First published in League Express, Monday 12th Aug 2013
We’re coming to the time of year when discussions take place about who deserves to take the individual end-of-season Championship awards.
This year the Player of Year will be decided by the cumulative points that have been running alongside the weekly Premier Sports awards, with Sheffield’s Mitchell Stringer leading the way at present.
But the Coach of the Year will, again, be decided by the coaches themselves, who each make three nominations, with their favoured one being given three points towards their chances of winning.
Rightly, both last year’s winner Paul Rowley and Sheffield’s Mark Aston should be at the forefront of people’s thoughts, given their sides’ excellent campaigns to date.
And Dave Woods deserves mention for the job he has done in steering Whitehaven into sixth (at the time of writing) during their first season back in the Championship, while Tony Miller’s Doncaster are coming up fast on the rails too in the same situation.
But what of the job that Gary Chambers has done with Swinton?
If Cumbrian-born Chambers manages to keep the Lions up this season, then, given the circumstances he has had to deal with, I feel that he should be considered by his peers as well.
When Chambers ended his long-standing association with Warrington Wolves mid-season to replace Steve McCormack, it was a far from straight-forward task that he started, despite McCormack’s sterling work with the Lions over the previous two years.
The club’s decision to rely heavily on their partnership with the Wolves meant that Chambers didn’t even have enough of his own players to make up a 17 – a quite ludicrous situation.
The team was changing significantly from week to week, as different players were made available regularly.
There was also the situation that saw former Wolves Glenn Riley and James Mendeika being loaned to Super League clubs Warrington and London respectively – and one of those deals was actually announced by the Halliwell Jones club, even though he was apparently a Swinton player.
Confusion regularly reigned, particularly from the outside, where Swinton had become something of a figure of fun to certain other Championship clubs.
Chambers could clearly see the issues, and set about making permanent mid-season signings – at a time when quality players are notoriously difficult to come by.
He brought in the likes of stand-off Craig Harvey and backrower Matt Sarsfield, both of whom have been little short of revelations during their recent revival.
New props Jack Cooper, James Brown and Samir Tahraoui have also played significant roles at different stages.
Recently he brought in the prolific former Swinton favourite Mick Nanyn on loan from Halifax.
But more than anything, he has brought together a squad that looked incredibly fractured at times and has got them playing as a team, which was clearly illustrated in their impressive and crucial 34-10 win over relegation rivals York City Knights on Thursday night.
It hasn’t always been easy. I can remember talking to Chambers around the time of their crushing 76-18 home defeat to Halifax in early June. He said something along the lines of: “I’m not the most popular man in Swinton at the moment.”
Now, the difference could hardly be more marked. In their last three games against Featherstone, Leigh and York, they have taken an excellent seven points, lifting them out of the relegation zone with three games to play – Doncaster (A), Barrow (H) and Whitehaven (A).
Chambers has given them a very real shot at escaping the drop, which looked like Mission Impossible a month ago.
Against the Knights on Thursday night they looked every inch like a team that was playing for each other, full of commitment and desire.
Impressive fullback Richie Hawkyard was given the man of the match award, but in truth it could have been any one of about ten.
Among those was 36-year-old assistant player coach Ian Watson, rolling back the years with a vintage performance, and another who deserves immense credit for his part in Swinton’s resurgence.
It’s not over yet, of course, but there is little doubt that Chambers has done a sterling job in turning the Lions’ fortunes around.