Leeds have pulled off a double coup for next year’s Betfred Super League with the signings of Brodie Croft and Andy Ackers.

Half-back Croft, who won last year’s Steve Prescott Man of Steel, and England international hooker Ackers have put pen to paper on three-year deals.

Rhinos chief executive Gary Hetherington said: “It is our biggest investment in one go since we signed Iestyn Harris in 1997 when Iestyn came and made a significant difference to our squad.

“I am sure that Brodie and Andy will both do that.”

Leeds endured a disappointing season, finishing eighth – two points behind seventh-placed Salford – and missed out on the end-of-season play-offs.

Croft is confident he and Ackers can bring some vibrancy to Rohan Smith’s side as they attempt to revive their new club’s fortunes.

The Australian said: “I can’t wait to get started in pre-season and get to know the Leeds boys.

“When I found out that Gary and Rohan were keen to bring Andy with me from Salford, I was really excited. For me, he is the best hooker in Super League and we have a great relationship on and off the field.”

Ackers added: “The club have shown their ambition with the squad for next season and I will be looking to play my part.”

England head coach Shaun Wane has urged his side to learn the lessons from last year’s World Cup heartbreak as they prepare to kick off their three-match international series against Tonga in St Helens on Sunday.

Wane has named an initial 24-man squad for the series, which will mark their first serious test since their agonising golden-point semi-final defeat to Samoa at the Emirates Stadium last November, following a facile 64-0 win over France in June.

“We fell short at the World Cup and we need to improve,” said Wane, whose squad is a blend of youth and experience, and includes Wigan captain Liam Farrell, making his first appearance since 2021 after missing the World Cup with a knee injury.

“Tonga are very talented and their players play in an unbelievable competition so it is a massive challenge for us.

“Samoa was a massive test for us last year and we fell short, but we learned a lot of lessons and we have made progress. I’m very happy with the squad that I’ve got and I’m really excited to see how the young players perform in such a pressured environment.”

Farrell is one of four players from the newly-crowned Super League champions to be included in the squad along with team-mates Tyler Dupree, Toby King and Harry Smith.

England captain George Williams has also been named in the squad despite awaiting the results of a disciplinary tribunal which could rule him out for all or part of the action.

Catalans winger Tom Johnstone and St Helens full-back Jack Welsby – both Man of Steel nominees – are included, and there is also a place for Leigh forward Robbie Mulhern after an impressive campaign with the Challenge Cup winners.

Wane added: “I’m really happy with the mixture of senior players and young kids, and I know they’re all proud to represent their country.

“All of the players included have impressed me throughout their respective Super League and NRL campaigns and are worthy of representing their country in this historic series.”

Nevertheless Wane’s options were hampered by a series of injury-enforced withdrawals, including Saints duo Jonny Lomax and Alex Walmsley and Wigan centre Jake Wardle, fresh from winning the Harry Sunderland Trophy for man of the match on Saturday.

Dismissing questions over the international futures of the likes of Lomax, who also missed out on the World Cup, Wane continued: “Without sounding nasty, I’ve forgotten about them. The only people I’m thinking about are in the 24-man squad.”

England squad to face Tonga: Matty Ashton (Warrington Wolves), John Bateman (Wests Tigers), Tom Burgess (South Sydney Rabbitohs), Daryl Clark, Ben Currie (both Warrington Wolves), Tyler Dupree, Liam Farrell (both Wigan Warriors), Chris Hill (Huddersfield Giants), Tom Johnstone (Catalans Dragons), Toby King (Wigan Warriors), Morgan Knowles, Matty Lees (both St Helens), Mikey Lewis (Hull KR), Tommy Makinson (St Helens), Mike McMeeken (Catalans Dragons), Robbie Mulhern (Leigh Leopards), Harry Newman (Leeds Rhinos), Victor Radley (Sydney Roosters), Harry Smith (Wigan Warriors), Danny Walker (Warrington Wolves), Jack Welsby (St Helens), Elliott Whitehead (Canberra Raiders), George Williams (Warrington Wolves), Dom Young (Newcastle Knights)

Wigan captain Liam Farrell has been named in the England squad for the first time since 2021 for the upcoming three-Test series against Tonga.

Farrell, who missed last year’s World Cup with a knee injury, is one of four players from the newly-crowned Super League champions to be included in England coach Shaun Wane’s 24-strong line-up.

Farrell is joined by team-mates Tyler Dupree, Toby King and Harry Smith for the series, which kicks off at the Totally Wicked Stadium on Sunday.

England captain George Williams has also been named in the squad despite awaiting the results of a disciplinary tribunal which could rule him out for all or part of the action.

Catalans winger Tom Johnstone and St Helens full-back Jack Welsby – both Man of Steel nominees – are included, and there is also place for Leigh forward Robbie Mulhern after an impressive campaign with the Challenge Cup winners.

Wane said: “I’m really pleased with the 24 players coming into camp as we look to beat Tonga in this three-game series.

“All of the players included have impressed me throughout their respective Super League and NRL campaigns and are worthy of representing their country in this historic series.”

England squad to face Tonga: Matty Ashton (Warrington Wolves), John Bateman (Wests Tigers), Tom Burgess (South Sydney Rabbitohs), Daryl Clark, Ben Currie (both Warrington Wolves), Tyler Dupree, Liam Farrell (both Wigan Warriors), Chris Hill (Huddersfield Giants), Tom Johnstone (Catalans Dragons), Toby King (Wigan Warriors), Morgan Knowles, Matty Lees (both St Helens), Mikey Lewis (Hull KR), Tommy Makinson (St Helens), Mike McMeeken (Catalans Dragons), Robbie Mulhern (Leigh Leopards), Harry Newman (Leeds Rhinos), Victor Radley (Sydney Roosters), Harry Smith (Wigan Warriors), Danny Walker (Warrington Wolves), Jack Welsby (St Helens), Elliott Whitehead (Canberra Raiders), George Williams (Warrington Wolves), Dom Young (Newcastle Knights)

St. Bess Sledgehammers won their first U19 National Club Championship (NCC) title with a hard fought 32-20 win over St. Catherine Old Boys Thundercats at the UWI Mona Bowl on Saturday.

It was Thundercats who started more brightly and pinned the champs in their half for the first 10 minutes. Despite the pressure, it was Sledgehammers who broke the deadlock with tries from back row Sirrano Smith and speedster Racheed Pencle, one of which was converted by Captain Domique Myers. Thundercats continued to press and were rewarded just before half time with a converted try from Shamar Smith leaving the score at 10-6 in favour of Sledgehammers.

In the second half, the Sledgehammers took control with two long-distance tries, the first by Pencle who raced in from 40 metres and the second by centre Jaylan Lewis who broke from the half-line. Myers slotted home two additional goals to establish a 22-6 advantage. 

Winning Head Coach Kamar Findlay was elated at the outcome, stating, “We are excited and happy for the win, especially for BB Coke High which supports the team and from whom our player’s hail. It was a tough game against the Thundercats, who had several national youth players in their ranks.

We came prepared to counter their forwards in the middle, therefore, we spent the week working on our defensive line and this paid dividends as we held them to one score. It’s a joy to bring another title to Junction and to wider St Elizabeth. As the only rugby league team in the parish, there is always excitement when we do well. This speaks volume for the talent in the area and we hope to see more young men and women take up rugby league and express themselves and achieve great things.”

In the third-place playoff, Liguanea Dragons defeated Portmore Rugby League Club 12-4.  Western Hyenas claimed fifth place following their 18-8 victory over Washington Blvd. Bulls.


Matt Peet will aim to emulate his coaching heroes by ushering in a new era of domination after Wigan claimed their first Super League Grand Final win since 2018 with a hard-fought 10-2 victory over Catalans Dragons at Old Trafford.

The 39-year-old Warriors chief capped a remarkable personal journey that started as an unpaid volunteer with the club’s academy in 2008 by master-minding their return to the sport’s summit, but maintained his job is far from done.

Instead, Manchester United fan Peet will seek inspiration from heroes such as Sir Alex Ferguson to build a sustained legacy of success at the club, and perhaps emulate the four back-to-back titles won by rivals St Helens whose reign ended in this year’s semi-finals.

“When coaches can win repeatedly and build different teams and sustain a culture, then you know they have got something special about them,” said Peet. “They are the kind of coaches that I admire and look to learn little bits from.

“I am a Manchester United fan and sitting back watching that team evolve through the late 80s and right through to the 2000s, what you saw from Sir Alex was him rebuild that team, make tough decisions when it was required, trust young players and manage players. That all comes down to leadership and culture.”

Peet was at pains to pay tribute to the players who successfully concluded a re-emergent season, a sturdy defensive display giving way to second-half dominance with the help of their opponents who saw both Adam Keighran and Tom Davies sin-binned.

Liam Marshall’s solitary try 12 minutes into the second half made the difference while the increasingly trusted boot of Harry Smith kicked a conversion and two penalties to see his side home and deny the French side a first Grand Final crown.

“You always want to build on success,” added Peet. “When people look ahead to next year, they are under-estimating some of the quality they’ve seen on the field tonight.

“Some of them will be moving on, but I want to reflect on this group of people, men, players and staff. I think we will look back on this year’s team as a special team regardless. What happens next, who knows.”

Toby King and Kai Pearce-Paul played their last games for the club in the Grand Final but Wigan’s recruitment for 2024 has raised eyebrows with Luke Thompson, Kruise Leeming, Sam Walters and the vanquished Keighran all inked in to bolster an already-impressive squad.

The first challenge for the impressive array of new faces could be a trip Down Under with Peet anxious to emulate Saints in kicking off the season with a daunting test against NRL champions Penrith Panthers.

“We want to go there,” added Peet. “I’m looking forward to it, and it will be an honour. I know the club would like to go there. This club has a great history of playing in that competition and it’s where we should be.”

Peet’s players lined up to pay tribute to their unassuming coach, with veteran captain Liam Farrell ensuring he did not escape the plaudits in the victorious dressing room after the match.

Farrell, who first tasted Grand Final success with his home-town club in 2010, revealed: “I just singled him out in the dressing room.

“He was praising everyone around him – the owner, the players, his staff members. But well and truly, he leads by example. He is a leader at the top and everyone follows him.

“He makes tough calls when they’re needed, he puts the game plan into place. He does all those one per-centers, all those extra efforts, and it is the reason we are where we are.

“It is the reason we won the Challenge Cup (last season), it’s the reason we won the League Leaders’ Shield and it’s the reason now we’re sitting here as Super League champions. He is a leader in every sense.”

Sam Tomkins will head home to France to spend more time with his family after the dream of a fairytale finish to his rugby league career was dashed by Catalans’ Super League Grand Final defeat to Wigan.

Liam Marshall’s second-half try put the seal on a hard-fought 10-2 win for Tomkins’ former club and meant the 34-year-old would fail to add to his three previous Grand Final wins when he was wearing the cherry-and-white.

Tomkins, who had fought off a serious knee injury to battle through a final season in the hope of inspiring a historic first win for the French side, admitted: “I didn’t enjoy one second of it. I don’t see getting to a Grand Final as much of an achievement really.”

The former two-time Man of Steel made little impression in a gruelling affair in which he was clattered by his good friend and former team-mate, Wigan captain Liam Farrell, in the opening minutes, and his side’s hopes were undone by a pair of sin-binnings either side of half-time.

Tomkins said he had no regrets about extending his career but added: “Sometimes you have to be a little bit selfish as an athlete and this year I’ve been more selfish than I would have liked to have been.

“I’ve said no to my wife and kids too many times this year because I’ve struggled a lot physically. Getting ready for games has not just been about training but at home, 24 hours a day, and I’m glad that’s over and I can be a better dad.”

Tomkins will stay in the south of France in a yet to be defined ambassadorial role, and accepts once the disappointment of Saturday’s second Grand Final defeat in three years begins to ease, he will take solace from the knowledge that Catalans are well-equipped to come again.

“Look at the way the club’s moving forward,” Tomkins continued. “We’re a top-four side now consistently, no-one can argue with that, and top-four sides compete for silverware.

“I love this club, it’s given me the five best years of my life. My family are growing up in a beautiful place and it’s been a dream. I love the club and everything they have given me, and whatever my next role is I will continue to give them 100 per cent.”

Sam Tomkins’ dream of ending his glittering career with one last Grand Final win was shattered by his former club as Wigan summoned a stirring second-half display to sink Catalans Dragons 10-2 at Old Trafford.

Liam Marshall grabbed the only try of the game to secure a hard-fought but ultimately comfortable win for Matt Peet’s men, sealing their sixth domestic showpiece and their first since 2018.

Tomkins, who was embraced by his friend and former team-mate, Wigan captain Liam Farrell at the final whistle, will head into retirement reflecting on a pair of yellow cards that effectively cost his side any chance of victory.

Adam Keighran was sin-binned midway through the first period and Tom Davies followed suit for an intentional block on Marshall in the second half as Catalans came up short for the second time in three years.

It was a tough night all round for Tomkins, who had been served an early reminder that he would be done no favours on his final appearance when he was taken out by Farrell in the process of punting a high ball forward in the third minute.

Sam Tomkins feared his hopes of a fairytale finale to his glittering rugby league career had been dashed when he limped away from Catalans Dragons’ Betfred Super League win over Leigh in Perpignan in February.

The 34-year-old made a painful early morning phone call to Catalans head coach Steve McNamara to concede his decision to extend his career beyond last year’s World Cup in order help the French side towards a second Grand Final had been in vain.

Eight months later, having defied both his own initial fears and those of series of specialists who had delivered dark verdicts on his injured knee, Tomkins is preparing for the final game he always dreamed of, against the club he helped inspire to three previous Grand Final crowns.

It has become increasingly hard to deny that it has been written in the stars for Tomkins, especially since he rolled back the years with a nifty sprint through the defensive line of four-time defending champions St Helens to score the match-winning try in their play-off semi-final last week.

“It’s funny how things turn out,” smiled Tomkins. “My last game for Wigan was winning a Grand Final here in 2018 and now my last ever game on the pitch is against Wigan. I understand how lucky I am to be in this position.

“Everybody has their own personal story of what trophies mean to them. I’ve got a story for every one, but this different. This would be the first Super League title for the club, and the last time I’ll ever lace up my boots.

“The fairytale isn’t playing on Saturday – it’s winning on Saturday.”

Tomkins initially needed some convincing to bring an end to his glittering Wigan career and move to France in 2019, uprooting his young family to join McNamara, the former Bradford coach who harboured persuasive ambitions of turning Catalans into a permanent member of the sport’s elite.

Now his young family speak fluent French and he has no immediate desire to return to the UK, investing in property and a potential vineyard in Perpignan and accepting an offer from club owner Bernard Guasch to continue in a role as a club ambassador.

It is a measure of Tomkins’ gratitude for his improbable late-career surge, and his desire to take the club one step further than their previous Grand Final appearance two years ago, that he was swiftly disabused of the conviction that the match against Leigh could be his last.

“We played against Leigh and I had a sleepless night after that game,” recalled Tomkins. “In the early hours of the morning, I called the coach and just said, ‘I can’t do it.’

“In terms of rugby, it was the toughest conversation I’ve ever had. Steve said to just come in the office and we’d chat through it. I was adamant at the time – I know my body and I just said I couldn’t do it.

“I told them they’d be better off bringing in someone else who can play every week. But the club said they didn’t want to do that. They said they’d rather have me here for the important games, and that for me was humbling.

“The performance and medical staff put together a great plan that meant I’ve played more rugby this year than I ever imagined.

“I will forever be in debt to them for the work they’ve done in my last season that means I’ll be able to finish on the biggest stage.”

Tomkins, however, is adamant the inevitable emotion of the occasion will count for nothing unless he is able to lift his current club to what would be an unprecedented first Grand Final win for the French side.

Catalans went toe to toe with Wigan during the regular season, leading the standings for a long period and eventually finishing second on goal difference, before raising their game to sink Saints in front of a near sell-out at the Stade Gilbert Brutus.

Over six planes full of Catalans fans will travel to Old Trafford and both French and Catalonian television channels will broadcast the game live, testament to the strides made by the club in the two years since they came up short against Saints at the same venue.

“We learned a lot a couple of years ago and we certainly learned that you can go to a Grand Final and play really well and can still not be enough,” said McNamara, who has made winning a personal mission since he moved to the club in 2017.

“The experience you gain is the same whether you win or lose and that puts us in a different place.

“We are up against a club who have been one of the juggernauts of rugby league for the last hundred-odd years, but that is how it should be in a Grand Final, and we know we have got to be outstanding.”

Experience and youth will go head to head in Saturday’s Super League Grand Final between Wigan and Catalans Dragons at Old Trafford.

For some players the showpiece will represent their last time on a rugby league pitch while others aim to use the opportunity as a springboard to future success.

Here the PA news agency picks out four of the crucial battles that could decide the destiny of this year’s Super League title:

Full-back: Sam Tomkins v Jai Field

Tomkins’ stunning late try in the play-off semi-final win over St Helens provided ample proof that the 34-year-old’s prodigious rugby brain has not dimmed in the twilight of his career. In contrast, the flying Field’s game is based on speed and spontaneity, capable of cutting through the most resolute of defensive lines. Whoever wins the war on Saturday should be grasping the Super League trophy.

Wing: Tom Johnstone v Abbas Miski

Johnstone and Miski went blow-for-blow in the try-scoring stakes this season and finished the regular campaign locked together at the top of the standings on 27. King of the full-length kick-chase, Johnstone has relished his first season in France but is matched for speed by Miski, the Lebanon international who has seized his unexpected chance to star on the wing for Wigan.

Hooker: Michael McIlorum v Brad O’Neill

Intimidating, combustible and a master of the game’s dark arts, McIlorum will set the tempo for Catalans provided he can resist his former club’s attempts to ruffle his feathers. The 21-year-old O’Neill, meanwhile, brings youthful enthusiasm and an imposing physical presence in defence. Wigan need O’Neill – who seized his slot from veteran Sam Powell earlier this season – to rise to the occasion and match his imposing rival.

Halves: Mitchell Pearce v Bevan French

Australian Pearce, who has seen and done it all during a stellar career in Super League and the NRL, will also retire after the game and his already ferocious will to win will ramp up further as he seeks to bow out in style. French, fresh from snaring this season’s Super League Man of Steel, has revelled in his new role this season and brings the kind of vision and vibrancy that has proved pivotal to his side’s success so far.

Wigan winger Abbas Miski is excited by the prospect of making history when he becomes the first Lebanon international to feature in a Super League Grand Final at Old Trafford on Saturday.

The 28-year-old might have struggled to imagine such a scenario in March when he was loaned out to Championship side London Broncos and made his sole appearance in a heavy defeat at Keighley.

But an injury-enforced reshuffle in the Warriors ranks led to Miski grasping a rare first-team opportunity, and 27 tries and a Players’ Player of the Year trophy later, he has inked himself onto head coach Matt Peet’s starting team sheet.

Miski, who played in all four of his country’s matches in last year’s World Cup, told the PA news agency: “To be the first Lebanese player to play in a Grand Final is a huge honour.

“There are a lot of young Lebanese players growing up in Australia and playing in the NRL, and I think Lebanon has the potential to continue developing into a big rugby league country.

“It’s big for the game in Lebanon too. If people see players like myself playing in Super League and the Grand Final, it gives them someone to look up to and to realise playing at this level is not such a dream.”

Miski will emulate fellow Lebanon internationals Hazem El Masri, Robbie Farah, Tim Mannah and Josh Mansour, all of whom have featured in previous NRL Grand Finals in Australia.

Arriving at Wigan from London in 2022, Miski featured sporadically in his initial top-flight campaign but his prospects changed dramatically two weeks after his trip to Cougar Park, when Jai Field was ruled out for eight weeks due to a recurrence of a hamstring injury.

Peet switched Bevan French from the wing, initially to fulfil Field’s full-back role, leaving Miski to take on the vacant slot out wide – and he responded immediately with a pair of tries in his first appearance against Leigh.

By the end of a campaign that culminated in his side squeaking to the League Leaders’ Shield, Miski sat joint-top of the try-scoring charts on 27 alongside Catalans Dragons rival Tom Johnstone.

“I learned such a lot from Bevan having been on the wing, and I think I really benefited from a sustained period in the squad because the previous year had been very stop-start,” added Miski.

“Going out to London was a conscious decision on my part because I knew I wanted to get some more game time. I could have stayed in the reserves but I really wanted to be ready to play when I got called up.

“It’s been a great season for me and a big honour to get the players’ award. But I am fully focused on the Grand Final because we know how much it means to the fans and the club, and we are all on the same trajectory to achieve our goals.”

Wigan have been boosted by the return of 21-year-old prop Ethan Havard to their provisional squad for the Grand Final, having been ruled out by a hamstring injury since July.

Wigan are looking to kick off a new era of Super League dominance while a Sam Tomkins-inspired Catalans Dragons hope to take rugby league’s biggest domestic trophy back to France for the first time.

Here the PA news agency picks out five key talking points ahead of Saturday’s Grand Final at Old Trafford.

Sam slam

Sam Tomkins admitted prior to the play-off semi-final that he dreamed of finishing his career by lining up against the team with whom he won three previous Grand Finals. The Catalans playmaker has got his wish but will have no room for sentiment as he looks to lead his current side to an historic first win.

French Revolution

After falling short in the final two years ago, Steve McNamara’s Catalans are in a stronger place to take the sport’s biggest domestic trophy back to France for the first time. The impact of such a win should not be understated and could only have positive repercussions for the profile of the sport in the south of France.

Culture club

The sport’s dominant force throughout the late 1980s and 1990s, Wigan were forced to watch in pain as St Helens wrested control with four back-to-back Grand Final wins. With strong recruitment already in place for next season, the feeling is a Wigan win could spark a spell at the top to match that of their vanquished rivals.

Crowded house

Catalans’ previous appearance at Old Trafford yielded a crowd almost 15,000 lower than for any other Grand Final this century. Such a discrepancy may be inevitable – and not so pronounced this time with the French club set to bring a decent contingent of fans – but it does raise a headache where empty seats at the showpiece event are concerned.

Grand finale?

The Rugby Football League’s contract with Old Trafford runs through to 2024 but changes are afoot as strategic partners IMG push forward with a ‘reimagination’ of the sport. While there is no suggestion the Grand Final in itself is under threat, this could be one of the last to be staged at Old Trafford – with the Etihad Stadium across the city rumoured to be leading the list of potential replacements.

Catalans Dragons head coach Steve McNamara is confident a first Grand Final win for his club against Wigan at Old Trafford on Saturday would herald a bright new era for rugby league both in France and beyond.

Having slayed four-time defending champions St Helens in last Friday’s epic play-off semi-final, the Dragons are already generating unprecedented interest in Perpignan – with six private planes already booked to fly fans for the final.

A Catalans win would build on their historic Challenge Cup success over Warrington in 2018 and their only previous Grand Final appearance two years ago, and McNamara believes one final step to the top of the sport could not come at a better time.

“I think it’ll make huge noise around the world if we could get the win,” said McNamara. “Getting to the Grand Final is good but winning it would potentially open the door to a World Club Challenge and other avenues.

“The impact on the game in France would be huge. We’re fighting against a big animal in France in rugby union, but we’re holding our own without a doubt, and games like last Friday against St Helens grabbed the attention of everyone around the world.”

Catalans have grown used to trailblazing since their formation from an amalgamation of a number of French sides in 2000, and the historic granting of a Super League licence for the 2006 season.

Coincidentally Wigan were the first victims of the sport’s new Anglo-French era when they were sunk 38-30 in Catalans’ first match in the competition, and the arrival of former Bradford coach McNamara in 2017 helped them entrench themselves within the game’s elite.

One year after winning their first Challenge Cup in 2018 they staged the first Super League game at Barcelona’s Nou Camp and expanding sponsorship and television deals in Catalonia have led club owner Bernard Guasch to target an imminent return.

Catalans’ former Wigan great Sam Tomkins – who scored the dramatic winning try against Saints – may be deservedly garnering the attention and the plaudits as he approaches a fairytale final match of his stellar career.

But significantly, Catalans’ success is increasingly underpinned by an emerging group of French players, the first generation of home-grown talent to make an impact in Super League, and McNamara is convinced the club’s potential can only continue to grow.

“The club is continuing to develop and the young French players coming into the club now are a lot more professional than they were before,” added McNamara.

“We still have some way to go, but the overall impact on the game (of winning the Grand Final) would be huge not only at the top end, but at the grass-roots level as well.”

Organisers are confident the increasing prominence of the sport in the south of France since 2021 will ensure a healthier crowd than the 45, 177 who witnessed Catalans’ close defeat to Saints, the lowest Grand Final crowd since 2021.

Less than 24 hours after Catalans’ Old Trafford bid, Toulouse will host London Broncos in Sunday’s Championship Grand Final with a swift return to Super League beckoning for their rivals, who were relegated after a single, hard-fought top-flight campaign last year.

The contrasting fortunes of the domestic game are a stark contrast to the international stage, with the French authorities withdrawing from hosting the 2025 World Cup in May, shortly after both their men’s and women’s teams were brushed aside 64-0 by England in Warrington.

“It’s been a difficult period for the French national team,” added McNamara. “But step by step we’ve managed to achieve some real consistency over the last four years, and that can only help to put us in a strong position as a game in France.”

Kevin Sinfield fittingly kicked the winning points to provide a fairytale finish to his magnificent rugby league career as he led Leeds to Grand Final glory on this day in 2015.

The Rhinos twice came from behind in a pulsating tie against Wigan, with Sinfield converting a 64th-minute try from substitute Josh Walters to seal a 22-20 win at a sell-out 73,512 crowd at Old Trafford.

Sinfield’s third goal meant he ended his rugby league career on 4,231 points, making him the third highest scorer in the history of the game, as Leeds celebrated a seventh Grand Final triumph in a year where they also scooped the Challenge Cup and League Leaders’ Shield.

“To top my career off with a treble in my final year is unbelievable. I’m really thankful and really proud,” said Sinfield, who switched codes to rugby union and had a season with the Rhinos’ sister club Yorkshire Carnegie.

“To finish on an ending like that against a great team and for it to be so tough out there, to come through at the end was brilliant.”

Jamie Peacock bowed out with a record 11th appearance at Old Trafford, as well as a ninth success, while fellow front rower Kylie Leuluai maintained his 100 per cent record in Grand Finals in his last game with a sixth triumph.

Leeds’ hero was Danny McGuire, scoring two of their four tries which helped his side to a first win over Wigan in seven major finals and belated revenge for their defeat in the inaugural Grand Final in 1998.

“We were all a bit emotional and felt a little bit drained early on,” McGuire said.

“Three of my best mates are not going to be playing with me next year. Psychologically you try to put that to the back of your mind but it’s always there.

“You want to send them out on the best terms and fortunately we were able to do that through sheer determination and hard work.

“It’ll be weird not having the Sinfield shirt next to mine on a Friday night.”

Liam Marshall marked his 150th appearance with a hat-trick as Wigan sealed their return to the Betfred Super League Grand Final for the first time in three years with a blistering 42-12 win over Hull KR at the DW Stadium.

Matt Peet’s men scored three tries in the opening 12 minutes and never looked back as they set up an Old Trafford clash with Catalans Dragons and their former hero Sam Tomkins, who starred in each of Wigan’s previous three Grand Final wins.

Elliot Minchella’s try gave Rovers a glimmer of hope before the break but three tries in quick succession at the start of the second half – bolstered by the unerring boot of Harry Smith who kicked all seven of his conversions – wrapped up Wigan’s win inside an hour.

Willie Peters’ men had arrived at the DW Stadium brimming with confidence after a stellar campaign but the semi-final simply proved a step too far as their flat-footed defensive line was ruthlessly exploited by the hosts.

Marshall marked his 150th appearance by crashing between Tom Opacic and Louis Senior to notch the opener inside three minutes, then Jai Field pursued Smith’s clever kick to slap down his side’s second, a video check over-ruling referee Liam Moore’s suspicions of a knock-on.

Marshall exposed more gaps on the Rovers rights to trot over all too easily for his side’s third and Smith’s precision with the boot meant the visitors were staring at an 18-0 deficit having barely brushed the ball in anger.

Minchella at least gave his side hope before half-time as Rovers capitalised on a careless knock-on by Abbas Miski, Opacic and Matt Parcell combining to give Minchella the chance to get their side on the scoreboard.

Rovers briefly looked galvanised and Matty Storton had a sniff of a second, but it marked their last real chance to establish some sort of contest as familiar failings meant Wigan completed the job within 15 minutes of the restart.

French’s clever cross-field lob found Marshall in space to tap down for his hat-trick, yet another Rovers failure to cope with a high ball sent Toby King over in the opposite corner, then Patrick Mago’s fancy footwork served up Field’s second.

Wigan were simply merciless against a Rovers team folding under the weight of an exhaustive campaign and a seventh try via Abbas Miski began to give the scoreline echoes of Wigan’s 64-6 win over a second-string Rovers side early last month.

They at least avoided that indignity, but it was a sad ending for Rovers and in particular their stalwart Shaun Kenny-Dowall, who had a shocker in his final game before retirement.

Smith finally missed with a cheeky long-range drop-goal attempt as Wigan counted down the minutes and Rovers at least gave their massed ranks of travelling fans something to cheer when Jordan Abdull sent Jez Litten cantering through in the dying stages.

The prospect of a historic first Grand Final appearance is not enough for Hull KR head coach Willie Peters as he plots to make the Craven Park club a permanent fixture among the Betfred Super League elite.

Rovers head to League Leaders’ Shield winners Wigan on Saturday standing 80 minutes from their debut in the domestic showpiece after rallying brilliantly from last month’s Challenge Cup final loss to earn a place in the post-season play-offs.

But with the backing of the club’s new ambitious owners, Peters believes his job will be far from finished even if his side manage to upset the odds at the DW Stadium and book their place at Old Trafford next weekend.

“We’re not where we want to be,” admitted Australian Peters, a former Wigan player who has made a huge impression since his arrival in east Hull last year as a then relatively low-key appointment in his first head coaching role.

“We’re in the top four teams this year but we talk about being a top-four club in everything we do, and you can’t just do that for one year, you need to do it year in, year out.

“It’s no fluke that the likes of Wigan and Saints are in the top four all the time. They got their club and their culture right years ago, and they bring in the right players year in, year out.

“We want to be a top-four club too, and we’ve got an excellent opportunity this week. The job’s not done yet, and as much as we’re pleased with what we’ve done so far, I don’t like putting a ceiling on things when you’re still in the competition.”

Rovers’ tumultuous campaign saw them get off to a flying start before being ravaged by injuries, experiencing the full range of Challenge Cup emotions with a golden point semi-final win over Wigan at Headingley followed by their agonising last-gasp Wembley loss to Leigh.

Many believed Rovers’ season to be as good as over after that final disappointment but instead Peters rallied his players for a post-season run that saw them snatch fourth place on the final day of the regular season, then sink the ailing Leopards in the first elimination round.

“Wembley could have changed our season for the worst, but we looked at the areas we needed to work on and we came back to what we do well,” added Peters.

“The players are still fresh and we’ve now got a lot of players who could make the 17. We are still training with the same intensity and momentum and it’s really important at this stage of the season to keep that going.”

Rovers’ injury issues have eased to the point where Sauaso Sue is the only confirmed absentee, and Peters hopes one last push will be enough to ensure veteran centre Shaun Kenny-Dowall can sign off his memorable Craven Park career with a Grand Final appearance.

“Shaun is going to leave a legacy at our club and we are extremely proud of what he’s done for us and will continue to do for us as a coach,” added Peters.

“The fans love him, the players and staff love him, and we’re proud of his achievements but he’s not finished yet.”

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