Leigh Centurions coach John Duffy has added three new faces to his squad on the eve of the Championship season in Alex Gerrard, Cameron Scott and Lewis Bienek.
Prop Gerrard has been playing at Mackay Cutters in Australia, after having previously featured 110 times for Widnes between 2010 and 2019.
Hull FC duo Scott and Bienek have arrived on season-long loan deals.
Duffy said: “I actually know Alex from when I played at Widnes when he was coming through the Academy as a young lad.
“He has played so many games in Super League, but decided to move to Australia and played in the Queensland Cup.
“He was offered the chance to trial in pre-season with the Gold Coast Titans, but he’s missing home and wants to come back.
“Alex actually trained with us last pre-season and got some fitness before heading for Australia.
“He’s a Lowton lad and he’ll enjoy getting out there in a Leigh shirt.
“He’s a steady head, a strong lad and he has some skill too.
“I think he’ll give us a lot of composure in the middle.”
On the Hull FC duo, Duffy added: “Lewis appeared on the scene after coming through the Academy pathway at London Broncos while Andrew Henderson was there coaching.
“He enjoyed a brilliant couple of seasons before London made Super League and Hull FC took a chance on him last year.
“He’s a big boy, a really athletic front runner who takes some putting down when he’s on his game.
“I’m looking forward to getting him down here and adding some size to our pack. He’s excited to be linking up with a few of the former London lads like Jarrod Sammut, Mark Ioane, Tom Spencer and Ben Hellewell.”
“Cameron is a big athletic centre who can play wing as well.
“I am looking to use him in both those positions in the friendly against Wigan Warriors. He’s very excited about coming on board and getting some game time.”
BATLEY BULLDOGS are poised to complete the signing of their former prop Tom Lillycrop for the new campaign.
Lillycrop was a popular member of the Bulldogs’ squad after joining from Sheffield for the 2015 season.
But he did not re-sign for this year because of increased work commitments, which have now changed, allowing him to link up with Craig Lingard’s squad this week.
Lingard explained: “Tom should be back training with us on Tuesday and we’re pretty confident that something will be sorted out with him then.
“Work was the reason for him not re-signing in the first place. He had a really big project that he was in charge of and leaving early three times a week to come training wasn’t ideal.
“But we now train on Saturday mornings, so that’s down to twice a week and the project has settled down a bit, which frees him up.
“One thing I wanted to do when I came here was to get the right people that fit what the club is about, and Tom knows all about that.
“He has the kind of character and personality that is ideal for a club like Batley.
“It’s not like we’re signing a new player; it’s an old one coming back, having enjoyed his time here previously and having all the attributes both in terms of his playing ability and his attitude and work ethic that we look for.
“He’s been playing with Cleckheaton RUFC and will continue to do that on a Saturday, while he has around a month’s training with us to get fit enough to be considered to play.”
Lingard also confirmed the club is eyeing a halfback with Super League experience as he continues to look to bolster his squad before the season kicks off.
BRADFORD BULLS coach John Kear believes his squad will be significantly boosted by confirmation of a dual-registration partnership with Hull FC.
As anticipated in last week’s League Express, the Black and Whites chose to link with the Bulls ahead of Championship rivals Batley, with the move formally announced in midweek.
Hull FC youngsters Connor Wynne, Charlie Patterson-Lund, Charlie Graham and Kieran Buchanan were all included in the Bulls’ squad for their pre-season clash with Dewsbury on Sunday and Kear believes the link will work well in 2020.
He said: “Hull can see value in what we can offer and we can certainly see value in what they offer.
“Hopefully it will work out to be very productive.
“We had four in the squad at the weekend to give them some match practise and allow us to run the rule over them.
“We thought long and hard about whether to go down this route and I am delighted Hull FC have agreed to become our partners.
“It is an agreement I see having benefits for both players, coaches and fans and it is a very exciting partnership. I hope Hull achieve what they want to achieve and I hope we do too.”
Missing from the squad to face Dewsbury were Brandon Pickersgill and Sam Hallas, after both sustained minor ankle issues in the game at Leeds.
But Vytas Vaznys was back, after having been unavailable since breaking his thumb in training just prior to the Boxing Day game with Castleford.
Off the field the club has announced popular former player Keith Mumby as its first honorary president.
Mumby played for 20 years at Bradford Northern after signing as a 16-year-old, and has been inducted into the Bulls’ Hall of Fame, Team of the Century and Millennium Masters.
Bulls director Mark Kilgallon said: “Keith is a very worthy recipient of our first-ever presidency term and it is a fitting tribute to his achievements at the club.
“He represents everything that is great about the club and he has continued to be a great ambassador for the club over the decades since his retirement.
“We look forward to helping Keith settle into the role over the next two years and we are sure his appointment will be well received by our supporters, who remember his dedication from his playing days.”
Coach Kear has also confirmed his squad numbers for the new campaign, with new signings Greg Johnson, Anthony England and Adam Rooks all handed starting 13 shirts.
Bradford 2020 squad numbers: 1 Brandon Pickersgill, 2 Greg Johnson, 4 Ross Oakes, 5 Joe Brown, 6 Rowan Milnes, 7 Jordan Lilley. 8 Anthony England, 9 Thomas Doyle, 10 Steve Crossley, 11 Adam Rooks, 12 Connor Farrell, 13 Sam Hallas, 14 George Flanagan, 15 Liam Kirk, 16 David Foggin-Johnston, 17 Levy Nzoungou, 18 Evan Hodgson, 20 Dan Waite-Pullan, 25 Cobi Green, 26 Harry Shackleton, 27 Sam Barlow, 28 Brad Gallagher, 29 Ebon Scurr, 30 Keelan Foster.
OLDHAM’S new signing Matthew Fletcher has fulfilled a boyhood dream by signing for his hometown club.
The ball-playing forward has returned from a year in Australia, where he played at Valleys Diehards and Norths Devils in Brisbane, having previously been on the books at both Featherstone and Bradford.
The 19-year-old grew up supporting the Roughyeds and also knows coach Matt Diskin from his days at the Bulls.
Diskin said: “Matthew is a real talent.
“As a boy he played as a halfback, but in more recent years, as he’s got bigger, he plays as a forward through the middle channels, but he’s still got his ball-handling skills and he has a good offload.
“He’s a lad with a great attitude, he works very hard and he’s keen to do the best he can and progress up the ladder.”
Fletcher himself, who was a junior player at Saddleworth Rangers and Waterhead in the town, is relishing the chance to pull on an Oldham shirt.
He said: “I’ve supported the Roughyeds since I was a boy.
“I know Gareth Owen and Danny Bridge, I know Matt Diskin from our Bradford days and I’m back living in Oldham, so it made sense to sign for my hometown club if I got the opportunity.
“I’m massively looking forward to playing for the club.
“I consider myself a Waterhead lad through and through, so it will be great to be playing alongside Gaz Owen, Danny Bridge and Phil Joy – I can’t wait.
“Funnily enough, there was a time when I used to play a bit of football too for Stalybridge Celtic, so how’s that for a coincidence, given that the Roughyeds will be at Bower Fold this season.”
WIDNES VIKINGS have reported a positive response to plans to launch their own TV channel for the 2020 season.
Around 1,000 supporters took part in a survey, with 87 per cent saying they would be happy to subscribe to the new service.
A Vikings statement read: “Having such a great response rate has allowed the club to assess the demand for the launch of a subscription service, while also gaining feedback from supporters regarding what new features they would like to see introduced.
“There has been a high demand for past-player interviews and footage, with supporters also keen to see behind-the-scenes coverage and head-to-head quizzes from members of the first-team squad.
“Over the coming week, the club will be analysing all responses before making a decision on the launch of Widnes TV, taking into account what footage supporters wish to view on the service.
“In regards to current media content, this will not be affected by the introduction of Widnes TV, with match highlights and post-match interviews with Tim Sheens still free and available to all supporters via our official social media channels.”
FEATHERSTONE ROVERS have completed this signing of leading amateur threequarter Gareth Gale on a two-year deal.
The local player impressed coach James Webster in trial with Rovers and scored four tries in the historic win over Valencia Hurracanes in Spain.
The 26-year-old’s signing has been funded by Rovers’ Centenary Squad Builder organisation, which now has a membership of over 200 donating £10 a month.
Gale said: “I’m really happy to have signed for Featherstone Rovers.
“It’s such a good feeling signing for your hometown club and particularly the club you grew up supporting.
“I feel like the trial period I have had has gone really well; it’s given me the opportunity to showcase my skills and show what I’m really capable of.
“It’s been a real learning experience working with the coaches here and being around experienced and talented players.
“They’ve all helped me improve my game and I can’t wait to get started this season.”
Rovers football manager Steve Gill said: “I’m really pleased Gaz has decided to put pen to paper here. Before his trial we all believed he had the credentials to be a top quality Championship player here at Featherstone Rovers.
“He is a fantastic young man, who has served the community game really well at Featherstone Lions and I am sure they will all wish him well as he turns semi-professional.”
TOULOUSE OLYMPQIUE coach Sylvain Houles believes the club’s move to Stade Ernest Wallon this season will make them more dangerous in attack.
Houles’ team have been applauded for their free-flowing style in recent years, although an increased focus on defence in 2019 meant that suffered as a result, according to the coach.
He hopes to redress that balance this year and says the playing surface and facilities at the city’s main rugby ground will suit his side better.
Houles said: “Moving stadiums is huge.
“This stadium is very famous in Toulouse. Everywhere we go and everyone we meet, we tell them we’re playing at the Stade Ernest Wallon, which is the rugby union club’s ground, and they say wow, tell me more.
“It will have a huge impact on us.
“It’s fantastic for the players and they’re building us our own changing rooms with our own colours.
“The pitch will be amazing and that will make a difference too; it will make us even more dangerous.”
LONDON BRONCOS coach Danny Ward believes the pre-season matches against Super League duo Hull FC and St Helens will provide the perfect preparation for his side’s Championship campaign.
Ward said: “We’ve come up against probably the biggest and most physical side in the comp in Hull, and then Saints, who are champions.
“It’s a great benchmark to see where we need to be at. We struggled to handle Hull at some points and our kicking game didn’t give us much chance at others, so they are the areas we need to get better in.”
Close-season signing Jordan Williams returned to London Skolars to feature in their pre-season hit-out against Wigan in the Capital Challenge on Friday.
YORK CITY KNIGHTS have confirmed that their opening home game against Bradford on February 9 will now take place at Bootham Crescent rather than the city’s new community stadium.
Chairman Jon Flatman explained: “The latest information we have is that we are unable to guarantee that we will be able to play at the new stadium on that date.
“In simple terms, we require – and our fans rightly expect – a degree of notice in order to purchase tickets, arrange travel and deliver marketing for what will be a brilliant home league opener.
“To remove that uncertainty we have taken the decision to play the fixture at Bootham Crescent.
“We fully expect to be in the new LNER Community Stadium for our second home league game in 2020.”
DEWSBURY RAMS have become the latest club to stop producing a matchday programme.
A club statement explained: “This decision has not been taken lightly, and whilst the club recognises that programmes have been a popular product down the years, unfortunately the publication did not deliver the profits needed to make it sustainable.
“The club did look into various other programme ideas that could have been more cost effective, but these didn’t turn out to be the case.
“We hope that supporters understand this decision that has been taken and we hope everyone is looking forward to the 2020 season ahead.”
The club now intends to use its website more and will also distribute teamsheets on match days.
SHEFFIELD EAGLES centre James Glover has targeted a return to action in April.
The former Dewsbury Rams player has not played since suffering extensive knee damage in last year’s Summer Bash game with Barrow.
Eagles coach Mark Aston said: “James Glover is running around and he said to me this week that he’ll be back in April.
“If he’s back in April, eleven months after the horrendous injury he had, he’ll be a credit to himself, the club and his friends and family.”
SWINTON LIONS will not rearrange their postponed pre-season cash with rivals Rochdale Hornets.
Sunday’s planned match was called off last Thursday with the pitch at the Crown Oil Arena suffering from the recent heavy weather.
Lions director Steve Wild said: “We are naturally disappointed at the postponement of the friendly fixture at Rochdale, but hopefully the early announcement was at least helpful to our supporters.
“We will now concentrate our efforts on preparing for the prestigious Warrington friendly.”
The Wolves clash is at Heywood Road this Saturday January 25, with a 2pm kick-off.
WHITEHAVEN utility Connor Holliday is being monitored by the cub’s medical staff for a hamstring complaint.
Holliday, who featured 22 times for Haven last season, suffered a minor problem in the pre-season defeat at Newcastle Thunder.
He was being assessed ahead of the weekend’s Ike Southward Trophy clash with local rivals Workington.
Haven coach Gary Charlton had called for a big response from his squad ahead of the game following their disappointing display in the northeast.
HALIFAX are set to discover the full extent of Ben Kavanagh’s injury this week.
The Scotland international dislocated his hip in the club’s opening pre-season game against Hull FC earlier this month.
Kavanagh has undergone scans and is due to meet with a consultant this week, which will give Fax a more accurate idea of his rehabilitation process.
Ollie Roberts could start the season as a replacement for Kavanagh after the Huddersfield backrower played for Simon Grix’s side in Sunday’s pre-season game against York. Fax recently became dual-registration partners with the Giants.