Five players who shocked the rugby league world by returning to their former clubs

Yesterday it was announced that Marc Sneyd would be returning to Salford. Eight years after he last pulled on a Salford jersey, and after playing in three Challenge Cup Finals losing one with Castleford in 2014 before helping Hull FC to consecutive Challenge Cup wins in 2016 and 2017, he re-joins the Red Devils on a three-year deal. It’s a bold move by both Salford and Sneyd and could see them climb the table in 2022. This shock move got us thinking about other times players returned to their former clubs much to the surprise of the rugby league world.

Marc Sneyd

Let’s start with the man who inspired this list then. Sneyd started his career at Salford in 2010 as a fresh-faced teenager but was afforded very few opportunities until 2013 when he made the bulk of his 49 Salford appearances. He signed a new deal that year and looked set to be part of the Marwan Koukash era at Salford until they used him in a deal to secure the services of Rangi Chase from Castleford. He joined the Tigers on loan and helped them to the top four whilst in the background Hull FC secured his services permanently. He has to be considered a success at Hull having won the Lance Todd trophy in 2016 and 2017 helping the Black and Whites to consecutive Challenge Cups. For one reason or another, he was unable to deliver the Super League title despite Hull’s quality in those two seasons and since then they’ve drifted out of the title picture culminating in his departure.

Luke Gale

Ironically, Sneyd’s return to Salford also ended Luke Gale’s return to Leeds as the former Man of Steel moves to Hull to fill the void left by Sneyd. Gale started his career at Leeds but with Danny McGuire and co blocking the path to the first team, he bounced around the country joining the likes of Harlequins and Doncaster before excelling at Castleford where he won the Man of Steel. That led Leeds, after the departure of McGuire and the end of the golden generation, to lure him back to Headingley to help usher in a new era. His drop goal won the Challenge Cup for Leeds in his first season but 2021 was sullied by injury as he failed to replicate the form which had seen him finish 2020 as the runner-up for Leeds’ Player of the Year.

John Bateman

When John Bateman was named in the NRL’s team of the year in 2019 after an outstanding campaign for Canberra helping them to the Grand Final, it seemed like he was going to follow in the footsteps of Sam Burgess such was the hype around him in Australia. But homesickness saw him head back to Wigan much sooner than expected as he returned to the DW Stadium just two years after leaving to take on a new challenge in Australia. He struggled to capture the form he’d previously shown at Wigan before his 2018 departure but, still a world class forward, expect him to kick on in 2022.

Danny Brough

Part way through 2010, Danny Brough was lured to Huddersfield from Wakefield. After a heroic Challenge Cup Final performance for Hull FC in 2005, he guided Castleford back to Super League in 2007 before being snapped up by Wakefield. At Trinity he was exceptional helping them to a fifth place finish in 2009. Subsequently regarded as one of the best sevens in the league, Huddersfield snapped him up as they looked to confirm their status as a mainstay in the top six. A few years later his career peaked when he claimed the Man of Steel and he helped the Giants to top spot as they became serious contenders for Super League glory. He continued to shine for the Giants even when they began to struggle in 2016 and it seemed he’d finish his career there. But, to the surprise of the rugby league world, he then returned to Wakefield ahead of the 2019 campaign having given the best years of his career to Huddersfield.

Matty Smith

Whenever a player makes the leap from Wigan to St Helens, it ruffles a few feathers and in the case of Matty Smith there was an added twist. The scrum-half had made his name at St Helens as a reliable deputy for the first choice seven starting the Grand Final qualifier against Leeds in Sean Long’s absence in 2007 before filling in for the injured Kyle Eastmond in the 2010 Grand Final after being recalled from his loan spell at Salford. Nonetheless, after that game he joined the then City Reds on a full-time basis in 2011 developing into a well rounded scrum-half before being snapped up by Wigan in 2012. A year later he was key as the Warriors won the double and his time at Wigan ended in more glory as he helped the Warriors to a fourth Super League crown in his final game before returning to St Helens with the ambition of turning them into Champions again. Unfortunately, things didn’t pan out that way with the Saints going on to trust new arrival Ben Barba at fullback prompting Jonny Lomax to move into the halves in place of the veteran Smith.

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