High-profile loan signings aren’t common place in rugby league like they are in football but over the years we’ve some astute moves in the transfer market where teams have gone on to secure a temporary fix that often becomes a long-term solution in a key position.
Loan moves are often used to end an injury crisis, develop a young player or to give a team that needed lift so that they can achieve their goals and, despite their rarity in the top flight, they have been used to great effect at times during Super League history.
That said, we have seen a high profile loan ahead of 2023 with Tee Ritson joining Champions St Helens on loan.
So, with that in mind and amid a recent flurry of loan moves in this year’s Super League season, we’re looking at the 10 best loan signings in Super League history.
10. Ben Jones-Bishop Leeds-Harlequins 2010
Ben Jones-Bishop was highly thought of in the Leeds academy and was handed a first team debut in 2008 as he claimed the Man of the Match in a Challenge Cup fourth round win over the Celtic Crusaders. But, with the brilliant Brent Webb and Lee Smith ahead of him in the fullback role and with Ryan Hall developing into a top class winger, Bishop needed to leave Headingley to get experience and joined former Leeds assistant coach Brian McDermott at Harlequins. Whilst in the capital he showed his attacking talents and speed to burn scoring an impressive 11 tries in 18 appearances. After impressive McDermott in London, when he took over at Headingley in 2011 he thrust Bishop into the first team and he scored a hat-trick on his first appearance of the season in the Magic Weekend. He went on to score 13 tries in all competitions including in the Wembley defeat and was key to Leeds’ Grand Final success that season.
9. Suaia Matagi Huddersfield-Castleford 2021
In the last 10 seasons or so, loan signings have become much more common than in the early days of Super League. That shift in mentality has seen Castleford pull off a number of smart loan moves including the introduction of Suaia Matagi on loan ahead of this season. The big prop added much needed depth to Castleford’s pack and offered explosivity when he started on the bench. With an average gain of 8.69 per carry for the Tigers, he was essential in getting them up the field.
8. Peter Mata’utia Leigh-Castleford 2018
A similar logic can be used to justify Peter Mata’utia’s place in this list. In the summer of 2018, Castleford exploited Leigh’s rocky financial situation in the Championship to secure Mata’utia on loan until the end of the season. He added an extra little bit of quality to the Tigers’ backs which had been lacking since the departure of Zak Hardaker and proved capable of covering at centre or filling the hole Hardaker left at fullback. He started at one in the Super League semi-final defeat to Wigan and signed a permanent deal being a key player for Castleford for three seasons.
7. Rob Lui Salford-Leeds 2019
Leeds were in dire straights at the start of 2019. An abysmal start under David Furner had them routed to the bottom of the league and facing the prospect of relegation. Granted the appointment of Richard Agar as Head Coach began to turn things around but it soon became clear that Leeds needed a top halfback if they were going to pick up results consistently especially after the enjoyed the wealth of possession at Headingley and failed to break the Warriors down succumbing to a damaging defeat. Thus, Leeds traded Tui Lolohea for Rob Lui in a pair of loan moves which went on to become permanent at the end of the year. Lui gave Leeds greater organisation steering them away from relegation and to as high as eighth in the table before going on to win the Challenge Cup with Leeds the following season against his former club.
6. Marc Sneyd Salford-Castleford 2014
Marc Sneyd was a relatively unknown at Salford making just 49 appearances for the club since debuting as a 19-year-old in 2010. Despite that, Daryl Powell saw his potential and drafted him into his squad ahead of the 2014 Super League campaign with Salford using his departure as a way of sealing the arrival of Rangi Chase. He excelled under Powell guiding the Tigers to the top four and all the way to Wembley as he scored over 250 points in 31 appearances. The cup final against Leeds didn’t exactly go to plan when he was subbed off after a difficult start but the loan move proved vital in his development. Unfortunately for Castleford and for Salford, he was lured to Hull FC in 2015 where he’d put thing right at Wembley with back-to-back Lance Todd trophies.
5. Scott Moore St Helens-Huddersfield 2009
Scott Moore had shown glimpses of quality when coming through the St Helens system and at any other team he’d have likely gotten plenty of rugby. But no number nine would ever get into the side ahead of Kerion Cunningham and James Roby. In 2008 this resulted in a loan move to Castleford before he made a similar move in 2009 this time to Huddersfield. Whilst there he and Shaun Lunt created a brilliant combination enabling David Faiumu to move to loose forward as they devastated teams from hooker guiding Huddersfield to third place and the Challenge Cup Final. Moore started in the defeat to Warrington at Wembley and was also named in the Super League Dream Team. His form even earnt him an England call-up. Unsurprisingly, St Helens found a way to use him after that and he featured for them in the 2011 Grand Final before re-joining Huddersfield in 2012.
4. Andrew Johns Newcastle-Warrington 2005
Once Andrew Johns had signed a new three-year-deal with the Newcastle Knights keeping him at the club until the end of 2008, he was permitted to join Warrington on a short-term deal. He secured their place in the top four and produced one of the most memorable debuts of all time when he ripped apart reigning Champions Leeds leading some to believe that he could take Warrington all the way to Grand Final glory but those dreams were dashed in a 40-6 play-off defeat to Hull FC despite the fact he scored all six of Warrington’s points.
3. Adrian Morley Sydney-Bradford 2005
Bradford exploited the same “loophole” – as Adrian Morley himself described it – in 2005. This gap in the rules enabled Super League clubs to lure Australia’s biggest stars to Super League at the end of the season to boost their Grand Final hopes. So, just as Warrington did with Johns, Bradford secured the services of Morley for the end of the season despite the reservations of Sydney boss Ricky Stuart. Signed at the start of September, he debuted against Huddersfield helping Bradford secure third place despite the threat of the Johns led Warrington a place and a point behind them. The added quality he brought in helped the Bulls maintain their superb end of season form as they became the first team to win the Grand Final from outside the top two whilst Morley became the first Englishman to win the NRL Grand Final, Super League Grand Final and Challenge Cup Final as he helped the Bulls defeat his former club Leeds at Old Trafford.
2. Zak Hardaker Leeds-Castleford 2017
Since arriving from Featherstone in 2011, Zak Hardaker had developed into a world class talent at Leeds. After scoring a play-off hat-trick on the way to Old Trafford in 2011, he scored in the win against St Helens before being crowned the Young Player of the Year in 2012 as Leeds won back-to-back titles. By 2015 he was the league’s best player and won the Man of Steel as Leeds won the treble. Few worried about the Rhinos going forward despite the retirement of Kevin Sinfield and co because surely Hardaker would spearhead them to more success. That would not be the case as off field problems persisted and Leeds moved him out on loan to Penrith in 2016 allowing them to bring in James Segeyaro. He returned to England in 2017 still contracted to Leeds but the Rhinos had no place for him so allowed him to join Castleford on loan. He was sensational at the start of the season helping the Tigers demolish Leeds 66-10. By the time the deal was made permanent for a fee of £150,000 in June as he signed a four-and-a-half year deal, Cas were seven points clear and he’d been the key to their success. Unfortunately, when he tested positive for a banned substance in September, everything would unravel. He was left out of the Grand Final as Castleford lost to Leeds.
1. Shaun Lunt Huddersfield-Leeds 2012
Another deal involving Leeds also resulted in an interesting Grand Final story. Despite a strong start to 2012 as Leeds won five of their opening six league games and the World Club Challenge, things began to unravel for Leeds as the balance in their squad proved not quite right after the departure of Danny Buderus the previous year and Paul McShane’s struggles to fill the void. Meanwhile, in Huddersfield Nathan Brown was struggling to find a way to include Kevin Brown, Danny Brough and Luke Robinson so Shaun Lunt was sacrificed to allow Robinson to move to hooker. In search for first team rugby, Leeds acquired his services as he was brought in on loan. He scored on debut against Catalans and helped the Rhinos to back-to-back titles providing a vital assist in the final. Leeds intended on signing him permanently but new Giants coach Paul Anderson was eager to bring him back to Huddersfield. In 2013, he was crucial to Huddersfield finishing top of the league and was named in the Dream Team. Ironically, seven years after first joining Leeds on loan he again joined the Rhinos on loan in 2019 to help steer them away from relegation alongside Rob Lui.