KEIGHLEY COUGARS coach Rhys Lovegrove has hailed a near-perfect pre-season as he readies his squad for a promotion push this year.
But he knows it will count for very little if they fail to build on all their hard work when they host Newcastle Thunder in the third round of the Challenge Cup this Sunday.
“We’ve had three quality games in pre-season and it’s been great,” said Lovegrove.
“I have definitely seen what I wanted to see in pre-season. If you’d asked me what outcomes I wanted from pre-season back in November and what I envisaged as the perfect pre-season, then this was pretty much it.
“The boys got the opportunity to play some really good rugby and the club got the chance to develop their off-field stuff.
“All the new boys have bedded in really well, so it’s been a solid pre-season for us.
“But we also realise that it means nothing until you play a competitive game and we put all that into practice.
“Sunday is going to be a really tough test for us, because Newcastle are known for being one of the top five in this league, so we’re looking to test ourselves against them.
“I like putting the boys under pressure and they seem to respond well to that.
“There are a fair few things we need to fix up after the Sheffield game, but I’m looking to put them under pressure again, so I’m looking forward to seeing if that’s worked against Newcastle.”
HUNSLET coach Gary Thornton has said Friday night’s final pre-season game should have answered a few questions about the squad that will start Sunday’s Challenge Cup tie against fellow League 1 club Coventry Bears.
Following wins over Bradford Bulls and Batley Bulldogs, Hunslet’s 48-6 victory over a young Leeds side will have instilled confidence into the South Leeds club.
“Before Friday I was 95 per cent there with knowing what I thought my strongest 17 was going to be for the opening game,” said Thornton.
“There were still some 50-50 calls to make and we had players playing who hadn’t had much game time and were trying to stake their claim.
“Nathan Conroy was struggling with a wrist injury, so didn’t feature against Leeds. We initially thought it was broken, but it wasn’t, so he should be okay for Coventry.
“First and foremost we wanted a home draw, so we’re delighted we got that. And it’s against opposition from our own league, so it gives us an early chance to have a look at them and see what they are about this year.
“I was very impressed with them last year. They were very tough opposition and beat Newcastle and Workington at home, so it won’t be an easy game for us.”
WEST WALES RAIDERS coach Aaron Wood has said Sunday’s Challenge Cup tie against amateur club Underbank Rangers will be a great learning curve for his new-look team.
The Raiders haven’t had any warm-up fixtures this year, so the knock-out clash will be the first time Wood will get to see his side in competitive action, and he is excited to get involved with the historic competition.
“All the boys are keen excited to get the first game under their belts,” said Wood.
“Underbank are a pretty good side in the amateur game. They are well drilled, so it will be tough.
“We know we’re not going to win the Challenge Cup, but it gives the guys some experience to be a part of it. If we can get through this round and then face a Championship side, it is all going to be a beneficial experience for the boys.”
LONDON SKOLARS have added one new and one old face to their 2020 squad, with Costa Charalambous joining from Ipswich Rugby League in Australia and Mike Greenhalgh re-signing with the club.
“Costa is making his way back from a serious injury he had the other year, but he has started pre-season really well,” said coach Jermaine Coleman.
“He has been pushing himself really hard. I think he is going to have a good impact on the team. He is an honest bloke and a hard worker, which is something every team wants.
“I am looking for Mike to have an uninterrupted season this year. He was in and out with injuries last year and had a couple of suspensions, but I am hoping with a really good pre-season under his belt he will be a dominant force in our pack.”
ROCHDALE HORNETS coach Matt Calland has labelled Jack Higginson the perfect fit for the club, after signing the former Leigh Centurions centre for the 2020 season.
The 22-year-old played three times for the Hornets in 2019, scoring one try, whilst on loan from Leigh.
“Jack fits the bill for what sort of player we’re looking for,” said Calland.
“He’s young, tough and willing to work hard.
“He’s a Rochdale lad too and has come through the system at Wigan. He’s been really unlucky with injuries, but he’s keen to have a good season and get back to full fitness.
“He has a good turn of pace and a great kicking game.”
Calland has also handed a contract to utility player Matt Whitehead, following a successful trial with the club.
The 23-year-old can cover most back positions and loose forward, and featured from the bench in the pre-season fixture against Widnes Vikings. He has also represented Lancashire BARLA and comes in from Oldham St Annes.
“Matt has shown a great attitude and has worked really hard in training,” added Calland.
“He can play in a number of positions. He is young and willing to learn and I’m looking forward to helping him develop.”
NORTH WALES CRUSADERS coach Anthony Murray has said he cannot complain about their pre-season programme, despite going down in games to Barrow Raiders, Widnes Vikings and Whitehaven.
“I wanted to have three really tough warm-up games to see what we’re about,” said Murray.
“We’ve got some really good characters in there with a lot of enthusiasm. We’ve got a good work ethic and that’s what I’ve been looking for.
“I said before we kicked off against Barrow that these friendlies weren’t necessarily about the results. They’re about what we’re doing and how we’re putting ourselves across.”
COVENTRY BEARS director of rugby Alan Robinson has confirmed the club will be working with three local clubs to help develop both themselves and the game in the Midlands.
“As well working on dual-registration with Dewsbury Rams, we’ll also be setting up some similar deals with some midlands and southern clubs,” said Robinson.
“We’ll be working with Swindon St George, Bedford Tigers and Derby City in terms of dual-registration back to the amateur game.
“There is a big focus on working with the student and amateur game to find and develop new players.
“If we identify a physical and athletic player in the student game, we want them to be playing Rugby League, but we can’t throw them straight into League 1 because they need experience first.
“So if we can work with those players, and get them some experience of the game at these other clubs. It’s developing them in the right way and getting them ready for the step up.”
The Bears have also added six new names to their squad, all of which are local players who have been training with the club since November.
They are forwards Jay Neath, Aaron Ryan and Darius Hamilton, hooker or halfback Doug Chirnside and Jonni Allen, a winger or fullback. Liam Rice-Wilson has also returned to the club after a year with West Wales Raiders.