Jake Wardle is determined to erase the memory of a “heartbreaking” Challenge Cup semi-final setback from his otherwise stellar first season with Wigan when the Warriors host Hull KR in the Betfred Super League play-off semi-finals.

The 24-year-old centre was one of the most crucial components of his side’s surge to the League Leaders’ Shield after signing on a three-year deal from Warrington last year, and his form was recognised by inclusion in this season’s Super League ‘Dream Team’.

But beside the plaudits Wardle admits to still feeling hurt by his side’s agonising golden point Challenge Cup semi-final loss to Rovers at Headingley in July – and says it has provided extra motivation as the two sides prepare to clash again on the big stage on Saturday.

“It was one of the lowest points of my career – to be so close to a Challenge Cup final and to miss out on going to Wembley on golden point was heartbreaking,” Wardle told the PA news agency.

“We’ve spoken about it a lot as a group since then, and how it is not a feeling we want to experience again. It has something that has provided a lot of motivation for us throughout the season, and obviously it gives us a bit more going into this week.”

Rovers’ revival since their own subsequent golden point loss in the final against Leigh suggests another close game in what will be a fifth meeting between the teams this season, with two wins apiece so far, including Wigan claiming their own golden point success at Craven Park in May.

Transformed under Warriors head coach Matt Peet, Wardle will once again be key to Wigan’s chances, and he credits his long-standing relationship with Peet for facilitating his swift switch from a relatively low-key signing into one of this season’s most consistent performers.

“I’ve had a really good relationship with Matty for the last 10 years, and I think he understands me as a person and how to get the best out of me,” added Wardle.

“He’s big on the culture at Wigan and I think that culture that has been built over the years is what makes it so easy for people like myself to come in and feel a part of the team from day one.

“It’s no secret that my last year or two at Huddersfield were very inconsistent, but I’ve got a lot more belief in myself now, I know the coaches also have belief in me, and there’s a lot more to come.

“The reason you start playing the game as a kid is that you dream of one day playing in Grand Final but we have just got the semi-final to focus on first. Having been on the receiving end of a couple of losses we know Rovers will be coming with a lot of confidence and we need to be on top of our game.”

After combined careers totalling 865 domestic appearances, nine Grand Final triumphs and six Challenge Cup wins, two of rugby league’s most talismanic figures will take to the pitch in Perpignan on Friday in the knowledge that their game is almost up.

Either James Roby or Sam Tomkins will feature in their final match in the Betfred Super League play-off semi-final between Catalans Dragons and St Helens, with the winner earning one last shot at enhancing those already-historic statistics in the Grand Final later this month.

While Roby and Tomkins have been at pains to play down the significance of their impending personal retirements, the significance has not been lost on the sport with Saints head coach Paul Wellens convinced it may never again hail stars of such longevity and records of sustained success.

“They are maybe the last of their era,” said Wellens, whose side kept alive their hopes of rounding off 37-year-old Roby’s career with an unprecedented fifth-successive Grand Final win when they nudged to a 16-8 victory over Warrington last week.

“I don’t think anyone will be hitting the astronomical numbers that James Roby has hit in terms of appearances. Players get struck down more with concussions and suspensions and we are looking to reduce the number of games we play each year.

“Sam is someone I was playing against back in 2008 or 2009 when he burst onto the scene with Wigan in a play-off game at Knowsley Road.

“I was like, ‘who is this kid?’ because I was taken aback by someone who came onto the field and really troubled us that night. You just knew at the moment you were playing against a special player and that’s proven to be correct. He’s been one of Super League’s best ever.”

For Tomkins, who won three Grand Finals and two Challenge Cups with Wigan before moving on – via a stint in Australia’s NRL – to make a huge impact on Catalans’ development in 2019, the possibly of culminating his career by facing his former club at Old Trafford remains at the forefront of his mind.

Catalans were pipped to the League Leaders’ Shield on the final day of the regular campaign, but victory over Saints would confirm their second Grand Final appearance against the winners of Saturday’s second semi-final between Wigan and Hull KR.

“The dream ending would be playing Wigan at Old Trafford and winning,” admitted Tomkins.

“I want nothing more than to bring silverware to the Dragons, so to be able to be a part of it in my last-ever game would be a dream come true.

“I’d go as far as to say it would mean more to me than any other trophy I’ve ever won.

“All year people have kept saying, this is your last time doing something – the last time at Wigan, or the last time at St Helens. None of them have really mattered, but this one does.

“The last time playing at home will certainly be special, but I don’t want this to be my last game.”

Tomkins and Roby played together for England on numerous occasions – notably at the 2013 World Cup – and despite their enduring domestic rivalry as respective stalwarts of the sport’s most successful rival factions, the 34-year-old had plenty of praise for his rival.

“He’s been the most consistent player for well over a decade,” said Tomkins. “I don’t know how he is still going at his age. He is a legend of a bloke. Everyone in rugby league knows what a great servant to the game he has been – but hopefully it will be his last game this weekend.”

Duhaney Park Red Sharks won their seventh consecutive National Club Championship men’s (NCC) Grand Finals, and ninth overall after a hard-fought 32-20 win over Washington Boulevard Bulls at the UWI Mona Bowl on Sunday.

The champions had an early scare when play maker Chevaughn Bailey departed the game after only two minutes with an injury. However, they still managed to go into the half-time break with a narrow 10-4 lead after tries from Ryan Grant and Joseph Shae, Grant with the conversion.

Bulls’ first half points came from a try form winger Javon Lewis.

The Red Sharks surged further ahead 20-4 early in the second half with tries from Shaqueil Pollack and Adrian Thomas, Grant kicking one of the two conversion attempts.

The Bulls then narrowed the gap to 20-14 with tries from Orlando Messado and Reinhardo Richards, Mohenjo Thompson kicking one of the conversions.

With 15 minutes remaining, the Red Sharks made it a two-score game when hooker Akeem Murray burrowed over from close range, Grant again converting.

However, the Bulls again found a response, this time through Shamoy Stewart, Thompson again converting to leave the game in the balance at 26-20.

With five minutes remaining and the Bulls pushing for the equalizing score, a drop ball from Kahil Green in their own half gifted the Red Sharks possession.

 Prop Owen Linton then went on a thundering charge up the middle and scored under the sticks, Grant again slotted home the conversion to seal the 32-20 victory for the champs.

 Winning Head Coach Roy Calvert while happy for the win praised their opponents’ effort.

“Hats off to the Bulls, they were determined. The conditions were not perfect and both teams had a hard time holding on to the ball,” Calvert remarked.

“I’m proud of my team though, we have ended the season unbeaten, so it’s another historic moment for us. I was really pleased to see the growth of some of our young players and to end with a win in the Grand Finals is the perfect ending to the season.”

Oshane Edie coach of the Bulls expressed his pride at how his team performed in the losing effort.

“It was a good final. We lost momentum in the first half, got back in it the second but we failed to capitalize on our opportunities. I’m proud of the boys, it was a very intense game and congrats to the Red Sharks on their victory.”

In the third-place playoff, Western Hyenas ran out 32-12 winners over Liguanea Dragons.

Tom Johnstone could become the first winger to win the prestigious Steve Prescott Man of Steel award in over a decade after the Catalans Dragons player was named on this season’s three-man shortlist.

Johnstone, who sits joint top of this season’s try-scoring charts with 27, is joined by Wigan’s Bevan French and St Helens full-back Jack Welsby.

All three players are preparing for respective play-off semi-finals this weekend prior to the winner being announced next Tuesday.

Johnstone is one of the key reasons why Catalans have surged into the post-season and would become the first winger to win the award since Wigan’s Pat Richards in 2010.

French has excelled in the halves after switching from the wing earlier in the season due to injuries in the Wigan squad, and leads the league for the number of assists.

Welsby, who will face Johnstone in the first semi-final on Friday night, has been integral to Saints’ strong run of form after a relatively sluggish start to their domestic campaign.

James Roby will keep his emotions at bay and focus on leading St Helens towards an achievement he believes would eclipse all others when he steps out on home turf for the final time against Warrington in Saturday’s Betfred Super League play-off.

The 37-year-old’s swansong at the Totally Wicked Stadium is guaranteed whatever the result, with a win propelling Saints into a semi-final against Catalans in Perpignan, and one game away from enabling Roby to fulfil his dream of signing off with an unprecedented fifth straight Grand Final win.

Beyond the business-as-usual mantra which has served the home-grown hero so well since he made his Saints debut as a teenager against Widnes 549 games ago, he acknowledged he will be stepping into the unknown when the final hooter brings an end to his last home appearance.

“My whole approach is that it is just another game, but maybe after the final whistle I might think a little differently,” Roby told the PA news agency.

“As of yet, it’s not sunk in that it’s the last time. I’m not the most emotional person.

“But I know after the game it might feel different, depending on the result and the atmosphere, if the fans are singing my name, a little bit of emotion might come out.”

Having announced in February that 2023 would be his final season, Roby, who would duly go on to break his club’s all-time appearance record, started the campaign by lifting the World Club Challenge trophy after a stunning upset win over Penrith in Australia.

The after-effects of that gruelling early trip threatened to curtail his career before the play-offs, with Paul Wellens’ men initially struggling to wrestle their way into the play-off positions before a late flourish sealed their customary post-season place.

Whilst he may be unsure about his emotional response to his final home appearance, Roby is crystal clear on what a fifth successive Grand Final crown would represent in the context of his already-glittering career.

“It’s the ending I would love to pick – to do five in a row, I don’t think that could ever be beaten by any other success I’ve had, or any accolade or praise I’ve had in the past,” continued Roby.

“It would be an amazing accomplishment for us as a team, and to finish on that, I couldn’t think of anything better.

“If you’d told me back when I made my debut that I would be in this position I wouldn’t have believed it.

“My mentality was, I’ve got my foot in the door a little bit here, don’t mess it up, keep your head down, keep your mouth shut and do what’s asked of you.

“It seemed to work well and before you know it you’re 20 years down the line and you’re getting ready to retire.

“I know for a fact I’ve been extremely lucky and privileged to do all this for my home-town club, and I’ll be forever grateful for everything they’ve done for me.”

Roby is honest enough to admit there is little about the matchday experience itself that he will miss: “I just look forward to coming to watch a game without the stress of having to play in it,” he joked.

His investment in the Saints’ cause will not end when he hangs up his famous red vee shirt this weekend.

Roby hopes his legacy of longevity will ensure future generations of Saints players maintain and extend the club’s dominant stature in the domestic game.

“I’ve never led this team on my own,” added Roby. “There’s a bunch of leaders in this team who are individually fantastic, but when it all slots together it becomes bigger than the sum of its parts and we can go on to achieve greatness.

“Hopefully a little bit of me and Louie (McCarthy-Scarsbrook, who is also retiring) will live on in the quality of those we leave behind, and it’s their responsibility and privilege to drive standards until it is their time too to pass on the baton.”

Wigan Warriors claimed the League Leaders Shield on points difference from Catalans Dragons and St Helens with a hard-earned victory over near neighbours Leigh Leopards.

Tries from Jai Field and Jake Wardle plus a conversion from Harry Smith looked to have put Matt Peet’s side on course for a routine victory.

But Leigh hit back just before half-time with a try from Lachlan Lam, added to by Ben Reynolds which cut the deficit to 10-6.

No points were scored in a titanic second half as Wigan were forced to hang on for their eighth straight win, which secured top spot in Super League and the shield which they were presented with on the pitch after the game.

Leigh started the night in fourth but dropped to fifth after Hull KR’s big win at Wakefield. It means Leigh will face Hull KR – the team they beat in the Challenge Cup Final – at Craven Park in the play-offs.

The home side were without influential skipper John Asiata for the third game running through a shoulder injury. Former Wigan centre Zak Hardaker was also missing with a hand problem.

It was an explosive start in front of a sold-out crowd at the Leigh Sports Village with both sides coming up with some big hits to make it a crackling atmosphere.

The home side had looked the more likely to open the scoring but it was the visitors who struck first in the 18th minute. Field showed great footwork after taking Smith’s pass to beat three Leigh defenders and score in the corner. Smith – making his 100th appearance for Wigan – added the conversion to make it 6-0.

Wigan had beaten Leigh three times already this season and scored a second try 10 minutes later – Smith and Field combining on the left edge to send Wardle in at the corner. Smith could not add the goal but the Warriors looked in control at 10-0.

The introduction of Joe Mellor from the bench gave the Challenge Cup winners some impetus and they finished the half strongly. Reynolds combined with Kai O’Donnell on the left edge and Lam hit the pass at pace to cut through and score. Reynolds kicked the conversion to cut the deficit to just four.

Both sides felt aggrieved to see potential tries disallowed in quick succession early in the second half. Field was pulled back after an earlier obstruction before Oliver Gildart’s effort for Leigh was sent to the video referee and ruled out after lengthy deliberation.

Leigh continued to press in the closing stages but they were thwarted by some determined Wigan defence.

The regular Betfred Super League season comes to a close on Friday night with both the League Leaders’ Shield and the sixth and final play-off slot still up for grabs.

Ahead of the announcement of the official 2023 ‘Dream Team’ this weekend, the PA news agency selects its own all-star line-up from the campaign so far.

Jack Welsby (St Helens)

The flashy 22-year-old full-back remains a cut above most of his rivals and has played an integral part in helping Paul Wellens’ men shake off their sluggish early season and re-emerge as a threat at the business end.

Abbas Miski (Wigan)

Just a year after being loaned out to Championship side Newcastle Thunder, the Lebanese winger has evolved into a try-scoring machine for the Warriors, his 27 taking him into the final week of the regular season joint-top of the standings.

Adam Keighran (Catalans)

Brilliant with the boot and equally at home at centre, hooker or in the halves, Keighran – who will move to Wigan at the end of the current campaign – has been a crucial element of another successful season in the south of France.

Jake Wardle (Wigan)

Wardle’s move to Wigan last October raised few eyebrows but the 24-year-old has exceeded expectations at centre, underlined by a superb first career hat-trick in the 50-0 win over Leeds earlier this month.

Tom Johnstone (Catalans)

Johnstone, equalled only by Miski in the season’s try count, has been a revelation in his first season in Perpignan, his trademark surges down the left flank suggesting his previous injury issues are now a thing of the past.

Bevan French (Wigan)

Having migrated to the halves in mid-season to help solve a minor injury crisis, French appears to found his true home under head coach Matt Peet, seamlessly transferring his speed and invention on the wing to a much more pivotal role.

Lachlan Lam (Leigh)

A model of consistency in Leigh’s spine, Lam has been one of the biggest reasons for their phenomenal success, and fittingly kicked the golden-point winner after a man-of-the-match performance in the Challenge Cup final.

Paul Vaughan (Warrington)

His season may be set to end in ignominy after a four-match ban for unnecessary contact, but few will dispute the juddering impact the Australian prop made in the early part of the season, when Wire were intent on sweeping all before them.

Edwin Ipape (Leigh)

Tirelessly influential, constantly probing, only Saints veteran James Roby came close to matching Ipape’s impact at number nine this season, as the Papua New Guinea international adapted superbly to life in the top flight.

Tom Amone (Leigh)

Only Vaughan has made more metres from the front row this season, and the Tongan’s gritty consistency has been a major factor in the success of his team-mates in the Leopards’ all-action spine.

James Bell (St Helens)

Bell has been a revelation in Saints’ second row this season, adding strong defence to a more consistent attacking threat to make himself an indispensable part of head coach Wellens’ late-season revival.

Matt Whitley (Catalans)

Whitley has been a model of consistency in his five seasons with Catalans and saved his best for the current campaign. His impending addition to a congested Saints back row for 2024 is a coup for Wellens.

Elliot Minchella (Hull KR)

That KR’s injury-hit campaign did not buckle after their Challenge Cup final loss to Leigh is largely down to Minchella, whose increasing influence steadied the Robins’ ship and marked him out as the stand-out number 13 in the competition.

 The 2023 National Club Championship Grand Finals (NCC) will contested between Duhaney Park Red Sharks and Washington Boulevard Bulls after both registered wins over Liguanea Dragons and West Kingston Hyenas, respectively, in semi-final action on Saturday at the UWI Mona Bowl.

The showdown set for Sunday, September 31 at the University of the West Indies' Mona Bowl, will be a repeat of the 2022 Finals.

The Red Sharks will be making their seventh consecutive finals appearance and 15th overall in 17 seasons of the Jamaica Rugby League. This will be the Bulls’ second appearance in the finals.

In the first semi-final on Saturday, the Oshane-Eddie-coached Bulls battled their way to hard-fought 43-32 a win over West Kingston Hyenas.  Bulls came out firing on all cylinders, racing to a 26-6 lead at half time. However, the Hyenas came roaring back in the final 40 minutes and almost pulled off the upset with the Bulls forced to hold on for the final five minutes.

“I’m really pleased with the effort of the players and staff make it to our second Grand Finals, and I must commend the Hyenas for a well-played game, they finished really strong,” Eddie said following the bruising encounter.

Bulls scorers: Tries: Howayne Mattis (2), Ronaldeni Fraser (2), Oshane Edie, Hakeem Richards, Shaneal Brown, Chevaun Smith. Goals: Shamoy Stewart (4), Edie. Drop Goal: Edie

Hyenas: Andrew Hylton (2), Neville Lynch, Raul Thomas, Omar Jones, Kamarine Williams. Goals: Damar McKoy, Hylton (2)

In the second semi-final, Duhaney Park overwhelmed Dragons 56-4.

The defending champions seemingly scored at will while consistently snuffing out scoring opportunities for their opponents, especially in the first 20 minutes. By half-time, the defending champs were in full ascendancy having built a 26-6 lead.

Red Sharks center Ryan Grant led all scorers with 22 points.

“I must praise the team's defensive resolve,” said Head Coach Roy Calvert following the lopsided affair. “The Dragons threw a lot at us early, especially around the ruck area. We were on the ropes for a bit in the early exchanges, but the boys hung in there and kept turning up for each other. To be able to limit them to one try is awesome and I am proud.”

Red Sharks scorers: Tries: Ryan Grant (2), Kenneth Walker (2), Akeem Murray, Javion Bryan, Tahjai Maitland, Chevaugn Bailey. Goals: Grant (7), Bryan

Dragons: Tries: Adrian Hall. Goal: Michael Pearson

The Red Sharks beat the Bulls twice in the round-robin stages of the competition and are firm favourites to win yet another title.

As two of Warrington’s greatest, Paul Cullen and Ben Westwood were hardly shrinking violets.

Fan favourite Cullen earned the nickname ‘Psycho’ for his aggressive defence during a 15-year career in which he made 350 appearances for his hometown club.

Westwood, meanwhile, was known as the ‘Wrecking Ball’ for his integral role in the side that won three Challenge Cup finals between 2009 and 2012.

Yet as much as they clearly relished the bone-jarring collisions, both admit they may have met their match in wheelchair rugby league.

That growing sport is something they both now have experience of having joined a team of past Warrington players to face one of the club’s wheelchair sides in a promotional game.

The Wolves were admitted to the Wheelchair Super League last year and arranged the fixture earlier this month to raise funds and awareness for their side.

“It was frightening,” Cullen, who went on to coach the club after hanging up his boots in 1996, told the PA news agency. “They didn’t shirk anything and there were some very big hits.

“We were all experienced professionals but this was something else. It was so demanding physically.

“A few of us got knocked out of our chairs but while they just bounced back up we had to get helped back in.

“They absolutely schooled us. We didn’t score a single try. The only thing we were good at was kicking off – and we got plenty of practise at that because they kept scoring!”

As well as Cullen and Westwood, the ex-professionals’ team also featured other past stars including Toa Kohe-Love, Mark Forster and Mike Wainwright.

They were thrashed 24-0 by the Wolves’ wheelchair development side but the result was not the purpose of the exercise.

The wheelchair game gained new popularity with some national TV exposure during last year’s World Cup and Warrington are keen to build on that.

“I enjoyed it and it was good fun,” said Westwood, scorer of 188 tries in his 446-game Wire career. “I would definitely give it another go and hopefully we can be a bit better next time.

“The hits that went in – I was shocked – but, at the same time, I was thinking this is how rugby league should be, even in wheelchairs.

“There were quite a lot of people there. It can only help the sport going forward and hopefully get more people going to watch it.”

Leigh Leopards hero Lachlan Lam revealed he entered unknown territory when he let fly with the drop-goal that sealed his side’s historic Betfred Challenge Cup final win over Hull KR at Wembley.

Lam was set up by team-mate Gareth O’Brien, who minutes earlier had missed his own glaring opportunity to clinch the winner in golden point extra time, and duly converted for the first time in his career.

“It was my first pro field goal, and it felt like I had a lot of time when I kicked it,” said Lam, one of the stand-outs of the season who added the prestigious Lance Todd Trophy for his man of the match display in Leigh’s 17-16 win.

“We’ve done a lot of work on it in the last few months because you know you’re going to be in that position at some stage,” added Lam. “Gaz missed the first one and had the trust to throw it back to me to take that kick.

“I dropped it a little bit on the angle but halfway towards the posts I knew it was going over. It happened really quickly. I went to celebrate and all of a sudden I was on my back.”

Leigh’s win, which continued an astonishing first season back among the top flight, was fashioned in the most dramatic of circumstances after Matt Parcell helped haul Rovers level with 80 seconds left of normal time.

After O’Brien missed the first chance to win it, the usually dependable Brad Schneider came up short for Hull KR with a rash long-ranger and gave Lam, the son of Leopards head coach Adrian, the chance to seal a fairytale title.

The pride was etched on the face of father Adrian, the architect of Leigh’s amazing campaign, who said: “It’s just incredible to talk about how this has happened.

“This time last year we were coming in to prepare for the (1895 Cup) final. How that’s gone around in the last 12 months, it’s an incredible story for rugby league for us even to be here.

“I don’t just want to make it about Lachlan but it was a special moment. I’ve thought this week how lucky I am having him playing here for my team and doing well.

“It was just a really weird moment when he went to take the field goal, the ball was thrown back to him and I thought, he’s going to win us the game here.

“I’ve coached him since he was six so what went through my mind was knowing how many times we’d been in the opposite position and been left heartbroken, so that was a bit of serendipity.”

Rovers boss Willie Peters hoped his side had the momentum following their late fightback but admitted a botched extra period cost them dear.

Instead of the ice-cool way in which they sank Wigan in similar circumstances in the semi-final, Rovers coughed up an early error then Schneider’s snatched effort failed to find touch.

“I thought our luck had changed and we had got the momentum,” said Peters. “But we’ve got to learn our lessons and Leigh showed us how to play in golden point, we took six carries and went for a long-distance field goal.

“We didn’t handle golden point very well but I’m very proud of the players. We just hung in there and it proves the fight and character of this team to keep going to the end there and lock it up.

“We had our chances so it’s really hard to take. We will have a good little break now but we have always come back and responded, and on Friday when we go to St Helens, if we want to be flat and complacent we’re in for a long night.”

Tara Jones sparked a first-half burst which left Leeds Rhinos reeling as St Helens kept their grip on the Betfred Women’s Challenge Cup for the third straight year.

In the first women’s final played at Wembley, Saints scored tries in three consecutive sets and seldom looked in danger of surrendering their advantage as they cruised to a 22-8 triumph.

Caitlin Beevers did give Leeds some degree of hope with a brilliant solo try two minutes after the interval, but a swift response from Shona Hoyle effectively sealed a second straight loss for the Rhinos.

Lois Forsell’s side had started strongly with Dannielle Anderson and Jasmine Cudjoe both held up over the line before former Saint Amy Hardcastle’s 40 metre surge was brought to an end by a last-gasp tackle by Eboni Partington.

Jones created the shift in momentum by crashing over from dummy half in the 13th minute and two minutes later, Zoe Harris sent Phoebe Hook jinking down the right wing to add Saints’ second.

Two fine conversions from Amy Taylor – the second from the touchline – extended Saints’ advantage and they extended their lead three minutes later when Chantelle Crowl’s tenacity made space for an attack which ended in Partington crossing in the corner.

Saints were scything through the Leeds defence almost at will, but the Rhinos clung on and finally got on the board in the 25th minute when Beevers sent Sophie Robinson over in the corner.

Beevers’ sensational start to the second half – when she picked up the ball on her own 30 and shrugged off a series of Saints defenders – hauled Leeds back to within eight points and suggested a significant momentum shift.

But Leeds were guilty of slacking off at a crucial moment as Shona Hoyle found it too easy to bull over on the right to land their fourth try and restore Saints’ 12-point cushion.

Despite some tricky kicking from Caitlin Casey, Leeds were unable to breach a resolute Saints rearguard and a two-point kick from Taylor in the 64th minute stretched Matty Smith’s side further out of sight.

The next Rugby League World Cup will take place in the southern hemisphere in 2026, the sport’s international governing body has announced.

The tournament had been due to take place in France in 2025 but the prospective hosts pulled out in May citing a failure to achieve financial guarantees.

In addition, the IRL announced a resumption of the Ashes series with England’s men’s and women’s teams travelling to Australia in 2025, and return visits from New Zealand and Australia in 2027 and 2028 respectively.

The International Rugby League (IRL) said a precise decision on the hosting rights for the next World Cup will be announced later this year.

The revised tournament will feature a reduced field of 10 men’s teams, as well as eight-team women’s and wheelchair World Cups respectively.

IRL chairman Troy Grant said the organisation has received two separate bids to host the new tournament, presumed to be from Australia and New Zealand, which will be backed by government guarantees.

Grant said: “We will have an expedited bid process and the host will be identified before the year’s end, once the board has completed its due diligence of those bids.”

Hull KR coach Willie Peters will spare his star men the prospect of facing a potentially-vengeful Wigan on Friday night with their Wembley Challenge Cup final date fast approaching.

Peters plans to field a virtually-unrecognisable line-up for their Betfred Super League clash at the DW Stadium, including three players he has brought in this week on short-term loan deals plus three academy graduates who will make their first-team debuts.

Rovers edged Matt Peet’s men in a semi-final thriller at Headingley less than two weeks ago and despite their desire to cement a play-off spot, Peters is making no apologies for refusing to take risks with his already injury-hit squad.

“Obviously it’s a very important game this week but it’s a very important game next week too,” said Peters. “We will be going there with a team that is going to compete but we’ve got to be smart as well.

“If we have a team that goes out and competes from one minute to 80, I’ll be a proud coach. I think this is a game that we can hopefully go and make our fans proud of us, that a young team has gone over to Wigan and given their all.”

Rovers face Leigh at Wembley on August 12 where they will hunt their first Challenge Cup victory since their only previous triumph over city rivals Hull FC in 1980.

Peters confirmed the respective signings of Catalans half-back Cesar Rouge, Wakefield prop Isaac Shaw and Warrington forward Luke Thomas, all on two-week loan deals.

In addition, academy players Leo Tennison, Louix Gorman and Lennie Ellis will make the first team for the first time.

Peters is still hopeful that Tom Opacic, Eliot Minchella and Ethan Ryan will all recover from their current injuries in time for the Challenge Cup final a week on Saturday, but Jordan Abdull will definitely miss the Wembley date.

Jake Clifford returned to inspire Hull FC to their first win over St Helens in 17 attempts as they shrugged off the painful memory of last week’s Challenge Cup defeat with a blistering six-try performance at the MKM Stadium.

Just five days ago Josh Griffin’s sending-off for dissent cost his side a realistic chance of claiming a rare win over Paul Wellens’ men but Clifford – who had missed the Cup tie through concussion – delivered a 14-point haul to seal a 34-6 thrashing of the world champions.

Clifford, who was yet to turn professional the last time Hull beat Saints in 2017, set the tone by scoring the first try with less than seven minutes gone and set up the clincher for Cam Scott, before Darnell McIntosh rounded the night off in style with a devastating 70-yard burst.

Saints had swaggered into east Yorkshire on the back of six straight wins and suggesting they had recovered their best form in impressive recent wins over Huddersfield and Wigan.

But they were distinctly second best all evening, the visitors’ misery was compounded by glaring errors from the usually dependable duo of Lewis Dodd and Jack Welsby as Tony Smith’s men effectively sealed their win by storming into a 22-0 half-time lead.

Clifford opened the scoring when he stretched over from a short pass from McIntosh, then Carlos Tuimavave added a second after a burst from the impressive Andre Savelio after Dodd carelessly booted the ball into his arms.

Welsby’s moment to forget duly followed on 20 minutes, when he loitered over Jake Trueman’s kick, McIntosh squeezed past to flap the ball back and Trueman pounced to pat it down, Clifford’s second conversion taking Hull’s lead to 16.

Chris Satae found it far too easy to drive over just past the half-hour mark to score Hull’s fourth, and the first half damage could have been even worse for Saints after Davy Litten went over acrobatically in the corner but lost contact just before grounding.

Ears no doubt ringing from Wellens’ half-time team talk, Saints summoned the immediate response they required, when James Bell crossed under the posts after a storming run from Konrad Hurrell broke the Hull line for the first time.

With the half-time introduction of James Roby, Wellens’ men had added urgency, and there were signs of a momentum shift as Hull were forced to defend deep to repel a series of Saints attacks.

But the hosts emerged uncowed, and after surviving another difficult set they responded in style, Scott darting onto Clifford’s clever kick to twist over for his side’s fifth try.

Litten failed to ground another chance in the corner but McIntosh served up a fitting finale that sees his side shake off the memory of their early season woes and shaping up for an unlikely shot at the play-offs.

Hull KR full-back Lachlan Coote has retired with immediate effect on medical advice following a series of concussions over the past two seasons.

Australia-born Coote won three consecutive Super League titles with St Helens between 2019 and 2021 before joining Rovers ahead of the 2022 campaign.

The 33-year-old’s professional career also included international recognition with Scotland and Great Britain, in addition to spells with Penrith Panthers and North Queensland Cowboys.

“After suffering another concussion at Magic round, my fifth concussion in less than two years, I knew I was going to be faced with some tough conversations,” he told Hull KR’s website.

“With all the support from my coach Willie Peters, Paul Lakin (Hull KR CEO), Neil Hudgell (Hull KR owner) and the medical team at Hull KR, I have made a very difficult decision to retire immediately.

“Rugby league has always come first before anything, now I think it’s time to put my health, my future, my family first.

“I’m still finding it hard to come to terms with this decision and it has been a very emotional few days, knowing that I will not get to play alongside my team-mates again and finish off what we started.”

Coote made 27 appearances for Rovers, who sit seventh in the Super League after 15 games.

He scored 161 points for the club, surpassing 1,000 career points during that time.

Hull KR coach Peters said: “On behalf of everyone at Hull KR, we’d like to congratulate Lachlan on a wonderful 15-year career. Lachlan is a proven winner and will no doubt continue that into his retirement.

“It’s a sad situation for Lachlan having to retire halfway through the season. However, his health and family come first and the decision is the right one for him and his family.”

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