The majority of Super League signings are not exactly controversial; most move from another club without much hassle or falling out.
Yet, sometimes, a signing can be made that causes shockwaves throughout the sport, whether that’s because of previous comments made, rivalry between clubs and fans or just how the transfer has been carried out. Here are the five most controversial signings in Super League history.
5. Mickey Higham – St Helens > Wigan Warriors
It was one of the most bizarre transfers in modern times, but Mickey Higham finally made the move to Wigan in 2005 after St Helens refused to sell to the Warriors. Bradford stepped in and signed the hooker for £70,000 and then released him to Wigan as Terry Newton went to the Bulls in return.
4. Joel Moon – Salford Red Devils > Leeds Rhinos
This transfer would not have been anywhere near as controversial if Joel Moon hadn’t claimed homesickness was the reason that he had to depart Salford in 2012. Head coach Phil Vievers was raging when he discovered the Australian had signed for Leeds in mid-November. “He said he was homesick. I haven’t checked the map but I presume Leeds must be closer to Sydney than Salford is,” said Vievers.
3. Iestyn Harris – Cardiff Blues > Bradford Bulls
Welshman Iestyn Harris left Leeds in 2001 to try his hand in the 15-a-side code with Cardiff Blues, but the Rhinos were given first refusal if the playmaker came back to rugby league. However, when Harris did return in 2004, Bradford were the ones that moved for the Welsh international, breaking the contract. Finally, a £550,000 fee was agreed between Leeds and Bradford in 2008 after a series of talks.
2. Israel Folau – Catalans Dragons
It was a signing that was never going to go down well with the rest of Rugby League, but the furore that surrounded Catalans’ pursuit of Israel Folau in 2020 sent the sport’s fraternity into overdrive. Folau, a devout Christian, was given his marching orders by Rugby Australia last May for making numerous homophobic social media posts. It also led to Super League’s claim that they will aim to stop such controversial signings in the future.
1. Paul Cooke – Hull FC > Hull KR
After being the hero for the black-and-whites in the Challenge Cup in 2005, it would have been hard for Paul Cooke to have fallen from grace quite as dramatic as he did barely a few years later. But, the playmaker was refused better contract terms at FC in 2007 and so walked out of the club. The two Hull clubs went back and forth with Cooke’s legal representatives and the RFL before a deal was struck. Cooke walked out in the red-and-white a week later. But, an RFL tribunal found the star guilty of misconduct for approaching the Robins whilst under contract at FC. That led to a six-match ban the following season.