WORKINGTON TOWN coach Chris Thorman is leaving the relegated club – and is being tipped to take over at their Championship rivals Newcastle.
It would be a move to his home city for the 41-year-old former England halfback, who took the Town job in succession to Leon Pryce in May 2019.
Former Sheffield, Huddersfield, London Broncos, Parramatta Eels, Hull and York player Thorman led Workington to a play-off elimination semi-final that year, and after the Covid-halted 2020 season, to promotion via last season’s play-offs.
Having finished second to Cumbrian rivals Barrow, Town claimed a memorable qualifying semi-final extra-time win over Keighley before defeating Doncaster 36-12 at home in the final.
But the Derwent Park club has found the going tough in their first second-tier campaign since 2016, winning only one of 26 games ahead of the season-ending trip to York, where Thorman cut his coaching teeth, with a spell at the helm being followed by a move to Huddersfield as assistant.
Workington have also had financial problems, forcing a series of cost-cutting measures, which led to the depletion of a squad already struggling to compete.
Thorman signed a contract extension to 2024 in April of last year, but his terms were recently renegotiated and he became part-time as the club sought stability.
Workington said in a statement: “Head coach Chris Thorman has taken the decision to accept an opportunity at another club and will leave us at the end of the season.
“We’d like to put on record our sincere thanks to Chris for his time at Town and wish him all the very best for the future. Further details to follow.”
A 1,427 turn-out for the recent home derby against Whitehaven, who were 28-6 winners, provided a boost for Workington, who will host Jamaica’s World Cup warm-up clash against a Cumbria select side on Friday, October 7 (7.45pm).
FEATHERSTONE ROVERS coach Brian McDermott was encouraged by his players’ ability to come up with their own solution to a below-par first-half performance at Sheffield.
The visitors trailed 18-10 at half-time at the Olympic Legacy Park, but hit back with 20 unanswered points in the second half.
Rovers ended their regular season with visit to Halifax, who are potential opponents in the play-off semi-finals.
McDermott’s side have a blank weekend before their last-four clash against the highest-ranked survivors from the first two ties, and will continue to fine-tune for their bid to clinch a third successive appearance in the Million Pound Game.
Featherstone were beaten by McDermott-coached Toronto in Canada in 2019, and after the 2020 season was ended early due to the pandemic, by Toulouse in France last year.
Reflecting on the Sheffield game, which brought a fifth successive victory since the Summer Bash defeat by table-topping Leigh, the former Leeds team chief said: “We had a problem at half-time.
“I told them ‘go out and find the answers yourselves’, and I was really pleased with the way they responded. I thought we were tremendous in the second half.
“We were solid defensively and found some rhythm with the ball in hand, which we hadn’t had in the first half.
“Sheffield throw the ball about and make you run defensively and caught us out with kicks for a couple of their tries, whichwe have addressed.”
With the likes of centre Jack Broadbent, influential halfback Johnathon Ford, hooker Matty Wildie and props Craig Kopczak and Gadwin Springer absent, Rovers’ squad strength was clear.
McDermott added: “Jesse Sene-Lefao had his first game for a while and did well, Junior Moors got through a whole lot of tackles and Adam Cuthbertson got some game time, which was good. He adds a dimension and a dynamic to the team, which most middles don’t have.”
HALIFAX PANTHERS coach Simon Grix says there is some fine-tuning to do ahead of the play-offs as he looks towards an eliminator showdown at The Shay.
The Yorkshire side sealed a final position of third ahead of their final regular-season game at home to Featherstone by winning 32-4 at Widnes in front of the Premier Sport television cameras.
It was the in-form Panthers’ sixth successive victory, their eleventh in twelve and their 20th in 26 league games, and Grix said: “I think we deserve to be third, because up to now, we’ve been the third-best team behind Leigh and Featherstone.
“But we’re going into a new competition, so other than earning us a home tie, our final league position counts for nothing, and we have to make sure we’re on our game, because there are no second chances.”
Grix rested halfback Joe Keyes, who had a slight ankle niggle, and hooker and captain Brandon Moore against Widnes, and he explained: “We have to ensure we’re as fresh as possible for the play-offs, and I also got the chance to assess a few of the lads who haven’t played as much as others.
“Brandon had played a long number of games on the trot, and it was good to see Kyle Wood get some minutes under his belt and show some form.
“I thought (forward) Will Calcott carried well again, and is coming on nicely, Adam Tangata was effective off the bench and it was good to see Titus Gwaze back from his suspension and putting in a shift.”
Of the team performance, Grix added: “Given the changes to the team, there were a few different combinations, which might have had an effect, but we did a bit more defending than I would have liked.
“Fortunately for us, their passing was a bit off, especially out of dummy-half, so there were a few occasions we got away with things.”
BARROW RAIDERS coach Paul Crarey, who has retained the services of star former NRL and Super League halfback Jarrod Sammut for next season, says he can excuse a below-par performance by his team against Dewsbury – as long as the pace is picked up in time for the play-offs.
The relegated Rams belied their second-bottom position to give the Cumbrians a real test in the penultimate round.
And Crarey, who will coach Cumbria in their clash with Jamaica at Workington on Friday, October 7 (7.45pm), acknowledged how hard Barrow were made to work for their 44-28 victory against visitors, who were a man down from the 25th minute, when veteran halfback Paul Sykes was sent off for a dangerous tackle with his side 14-0 ahead.
It was a 17th win from 26 league games ahead of the long trip down to London Broncos, and he pointed out: “Having seen Dewsbury play against at Batley (they lost 22-20), I knew they’d come up here with a lot of pride and give us a tough battle.”
Barrow were 22-16 behind at the break, and Crarey continued: “The first half was probably our worst 40 minutes of the season, and we needed to up the tempo and play with some intensity.
“We did that, but then we probably tried to win the game more times than we needed to by kicking short when we should have gone long and so pin them down at their end.
“It was all a bit loose, but we were a bit broken and busted, so I can excuse it to a degree, and hopefully we’ll have more options and have learned the lessons of that game come the play-offs.”
Barrow had a hat-trick scorer in Hakim Miloudi, the France international centre who will leave at the end of the season.
The 29-year-old ex-Toronto player joined partway through the 2021 League One title campaign.
DEWSBURY RAMS coach Liam Finn says consistency will be key to getting back on track following relegation to League One.
Finn was a Dewsbury player the last time the club were in the third tier, in 2009, when they won 18 out of 18 league games to win promotion as champions.
Having ended his playing career with the Rams last year, Finn became assistant coach at Halifax before returning to Dewsbury in succession to Lee Greenwood in June.
The 38-year-old, who has former Great Britain international and Wakefield coach Tony Smith as his assistant, couldn’t steer his charges away from the drop zone, but says he has seen encouraging signs.
“The club has been struggling in the Championship for a few years, loitering around in the just-being-safe zone,” he reflected.
“This time we didn’t have enough to get out of trouble, and if you play with fire, eventually you get burned.
“There’s a lesson for everyone at the club that you have to keep turning up and doing the right things more consistently.
“There is potential here and improvements have been made, but it needs to be a steadier upwards motion rather than a rollercoaster.”
Finn is busy building a squad he believes can prove competitive in 2023, albeit on a tight budget.
“It’s not as big in League One as it was in the Championship, and it wasn’t big in the Championship,” he said.
Dewsbury have already retained hooker Reiss Butterworth, props Jimmy Beckett and Jackson Walker, centre Davey Dixon and winger Lewis Carr and are in talks with several other squad members.
“We know the players we want to keep, and also some others we want to bring in,” added Finn.
Rams forward Michael Knowles made his 400th career appearance during the recent clash with Barrow, while halfback Paul Sykes, who earlier this year reached 500 career games, scored both his 150th try and kicked his 1,000th goal.
BRADFORD BULLS centre Rhys Evans was disappointed with the recent 40-12 defeat at Batley but pleased to reach 200 career games.
The 29-year-old Wales international from Bridgend started at Warrington, along with his twin brother Ben, who is also at Bradford but will join Barrow on a two-year deal starting next season.
Rhys made the first of 105 appearances for the Wolves in 2010, his tally including 2016’s Challenge Cup final defeat by Hull and Grand Final loss to Wigan.
He played twice for England Knights in 2012 (he has made three appearances for Wales), and has also chalked up seven games for Swinton (2013-2014 on dual-registration), one for North Wales Crusaders (2015, dual-registration), 25 for Leigh (on loan in 2011, then after moving from Warrington on a permanent deal for the 2018 campaign), five for Leeds (2020) and before Bradford’s season-ending home meeting with Widnes, 52 for the Bulls, who signed him ahead of last season.
“Not the result we wanted as a team, but on a personal note, very proud to have made 200 career appearances,” he tweeted.
Bradford coach Mark Dunning looked on in frustration as three more players suffered injuries against Batley – teenage halfback Myles Lawford (collarbone), prop Samy Kibula (hamstring) and backrow Chester Butler (glute).
“For much of the second half, we were down to 14 fit men,” he said.
“I don’t think we started anywhere near well enough, but found our way back and but for a couple of missed opportunities, would have been in front at half-time.
“Batley were clinical, and it sounds ridiculous given the result, but the overriding factor is immense pride in a group of people who stuck together.”
Bradford have signed powerful London Broncos forward Brad Foster on a one-year deal. The 27-year-old moved to the capital club from Doncaster ahead of this season.
But Bulls skipper, prop forward Steve Crossley, will leave the club.
WIDNES VIKINGS coach John Kear says recent defeats have been unwelcome – but have given him some useful pointers about the squad he inherited on taking over in July.
The former Bradford chief – he left Odsal in April – enjoyed wins in his first four matches at Widnes.
But ahead of their final game of the season against the Bulls, whom he coached for four-and-a-half years, they had lost five in six, including the 32-4 home setback against Halifax in front of the Premier Sports cameras.
“Halifax were really good,” said Kear, who will lead Wales in this year’s World Cup.
“We put them under a lot of pressure in the first half hour, but their defence really stood up to it, and it frustrated us, and I think the lack of success we had in scoring points led to a lack of composure.
“I can’t fault the effort, which has been excellent both on and off the field ever since I came, but I can fault our skill execution, because it was a little scruffy.
“We lacked fluency, and Halifax gave us a lesson in support play, because when they hit the lines, they really pushed the ball around, and that’s why they scored some late tries.
“I think there was a bit of emotion in the game, because it was our last home match, and inevitably a group breaks up at the end of a season, and they wanted to send their mates off on a high.
“We’ll look at the video and have a chat about it, and to be fair, recent gamed have given me a good insight into some of the things we need to look at.”
Kear continued: “I’m pleased with the overall progress we’ve made, and I feel we have taken a number of steps forward.
”But there have also been some steps back, which is natural, because in sport, improvement is seldom smooth.”
NEWCASTLE THUNDER are being linked with Chris Thorman as they target a coach to further consolidate their place in the Championship amid a return to part-time status.
Director of rugby Denis Betts has been in interim charge since the departure of Eamon O’Carroll in June, but is now set to leave Kingston Park.
Newcastle, who were elevated from League One for the 2021 season via a bidding process, went full-time ahead of this season.
But results have not been as encouraging as hoped, and Thunder completed their campaign with 15 points after losing 40-24 at Whitehaven on Saturday.
Former England halfback Thorman, 41, who was born and bred in the city and played junior Rugby League for Newcastle (now Wallsend) Eagles before emerging at Sheffield, has confirmed his departure from relegated Workington.
The ex-Huddersfield, London Broncos, Parramatta Eels and Hull star both finished his playing career at cut his coaching teeth at York before returning to Huddersfield as assistant coach to Paul Anderson in 2012.
He remained with the Giants until late 2018 and the following May, succeeded Leon Pryce as coach of Workington, leading the Cumbrian club to promotion from League One last year.
YORK CITY KNIGHTS are checking out teenage Heworth prop Ben Barnard.
The nearby National Conference League Club have proved a rich source of players in recent years.
Barnard, 19, has already trained with the Knights, who are set for the play-offs, and has now been signed on trial forms.
Coach James Ford had planned to have a close look during the forthcoming pre-season.
But a glut of injuries, including to forwards Masi Matongo (shoulder), Pauli Pauli (knee), Ronan Dixon (Achilles) and stand-in loose-forward Ata Hingano (ankle), means Barnard’s arrival has been brought forward.
“He’s another talented teenager from the area, and he’s a big, strong thing,” said Ford.
“I’ve watched Heworth a few times and they have some good players.
“Ben is one of them, and we feel if we can spend some time with him and work at his understanding of the game, he’s got a chance.”
Dixon, 25, recently made his 100th York appearance.
The Knights have agreed a one-year contract extension with hooker Will Jubb, while they will receive an unspecified transfer fee for teenage forward Toby Warren, who has joined Leeds on a four-year deal.
LEIGH CENTURIONS hooker and sometimes halfback Edwin Ipape says the success of the team so far this season has provided some compensation for being away from his family in Papua New Guinea.
The 23-year-old former Lae Tigers, Wynnum Manly Seagulls and PNG Hunters player has been a big hit in the Championship, helping compatriot Adrian Lam’s side win both the 1895 Cup and League Leaders’ Shield.
But promotion to Super League remains the priority, and Leigh, having ended their regular season at home to Batley, have a blank weekend before a home play-off semi-final against the lowest-ranked survivors from the first two ties.
“It’s tough being away from home,” said Ipape, who recently signed a contract extension until 2025 and scored a hat-trick of tries in the 58-6 win at London Broncos.
“But the rest of the boys make me feel really a home – they’re always inviting me for a coffee or some food – and our results have been good.
“We work hard and it’s all for those big moments. Now we want to enjoy another by winning promotion.”
SHEFFIELD EAGLES favourite Quentin Laulu-Togaga’e can reflect on making 300 career appearances.
The 37-year-old former Samoa international reached the milestone in the recent home clash with Featherstone.
It was the Auckland-born fullback’s 207th appearance for the Eagles, where he played between 2011 and 2016, during which time the club made two Championship Grand Finals, and returned on loan from Keighley in March, initially as cover for injured Josh Guzdek.
Laulu-Togaga’e featured twelve times for Keighley as they won promotion from League One last season, appearing alongside his teenage son Phoenix, who is now at Hull KR.
Alongside two appearances for Samoa in 2010, he also played 31 times for Toronto, nine for Castleford, 25 for Halifax and 14 for Newcastle.
On recruiting Laulu-Togaga’e on loan, Sheffield director of rugby Mark Aston said: “We all know the quality and enthusiasm QLT brings with him.
“He will always be remembered for his first stint with us, but we know he still has more to offer.
“The experience he has and the help he can give to some of the younger players within the squad will be invaluable.”
A four match-ban handed to skipper Anthony Thackeray means the 36-year-old former Hull, Castleford, Widnes, Halifax, Dewsbury and Featherstone halfback looks set to retire seven points short of 1,000 for his career.
There has been no confirmation yet on when the Eagles will play their home clash against Dewsbury Rams that was postponed on Friday after the death of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the previous day.
BATLEY BULLDOGS have the backing of former coach John Kear as they prepare for another play-off bid.
The Widnes chief led the West Yorkshire club to the former Qualifiers with a third-place finish in 2016.
His assistant was Craig Lingard, who succeeded Matt Diskin as Batley coach in September 2019 and took his charges to last year’s play-off semi-finals.
The Bulldogs beat neighbours Bradford 23-10 in a home eliminator before a 51-12 defeat by Toulouse in France.
It’s been another encouraging campaign, and the Bulldogs went into their final regular-season game at table-topping Leigh with 17 wins and two draws from 26 outings.
“Leigh are very good. If they continue to play how they are playing with their consistency, they will take some beating,” said Kear.
“Featherstone have had a wobble or two, but they are also a good team and I like what I’ve seen I’ve seen of Halifax.
“But I’ll be cheering on my old club Batley, and hopefully they can give it a go.”
LONDON BRONCOS interim coach Mike Eccles was disappointed with his side’s performance against Leigh.
The capital club lost 58-6 at Wimbledon, and Eccles admitted: “It was really poor.
“We all know Leigh are a good team, but to get beaten like that at home was incredibly disappointing and I can only apologise to the fans because we would expect a lot more from the team.
“It shouldn’t have been that difficult. The minute we had some adversity, we just collapsed. We should not be getting beaten by a margin like that.”
The outcome put a damper on Dalton Grant’s 200th career appearance.
Wales centre Grant (he has featured ten times for the Dragons), took his Broncos tally to 18 against Leigh.
The 32-year-old was signed ahead of this season from London Skolars (eight games), having also been at South Wales Scorpions (46 appearances), Crusaders (one on loan), Barrow (28), Dewsbury (51) and Bradford (38).
WHITEHAVEN coach Jonty Gorley will team up with Barrow coach Paul Crarey and his assistant Steve Rea to lead a Cumbria select side for their forthcoming clash with Jamaica.
Workington will host the match, which forms a key part of Jamaica’s preparation for the World Cup, on Friday, October 7 (7.45pm).
Whitehaven team manager Des Byrne will take on the same role for Cumbria, for whom Crarey will be head coach and Rea and Gorley assistants.
Gorley stepped up to lead Whitehaven ahead of this season, having been assistant to Gary Charlton, who is now director of rugby. The pair previously worked alongside each other at Workington.
Whitehaven have overcome a string of injury problems to climb clear of the relegation zone and finished with 19 points after beating Newcastle 40-24 at the LEL Arena on Saturday.
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