BATLEY BULLDOGS coach Craig Lingard says the cancellation of the Boxing Day derby against Dewsbury at the Fox’s Biscuits Stadium provides a stark reminder that clubs must continue to work as hard as possible to limit the impact of Covid.
Positive tests in both camps meant the plug was pulled on the popular pre-season Roy Powell Trophy showdown, which was also wiped out by the pandemic in 2020.
Now Lingard, who says 13 of his players were affected despite intensive efforts to halt to spread, is hoping the situation eases in time for Sunday’s warm-up game at Bradford to go ahead.
“We’ve stuck to the protocols all the way through pre-season and test players regularly, and as soon as there was a sign of a problem, we took steps to try to limit the effects,” he explained.
“It shows how transmissible this strain is, and of course it’s even tougher for part-time clubs to deal with it because so many of the players have jobs which bring them into contact with other people.
“It was frustrating and disappointing to have to cancel the derby, and there is obviously a financial impact, because costs had already been incurred and both clubs miss out on their share of the gate receipts.
“But it was the only option we had, and while the outbreak has meant disruption to the training schedule, we can only hope that by having cases now, we may be less likely to be hit further down the line.”
Batley also have games at Widnes, in Danny Craven’s testimonial on Sunday, January 16, and at Huddersfield on Sunday 23 before the league opener at home to Halifax on Sunday 30.
“The Widnes game was an addition to the original schedule, and it’s turned out to be a good move, because it’s now going to be even more important for me in terms of getting minutes into the players,” added Lingard.
BRADFORD BULLS coach John Kear has recalibrated his pre-season schedule following the cancellation of the planned Boxing Day clash with Halifax after snowfall on the Odsal pitch.
The Bulls have three other warm-up games before their Sunday, January 30 league opener at Dewsbury, beginning with Sunday’s scheduled visit of Batley.
“We were really looking forward to playing Halifax. It’s been a very intense and tough pre-season so far and it would have been nice to see where the players were at, and I’m sure (Halifax coach) Simon Grix felt the same,” said Kear.
The call-off of a game which was due to start at 12.30pm followed intensive efforts to get the pitch playable and two inspections, with the overnight snow also putting paid to the National League North football match between Bradford Park Avenue and York at the nearby Horsfall Stadium.
Kear added: “Circumstances conspired against us. It was disappointing and came at a cost to the club and both sets of players and staff.
“But that’s life. You can’t control the weather. I think we’ve all learned that and we’ve just got to get on with it.
“What we’ve got to do is regroup and look forward to the other trial games and the start of the season.”
Bradford have put together a 26-strong squad which features ten new signings, including five from Super League clubs in halfbacks Dec Patton (Salford) and Charlie Harris (Castleford), prop Samy Kibula (Warrington) and young Leeds duo, back Coby Nichol and forward Ajahni (AJ) Wallace, both of whom are England Youth internationals.
Kear continued: “We’ve got more players in the squad and it’s a good-standard group who have applied themselves brilliantly so far. I’m certainly expecting an exciting year.”
Bradford’s other pre-season games are at home to Hull on Sunday, January 16 in Danny Brough’s testimonial against Leeds at Odsal on Sunday 23.
FEATHERSTONE ROVERS forward Jesse Sene-Lefao has been delving into the history books as he prepares for his first season at the club.
The ex-Castleford man will follow in the footsteps of a string of famous names in pulling on the Rovers number twelve shirt.
His predecessors in the second-row slot include the likes of Jimmy Thompson, Peter Smith (whose grandson, halfback Morgan, has joined Featherstone from York) and David Hobbs.
And Sene-Lefao, who twice represented Samoa in 2012, said: “I feel privileged to wear the number. There have been some great players who have had this jersey before.
“I want to do the number proud and hopefully add my own flavour to it.”
The 32-year-old, who had five seasons at Castleford after signing from Cronulla Sharks, continued: “I’ve really bought into the culture of the club.
“I’ve spent time learning about the town’s rich mining history and seen how Rugby League brought the community together in tough times.
“Learning about the club and the local people’s attitude to never back down and always work hard has had a great impact on me.”
Sene-Lefao says he is enjoying working under Brian McDermott, who had major success at Leeds before winning promotion to Super League with Toronto.
Now he is aiming to repeat the feat with Featherstone, and the recent recruit says his new boss is making his mark.
“Training has been intense. We are learning new philosophies and understanding the way our coach wants us to play,” he added.
“That doesn’t happen overnight and there are a few things we have to focus on to build the foundations within the group. Every training session is a new opportunity to learn.
“Personally, I want to be the best version of myself and leave no stone unturned, whether that be on or off the field.”
Featherstone have confirmed their home warm-up game against Leeds will be on Sunday week, January 16.
LONDON BRONCOS coach Jermaine Coleman has confirmed the signing of Wales international winger Dalton Grant, and revealed the club are in contract negotiations with existing forwards Dan Hindmarsh and Josh Walters.
Grant, 31, who had a previous spell at the club ahead of featuring in the 2017 World Cup, has followed his boss from London Skolars, for whom he played seven times last year.
Newport-born, he started his career at South Wales Scorpions before spells at Barrow, Dewsbury, then the Broncos. He had two seasons at Bradford prior to linking up with Coleman at the Skolars in 2020.
He is the third player to swap London sides after Kiwi centre Paulos Latu and Iliess Macani, whom Coleman says has already made his presence felt in his second spell at the club.
The Tottenham-born 28-year-old fullback, who has a two-year contract, had four seasons at the Broncos before spells at Bradford and Sheffield preceded his Skolars switch in 2019.
“I think Iliess will prove a great addition. He has experience, he is a great character, and he’s a driving force on the training ground,” said Coleman of one of 13 new arrivals as the Broncos make the transition from full to part-time status.
Eye-catching recruits include Papua New Guinea prop Wellington Albert from Keighley, Ireland hooker Dec O’Donnell from Workington and Italy hooker or halfback Dean Parata from Featherstone.
That has helped balance the loss of a string of the mainstays of last season’s squad.
“The switch to part-time meant there were always likely to be more departures than would normally have been the case,” added Coleman.
“We have lost some to fellow Championship clubs, and that’s a bit frustrating, particularly where the players concerned have taken part-time deals.
“The wheels were in motion before I arrived, so I didn’t get the chance to outline my vision for this club to them, but so be it.”
NEWCASTLE THUNDER chairman Mick Hogan is to step down as Thunder chairman as he focuses on his role as revenue director for this year’s Rugby League World Cup as well as his consultancy commitments.
He has had a seven-and-a-half-year spell at the North-East club, who are preparing for a second season in the Championship after their elevation from League 1 through a bidding process in late 2020.
Former Wigan chief executive Hogan (he has also held that role at rugby union’s Sale Sharks) will also leave union club Newcastle Falcons, where he been both managing director and executive director.
Part of the original Gateshead Thunder club set up in 1999 and a Super League side that year, he returned to become chair ahead of the 2014 season and has helped the club reach a number of milestones.
He was a member of the group who engineered the move from Gateshead International Stadium to Kingston Park and the subsequent rebrand as Newcastle Thunder, and was also prominent in setting the ambitious mission to win Super League by 2030.
During his tenure there has been a significant rise in attendances and the formation of new commercial agreements, including the addition of Tyne Met College and Stelrad Radiator Group to the club’s portfolio of partners.
Thunder have also been at the forefront of the general growth of Rugby League in the North-East, with a rising number of players in the community game and the expansion of the award-winning Thunder Community Foundation.
“The club has made great strides on and off the field thanks to the work of so many individuals – players, staff, coaches and volunteers,” he said.
“What has been particularly pleasing is the growth of Rugby League in the region with the club playing a central role.
“The time is right for me to now step aside. My consultancy work demands ever more and Thunder deserves more time than I can now offer.”
WHITEHAVEN have once again dipped into the Australian market to further boost their squad with a player who coach Jonty Gorley predicts could be a “surprise package”.
Utility back and goal-kicker Josh Martin, 20, has joined on a one-year deal after spending last season at Thirroul Butchers, of the Illawarra competition.
That’s one of a string of so-called ‘Country’ as opposed to ‘City’ leagues administered by the New South Wales Rugby League, whose primary competition is the NSW Cup.
Whitehaven, aiming to build on last year’s play-off appearance, have already signed two other backs, Will Evans and Alex Bishop.
Evans was at Burleigh Bears, of the Queensland Cup, and Bishop at Runaway Bay Seagulls, of that state’s Gold Coast competition.
Already at the LEL Arena are prop Ryan King, who joined from Cronulla-Carringbah Sharks, of the Sydney Shield, a NSWRL ‘City’ league, and Kiwi halfback Nikau Williams, who was at NSW Cup side Newtown Jets.
And fullback Lachlan Walmsley, who caught the eye after his arrival from South Newcastle Lions, of the Newcastle Cup, a NSW ‘Country’ league, has been signed by Halifax.
Coach Jonty Gorley said of Martin: “We were on the lookout for someones who can cover the back five.
“An agent from Australia, John Taulaga, got in touch regarding Josh Martin. I watched some clips and immediately liked what I saw.
“Josh is athletic and his balance is good, which makes him hard to tackle when he is carrying the ball.
“He looks great in the air, which is a positive both attacking-wise and defensively.
“And he is really keen to come to us and enjoy the experience of being in the UK.
“I can’t wait to see Josh play and I really think he can be a surprise package for us.”
Whitehaven director Ashley Kilpatrick added: “Josh had a few other offers, so we’re delighted he believes we are the club to help develop him.”
WORKINGTON TOWN coach Chris Thorman believes new signing Ciaran Walker has come to the perfect place to continue to learn his trade as a halfback.
Town have taken on the former Newcastle Academy player who came through the junior ranks at Cumbrian amateur club Seaton Rangers.
It’s the same path trodden by recently-recruited secondrow Malik Steele as Thorman bolsters his options following promotion from League 1.
Ex-Wigan stand-off Jamie Doran and former St Helens, Leigh, Blackpool and Oldham scrum-half Carl Forber are the first-choice playmakers.
And Thorman, who played halfback in both Super League and the NRL, predicts they will be great mentors for Walker.
“Ciaran has all the qualities to be a top halfback,” he said the ex-Huddersfield, Parramatta Eels and Hull player.
“If he knuckles down and continues to learn from staff and senior players, especially Carl and Jamie, there’s no reason why he can’t be massively successful here.”
Meanwhile, Workington, who visit Barrow for their opening pre-season game on Sunday, are seeking a new chairman after Les Smallwood stepped down.
The former Seaton Rangers amateur player had been at the helm since November 2018 and was in his second spell on the board.
Smallwood, 53, served as director from 2002 until 2009 and returned in 2016. He then succeeded ex-Workington hooker Garry Mounsey as chairman.
His decision comes after this year’s promotion to the Championship ended a five-year League 1 stint.
Director John Pleasants has taken over the chair on an interim basis, while Town are seeking new board members.
The club said in a statement: “At the annual meeting, Les Smallwood formally stepped down as chairman.
“John Pleasants will act as interim chair supported by the remaining directors.
“We are now actively talking to suitable candidates to join the board or support the management team.
“In particular, we would be very interested in speaking to individuals with strong commercial or health and safety experience.”
BARROW RAIDERS new boy Danny Langtree says some familiar faces are helping him settle in at the Cumbrian club.
The seasoned forward has joined the Championship newcomers from relegated Oldham, where he spent eleven years in two spells sandwiched around a short stint at Hull in 2019.
The move has brought a reunion with fellow packman Carl Forster and back Gary Wheeler, players who like Langtree, came through the ranks at St Helens.
“Knowing a few of the lads already has helped,” explained the 30-year-old, who is among six fresh arrivals alongside prop Sam Brooks from Swinton, backrow Ellis Gillam from Whitehaven, Italy international prop Anton Iaria from Penrith Panthers, Malta international halfback Jarrod Sammut from London Broncos and hooker Josh Wood from Wakefield.
“Some of us travel up to Barrow together, which has been good for bonding.
“Training has been tough but enjoyable. We’ve put a strong squad together and I’m excited to see what we can achieve.”
Barrow play host to Cumbrian rivals Workington in the first of their three pre-season outings on Sunday.
DEWSBURY RAMS duo Keenen Tomlinson and Dale Ferguson will have to play the waiting game for some pre-season match action.
The pair were due to serve one-match suspensions at Batley on Boxing Day, but the Roy Powell Trophy clash was cancelled due to positive Covid tests in both camps.
The Rams don’t have another game until Saturday, January 15, when Huddersfield visit the Tetley’s Stadium (1pm) for versatile forward Michael Knowles’ testimonial.
Both Ferguson, who has joined from Featherstone, and fellow backrow Tomlinson picked up their bans while on international duty with opposing teams in October.
The former was playing for Scotland and the latter for Jamaica, with the game at Featherstone finishing in a 30-30 draw.
Knowles, 34, is preparing for his fifth full season at Dewsbury having previously played for Castleford, Gateshead (now Newcastle), Barrow, Sheffield and Featherstone.
“I’ve spoken to Huddersfield, who have said they’ll be sending a strong side over,” said Greenwood.
“It’s a home game against a Super League team and hopefully there will be a decent crowd.”
HALIFAX PANTHERS coach Simon Grix says there is plenty riding on his side’s two pre-season games against Super League opposition.
The Panthers had been due to play at Bradford on Boxing Day, but overnight snowfall forced a cancellation.
That has left Grix’s brother Scott’s testimonial against Wakefield at The Shay on Sunday, January 16 and the trip to Salford on Friday 21 as his only opportunities to view his new-look squad in a match situation ahead of the league opener at Batley on Sunday 30.
“We’ve got a bunch of new bodies, and the Bradford game would have given an indication of areas we still need to work on,” explained Grix.
“We will have real competition for places this season. There are very few who will play 25-plus games. We’ve got a squad and we will use it.
“Looking ahead to the Batley game, I’ve maybe got nine out of 17 nailed on in my head.
“The remaining two warm-up games provide an opportunity for players to put their hand up.”
LEIGH CENTURIONS coach Adrian Lam is closing in on selecting a new captain to lead the charge for a quick return to Super League.
Liam Hood had the job during a challenging 2021 campaign, when the Centurions managed only two top-flight wins in 22 attempts.
But the hooker has joined Wakefield, although halfback Joe Mellor, who shared the vice-captain’s duties with Tyrone McCarthy, remains at the club.
But Leigh have made a string of new signings, and former Wigan coach Lam, who was appointed in November, could move in a different direction.
“I will have a leadership group but within that, I will have one captain, potentially two,” he explained.
“It is important who that person is because he sets the standard for the rest of the squad.
“There are a few standing out but I will make that decision closer to the start of the season.”
Leigh head to St Helens to provide the opposition for Alex Walmsley’s testimonial on Friday, January 21.
Their opening league game is at home to Whitehaven on Saturday, January 29.
SHEFFIELD EAGLES have signed former Hull backrow Will Wallis on a one-year deal.
The Black and Whites Academy product, who trained with the first team last year, turns 20 on January 15.
Eagles coach Mark Aston sees plenty of possible development in his 17th squad addition.
“Will has come through a good system at Hull, and was full-time there last year,” he said.
“He is a big boy with so much potential. He is strong and direct with his running. He’s a player we love to work with, and has taken the opportunity to come here and progress.
“Will is working hard to establish himself. He will be a fierce competitor out on the pitch.”
Wallis explained: “I was trying to get a new club for the upcoming season so I contacted an agent who put me in touch with Mark.
“We went for a coffee, he talked about the (Olympic Legacy Park) stadium, and I thought it was a great opportunity as it’s an exciting time for the club. I’m very happy to be here.”
WIDNES VIKINGS captain Jack Owens says he senses a collective will among a reshaped squad to reach the targets for this season set by both the players and coaching team.
The Vikings finished eighth last year, and the fullback knows they must be far more consistent if they are to make the play-offs.
“It’s obvious we want to be in that top six, and we’ve all sat down and discussed where we need to be and how we plan to get there,” said the 27-year-old, who is in his second spell with his hometown club after stints at St Helens and Leigh.
“We’ve narrowed it down to a certain position, we’ve identified matches which are non-negotiable in terms of winning, and given the squad we now have, there are no excuses.
“We’ve made eleven signings, and they are all players who have been at this level before and know what’s needed.
“Too many times last year we were turned over by teams around us and we need to change that.”
YORK CITY KNIGHTS coach James Ford could make a further signing as he gears up for his eighth season in charge.
The former Knights back has reshuffled his playing pack after a disappointing ninth-placed finish last time around.
There are 13 new arrivals among a 25-strong squad, with Ford getting the chance to run the rule over his players when newly-named League 1 team Midlands Hurricanes arrive for a pre-season match on Friday.
York also host Castleford, where Ford played in 2009, on Sunday, January 16.
“I think we’ve got a pretty good balance,” said the man who guided York to promotion from League 1 in 2018 and a third-placed Championship finish the following year.
“Everyone has a real chance of playing if they train well and meet the targets we’ve discussed.
“There’s probably one area, if the right level of player became available at the right sort of money, I’d ask (chairman) Jon Flatman, and if he agreed, and if we could do it, then we would probably look to strengthen there.”
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