Leeds twice blew a double-figure lead as Huddersfield hit back to claim a spectacular 30-24 Betfred Super League win at Headingley.

Adam Clune burst across the halfway line in the dying stages to put the seal on a dramatic win that piles the pressure on Leeds head coach Rohan Smith after the Rhinos’ fourth home loss in a row.

The hosts led 12-2 after a forgettable first half but spectacularly combusted after the break and handed the Giants the chance to build on last week’s brilliant Challenge Cup quarter-final win at Catalans Dragons.

Tries from Paul Momirovski and the returning David Fusitu’a had given the Rhinos a sizeable lead after a relatively serene first period in which Jake Connor kicked the Giants’ only points, and which offered no indication of the drama to follow.

It was a different story early in the second half as Leeds lost then duly retrieved their double-figure lead before the hour-mark.

Out of nowhere, Esan Marsters shrugged off three feeble challenges on the Leeds left to grab Huddersfield’s opener, then three minutes later, Adam Swift pummelled the same flank to set up a diving effort in the corner from Elliot Wallis to improbably haul Huddersfield level.

Only a poor night with the boot by Jake Connor – who would nail just one of his six conversions – prevented Huddersfield gaining a stranglehold and the Rhinos were quick to respond, Momirovski crossing for his second of night then Jarrod O’Connor charging through a flat-footed Giants rearguard to put them back in control.

Rhyse Martin’s fourth straight kick look Leeds 12 points clear but home hopes that they had learned their lesson were spectacularly disproved as more shocking defence allowed Swift to squirm over from dummy-half and keep his side in with a shout, eight adrift with 15 minutes remaining.

Incredibly within three minutes Huddersfield did it again as Swift was again allowed to make inroads before feeding Harvey Livett for his side’s fourth, cutting the Leeds lead to four.

Huddersfield were level in the 70th minute, Clune’s ball to the right was brilliantly touched on by Connor for Kevin Naiqama to surge over, but Connor’s problems with the boot continued as another missed kick left the game all-square at 24-24.

As Leeds collapsed, Miller was pushed almost 10 metres over his own try-line and his subsequent drop-out failed to go 10 metres, giving Connor the simplest of chances to send Huddersfield two points clear from in front of the posts.

Clune put the seal on a remarkable evening when Naiqama intercepted a pass from Cameron Smith and survived shouts for a knock-on as he juggled the ball out to his team-mate to finish the job.

Ashton Golding has vowed to put thoughts of overdue silverware aside as he prepares for a match that means more to him than any other when Huddersfield face Leeds in the Betfred Super League at Headingley on Friday.

For Leeds-born Golding it does not get any bigger than a return to face the Rhinos, his boyhood idols and the club for whom he made more than 50 appearances before making the difficult decision to leave to further his career in 2019.

“This is my personal Grand Final,” Golding told the PA news agency. “There’s no other game in the calendar that beats it. I live two minutes away from Headingley and I love Leeds, it’s my city, I was born there and I will probably die there.

“I’ll follow anyone that plays for any Leeds team. I’m fond of the Rhinos any day I’m not playing them, but as soon as it’s game day against the Rhinos, they’re my enemy and I’m a Giant.”

Having played at full-back for Leeds, Golding has proved a versatile interchange under Ian Watson as he looks to re-establish himself after two years battling a series of minor injuries.

The Giants too have shown signs of rebounding from a disappointing 2023 campaign and go to Headingley on the back of two straight Super League wins plus a stunning 34-6 success over Catalans Dragons in the Challenge Cup quarter-finals on Saturday.

It was a result that raised plenty of eyebrows outside the Giants’ dressing room, but Golding added: “We know our own ability and we don’t need everyone else telling us how good or how bad we are.

“We understood that last year was not reflective of us and the work we had put in. We’ve got a group of good honest players who know they can all depend on each other, and we are excited to find out how far we are able to go.”

Huddersfield will face Warrington in the semi-finals next month as they look to book a second Wembley trip in two years. And victory would finally snag some silverware for Golding, who admits his experience at Leeds, when he was often benched for the biggest games, instilled him with plenty of hunger for more.

“I have absolutely fond memories of playing for the Rhinos, but it is also the experiences when I didn’t play that helped me overcome adversity in certain situations,” Golding said.

“Missing out on the Grand Final in 2017, 18th man in the World Club Challenge, it either makes you or breaks you and I felt like it gave me more. I think it was the best thing that I took away from Leeds and I can’t wait to go back there and play in that brilliant stadium again on Friday night.”

Hull FC have parted company with head coach Tony Smith following a disastrous start to their new Betfred Super League campaign.

Smith’s side were thumped 56-22 at home by Huddersfield on Saturday, leaving them second from bottom of the table with just one win from their first seven games.

Smith and his assistant Stanley Gene have left their roles by mutual consent, with assistant coach Simon Grix and head of emerging talent Francis Cummins taking charge on an interim basis.

Hull FC chairman Adam Pearson said: “On behalf of everyone associated with Hull FC, I would like to thank Tony and Stan for their contribution to the club during their time with the first team.

“They have worked tirelessly and it is disappointing to have had to come to this decision, but it is one I feel is right at this time. I wish them both well for the future.

“There will be further restructuring of the club in the coming days and we will update further in due course.”

Smith, 57, made a controversial switch from rivals Hull KR at the end of the 2022 campaign but his first season in charge did not go to plan and included an embarrassing 0-40 derby defeat at the MKM Stadium.

The 2024 season has brought further heavy losses, with the single exception of a hard-fought 24-20 win over relegation favourites London Broncos in early March.

Smith, also the vastly-experienced former coach of Huddersfield, Leeds and Warrington, said he was disappointed not to get the chance to try to turn the club’s fortunes around.

“I want to wish the club and all of the players well for the future,” he said.

“It is disappointing not to see the job through, which was always going to be a challenging project, and I was relishing the opportunity to see it through.”

St Helens head coach Paul Wellens insists there is no need for hype when world champions Wigan roll into town on Good Friday for a clash that could go some way towards shaping the new Betfred Super League season.

The sport’s biggest domestic showdown throws up plenty of added interest with the visitors eager to stretch an unbeaten start that includes emulating Saints’ World Club Challenge win over NRL champions Penrith.

Apart from a surprise home defeat to Salford, Saints have also reverted to their unfamiliar role as challengers with aplomb, and two successive wins over Leeds at Headingley has set them up well for a game in which a victory will shift the narrative of the campaign so far.

Having faced off with his side’s biggest rivals more than 50 times in his stellar career as a player, Wellens does not need reminding of the magnitude of a fixture which will once again have the ‘sold out’ signs hanging outside the Totally Wicked Stadium.

“It’s Wigan on Good Friday – it sells itself,” said Wellens.

“Fans and players can’t wait for the game to come around. It’s the fixture you draw a circle around at the start of every year, and we are always excited about the challenge.

“It’s two teams who have achieved a lot of success in recent history, and a lot of that comes from knowing how to handle big games and big moments, and how to channel your emotion in the right way.

“This is the big game in British rugby league. We have Grand Finals and Challenge Cup finals, but after those showpiece occasions, I think Saints against Wigan on Good Friday is the game everyone wants to watch.”

Wellens hopes key men Tommy Makinson and Lewis Dodd will be fit to return from recent injuries, while Mark Percival is also available after suspension. However in-form forward James Bell is banned.

Wigan, whose superb start to the season fell a little flat last Friday when they were forced to fight to see off determined Championship side Sheffield Eagles in the last 16 of the Challenge Cup, hope to welcome back Willie Isa and influential full-back Jai Field.

Warriors head coach Matt Peet may not be able to match his Saints counterpart in terms of a top-level playing career, but having battled his way through his club’s coaching ranks he too knows only too well what the match means to each local community.

“It’s a completely unique game,” said Peet.

“Rugby league fans understand it, people in the two towns understand it. Whether the teams are flying high or having indifferent seasons, it sells itself because of the history behind it.

“It’s about striking a balance between the two. You can’t shy away from the emotion of it, but you’ve got to get the rugby side right.

“I think a lot of the motivation is already there. You don’t have to remind the players that it’s a fantastic fixture.

“Both teams are used to playing in these kinds of games. The players know how to handle it, and they can put it to the back of their minds and play their best game.”

With its glittering history of welcoming A-list luminaries like Louis Armstrong and Tina Turner to its world-famous Variety Club, Batley could be forgiven for failing to string up the bunting when Super League strugglers Castleford roll into town on Saturday.

In fact, the perennially over-achieving Championship club are relishing the prospect of a Betfred Challenge Cup sixth round clash against a side whose head coach comfortably eclipses all those entertainment titans in the West Yorkshire town’s affections.

Craig Lingard’s career as first a player then head coach of the Bulldogs left such an impression that he has a section of terracing named after him at the club’s famously wonky Mount Pleasant stadium, and his departure for Cas last year was never going to threaten those bonds.

The historic knockout competition, of which Batley were the first winners in 1897, gifted Lingard an immediate return to the club whom he helped reach an improbable Championship Grand Final in 2022, as well as their first ever trip to Wembley in the 1895 Cup last year.

Small wonder his successor as head coach, Mark Moxon, who had previously served as an assistant for 12 years including the last three under Lingard, sees no reason to rip up the well-established blueprint that has served the unassuming club so well.

“We don’t really evolve at Batley,” Moxon told the PA news agency. “It’s about continuation, no shadow of a doubt. We live within our means year after year, and we continue to compete in a division in which the other teams have all historically spent much more money than we have.

“Craig is a bit of a club legend, and he had great success here that led him to Super League. I learned a lot from him as I continued my development. It’s important to maintain the culture that Craig was a part of. It’s all about working hard and togetherness, and I guess that’s the key to our success.”

Having pushed Featherstone close in their first game of the new Championship season on Sunday, Batley have every right to fancy their chances against a Castleford side who have made a dismal start to their new Super League campaign, failing to pick up a point from their first five games.

And while Lingard will draw on his experience to equip his players to cope with Mount Pleasant’s precipitous pitch, Moxon believes it could still prove a crucial factor in the underdogs holding their own against their top-level opponents.

“Craig might know all about the pitch but he’s not playing,” added Moxon. “There will be a few lads amongst them who have not played at Batley before. We are used to teams coming here and coming out of the tunnel and they can’t believe the steepness of the hill.

“Obviously we’re both very aware of each other’s game-plan. They’re going to be stronger and fitter than us, but the longer we are able to compete they might get nervous. It’s the kind of tie that you relish, and magic things can happen in sport.”

A full-time firefighter at Leeds-Bradford airport, Moxon has no immediate ambition to follow Lingard into the elite, and is instead content to work to create new memories at a club and town where Hollywood stars and Hollywood-style scripts are intertwined.

“I’ve got a job that I like and it’s secure, and the jump to go full-time is a big step, especially in professional sport where it can be quite fickle,” added Moxon.

“I love it here at Batley. It’s been a long time since we got anywhere near to winning the Challenge Cup, and the next best thing is to draw a Super League team at home. It should be a great occasion.”

Wigan head coach Matt Peet is relishing the “fantastic” challenge of returning to Betfred Super League action, less than a week after their record-equalling fifth World Club Challenge win over Penrith at the DW Stadium.

Peet’s men meet Huddersfield back at home on Friday evening and he believes their ability to shut out the weekend’s raucous celebrations and maintain their unbeaten start to the new season will speak volumes for their chances of retaining the domestic title this season.

Peet said: “It’s a challenge we’re excited about and I think we’ll learn a lot from our performance this week – whether we’re capable of going again and maintaining our standards.

“We’ve spoken about the challenge of this week and everything that means in terms of coming out of Penrith and into Huddersfield and the threats that Huddersfield bring.

“We always get everything out in the open and it’s a fantastic challenge and one I’m glad we’ve got. We’re glad we played Penrith and it was a great game, and we’re glad to playing at home again in front of our own fans.”

Wigan will be without both Mike Cooper and Kruise Leeming for the clash with the Giants.

Leeming is expected to miss at least the next two weeks with a foot injury, meaning a rare return to the first-team squad for Tom Forber.

Peet joined his players for a celebratory day out on Sunday but was quick to return to the reality of plotting further improvements with the ambition of making nights like the sold-out Penrith fixture a more permanent affair.

“I feel very proud,” added Peet. “I feel like that’s why you’re involved at a club like this and the reason the fans turn out in the numbers they do, because they love the big nights and the big occasions.

“I feel like we have to build on that and make sure we have more nights like that, both for our club and the British game.

“Hopefully it impacts us and we learn from it and it makes us better players. I would expect for players and coaches to come out of a game like that improved.

“The challenge now is to back it up with another quality performance.”

Franklin Pele and Ligi Sao were both sent off as Hull FC’s hopes of kicking off the new Betfred Super League season with a win over their derby rivals Hull KR unravelled in spectacular fashion at the MKM Stadium.

New boy Niall Evalds led from the front with two tries as Rovers cruised to a 22-0 win which was helped by their opponents’ indiscipline after debutant Pele was red-carded for a needless swing at debutant Eliot Minchella on the stroke of half-time.

With the game long gone Tony Smith’s men suffered the indignity of finishing the game with 11 players after Sao was also red-carded for retaliation after kicking out following foul play by Matt Parcell.

If it was not as emphatic as the 40-0 thrashing inflicted by Rovers last April, it strongly suggested two sides with contrasting seasons in store, with Willie Peters’ new recruits easily outshining their largely anonymous FC counterparts.

Smith’s men might have feared it was not going to be their night when Liam Sutcliffe withdrew after the warm-up due to illness, then Joe Cator was also forced to limp off early.

But for all their ill luck, the black-and-whites were emphatically also the architects of their own demise, as a series of errors and rushes of blood to the head left them 14 points adrift at the interval.

Evalds needed seven minutes to mark his Rovers debut with the opener as he took a pass from Tom Opacic on the right and stepped inside to put the first points of the season on the board.

Mikey Lewis sent Kelepi Tanginoa through a gap for the second in a move that began with an error from Morgan Smith who needlessly kicked into touch on the full.

Hull responded with an overdue spell of pressure, Jack Walker’s high kick forcing an error from Rovers full-back Peta Hiku, who was perhaps the only visiting new boy not to excel.

But errors from Jayden Okunbor and Jack Ashworth sapped most of the momentum the home side could build, and the Hull defence stood off again as the superb Lewis skipped through again to take Rovers’ lead to 12.

Hiku nailed his first and only conversion of the night before the first period ended on a desperate note for the hosts, as Pele followed up a tackle on Minchella with a needless swing towards his opponent on the ground, prompting a mass confrontation and a red card.

Cam Scott spurned a chance to reduce the deficit for Hull early in the second half after another spill from Hiku, before Rovers camped on the hosts’ try-line and after Jai Whitbread and Ryan Hall were both held up, Parcell found the inevitable gap on the last to nail Rovers’ fourth try.

Tension boiled over in the last 10 minutes as Parcell was sin-binned for elbowing Sao in the ruck, only for Sao to see red after retaliating with a kick to the head.

Evalds completed the scoring in the final minute as he raced over on the right flank to the delight of the estimated 8,000 Rovers fans in the 20,014 opening night crowd.

Elliot Minchella is determined to build on the memory of last season’s near-misses and steer Hull KR to silverware starting with Thursday night’s Betfred Super League derby opener at the MKM Stadium.

Minchella kicks off his fifth season at Craven Park and his first as captain having played a pivotal role in Rovers’ re-emergence last season, when they reached the play-off semi-finals and suffered an agonising Challenge Cup final defeat to Leigh.

But despite the plaudits directed at both himself and his team, the 28-year-old insists he was far from satisfied and wants to see his side take the next step and bring a first major trophy to club in almost 40 years.

“We came up short last year,” admitted Minchella. “It was a great experience to play at Wembley and in a Super League semi-final, but we came home with nothing and the trophy cabinet got nothing added into it.

“That’s massive motivation for me. When you get so close to success it’s an addictive feeling and you want to go one better and get over the line.

“We’ve made a few semi-finals in the last few years but I’m not happy with that. When I finish playing I’m not going to look back and think that was really good. I want to have a medal around my neck and to win trophies for Hull KR.”

Minchella assumes the captaincy from Shaun Kenny-Dowall, who has retired to take up a place on the coaching staff, and is one of a number of high-profile departures in the off-season, including the less-than-serene exits of Jordan Abdull and assistant coach Danny McGuire.

But head coach Willie Peters looks to have recruited well, with Tyrone May their high-profile addition from Catalans, while NRL back Peta Hiku and rugged ex-Wakefield prop Jai Whitbread both look set to boost their hopes of another impressive season.

Hiku and May are both set to start for Rovers in one of the most eagerly-anticipated openers of recent times, while hosts Hull are without influential home-grown prop Brad Fash, for whom the derby means more than most.

Hull head coach Tony Smith, who is also acutely aware of the passions that swirl around the Hull derby having first tasted it at KR before his controversial cross-city switch, is also keen to use to kick-start a more promising campaign after last year’s poor 10th place finish.

“I think it’s great that the new season is kicking off with a Hull derby,” said Smith.

“We can sit here and say it’s just another game but when you live in the city you see how passionate people get about their teams, they have to live next door to rival neighbours and it’s a big deal for a lot of people.

“It’s also very important for us because in the previous few years we probably don’t have a good record against KR at our home stadium, so it’s important for us to get rid of that and give our supporters something to cheer.”

Fa’amanu Brown has fought through the kind of adversity that makes the prospect of a long-awaited Super League debut amid the red-hot atmosphere of a Hull derby on Thursday night the easy bit.

One of nine siblings, Brown endured childhood poverty in Christchurch, New Zealand, where he shared a bedroom in a state housing complex with four brothers.

Packed off alone to chase his rugby league dream in Australia at the age of 17, Brown struggled with mental health and homesickness, then in 2019 sustained a foot injury and was told by surgeons he would never run again.

“I went through a lot of trauma in my life,” Hull FC star Brown told the PA news agency.

“I remember lining up to go to the Salvation Army because we didn’t have any clothes on our back. I know what it’s like to live in a car and come from nothing.

“All that stuff growing up, it made me and my siblings understand and appreciate life. Our parents worked in factories and we were determined to break the cycle. A lot of people take this game for granted, but for me, I’m just trying to make the most of it.”

Having successfully landed NFL deals with first Cronulla Sharks then Canterbury Bulldogs, Brown sustained a foot injury playing for the latter in 2019 that required three operations and led to his devastating diagnosis.

“I’d had a big build-up about the kind of player I was going to be in the future, and those injuries just knocked me down,” added Brown.

“I broke a bone in my foot and had limited blood supply, and the surgeon said I would never run again. I was 24 years old and I hadn’t even reached my peak.

“When I was told the news I just broke down and cried but I knew in myself that with my journey and where I’d come from, it wasn’t going to stop me doing what I love.”

Released by Canterbury that same year, Brown’s road to redemption began in the unlikely surroundings of Featherstone, with whom he spent an impressive 2021 campaign, culminating in a play-off defeat to Toulouse.

Brown spent the next two years back in Australia but did not have to be asked twice to pack his bags again when Hull FC head coach Tony Smith identified him as the player he wanted to form part of his crucial half-back pairing this season.

Despite snow slapping the windows of the Aviva Studios in Manchester during last week’s Super League season launch, Brown is thrilled to get the chance to finally feature in the English top-flight.

“I’ve always wanted to play Super League and here I am now,” Brown continued.

“My season at Featherstone obviously made me appreciate the weather more in Australia, but it made me more mentally tough and resilient being away from my family.

“I can’t wait to start with a Hull derby. A lot of people are talking about it and putting on a lot of pressure, but it’s nothing new. I’ve played in big games before and I’ll treat this game the same way.

“Now that I’ve finally made it to Super League, I’m just trying to make the most of it.”

Jonny Lomax says St Helens will draw on relative adversity and relish their unfamiliar role as underdogs when they kick off the new Betfred Super League season next week.

Saints saw their four-year reign end in a play-off semi-final defeat to Catalans Dragons in October, and will lose their status as world club champions to either Wigan or Penrith.

The 33-year-old Lomax, who was confirmed as his club’s new captain earlier this month, will also be leading Saints into something of the unknown this year following the retirement of talismanic hooker James Roby after 551 appearances.

But Lomax, the obvious choice to step into Roby’s shoes, believes the unusual situation will bring out the best in a club that had grown accustomed to both starting and finishing the season on top of the pile.

“Last season still hurts but having had the pressure of chasing more titles released in some ways, there’s a new excitement and a hunger to go out and chase it again,” Lomax told the PA news agency.

“It’s a nice tag being champions, but now someone else has to wear that and take the added pressure and scrutiny that comes with it.

“When you are winning all the time we are never satisfied. If we’d won the title last season we’d have wanted number six then number seven. When you’re chasing something, it really makes you appreciate the ups and downs that get you there.”

Lomax is better placed than most to acknowledge the difficulties of sustaining a career at the pinnacle of the sport.

He overcame a life-threatening head injury as a teenager, after which doctors told him he would never play again, plus three serious ACL surgeries that left him contemplating retirement.

Lomax admits that none of those setbacks were far from his mind when he was asked to replace Roby as captain by head coach Paul Wellens last month.

“I was a little bit taken aback and emotional when I was given the task,” he admitted.

“The good is never without the bad. We see the bad as something we want to push away, but the reality is that that’s where you learn the most – the good habits, the good practice, the resilience and desire to keep showing up.

“It’s probably more about the down moments. They make the highs feel sweeter, and they have probably shaped me into the person who others see as having the right mindset to lead by example.”

There were few higher points for Lomax than their stunning world club win over Penrith in Sydney a year ago, when half-back partner Lewis Dodd converted a golden point drop goal.

And the pain of seeing that title slip from their grasp – potentially into the hands of their Lancashire rivals – at the DW Stadium later this month, is evident for a player who signed for Saints as a 14-year-old in 2005.

But he believes the way in which Penrith responded to the crushing disappointment of their loss to Saints by going on to retain their NRL title last season provides a blueprint for a similar revival.

“To see Penrith go on and win it (the NRL) after that, and to see how that disappointment really drove them on, is a lesson for us,” added Lomax, who is anticipating Wigan’s crack at the Australian champions with mixed emotions.

“In some ways I hope they (Wigan) win,” he smiled. “The NRL is the pinnacle competition, certainly from a financial perspective, but at the same time I think we are guilty of downplaying our own competition a bit.

“We should be proud of the competition and the players we’ve got here. There are players who are certainly good enough to go to the NRL but for whatever reason they might not want to. I think we should champion ourselves a bit more.”

Resilience and evolution will underpin Leeds’ bid to reassert their once-customary status as Betfred Super League title contenders when the 2024 season kicks off in a fortnight’s time.

Rohan Smith’s fairytale start to the head-coach role at Headingley, when he lifted them from 11th place to fifth and ultimately a place in the 2022 Grand Final, proved a distant memory during a turbulent 2023 campaign.

But a productive pre-season, which saw the headline arrival of Salford’s former Man of Steel Brodie Croft among six others, has helped convince Smith that the tough times could soon be a thing of the past.

“What we went through last season has made a lot of players and staff resilient,” Smith, whose side’s play-off hopes were ended by injuries and the unscripted departures of key players like Blake Austin and Sam Walters, told the PA news agency.

“There were some tough times in among some really performances, but the resilience of having to fight through the tough bits is something you can only get by going through them.

“It’s been a really productive pre-season. The Croft and (Andy) Ackers situations don’t pop up very often, so it was a chance for us to make a statement. I think we will start as a work in progress and get better.”

Just as he shut out criticism during the more difficult moments of the 2023 season, not least the crushing September defeats by Wigan and Catalans Dragons, Smith is also intent on blocking out the increasing external expectations.

“When we went to the Grand Final I wasn’t reading the paper, and I wasn’t reading the paper when we didn’t make the play-offs,” added Smith.

“I live in my own little bubble and I have to get informed on most things that happen in the real world. I keep my focus on the things I can have an influence on.

“This time last year things were looking OK and that’s probably how we played. This year the characters who have come in have been picked on their personality as well as their playing ability, and there is a real cohesion and consistency in the group.”

Australian full-back Lachie Miller is another high-profile arrival but for Smith the club’s academy remains front and centre to a prospective revival, so the emergence of the likes of homegrown prop Tom Holroyd – who will wear the famous number 10 shirt this season – is of equal importance.

“Tom had a terrific season last year and he’s a player who’s got a lot ahead of him, but he’s also a sign for the rest of the group that there’s an opportunity out there for them.

“It’s up to them to decide what happens with recruitment and retention going forward. The opportunity is there for the young players to emerge and take that jersey.

“That’s the plan moving forward, that we evolve and emerge from within, rather than looking outside for anything more than the necessary components.”

London Broncos appear to have been doomed to spending a single season back in the Betfred Super League under rugby league’s new grading criteria which will determine the composition of the top flight from 2025 onwards.

The Broncos, who stunned Toulouse to clinch promotion via the Championship Grand Final earlier month, have been ranked a lowly 24th in the indicative grades which were released by RL Commercial and their strategic partner, the sports media giant IMG, on Wednesday.

Under the new criteria, promotion and relegation will be axed next year and replaced by a system which awards points across five key factors including support base, performance, finances, facilities and community integration – with the top 12 scorers automatically assuming a Super League place.

Seven clubs – Leeds, Wigan, St Helens, Catalans Dragons, Warrington, Hull KR and Hull FC – have been awarded Grade A status, which effectively makes them immune to relegation, with the remaining places allocated to the best-scoring Grade B clubs.

London scored just 8.07 out of a possible 25 under the new metric, leaving them, for example, six places below Newcastle Thunder, who resigned from the league and declared themselves unsustainable in the wake of relegation from the Championship last month.

IMG vice-president Matt Dwyer, who is heading the project, denied it was impossible for London to stay up but conceded: “Across all categories London need to be improving, (and) there’s plenty of room for them to improve.

“I would suggest that in 2024 they will be wanting to perform as well as they can to move along that path to being a category A club, and that’s what we’re aiming for.”

The Broncos were not immediately available to comment on the damning verdict, but it represented another blow for the sport in the capital, long championed as a “key area for growth” by rugby league chiefs, following the loss of London Skolars at the end of last season.

But Dwyer insisted the sport has a big future in London, adding: “Interest and participation is still quite high in London, so it still has the base that should make it a core market going forward.

“All that has been identified is the challenge we have to grow the market based off that score for London. It’s a hard market to crack and it’s a market we’ve tried to crack for a long time. It has the right ingredients, but we have to put those ingredients together and bake the cake.”

Based on the current rankings, which have been released in order to give clubs just under a year to address issues and potentially move up the table which will be released at the end of next season, Toulouse and Wakefield would be promoted back into Super League at the expense of London and 13th-placed Castleford.

Castleford have indicated they intend to appeal their indicative grade based on confusion over a point relating to finance, which if accepted would move them into the top 12 at the expense of Challenge Cup winners Leigh Leopards.

Championship winners Featherstone, who lost to the Broncos in their play-off semi-final, also expressed concern over the grading criteria which appear to diminish their own long-held hopes of reaching the top flight.

Featherstone rank 15th on the current list with a score of 10.65, meaning only a prospective expansion of Super League to 14 teams would give them a realistic chance of promotion.

In a wide-ranging statement, Featherstone questioned the weighting of some of the criteria towards what it called “future promises of potential” and said it was deflecting from deeper issues within the game.

“The leaders of the game, including key partners such as IMG, should urgently refocus its attentions on the marketing of the game rather than waste any more time on looking at structures and scoring systems,” said the statement.

“The excitement and jeopardy of our game is driven by what happens on the pitch, as has been admirably shown by London Broncos in their run to Super League.

“We have been promised that this would be at the forefront of the strategy under IMG – we remain unconvinced.”

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.”

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.”

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.

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