19 September 2022

as seen on Stuff.co.nz

There’s been a New Zealander in every Super League grand final since its advent in 1998 and next weekend’s title decider at Old Trafford will be no different.

Five players with New Zealand links are set to line up in European rugby league’s season showpiece at Manchester United’s famous football ground.

St Helens – seeking an unprecedented fourth consecutive Super League title – could potentially field former Warriors Konrad Hurrell, Agnatius Paasi and James Bell.

Leeds Rhinos, who upset the Wigan Warriors 20-8 in Friday’s (Saturday NZ time) semifinal, boast former Kiwis and Cook Islands forward Zane Tetevano and ex-New Zealand Māori representative Bodene Thompson.

None of the five grand final players with Kiwi links will represent New Zealand at next month’s Rugby League Cup.

Hurrell – born in Tonga but schooled in Auckland – and Paasi are in Tonga’s provisional squad. Bell is likely to represent Scotland for a second time. Tetevano could be a Cook Islands contender while Thompson, who played 107 games for the Warriors, has never played test football.

There will be no Old Trafford curtain call, however, for Kiwis great Thomas Leuluai, who played his last club game for Wigan in the loss to Leeds before retiring to become a Wigan assistant-coach.

The Wigan and Leeds teams formed a guard of honour as Leuluai left the field.

The 36-year-old told Sky Sports he had been “playing for a very long time, I’ve enjoyed it.

“It’s been a great journey and I’ve met some great people, but it’s definitely the right time for me to go.’’

Leuluai, a Rugby League World Cup winner in 2008, has played 490 games over 20 years in the NRL, Super League and 40 tests for the Kiwis.

“His career speaks for itself, it’s been a fairytale his family should be proud of,’’ Wigan coach Matt Peet said.

Leuluai will make one final appearance when he leads out the Kiwis in a pre-World Cup game against the Leeds Rhinos on October 8.

Meanwhile, the Salford Red Devils team that lost 19-12 to St Helens on Saturday (Sunday NZ time) included former Warriors and Kiwis back rower Elijah Taylor and Fijian-born former Warriors prop King Vuniyayawa.

Underdogs Leeds scored three tries to beat Wigan – a double to James Bentley and another by Jarrod O’Connor – as the Rhinos completed their 13th win in 19 games under new Australian coach Rohan Smith.

Any chance of a Wigan comeback died when backrower John Bateman was sent off for high shot that clipped Leeds halfback Aidan Sezer’s head.

James Batchelor scored twice for St Helens against Salford, and Jon Bennison added a late clinching try.

Salford coach Paul Rowley felt hard done when centre Tim Lafai was held back by Saints winger Tommy Makinson with a potential try in the offing.

Asked if Salford should have had a penalty try, Rowley told reporters: “Yeah is the short answer. It’s a tough one because I do, but there’s no point in me sitting here discussing ifs and buts.”

Taylor also crossed for a try that was disallowed for an earlier offside.

Salford, who have the smallest budget in Super League, lost Super League Dream halfback Brodie Croft before the match and then saw in-form hooker Andy Ackers limp off after two minutes.

St Helens can now aim to send Australian coach Kristian Woolf home to the new Dolphins NRL side with his third title in as many seasons.