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."

 

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.

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. 

St Helens will have the opportunity to defend their Super League title against Wigan Warriors in the Grand Final after dismantling the undisciplined Catalans Dragons on Friday.

Saints were stunning 48-2 winners in a complete mismatch of a play-off semi-final as Kevin Naiqama ran in a hat-trick of tries.

James Maloney kicked the first points of the game for Catalans, but he soon departed for the sin bin following a rugged challenge on Regan Grace and the visitors fell apart.

Lachlan Coote - consistent with the boot throughout - nudged the champions in front with the opening try and there was no looking back.

Naiqama got his first score before James Graham's final Saints home game ended in disappointing fashion as he failed to return after a head injury.

It mattered not as his team-mates did the business in his absence after half-time.

A relentless display saw Naiqama in for his second three minutes after the restart, then Coote doubled his tally and Jonny Lomax added try number five.

Ben Garcia became the second Dragons man to see yellow and again Saints capitalised, scoring with James Bentley, Naiqama - completing his treble - and then Grace to seal a sublime victory.

Wigan Warriors powered through to another Super League Grand Final with a 29-2 thumping of Hull FC - setting up a grandstand conclusion to the career of club captain Sean O'Loughlin. 

Tries from Joe Burgess, Harry Smith, Zak Hardaker, Jake Bibby and Bevan French saw Wigan swamp their opponents in the first semi-final. 

St Helens and Catalans Dragons will do battle on Friday for the right to face the Cherry and Whites in next week's trophy match. 

O'Loughlin, who turns 38 next week, will retire at the end of the season and was thrilled to play his part in a resounding victory at the DW Stadium. 

The one-club man made his Wigan debut in 2002 and has been part of four Super League title-winning teams, most recently two years ago. 

To make it five would be a dream way to bow out. 

O'Loughlin said on Sky Sports: "I'm just overwhelmed we've reached a Grand Final. 

"It's weird playing here empty, a strange feeling, but I'm very honoured I got one more opportunity to play one more game here. Bring on next week. 

"It'd be special [to win the Grand Final]. There's not going to be an opportunity to celebrate with fans, but to get one more trophy would make it special."

Burgess put the finishing touch to a string of slick passes as he dashed through in the left corner for Wigan's first try in the 27th minute, before his kick through was grasped by Smith for the home side's second. 

The game was testy at times, with fractious exchanges between players despite it being played behind closed doors. 

Hardaker and Bibby put Wigan out of sight before French raced through in the 79th minute for his 13th try of the season, completing a polished performance. 

Hull KR have signed Ryan Hall on a two-year deal after the England international left Sydney Roosters. 

The former Leeds Rhinos winger left the Super League club two years ago to head to the NRL. 

However, problems with injuries restricted the 32-year-old to just 11 appearances during his time with the Roosters. 

Hall, six times a Super League Grand Final winner who also twice lifted the Challenge Cup with Leeds, is now excited to return to "familiar territory" under former Rhinos coach Tony Smith. 

"I loved my time over in Australia it was a great experience for me and my family. But I'm back to more familiar territory now, back in England and Super League," he told the club's official website. 

"I started off under Tony Smith, he gave me my debut at Leeds and then again with England, and also he's going to hopefully give me my debut for Hull KR as well.

"It's pretty cool and familiarity is a comforting thing, so as long as I get settled in as soon as possible I can get back to playing my best rugby. With my relationship with Tony and Danny McGuire, that should come pretty easily." 

Smith added: "Ryan had a number of choices in front of him, and he's chosen us, so we are delighted about that. I've worked with him before, and the amount he's learnt from his NRL experience since is enormous. 

"Roosters head coach Trent Robinson speaks of him highly. He's going to bring a wealth of experience to us. He's bought into the concept of improving our programme and he's got a strong desire to pass on his knowledge to others. 

"Anyone who knows Ryan will know he takes care of himself unbelievably well, he's in really good condition, he's got a body younger than most. He'll be a real asset to us and I'm delighted that he's decided to join us to be part of our rejuvenation."

Manchester City are reportedly making plans to sign Lionel Messi next year.

Messi, 33, sensationally requested to leave Barcelona during the close season, but ended up staying with the LaLiga giants.

However, the six-time Ballon d'Or winner is out of contract at the end of the season and City continue to eye the star forward.

 

TOP STORY – MAN CITY CONTINUE TO MAKE MESSI PLANS

Manchester City are making plans to sign Barcelona captain Messi, according to Mundo Deportivo.

The report says the Premier League giants are trying to attract Messi with the idea of playing in England before finishing his career with fellow City Football Group (CFG) club New York City in MLS.

Messi has been linked with the likes of City, Paris Saint-Germain and Inter previously.

He has six goals in 10 games this season, including three in seven in LaLiga.

Messi's dribbles success rate (56.3) in LaLiga is his lowest since 2015-16, while he is creating just two chances per 90 minutes, his lowest number since 2012-13.

Meanwhile, The Telegraph reports City manager Pep Guardiola is closer to agreeing to a contract extension, with his deal up at the conclusion of the current campaign.

 

ROUND-UP

- Barcelona's pursuit of City defender Eric Garcia is seemingly continuing. Sport reports Barca will attempt to sign Garcia again in January, but City still want €15million (£13.5m) for the defender despite his contract expiring at the end of the campaign.

- Also out of contract at the end of the season is Bayern Munich defender David Alaba. Tuttosport says Juventus are considering a move for the Austria international, who has been linked with several European heavyweights.

- Sidelined with a serious knee injury, Ansu Fati's future could be clearer soon. Marca says talks between Barcelona and Fati are on track, even with the 18-year-old forward contracted until 2022.

- Liverpool continue to be linked with defenders after serious injuries to Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez. The Daily Star says the Premier League champions may make a move for Olympiacos and Portugal defender Ruben Semedo in January, although it could cost them £18million (€20.1m).

- After just three Premier League appearances for Chelsea this season, Marcos Alonso again being linked with a move. The Daily Mail reports Crystal Palace are looking at the left-back.

Sam Tomkins delivered a sensational performance as Catalans Dragons set up a Super League semi-final clash with St Helens by seeing off Leeds Rhinos 26-14 on Friday. 

Tomkins' superb run from deep inside Catalans' half got the French side up and running in Warrington, the former Wigan Warrior keeping his composure to play in Tom Davies. 

The Dragons’ full-back then teed up Samisoni Langi and Israel Folau, who reeled in a high kick before twisting over the line, as the Dragons raced into an 18-0 lead. 

However, the Rhinos hit back either side of half-time thanks to tries from Alex Sutcliffe and Liam Sutcliffe, yet David Mead wrapped up the win for Catalans before Konrad Hurrell's late consolation. 

James Maloney was in fine form with the boot for the Dragons, converting all four tries prior to sending a late penalty over, pushing his team into the last four for the first time in six years. 

They will now face defending Super League champions Saints for a place in the Grand Final, which will take place at KCOM Stadium in Hull on November 27. 

Wigan Warriors captain Sean O'Loughlin has confirmed he will bring his career to an end following the conclusion of the 2020 Super League season. 

O'Loughlin has made 457 appearances for Wigan during a 19-year spell, winning ten major honours with the club. 

The Warriors captain, 37, has won 22 caps for England and 11 for Great Britain at international level. 

However, after struggling with injury this season, O'Loughlin has elected to call time on his playing career once the campaign is over - potentially with a Grand Final appearance.

"I've loved every minute of it. Even seasons when we've not won trophies, I've enjoyed playing," O'Loughlin told Wigan's official website.  

"The reason you start playing as a kid is because you enjoy it and I don't think I've ever lost that enjoyment. It's got more difficult as you get older, but the enjoyment is still there.    

"I want to say a big thank you to the fans. As a player you go out there and having a supportive crowd inspires you. I think what they bring to games is special – the intensity and the atmosphere is something you remember after you’ve finished playing. 

"I wish we could see out these last few games in front of fans but that isn’t going to happen. The finish to this year won't tarnish the memories I already have." 

Wigan clinched the League Leaders shield this season; they will next face Hull FC next for a place in the Grand Final. 

Wigan Warriors defeated Huddersfield Giants 19-6 at Headingley to be crowned the League Leaders' Shield winners in Super League for the first time in eight years.

The Warriors entered the clash knowing that victory would land them the trophy for a fifth time, while anything less would mean a third crown in a row for St Helens.

A try apiece for Sam Powell and Sam Wood ensured Wigan and Huddersfield went into the break all square, but the division's top side flexed their muscles in the second period.

Jackson Hastings crossed the line and fired over a drop goal, either side of Zak Hardaker dotting down, as Wigan finished top of the pile in this shortened Super League campaign.

Wigan will now face either Warrington Wolves or Hull FC in the play-off semi-final, while St Helens await for one of Catalans Dragons or Leeds Rhinos.

Salford Red Devils saw off Wakefield Trinity 28-20 in Friday's other regular-season match to end their campaign on a positive note.

Krisnan Inu, Niall Evalds and Ed Chamberlain gave Salford a commanding lead before Tui Lolohea added a fourth try, shortly after Ryan Hampshire's brief reply.

Wakefield fought back well and reduced the 22-4 deficit to two points thanks to Kelepi Tanginoa's double and another from Hampshire, but Tyrone McCarthy pounced to kill off the comeback.

The Super League board has voted unanimously in favour of admitting a 12th team to the competition in 2021. 

The decision comes a day after Super League clubs voted against readmitting Toronto Wolfpack after they withdrew due to financial difficulties in July, shortly before the league was scheduled to resume after the coronavirus-enforced break. 

The Canadian club's results up to that point were expunged and the competition resumed with an 11-team format.

A replacement 12th team will be welcomed next year, though, while the board also voted in favour of a 27-round regular season, including 'Magic Weekend', which sees an entire round of fixtures played at the same stadium. 

A Super League statement said the process for finding the 12th team would begin soon and the decision will be made by a committee headed by an independent chairman. 

Super League executive chairman Robert Elstone said: "We are committed to ensuring that the process is independent and impartial, and stands up to scrutiny, and accordingly, ensuring the committee is properly constituted and clearly mandated is our first priority."

Featherstone Rovers, Toulouse Olympique and York City Knights have each already announced their interest in joining the competition.

It was announced earlier on Tuesday that this season's Super League had been cut short, with a revised play-off format introduced after further positive coronavirus tests at Castleford Tigers and Hull KR.

The top six clubs will now qualify for the play-offs, with the team that finishes seventh – Salford Red Devils or Huddersfield Giants – remaining on standby in case of further planning issues caused by COVID-19.

The Super League regular season has been cut short and a revised play-off format introduced after further positive coronavirus tests at Castleford Tigers and Hull KR.

After being informed that Castleford would be unable to play for another week and that Rovers could not fulfil their final three fixtures, a decision to wrap up the regular season this week was taken.

The top six clubs will now qualify for the play-offs, with the team that finishes seventh – Salford Red Devils or Huddersfield Giants – remaining on standby in case of further planning issues caused by COVID-19.

Super League has removed the previous requirement for a team to complete a minimum of 15 games, meaning Catalans Dragons will be able to take part in the knockout stages.

The teams that finish in the top two positions will sit out the first round of the play-offs, which are scheduled to begin on November 12, with the Grand Final taking place at the KCOM Stadium in Hull on November 27.

The final game of the regular season will see Wigan Warriors attempt to clinch the League Leaders' Shield against the Giants on Friday, knowing that defeat will hand the trophy to St Helens for a third straight year. Salford play Wakefield earlier in the day.

Saints' meeting with the Dragons, which was slated to take place on Thursday, has been cancelled due to the imminent national lockdown in the United Kingdom and heightened concerns over international travel.

Super League head of commercial Rhodri Jones said: "Nothing has been predictable in this 2020 season and we hope players, supporters and the media will appreciate why we have made this change.

"We believe this revised structure provides the best and fairest way to ensure the two most deserving teams reach the Grand Final.

"I'm sure everyone will be excited about five huge games, set to deliver an even more exciting climax to the 2020 season."

Super League clubs have voted against readmitting Toronto Wolfpack into the competition for the 2021 season.

Toronto withdrew from their debut season in the top flight in July owing to financial difficulties, shortly before the league was scheduled to resume following the lengthy stoppage amid the coronavirus outbreak.

The Canadian club's results up to that point were expunged and the competition resumed with an 11-team format.

Those 11 clubs, plus the Rugby Football League (RFL) and Super League, were asked to vote at a meeting on Monday as to whether the Wolfpack should be reinstated next year.

It is reported eight of those votes went against their proposal, with four votes for and one abstention.

A statement on Toronto's website confirmed the news and added: "We will now take some time to consider our position and consult further with the current ownership group, led by David Argyle."

The Super League board will hold a meeting on Tuesday to discuss whether the 2021 season should go ahead with 11 teams or 12.

The competition's executive chairman Robert Elstone said in a statement: "Every opportunity has been given to Toronto Wolfpack to provide the assurances our clubs need. 

"However, our review of the club's recent submission identified a number of areas of concern, particularly regarding the aggressive revenue targets on which the financial forecasts are based.

"As part of our comprehensive investigation into this whole subject, Super League appointed an independent committee of sports industry experts, with representation from the RFL, to examine commercial opportunities for rugby league in Canada.

"Its findings were unanimous - that operating a team in a fiercely competitive North American sports market was non-strategic and added no material incremental revenue to Super League in the short or medium term.

"Separately, it was also apparent that no assessment of the scale and accessibility of the commercial growth that might accrue to the sport from entering the Canadian market was ever completed prior to the club's first entry into the sport."

Krisnan Inu scored a hat-trick as Salford Red Devils came back from 12 points down to defeat Catalans Dragons 42-24 at the AJ Bell Stadium on Monday.

Catalans were playing their first Super League game since October 9 but showed no early signs of rust as Paul Seguier and Tom Davies crossed inside the opening quarter of an hour.

Inu converted his first try before Sam Kasiano ran in the Dragons' third of the game for an 18-6 half-time advantage.

Rhys Williams and Inu dotted down within 10 minutes of the restart to restore parity, with Tui Lolohea crossing either side of a score from Kallum Watkins as Salford surged clear.

Inu dived over in the left corner for his third try and retained his 100 per cent conversion record for the game to hit 26 points, with David Mead scoring a late consolation for the Dragons.

Salford moved up to eighth in the table and Catalans remained fourth.

Castleford Tigers' Super League matches against Leeds Rhinos and Salford Red Devils have been cancelled after another four players tested positive for coronavirus.

The Tigers' clash with Huddersfield Giants last Friday was called off after testing revealed 13 players had contracted COVID-19.

Castleford will also be unable to fulfil their fixtures with the Rhinos on Friday and Salford next Monday due to another four members of their squad testing positive.

The Rugby Football League's Multiple Cases Group has extended the shutdown of the Yorkshire club following the latest positive results.

A decision over whether Castleford's scheduled round 22 encounter with Wakefield Trinity will go ahead has not yet been made, with two more rounds of testing set to be carried out this week.

The pandemic has wreaked havoc with the Super League schedule, but Catalans Dragons are back in action at Salford on Monday.

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