Bradford Bulls hooker George Flanagan has been banned for 10 games after being found guilty of "attacking an opponent's testicles".

The incident occurred in the 32nd minute of the Challenge Cup clash with Featherstone Rovers on March 21.

Flanagan, who denied the charge, was issued with the ban and a £250 fine after the Rugby Football League's match review panel referred the matter to a tribunal.

The RFL described it as a "Grade F incident", the most serious grading.

Flanagan was given an eight-match suspension in 2019 for a similar incident involving Toronto Wolfpack's Hakim Miloudi.

It is the end of an era in Melbourne and the NRL.

Cameron Smith – arguably rugby league's greatest ever player – ended speculation over his future by announcing his retirement on Wednesday.

The 37-year-old star and future Immortal retires a one-club player – Smith was out of contract following 18 years with Melbourne Storm.

After Smith officially put an end to his playing career midweek, we look into the numbers behind the Storm, Queensland Maroons and Australia legend thanks to Opta.

 

430 – Smith holds the record for most NRL games following a glittering career in the Australian competition, having debuted for the Storm in 2002. He is the only player to have amassed over 400 appearances.

310 – He also holds the record for most wins in premiership matches. Of those victories, 242 were as skipper – the most as a captain.

2,786 – No player has scored more points in NRL premiership history than the hooker, well ahead of Hazem El Masri (2,418) and Johnathan Thurston (2,222).

1,295 – Smith stands alone for goals kicked in the NRL – 353 more than any other player in premiership history.

16,913 – Not just an elite kicker, Smith tallied the most tackles by any player since the beginning of the NRL era in 1998.

3 – Smith ends his NRL career with Premierships in 2012, 2017 and 2020. It could have been five, but the Storm were stripped of Grand Final triumphs in 2007 and 2009 due to salary-cap breaches.

42 – A Maroons veteran, he is the most-capped player in State of Origin history. Smith first appeared for Queensland in 2003.

56 – Smith represented Australia more than fifty times. Only Darren Lockyer (59) managed more than Smith for the Kangaroos.

33 – Lockyer (38) is the only player to have captained Australia on more occasions than Smith, who led the country to Rugby League World Cup glory in 2013 and 2017.

2 – Smith was crowned the NRL's best and fairest player in 2006 and 2017. Only Thurston (four) and Andrew Johns (three) earned more honours.

Melbourne Storm and NRL great Cameron Smith officially announced his retirement from rugby league on Wednesday.

There had been ongoing speculation over Smith's future, with the NRL's most-capped player linked with both Brisbane Broncos and Gold Coast Titans after relocating from Melbourne.

But the 37-year-old star will retire a one-club player after a record 430 games with the Storm, three NRL Premierships and two Dally M Medals.

Smith also captained Australia to Rugby League World Cup success in 2013 and 2017.

"I've spent a few months now up in Queensland with the family. For me I look back on my career and just found that I'm very fortunate to be part of an organisation with great people and footballers," Smith said ahead of the 2021 season, which gets underway on Thursday.

"It felt like the right time after the finish to last year. You couldn't have asked for more than finishing with a premiership at a club I've played my whole career."

Smith was out of contract following 18 years with the Storm in Melbourne.

The 42-time Queensland Maroons legend, who earned 56 caps for Australia, led the Storm to NRL glory last year.

"I've been wrestling with the decision for quite some time. In the weeks after the season had finished guys like Billy [Slater] and guys I've grown quite close to, just trying to talk to them about my situation and how they came to the conclusion as to when it was the right time," Smith said.

"After last year winning the Premiership I still felt good physically and mentally. I still thought my form was good enough to play in the NRL but after spending time with my family in Queensland I knew it was the right time to finish.

"It's a chance to enjoy the next phase in my life and hopefully it's still in rugby league in some capacity. In my head I probably made the decision a week ago but knowing the unveiling was today and I was going to be in Melbourne I thought it was a good time to announce my decision.

"I started here with Billy at Olympic [AAMI] Park in 2002 so this is where I wanted to end it. Given the amount of time I've spent here and what I've built with Billy, Cooper [Cronk], Ryan Hoffman, Jesse Bromwich ... guys who have put in effort to build the Storm as an organisation.

"As a rookie I always thought I wanted to be a one-club player. Sometimes those choices are taken away from you but thankfully I've been able to do that for 19 years here."

Storm head coach Craig Bellamy added: "I think he's the greatest player I've ever seen. For what he's done, no one has gone over 400 NRL games and 100 rep games, and the success as captain it's quite remarkable.

"I can't see it happening again. It's hard to describe his effect on our club and the game. The biggest thing is how long he's done it for. When he told me this morning I was always genuine in that I said last year he deserved the right to make a decision when he was ready.

"For me the most important thing was that Cameron and his family be happy and I stand by that.

"It would've been strange for me to watch him in another jumper but that's obviously not going to happen. At the same time I still would've been his number one supporter even if he was playing against us.

"Hopefully we can keep Cameron around the club. If we can get him to give advice to our ruck plays and dummy half, his leadership is unparalleled."

Melbourne Storm great Cameron Smith will not play for Gold Coast Titans in the 2021 NRL season, according to Mal Meninga.

It remains to seen what the future holds for Smith, who is yet to publicly confirm his plans after guiding the Storm to premiership last year.

Out of contract following 18 years in Melbourne, Smith reportedly relocated to Queensland at the end of the season and the 37-year-old has been linked with the Titans as well as Brisbane Broncos.

With speculation mounting over Smith's status, his former State of Origin and Australia head coach Meninga – now head of performance and culture with the Titans – insisted the ex-Kangaroos skipper will not be moving to Gold Coast.

"I've not talked to Cameron. He's the hardest bloke to get hold of in the world," said Meninga.

"I've not spoken to him – not has anyone from the club.

"Everyone assumes he's coming to the Titans. I haven't talked to him, he's not on the radar.

"You should ask Kevvie [Broncos head coach Kevin Walters] about Cameron so I don't have to answer these questions anymore."

Broncos coach Walters could be an interested party were Smith to delay his retirement plans, but Meninga rubbished reports that emerged last week linking him with the Titans.

Meninga told the Courier Mail: "I don't have any idea what Cam is doing. I don't know if he's retiring.

"I'm in the dark like everyone else. But I know he won't be at the Titans."

Israel Folau is no longer wanted by St George Illawarra Dragons after the NRL club confirmed it had ceased discussions to sign the former Australia international.

Folau, whose Rugby Australia contract was terminated in 2019 for a "high-level breach" after the 31-year-old posted hell awaits "drunks, homosexuals, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists and idolaters" on Instagram, plies his trade with Super League outfit Catalans Dragons.

But St George Illawarra had been looking to lure him back to his home country, with the club having approached the NRL over the matter.

However, a brief statement released by the club on Wednesday revealed the chase was now at an end.

"While the Dragons did enquire about signing Folau, the club can confirm that such discussions have now ceased," it read.

Folau's move to Catalans in January last year prompted widespread criticism, with head coach Steve McNamara confessing: "We knew it would be controversial."

 

New Zealand Warriors captain Roger Tuivasa-Sheck will switch codes at the end of the 2021 NRL season with the aim of playing for the All Blacks in the Rugby World Cup.

Talismanic full-back Tuivasa-Sheck, 27, has been granted an early release from his Warriors contract to try and force his way into the New Zealand squad for the 2023 showpiece in France.

The 2018 Dally M Player of the Year and two-time Dally M Fullback of the Year expressed gratitude to the Warriors for allowing him to move to the 15-man format.

"This will be my last year with the club and yes, I will be moving to NZ rugby next year," Tuivasa-Sheck said during a press conference on Saturday.

"The club has been supportive in the request and giving me the option to explore.

"Rugby [union] has been the game I've grown up playing. It's always been there in the background. It's always been there, it's no secret. 

"To do it now in a time like this and have the club's support, that's why I chose it now. But rugby is down the line and all that stuff will happen later in the year.

"2021 is my focus, I'm excited about this year and so should the Warriors and NRL fans be.

"There's still a lot of goals I'm chasing [in league] and that's what I'm trying to do this year with the club. We've got a great group here and coaching staff to do something special this year."

Wayne Bennett will not continue as coach of Queensland for the 2021 State of Origin series so he can focus on his job at South Sydney Rabbitohs. 

Bennett returned to lead the Maroons in October of last year, taking on the role after Kevin Walters had stepped down following his appointment at Brisbane Broncos. 

Queensland went on to win 2-1 - beating New South Wales 20-14 in the deciding game in Brisbane - but the search is now on for a new coach ahead of this year's series.

"We were really grateful that Wayne made himself available to help us out last year," Queensland Rugby League managing director Robert Moore said in a statement. 

"We understand the decision Wayne has made in his last year of his contract with the South Sydney Rabbitohs, as he's eager to concentrate his efforts on them because they've been so close [to a premiership]," Moore said. 

"With Wayne's decision, we've now moved to a process to consider the next appointment and we anticipate that process will be completed early this year." 

The Origin games are scheduled to take place in June and July, having been shifted to after the NRL season last year due to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

Jamaican-born Rugby League player Abevia McDonald has signed a one year contract with English League One outfit London Skolars. He is now the second Jamaican domestic player to sign a professional contract following the footsteps of Nathan Campbell who signed for the Toronto Wolfpack in 2016.

A former student of Excelsior Community College in Kingston, McDonald had signed a first-team contract with the team in 2019 but saw no action as the League One or the Championship were cancelled because of the Covid-19 Pandemic.

He began playing while at EXED in 2013 and developed into a quality player who helped the Red Sharks to the National Club title in 2018. It would be his last game in Jamaica as he migrated to England shortly thereafter. He eventually joined the Skolars Reserve team and scored against Super League outfit Wigan Warriors.

He would go on to score more than a dozen tries for the team which led to his first-team signing in 2019.

"His journey is yet another example of inspiration for the local rugby league community. We know that some domestic players have the ability to crack semi-pro teams in the UK if afforded the opportunity,” said Jamaica’s Head Coach Romeo Monteith.

“We have and have had some quality players come through our local systems. He impressed me from the first time I saw him play, he has blistering speed and it's good to see him stick with the game and push on to where he is today."

Former Leeds Rhinos captain Stevie Ward has retired from rugby league at just 27 due to the effects of concussions.

The forward, twice a Grand Final winner and a three-time Super League champion overall, sustained head injuries in January and February last year.

Ward says he still suffers daily symptoms and that the concussions "completely derailed plans and my ambitions".

He told Sky Sports News that he has suffered "one of the hardest years I've ever experienced".

Ward said: "[I have experienced] symptoms like migraines every day, balance and dizziness issues, sensitivity to light, screens and slurring my speech sometimes."

In a statement confirming his retirement, Ward said: "I have come to the conclusion, after over 11 months of severe symptoms, that I need to give this injury the respect and time it deserves and cannot put my health and brain to any further risk and detriment.

"I love the game of rugby league. I am immensely proud to have competed on some of the biggest stages next to childhood heroes and test myself to the absolute limit while feeling the incredible buzz from the Leeds fans after being one myself as a youngster.

"I thank every player that I have played with and against, and I am especially grateful for the incredible friendships the sport has given me.

"It is fair to say that my career has been only partly what I envisioned as a young fan stood in the South Stand, but I can honestly say it has surpassed my expectations in terms of how it has shaped me to become the person I am."

Discussions over the long-term effects of head injuries in rugby and football have risen to the fore again in recent weeks.

Temporary substitutions for head injuries are being trialled in some football competitions, including the FA Cup and Premier League. In rugby union, former World Cup winner Steve Thompson, who has early onset dementia and cannot recall winning the global trophy in 2003, is one of eight players reportedly planning to take legal action against World Rugby, the Rugby Football Union and the Welsh Rugby Union.

Australia international Josh Addo-Carr will join Canterbury Bulldogs on a four-year deal from 2022, leaving Melbourne Storm.

Addo-Carr will depart Melbourne at the end of next season, having already won two NRL premierships with the Storm.

A nine-time New South Wales representative who has also played for the Kangaroos twice, Addo-Carr's move to the Bulldogs was confirmed on Wednesday after the wing was linked to numerous clubs.

"Having someone like Josh choose to join the Bulldogs after being the target of a number of clubs is another sign that we are gradually piecing together a squad that has the right mix of experience and quality," Canterbury chief executive Andrew Hill said in a statement.

"Josh has been a proven performer at whatever level he has played and he will bring those elements of speed and strike power that all clubs are looking for in their backline.

"Josh becomes another leader in our group and will bring the sort of winning attitude that the club is looking to create here at Belmore.

"We look forward to him joining us for the 2022 season and wish him all the best for next season."

Addo-Carr has scored 73 tries in 96 NRL games for Melbourne, having crossed for six in nine during his season with Wests Tigers in 2016.

The 25-year-old said he was looking forward to another season in Melbourne.

"I'm relieved to have finally sorted out my playing future and can now focus on making my last year with Storm another one to remember," Addo-Carr said.

"I owe so much to this club and have so many great friends and memories that have made me the person I am today.

"I now can't wait to get back into training with the boys and playing at AAMI Park in front of all our fans who didn't get to see us this year."

A two-point field goal will be introduced in the NRL from next year in one of several changes approved ahead of the 2021 season.

The Australian Rugby League Commission (ARLC) announced the rule changes on Friday, with some continuing on from 2020.

The most notable change is the introduction of a two-point field goal if teams convert from outside the 40-metre line.

Ten-metre infringement penalties will be replaced with a 'six again' ruling, while there has been a crackdown on scrums.

Players cannot break from a scrum until a referee's call, with a penalty awarded if they do – and a second infringement if the scrum is repacked would see a player sent to the sin bin.

Games will also resume with a play the ball rather than a scrum when the ball is kicked or carried into touch.

"These innovations will lead to less stoppages, more unpredictability and increased excitement for our fans," ARLC chairman Peter V'landys said.

"The message from the fans and our broadcasters has been clear – the game became too predictable and the balance between attack and defence had gone too far in favour of defence.

"Our changes last year were successful in addressing some of those challenges and the changes announced today will take the element of unpredictability and entertainment a step further."

V'landys believes the introduction of a two-point field goal will encourage teams to be more attacking.

"Providing the opportunity for a two-point play will give teams incentive to make attacking plays to get into field goal range at the end of a half," he said.

"It will also ensure teams who are down by one or two points in the dying moments of a match have a better opportunity to win a game or go to golden point."

Wests Tigers head coach Michael Maguire has extended his contract with the club until the end of the 2023 NRL season.

Maguire is set to become the second longest serving coach in Tigers history, behind Tim Sheens, after signing a deal for 2022 and 2023, having already been contracted for next year.

Former South Sydney Rabbitohs coach Maguire has led the Tigers in 44 games, winning 18, since taking charge last year.

Also coach of New Zealand, Maguire, 46, was happy to extend his stay with the Tigers.

"I'm really pleased to be able to re-sign with Wests Tigers," he said.

"We've put a lot of work in over the last couple of years and I’m seeing plenty of change for the club to move forward in a big way.

"We're all not happy with where we've been and everything we do now is about moving us forward towards a premiership.

"I love the people here and the passion around the organisation.

"The more I see people with a connection Wests Tigers, the more I see the hunger for success. This is a massive club with an incredibly rich history, and we're all determined to grow this year into a really strong season."

The Tigers have missed the finals in each of Maguire's two seasons at the helm so far, finishing ninth and 11th in 2019 and 2020 respectively.

Tigers chief executive Justin Pascoe believes the club are heading in the right direction under Maguire.

"As a club, we're really thrilled with the appointment of Michael," he said.

"Not only does this provide him with further security, it also provides our entire football program with a strong sense of direction. We have absolute faith in Michael and our football department in the sustainable team they are building here.

"Michael is a fierce competitor, and we love that. He shares the same set of values that our club is built on with his drive and passion for success.

"Together, we are building a football department, a team and a club that our members and fans are proud of and Michael is certainly the right man to continue that."

Jack Welsby's last-gasp try saw St Helens defend their Super League title in remarkable fashion in a low-scoring 8-4 victory over rivals Wigan Warriors at the KCOM Stadium.

Saints had tied things up late on in Hull through Lachlan Coote's penalty after Jake Bibby had scored the first try of the game for Wigan in the 66th minute.

Zak Hardaker missed a penalty of his own for Wigan and drama ensued when Zak Makinson's drop-goal for Saints hit the post.

Welsby reacted quickest to the rebound to score for Saints, who had peppered the Wigan tryline in the first half but led just 2-0 at the break, to make it back-to-back Grand Final triumphs.

It means veteran James Graham retires on top in the first Grand Final held away from Old Trafford, but for legendary Warriors star Sean O'Loughlin it was a heart-breaking end to a fine career.

Wigan, League Leaders Shield winners, have now lost three of the four Grand Finals they have played against their fierce rivals. 

Manly Sea Eagles prop Keith Titmuss has died at the age of 20 after falling ill following a pre-season training session, the NRL side have confirmed.

Titmuss was considered one of Manly's rising stars after emerging through their junior ranks and was part of the 30-man squad for next season.

He was taken from training in Narrabeen to Northern Beaches Hospital on Monday before being transferred to Royal North Shore Hospital, where he passed away.

Manly announced the tragedy in a statement on their official website and coach Des Hasler added: "We are all devastated by this news.

"Keith was a very popular character amongst the playing group. He will be sorely missed but never forgotten by the Sea Eagles."

Titmuss scored the match-winning try for the Sea Eagles in the 2017 NYC Grand Final and was named the Manly Jersey Flegg Cup Players' Player in 2019.

The NRL side's CEO Stephen Humphreys said: "Our club sends its deepest condolences to Keith's family and friends and will provide them with all of the support they need during this difficult period.

"We are working with the NRL's Wellbeing team to offer support and counselling to our playing group and staff."

The 2021 NRL campaign is scheduled to begin on March 11.

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