Betfred Championship news round-up

BRADFORD BULLS coach John Kear hopes fans will flock to the club’s pre-season games at home to Hull FC and Leeds Rhinos as the countdown to the Championship opener at Dewsbury on Sunday, January 30 continues.

This Sunday, the Black and Whites visit for Danny Brough’s testimonial (Kear was coach and Brough a leading player the when the club won the Challenge Cup in 2005), while Leeds arrive seven days later.

The Bulls lost out on a work-out for Kear’s reshaped squad, as well as a festive financial boost, when their planned Boxing Day clash at Odsal with Halifax fell victim to overnight snow.

“We’re fortunate that we have other home games in pre-season, so we’re hoping that people will come to those instead,” said Kear.

“What we can do as a team is put our best foot forward and try to entertain and inspire the fans at those games, to give people belief in what we’re doing.

“The idea of the next two games is that we’ll be playing opposition who should be even better than the teams we’ll face in the Championship.”

Kear is seeking an improvement on last year’s first-placed finish and subsequent play-off eliminator defeat (by Batley), but believes the second tier will be more competitive than ever, predicting: “It’s going to be tough.

“You have Featherstone and Leigh. You’ve just got to look at their players. Some are NRL quality so it really adds to it.

“Halifax’s recruitment has been very good. York have gone back, I feel, to their type of players, the workers and grafters who buy into a team ethic.

“There’s a whole clutch of other clubs as well, such as Batley and Widnes. We’re all sniffing in and around there.

“We know full well it will be a really tough competition, as I’m sure anyone who’s going to be involved in the Championship does.”


DEWSBURY RAMS coach Lee Greenwood is urging fans of both the Rams and Huddersfield to support “throwback” player Michael Knowles’ testimonial at the Tetley’s Stadium on Saturday.

It’s a 1pm kick-off for the first pre-season outing for both clubs, and Greenwood is hoping the key player he inherited on taking charge in September 2018 will enjoy a memorable occasion.

Versatile forward Knowles joined Dewsbury from Featherstone midway through the 2017 campaign, having previously played for Castleford, Gateshead, Barrow and Sheffield, and at 34, will be the oldest head in the Rams squad this year.

“Michael is definitely among our more experienced players, and with Liam Finn having moved on, and Paul Sykes taking more of a coaching-orientated role, I’ll be leaning on him to be an on-field leader,” said Greenwood.

“He’s comfortable with that, and he’s also happy mentoring the younger players, on and off the field.

“You sometimes find the less experienced lads are okay physically, but need help with the mental side of the game, and that’s where the likes of Michael come into their own.

“You’ve also got to remember he’s a very good and reliable player in his own right, and his versatility is a real bonus.

“He’s spent the bulk of his career as a secondrow, but he can also play prop and loose-forward, and even in the halves.

“That’s because while he can do the physical stuff, he’s also a smart player with a good rugby brain, and he he has a decent kicking games and good hands.

“In an era where a lot of people tend to get pigeon-holed in a certain position, Michael is a bit of a throwback.”

While Greenwood has had to deal with a Covid outbreak which contributed to the cancellation of the Boxing Day derby at Batley, all those who would have missed that match as a result are back in training.


HALIFAX PANTHERS favourite Scott Grix has thanked former club Wakefield for keeping their promise to provide the opposition for his testimonial – a year after it was originally due to take place.

Trinity, where the now-retired 37-year-old ex-Ireland international had two spells (2008-2009 and 2017-2018) visit The Shay on Sunday.

Grix, now working alongside his brother and Halifax head coach Simon as strength and conditioning chief, was originally granted a testimonial by the RFL in February 2020.

The pandemic meant the match against Wakefield was put on ice, and the former Doncaster, Leigh, Widnes and Huddersfield player, who returned for a second spell at Halifax during the 2019 season (his first was in 2004), is delighted it will now go ahead.

“Halifax are my hometown club, and ideally, I would like to have had the match at a time when I could have played a full game,” explained Grix, who featured 19 times last year, taking his total career appearance tally past the 400 mark.

“But a cameo will have to suffice, and I’m pleased to finally have the match. Wakefield and (their chief executive) Michael Carter have been great throughout all this, making sure there was a game in the end.

“Hopefully, it will be a bit of a spectacle. We have upgraded our squad and brought a lot of players in.

“We’re not playing that many games over pre-season, so this should be a pretty decent one for everybody.

“We’ve tried to make it as accessible as possible in terms of ticket prices, so hopefully it will be a good occasion.”

Halifax, who have made eleven signings, including Wakefield duo, centre Joe Arundel and hooker Kyle Wood, have only one other warm-up match, away to Salford on Friday, January 21.

They had been due to face Bradford at Odsal on Boxing Day, but snow forced a cancellation.
Their opening Championship game is at home to Batley on Sunday, January 30.


FEATHERSTONE ROVERS coach Brian McDermott believes the resurrection of Rovers’ dual-registration partnership with Leeds could help underpin another promotion challenge.

The RFL have reintroduced the system which ran between 2013 and 2020 but was suspended last year because Covid protocols made it unworkable.

So far Bradford have linked with Hull, Dewsbury with Hull KR and Newcastle with Wigan, while Leigh and St Helens are also set to partner.

Now Featherstone have confirmed the rekindling of their long-standing relationship with the Rhinos.

While ongoing Covid issues and the existence of Reserve and Academy competitions could mean less players are made available for dual-registration, many clubs think it could still be useful.

Featherstone say their agreement with Leeds, who will visit the Millennium Stadium for a pre-season clash on Sunday, covers the Super League club’s top 20 squad members plus Jack Broadbent, Sam Walters and Levi Edwards.

Centre Broadbent, 20, notched nine tries in 14 appearances for Leeds last season, when 21-year-old secondrow Walters, signed from the Widnes Academy in 2019, featured eight times at first-team level.

Meanwhile winger, centre or secondrow Edwards, 18, caught the eye by scoring four tries in five games during a loan spell at Batley, where Broadbent played in 2019, when he also crossed twice in three dual-registration appearances for Featherstone.

Former Leeds coach McDermott said: “I was around at the outset of the partnership so I understand how both parties can benefit strongly.

“The Championship will be a long, hard season so we know this relationship will give us the strength in depth we will need to enable us to meet those challenges.”

Rovers chief executive Martin Vickers added: “We are very fortunate to have such a strong relationship with an elite club like Leeds Rhinos and I believe we can benefit on a number of fronts both on and off the field.

“This relationship will add even greater depth and quality to our playing squad for 2022.”


LONDON BRONCOS coach Jermaine Coleman says he’s looking forward to swapping ideas with AFC Wimbledon manager Mark Robinson as part of a collaboration between the ground-sharing Rugby League and football clubs.

The Cherry Red Records (Plough Lane) Stadium, opened in November 2020, will become the tenth different venue used regularly by the Broncos since their formation as Fulham in 1980.

The Broncos, who play their first game there against Widnes on Sunday, January 30 as part of the opening round of Championship fixtures, see their long-term future at the 9,200-capacity facility.

They believe it will open up opportunities to gain both supporters (they are seeking an average of 5,000 in three years) and sponsors as well as providing increased engagement with the local community in the London borough of Merton.

“Our club has moved around far too much in the past, sometimes not within our own control,” explained owner David Hughes.

“But this move is the best opportunity London Broncos have for long-term survival. There is no other option available like this one.

“This stadium is going to give us the opportunity to develop a crowd over a period of time that eventually will see the club become self-sufficient, or very close to being so.

“That is where we need to be at and we have got the best chance of achieving that in the Wimbledon area and with AFC Wimbledon Football Club as partners.”

Coleman said: “I think the stadium is perfect for us, with excellent facilities. We have the chance to grow the club, with AFC Wimbledon providing a great template with the way they have risen from non-league to being in League 1 (the third tier).

“Mark Robinson is a forward-thinking manager with some really interesting ideas, and I’m looking forward to hearing more about them.”

The Broncos have signed Fiji international fullback Sitiveni Moceidreke, who played for St George Illawarra’s second team last year.


NEWCASTLE THUNDER prop Mitch Clark says his relationship with coach Eamon O’Carroll was key to him joining the club.

The 28-year-old played twice for Thunder last year during a loan spell from Wigan, and enjoyed the experience.

Now the ex-Castleford man, who chalked up 17 appearances over two seasons with the Warriors, has made the move permanent.

And Clark believes O’Carroll, nicknamed Freddie and himself a former Wigan prop, can add to his game.

“We’ve got a good relationship,” he explained. “Freddie is a sound guy and was a massive influence on me signing for Newcastle.

“What he saw for me and what I think he can do for me being a fellow frontrower was a real attraction. I feel can really help my game.”

Newcastle, who have turned full-time, host dual-registration partners Wigan in a pre-season match on Sunday, January 23.

O’Carroll’s team head to Barrow seven days before in the first of their two warm-up games ahead of the league opener at Workington on Sunday, January 30.

Clark, who started his career at Doncaster before playing for Bradford, Hull KR, Castleford and Leigh, continued: “I need to keep ticking the boxes.

“I want to perform, to earn a bit of respect from the coaches and my teammates to start with, and go from there.”

The New Zealand Maori international is among eleven additions as Newcastle aim to build on last season’s eleventh-placed finish.

It was their first Championship campaign since 2019 after elevation through a bidding process as Leigh joined Super League by the same method.

O’Carroll, going into his second season in charge, says he’s enjoying having a full-time squad.

“It’s allowing us to do things differently to previously and really focus on certain areas,” he explained.

“In the past, we had to factor in players’ work and travel, but now the bulk of the squad are living in the area.”


WHITEHAVEN coach Jonty Gorley predicts the promotion from League 1 of Barrow and Workington – and therefore the creation of an unofficial Cumbrian mini-league within the Championship – will provide a shot in the arm for the game in the county.

Haven, who made last year’s play-offs, head to neighbours Workington, where Gorley was a player and had eight years as assistant coach, on Sunday to contest the Ike Southward Memorial Trophy.

The clash precedes home and away league meetings with Town on Easter Sunday, April 17 (live on Premier Sports) and Sunday, September 4.

Haven host Barrow on Sunday, February 6, before visiting the Matt Johnson Prestige Stadium on Sunday, July 10.

The Barrow versus Workington meetings are on Sunday, May 15 and Sunday, June 12.

Popular Southward coached both Whitehaven and Workington after winning Great Britain honours and representing Cumberland while playing for the latter, to whom Oldham paid a then-world-record £10,065 to sign the winger in 1959.

He died aged 71 in 2006, since when the sides have met annually for the memorial trophy in pre-season except for last year, when the pandemic meant the game was put on ice.

“I got to know Ike when I was first at Workington, and he was a legendary figure up here,” explained Gorley.

“I think it’s important we treat this game seriously and put out as strong a side as possible, and I know (Workington coach) Chris Thorman sees it the same way.

“Obviously the fans want to get one over on each other too, and I think having all three Cumbrian sides in the Championship is great. We’ll all be trying to outdo each other and finish as the highest.”

Whitehaven, who have made halfback Karl Dixon captain after Marc Shackley’s retirement, have a second pre-season game at Swinton on Sunday week, January 23.

Their opening Championship game at Leigh has been put back 24 hours to Sunday, January 30.


BARROW RAIDERS chairman Steve Neale says that while avoiding relegation is the first priority this season, a “mid to upper-table finish” is achievable for last year’s League 1 champions.

The Matt Johnson Prestige Stadium chief’s long-term objective is to bring top-flight Rugby League to the Cumbrian town for the first time since 1990, but he accepts there is much to be done before that’s a realistic possibility.

“We have spent a lot of money on players hoping to challenge up the table,” he told local newspaper The Mail.

“I am not saying we will win the league, but I want to see us stay up. I would be satisfied with a mid to upper-table finish. If we get into the play-off places, I will be delighted.

“We still need to improve the stadium, because there is no point in trying to get to Super League if we do not have the facilities to progress.”

Barrow, who have signed Whitehaven forward Ethan Kelly, play host to Newcastle in a pre-season game on Sunday.


BATLEY BULLDOGS coach Craig Lingard is looking forward to visiting Widnes for Danny Craven’s testimonial on Sunday.

And he says the game has additional importance in the wake of the Covid outbreak which has impacted on the Bulldogs’ preparations for the new season.

With 17 players and staff affected, Lingard estimates he has effectively lost a week of his pre-season schedule.

And after the cancellation of the home Boxing Day derby against Dewsbury, who also had Covid cases, he says the remaining warm-up matches have even more significance as he looks towards Batley’s first Championship game of the campaign a fortnight on Sunday, January 30.

“We’ve got Widnes, then a game at Huddersfield (on Sunday 23), and it’s likely some players will be on the pitch for longer than originally planned because we have ended up with less games than we thought,” he explained.

“But it is what it is, we cannot change what’s happened, just deal with it, and the positive is that we have got two matches which will certainly test us.”


LEIGH CENTURIONS signing Keanan Brand has Super League in his sights as he gears up for a second stint in the Championship.

The 23-year-old has twice suffered the misery of relegation from the top flight – with first club Widnes in 2018 and while on loan to the Centurions last year.

Now, having made the move from Warrington on a permanent basis, he wants a taste of promotion.

When he represented Widnes in the second tier in 2019, the Vikings finished fourth-bottom, although they did reach the 1895 Cup final.

Brand, who scored nine tries in 32 appearances that season ahead of his move to Warrington, played in the centres at Wembley, where Widnes were beaten 36-18 by Sheffield.

He also featured at fullback and on the wing over 13 appearances for Leigh last year.

“It is great to be back,” said Brand. “After starting my career at Widnes, I moved to Warrington, but my opportunities to play were rare.”

Leigh’s Championship opener at home to Whitehaven has been put back 24 hours to Sunday, January 30.


SHEFFIELD EAGLES chairman Chris Noble says ending the Eagles’ nomadic existence since leaving the Don Valley Stadium in 2013 provides a “great opportunity” for the club to move forward.

The South Yorkshire side have played at Owlerton Stadium, Doncaster’s Keepmoat Stadium (in two spells, including last year), Sheffield Hallam University Sports Park and ground-shared at Wakefield Trinity as well using an embryonic version of their new Olympic Legacy park base from 2018 to 2020.

The first match scheduled to take place at the OLP is against London Broncos on Good Friday, April 15.

“The opening of the community stadium will come as both a great relief and also as a great opportunity,” said Noble.

“For the first time we have the opportunity to sell and profit from food and beverage sales on a matchday and have the ability to commercialise secondary matchday sales like we have never been able to before.

“Having a fixed home and security of tenure allows us to reconnect to the local community in Attercliffe and to re-engage the wider public in Sheffield too.”


WIDNES VIKINGS coach Simon Finnigan says the fact that halfback Danny Craven has remained a one-club man is testament to his commitment and loyalty to the Vikings.

The 30-year-old Academy product’s 13th season at senior level starts with his testimonial at home to Batley on Sunday, the sole warm-up match for Finnigan’s new-look side.

While Widnes’ list of new signings is in double figures, a string of existing players remain, with Craven signing a contract extension through to 2023 back in June.

“Danny’s been through some tough times with the club, including relegation from Super League in 2018 and the financial problems which followed, and there’s no doubt he would have been welcomed elsewhere,” said Finnigan.

“But he has stuck by Widnes, and given the rarity of being a one-club player in the modern game, the circumstances he has been through shows what he thinks of the club.

“We think a lot of him too. He’s been a great player for us and will continue to be a great player.”


WORKINGTON TOWN interim chairman John Pleasants hopes a return to the second tier after a five-year absence will bring a rise in attendances which would in turn help Town consolidate their new-found status.

Last season’s home play-off clashes with Keighley and Doncaster, who were beaten 36-12 in the final, drew gates of 1,221 and 2,997 respectively.

“The fans really backed us for the play-offs, especially the final, and we are hoping they will support us in numbers,” said Pleasants, who stepped up when previous chairman Les Smallwood stood down last month, to the Cumbria Crack website.

“While it is going to be a challenge back in the Championship, we did really well last season under a very good coach.

“We haven’t gone over the top on recruitment, but we have brought in some good new players to go with the bulk of last year’s squad.

“As a club we have a positive bank balance and no debt, and if there is an area where we are short, it’s the boardroom.”


YORK CITY KNIGHTS coach James Ford says Sunday’s pre-season clash with Castleford will provide a better indication of what Jamie Ellis can offer the Knights after his permanent move from Leigh after a 2021 loan stint.

Ford hailed the two-try performance of another new halfback, ex-Hull KR, Doncaster, Hull and Halifax man Liam Harris, in Friday’s opening warm-up game against Midlands Hurricanes, who were beaten 46-6 at the LNER Stadium.

But he admitted Ellis wasn’t firing on all cylinders, and said: There were glimpses showing his ability, but we didn’t see the best of Jamie.

“But I believe in him wholeheartedly and I know for sure that we’ll see a better Jamie against Cas.

“I thought Liam was outstanding. He was a running threat, he kicked well and there were some really intelligent options from him.”

Ford fielded trialists Brad Ward, a former Hull KR Academy centre, and Rory Nettleton, the former Newcastle forward, from the bench.

York have decided against renewing the dual-registration agreement with Castleford which existed in 2020.

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