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Ranking the ten biggest rival-club transfers in Super League history

Whenever there’s a controversial transfer, news spreads fast.

But, for some players, their transfer to a bitter rival will never be lived down.

Here are ten of the biggest rival-club transfers in Super League history.

10. Adrian Vowles – Castleford Tigers > Leeds Rhinos

To kick things off is the 1999 Man of Steel. Adrian Vowles had been an integral part of the Castleford squad since 1997, helping to guide the Tigers to within 90 minutes of both the Grand Final and Challenge Cup Final in 1999. So, it was rather a head-scratcher that he left the Jungle to join local rivals Leeds at the end of the 2001 season. It didn’t last long though, as the loose-forward left midway through 2002 for Wakefield.

9. Paul McShane – Wakefield Trinity > Castleford Tigers

Though it wasn’t classed at the time given Paul McShane’s out-of-form for Wakefield, the transfer to Castleford in 2015 kickstarted the hooker’s career. Since that moment, the number nine has arguably become the Tigers’ most important player, winning the Man of Steel in 2020 after yet another excellent season, but whilst at Trinity, his potential was never realised, making this move one of the biggest if not apparent immediately.

8. Matt Diskin – Leeds Rhinos > Bradford Bulls

After winning numerous trophies and accolades with Leeds in the noughties, Matt Diskin moved to Bradford ahead of the 2011 season. Having been awarded a testimonial whilst at the Rhinos, it was perhaps surprising that the hooker made the shift to former trophy rivals Bradford, but the desire to nail down a more permanent starting role in a Bulls side that was desperate for new blood was far too inviting.

7. Ben Galea – Hull KR > Hull FC

Ben Galea had been a stellar servant for Hull KR between 2008 and 2012, so when, in September 2012, the forward confirmed that he had gone back on his decision to retire to sign for Hull FC, the Robins’ faithful was left a bit perplexed. Galea didn’t stay at the KC Stadium long though, appearing just 15 times before finally hanging his boots up at the end of 2013, but it did somewhat tarnish the image he had created with Rovers.

6. Matty Smith – Wigan Warriors > St Helens

After playing nearly 150 games for Wigan over a period of five seasons, Matty Smith left Wigan for their nearest and bitterest rivals St Helens at the end of 2016. Having come through the ranks at Saints, the halfback knew the club well, but Smith failed to replicate the success he had at Wigan – where he won one Challenge Cup and two Grand Finals – in the two years he was at Langtree Park.

5. Luke Gale – Castleford Tigers > Leeds Rhinos

He had made his name at the Jungle under Castleford boss Daryl Powell, becoming the Man of Steel and one of the most influential halfbacks in the game. But, in October 2019, Luke Gale swapped the amber and black of the Tigers to the primrose and blue of Leeds, much to the chagrin of the Castleford faithful. After becoming such an important player for the club, to see him move to their big-city rivals was a bitter pill to swallow.

4. Mickey Higham – St Helens > Bradford Bulls > 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. It was a transfer merry-go-round that had never been seen before and will perhaps never be seen again.

3. Jamie Peacock – Bradford Bulls > Leeds Rhinos

Most people would be forgiven in thinking that Jamie Peacock had been at Leeds all of his rugby league career. But, a large chunk of the forward’s time in the game was actually spent at Bradford, where he won every club honour available – as well as the Man of Steel. So, after seven glorious years at Odsal, it was surprising to see Peacock leave for Headingley where, as they say, the rest is history.

2. Iestyn Harris – Leeds Rhinos > 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 disposal 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.

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.

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