Rugby League: Hoppe signs as St Helens look for experience

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The Independent Online
THE SUPER League champions, St Helens, have signed the former New Zealand Test winger Sean Hoppe on a two- year contract.

Hoppe came to the club on a short-term deal at the end of last season, playing mainly in the unfamiliar role as a replacement back-row forward, as he did in the Grand Final win over Bradford. "Sean is a proven international player whose experience and versatility will be beneficial," said the Saints vice-chairman, Mal Kay.

Hoppe, who joins up with Saints' close-season recruits, Darrall Trindall and his former Auckland team-mate Bryan Henare, scored a record 17 tries in 33 Tests for the Kiwis.

Neil Tunnicliffe, the Rugby League chief executive, yesterday told the England rugby union coach, Clive Woodward, to take his eyes off budding league players. Woodward is said to have earmarked Super League youngsters Leon Pryce (Bradford) and Chev Walker (Leeds) for a possible crash course in rugby union by playing for England on the World Sevens circuit.

The England coach is a known admirer of league players such as Gary Connolly and Jason Robinson, but Tunnicliffe said he was wasting his time by attempting to "poach" the cream of young league talent.

"Surely it is a savage indictment of rugby union that it has networks and resources at its command which are 10 times those available to rugby league, and yet it believes it cannot produce players who are anywhere near as good. We have no intention of letting these marvellous young athletes get poached by an envious rival sport."

Castleford have decided against retaining the Fijian prop James Pickering and are releasing him midway through a two-year contract. Leeds have confirmed that they will play all next season's home Super League matches on Friday evenings apart from the game against Salford on 1 May.

n Australia's Andrew Johns, Newcastle Knights' inspirational half-back, is the 1999 winner of the Golden Boot award for the best player in the world. St Helens' Keiron Cunningham, is the only player from the Northern Hemisphere in a World XIII chosen by the Rugby League World magazine.