top contender every year with the squad they have, they just never seem to perform the way they should in September. Gains: Bryson Goodwin, Matt Bickerstaff, Damon Alley-Tovio, Sam Isemonger, Lagi Setu, Andrew Price.Losses: Lance Thompson, Michael Ennis, Albert Torrens, Daniel Holdsworth, Willie Manu, Bryan Norrie, Nick Youngquest, Shane Marteene.VerdictThey?ve been thereabouts for long enough without going on with it in the finals and it?s time for that to change if you?re a Dragons fan. Breathtaking strike power out wide and rock-hard defence, it is clear that the Dragons time has to come sooner of later. Question is, will that time be in 2006?2nd PositionSydney RoostersLikely Team1. Anthony Minichiello2. Amos Roberts3. Iosia Soliola4. Ryan Cross5. Joel Monaghan6. Braith Anasta7. Brett Finch8. David Shillington9. Craig Wing10. Adrian Morley11. Craig Fitzgibbon (c) 12. Chris Flannery13. Ashley Harrison14. Charlie Tonga15. Anthony Tupou16. Mark Edmondson17. John Doyle StrengthsThey have finally found a suitable replacement for Brad Fittler with Braith Anasta heading to Bondi. They boast the meanest defence in the competition, have the best fullback in the competition in Anthony Minichiello and great attacking flare out wide with Ryan Cross and Amos Roberts. They bought hardworking lock forward Ashley Harrison to add to their impressive list of forwards. Fitzgibbion and Morley are world class players and will lay a solid platform for the playmakers. WeaknessesThey have lost some big players with the likes of Ricketson, Crocker and Cayless all moving on. Forward pack doesn?t look as intimidating as it has in the past and will need to re-gain that aggression that they missed last year. The halves are yet to prove themselves as a combination, and Brett Finch must take a stand this year and lead this team around the paddock. Gains: Ashley Harrison, Braith Anasta, John Doyle, Charlie Tonga, Mitchell Pearce, Glen Hall, Mark Edmonson.Losses: Michael Crocker, Luke Ricketson, Chris Walker, Jason Cayless, Ben Hannant, Stuart Webb, George Rose, Ned Catic, Grant Rovelli, James Aubusson, Jack Rampling. Richard Fa?osoVerdictRoosters ended last year on a high note and have bought well and would want to continue that end of season form into the new season. They are the benchmark in the NRL in the way they train and go about their football, but it doesn?t look as if they have that forward aggression they once had. Will miss the top 8 by a kitten?s whisker.9th PositionNew Zealand WarriorsLikely Team1. Brent Webb2. Manu Vatuvei3. Tony Martin4. Clinton Toopi5. Todd Byrne6. Sione Faumuina7. Nathan Fien8. Ruben Wiki9. Lance Hohaia10. Steve Price (c) 11. Wairangi Koopu12. Awen Guttenbeil13. Louis Anderson14. Richard Villasanti15. Micheal Luck16. Sonny Fa'i17. Jerome RopatiStrengthsThey have a strong and experienced front-row with Ruben Wiki and Steve Price, and a good back-row with the improving Wairangi Koopu and Louis Anderson. Nathan Fien moves to his more preferred position at halfback and Brent Webb and Manu Vatuvei will look to continue their superb Tri-nations form into the new season. WeaknessesThe Warriors really struggle mentally more then anything. When their confidence is down they seem to fall into a heap and the discipline goes out the window. The loss of Stacy Jones and Iafeta Palea?aesina are big blows, with both men performing at a consistent level last year. They are a club that has so much potential, but just never fulfill that potential. Gains: Michael Luck, Grant Rovelli, George Gatis.Losses: Stacey Jones, Monty Betham, Tevita Latu, Frances Meli, Karl Temata, Iafeta Paleaasina.VerdictStrong enough to make the 8, but the way we have come to know the Warriors they will slip up short and be towards the bottom. Nathan Fien has a great kicking game and could become a star in the number 7 jersey, and they have two of the best front rowers in the competition. They will end up towards the bottom of the table though, with them not having a strong enough mindset to be consistent. 14th PositionWests TigersLikely Team1. Brett Hodgson2. Daniel Fitzhenry3. Shane Elford4. Paul Whatuira5. Jamaal Lolesi6. Benji Marshall7. Scott Prince (c)8. Ryan O'Hara9. Robbie Farah10. John Skandalis11. Ben Galea12. Sam Harris13. Dene Halatau14. Liam Fulton15. Anthony Laffranchi16. Bryce Gibbs17. Todd PaytenStrengthsTheir team is young and they have great enthusiasm and skill around the park. Brett Hodgson and Scott Prince both hit career best form last year and will be looking to back that up with another great year. The whiz kid Benji Marshall, the dynamic hooker Robbie Farah and strong backline have them in good shape for 2006. Have bought well in the off-season with Jamaal Lolesi, Keith Galloway and Ryan O?Hara joining the premiers and will be looking to go back to back in ?06.WeaknessesA young team defending the premiership can put huge pressure on your players; the Tigers will have to overcome that to be successful this year. It?s never easy when your playmaker is off-contract mid season and the Tigers are looking down that barrel with Scott Prince. Prince will wait to see what the open market can offer him and that can sometimes distract a player from his football which can cause heavy defeats. Not too many weaknesses in their team, with them proving last year that they are scintillating in attack and rock solid in defence. Gains: Sam Harris, Keith Galloway, Jamaal Lolesi, Ryan O'Hara, Filinga Filiga.Losses: Pat Richards, John Wilson, Mark O'Neill, Matthew Rieck, Ray Cashmere.VerdictWill be up there again this year, and have the squad to go back to back. Whether they can handle the pressure is yet to be seen, but these young enthusiastic Tigers can do anything they put their minds to. Many of their players will now come into rep calculations, and that may put a big speed bump in their season (ala Penrith in 2004). 3rd Position

Knights won't extend Hagan deal

NEWCASTLE NRL coach Michael Hagan looks set to link with Parramatta in 2007 after the Knights today announced they would not be extending his contract beyond this season.Hagan asked for a decision on his future to be brought forward from mid-season after informing the Knights that he had received an offer from a rival NRL club, believed to be Parramatta. The Eels had discussions with Hagan late last year after the 2005 minor premiers announced they would not be extending coach Brian Smith's contract beyond 2006.

Crocker fined over pub brawl

MELBOURNE Storm forward and former Sydney Rooster Michael Crocker has been fined $700 in a Sydney court over a pub brawl.The 25-year-old Queensland and Australian representative rugby league player was arrested on March 20 last year after a drunken brawl outside the Beach Palace Hotel at Coogee, in Sydney's eastern suburbs.Police had to subdue Crocker and three other men involved in the fracas. Crocker, who already had been fined $10,000 by his former club, the Sydney Roosters, had apologised to fans for the brawl, which occurred in a hotel off limits to players.The back rower had pleaded guilty to affray and was today fined $700 in Waverley Local Court."You have pleaded guilty to the charge and I will take that into account," Magistrate Deborah Sweeney told the court. "It shows that you have taken responsibility for your conduct that night."Outside the court Crocker said he wanted to put the incident behind him. "I'm happy to get it over and done with, and now I can get on with footy," he told reporters. "It is an unfortunate incident, I was in the wrong place at the wrong time."

New era for Headingley Carnegie Stadium

PLANS were today revealed for a historic redevelopment of the newly named Headingley Carnegie Stadium encompassing both the rugby and cricket stadia that will usher in a new and exciting future for one of the most famous stadiums in world sport.The new name of Headingley Carnegie Stadium will come in with immediate effect after a significant financial investment by Leeds Metropolitan University. The plans can now come to fruition following the successful purchase of the freehold of the cricket stadium and business by Yorkshire CCC from the owners since 1890, Leeds CF&A Co Ltd.The plans include a new North/South Stand to replace the existing structure which was built after fire destroyed the original stand in March 1932 and a new Pavilion and Media Centre for cricket at the stadium.The partnership with Leeds Metropolitan University continues a successful relationship between them and Headingley Stadium. The new stand at the Eastern end of the Rugby Stadium has been built in conjunction with Leeds Met and will be named the Carnegie Stand.However, even before recent times there has been a strong link with both cricket and rugby and the Carnegie faculty of Leeds Metropolitan University including such great names as Eric Harris, Brendan Foster and Lewis Jones.The purchase of Headingley by Yorkshire CCC brings to a highly successful conclusion a long period of negotiations between both parties, with the partnership with Leeds Metropolitan University being a key factor.Commenting at the unveiling, Robin Smith, Chairman of The Yorkshire County Cricket Club said, "The Headingley vision, once realised, will mean that Headingley will have become one of the finest sports complexes in the Country, providing cricket, rugby and educational facilities to world class standards."Paul Caddick, Chairman of Leeds CF&A and owner of both rugby codes at Headingley, added, "We are proud to have played our part in helping Yorkshire CCC achieve their dream of owning the cricket freehold and business and the support of Leeds Met has been very important. We can all look forward to a very bright and exciting future together."Professor Simon Lee, Vice-Chancellor of Leeds Metropolitan University, was present at Headingley along with Chancellor Brendan Foster MBE to reveal the new name and he added, "In the best pioneering traditions of our first hundred years in Headingley, this unique partnership takes the relationship between sport, community and university life beyond all boundaries."The deal to purchase Headingley by the Yorkshire County Cricket Club also ensures Test and international cricket at Headingley with a 15-year international staging agreement with the England and Wales Cricket Board now in place.England captain Michael Vaughan OBE commented, "As both a Yorkshire player and captain of England, I am delighted that the future of cricket, and in particular international cricket has been secured at Headingley. Our famous old ground has witnessed some of the finest moments and battles in world cricket and now supporters of the future can become part of our heritage."For the first time in their 142-year history, Yorkshire CCC now own their own ground. Chief Executive of The Yorkshire County Cricket Club, Colin Graves, commented, "It has been a dream of many a Yorkshireman that the most famous cricket club in the world should be in charge of its own destiny. After a long and gruelling journey, I am honoured to have been part of the team who have been able to secure the future of our great club and international cricket at Headingley."Gary Hetherington, Leeds CF&A Co Ltd Chief Executive, concluded, "The support of Leeds Met was a factor in achieving the Leeds CF&A/Yorkshire CCC deal and this partnership will bring significant benefits to Headingley Carnegie Stadium and the Rhinos, Tykes and Yorkshire CCC teams. It is great news for everyone concerned."

Feca to shine for Wigan

IT may be something of a tongue-twister now but the name of Iafeta (Feca) Palea'aesina is likely to be as familiar as that of Paul Sculthorpe in 2006.The 23-year-old giant from New Zealand Warriors is set to take Super League by storm after joining new-look Wigan on a three-year contract.The 6ft, 17st 4lb prop, who made his Test debut for the Kiwis against Australia in October, has been playing in Australia's crack National Rugby League (NRL) since he was 19 and has made 83 appearances for the Warriors.Wigan coach Ian Millward said of his exciting acquisition: "This is a great signing for us. He will add size and pace to our pack for next year and he is only 23 years of age."Initially targeted by the Wigan boss while he was still at St Helens, Palea'aesina's interest in a switch to England only became serious when Millward moved to the JJB Stadium.The player has nothing against Saints, it is simply that Wigan were always going to be the only English club for him."I didn't want to go to St Helens so I was going to stay at the New Zealand Warriors but then Ian Millward made the move to Wigan," he said. "I'm glad I held off."As a kid growing up, I used to think Wigan were the Brisbane Broncos of the English league. They were well respected and a lot of great players came out of there, people like Denis Betts, Martin Offiah, Va'aiga Tuigamala, the list goes on."I'm just honoured to play for the top Super League club in the world. To get the opportunity to play for Wigan is definitely a dream come true."Palea'aesina vividly recalls watching Betts play for his Auckland club in the late 1990s but it was a recent Warriors team-mate who helped Wigan clinch their prized capture."I played alongside Jerry Seuseu at the Warriors and he was another big reason I came over," he said. "He's a good friend and he had nothing but great things to say about the club."There are definitely big things planned for next year. They've got some good signings and I'm just happy to be a part of it."

Pat Richards settling in well

PAT Richards joined up with the Warriors last week and is already looking forward to the new season."There are a few new players at the club and that has made things a bit easier, all the boys are really welcoming.I have done the hills run with Steve Walsh, I only had to do it four times, it is great fun" Richards said after his first week with the Club.Looking back on his time at Wests, Pat finished the campaign with a Grand Final win over the Cowboys and admitted it was a great way to end his time with the club,"It was fabulous to end with the Premiership and I have come over here to try and do something similar. I wasn't really sure if I would make that game because I picked an ankle and knee injury the week before, I was just glad I got on the field and was able to play my part.""We were the underdogs and everyone had written us off but we all had the self belief we could win it."On deciding to sign for Wigan Pat added,"Wigan are such a great club and when I heard of their interest I decided I wanted to come here. I was just excited about the whole experience to play in another country. I spoke to a number of players back home about the move and that made my decision easier, they had nothing but good things to say about England and about the Wigan club."Pat came through the ranks at Parramatta before joing Wests where he spent two years. In the past has primarily played on the wing or at full back but is likely to figure mainly in the Centres for the Warriors."Tim Sheens always said that I would end up playing in the Centres and it is a position I am looking forward to."Pat has Irish ancestory and admits he will be making a visit to Dublin and is hoping some of his relatives will be making the short trip across the Irish Sea to watch him once the season gets underway. After the end of the NRL campaign Pat underwent a minor operation on his knee but is now back fully fit and looking forward to the pre-season fixtures and the big engage Super League kick off on 11th February at Les Catalans Dragons

Puletua new Panthers skipper

KIWI international Tony Puletua has been appointed Penrith skipper for the 2006 NRL season following the sacking of former captain Craig Gower earlier this month.

Puletua to lead Panthers in 2006

TONY Puletua is the new First Grade and club captain of the Penrith Panthers.The appointment was announced last evening by General Manager Michael Leary and Coach John Lang. Although born in Auckland, the towering second rower came up through Penrith?s junior ranks. He made his first grade debut in 1997 against the Western Reds in Perth. Since then he has played a major role for the club both on and off the field. His partnership with fellow Kiwi, Joe Galuvao, was a major factor in the club winning the 2003 minor and major premierships and finishing third in 2004.Tony is signed with Penrith until 2009.?Tony is a natural leader, not only on the field, but off it,? John Lang said tonight. ?He?ll have everyone?s support.??He does a lot for our community as well,? Leary said. ?I think the team and the club are in good hands.?Tony said he was really excited by the opportunity. "I'm looking forward to it - it's every first grader's dream. "I see it as a challenge and all I can do is my best."He doesn't believe that being a 60 or 70 minute player is a problem - "it's worked when I've captained the team in the past."Courtesy of:http://www.panthers.com.au

Jones named Dragons captain

NEW Zealand Test star Stacey Jones has been appointed captain of engage Super League newcomers Catalans Dragons for their inaugural season. The 29-year-old scrum-half, who is the Perpignan club?s highest-profile recruit, was chosen ahead of a host of French internationals to lead the side out in their historic opening match against Wigan at Stade Aime Giral on February 11. Jones, who has joined the French club on a two-year deal, was unveiled in front of fans at an open day. He has previous experience of captaincy both with his former club New Zealand Warriors and the Kiwi national team. ?It was an easy decision and has been received very well,? said Grant Mayor, the club?s chief executive.?When the players were told pre-training they all applauded. ?Stacey is one of the world?s best players and has captained his country. He has had so much success in the game and commands so much respect. ?When you look at the big challenge which faces us we need the right leader and Stacey will be an excellent mentor for the kids.?Jones was the last player to link up with the Dragons a week ago after enjoying a well-earned break. He made a memorable return to the international scene in the autumn, playing a key role in all five of his country?s Gillette Tri-Nations matches as the Kiwis lifted the trophy. Jones, a former Golden Boot award winner as the world?s leading player, was the tournament?s leading scorer and won his 40th cap in New Zealand?s stunning 24-0 win over Australia in the final at Elland Road.He will lead the Catalans for the first time in the pre-season friendly against Harlequins on Saturday week, and said: ?As a player you never expect this honour but now I have had some time to think about what this means, I am extremely proud to lead the team into the first season of Super League. ?They are all a great bunch of guys and with so much experience around me, I am sure that this team will develop into a very competitive team.?Thanks to:http://www.superleague.co.uk for another excellent article.

Top weightlifting coach joins Wests Tigers

WESTS Tigers have engaged on a consultancy basis Australian weightlifting coach Luke Borreggine to increase the players strength and power in 2006.Borreggine (pictured) is the current head coach of the NSWIS Weightlifting Program and spends three days a week with the NRL premiers under the guidance of Wests Tigers performance co-ordinator Ciriaco Mescia.Based at Burwood Police and Citizen?s Youth Club, Borreggine applies a combination of Russian and Bulgarian training methodology within the nationally focused NSWIS weightlifting program. A national and international coach for the Australian Weightlifting Federation since 1993, Luke has coached Australia at 14 World Weightlifting Championships during his career. He was also the Head Coach for the 1996, 2000 and 2004 Australian Olympic Weightlifting teams, and the 1998, 2002 and 2006 Commonwealth Games teams. In December 2003, Luke was appointed Head Coach of the Australian weightlifting team for the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens. Luke is a life member of the NSW and Australian Weightlifting Federation. He is also a life member of the Police and Community Youth Club and the Australian Weightlifting Federation. In 2000, he was judged as the NSW Coach of the Year. Weightlifting isn?t the only sport that Borreggine has been associated with. He spent 10 years working in rugby league and was associated with the Penrith Panthers club from 1990-93.?After having a long break from rugby league, it is great to be involved in the game again,?? Borreggine said.?I?m really enjoying working with the Wests Tigers.??

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