WORKINGTON TOWN, fresh from appointing Anthony Murray as their new coach in succession to Chris Thorman, could enjoy a welcome cash injection – thanks to former Castleford player turned reality television star Jacques O’Neill.
The Love Island contestant has been targeted by the relaunched Cumbria county team, who will face Jamaica as they warm up for the World Cup.
Workington, relegated from the Championship amid financial difficulties, are hosts for the game on Friday, October 7, with O’Neill in the provisional squad announced by coach Paul Crarey, of Barrow (see Whitehaven story for full details).
So too are Town quartet Jamie Doran, Conor Fitzsimmons, Stevie Scholey and Jordan Thomson.
As well as selecting from the country’s three professional clubs, Crarey has also considered players with Cumbrian heritage – including O’Neill, who was born and bred in Barrow.
The 23-year-old played junior rugby for Askam before joining the Castleford Academy. He made his first-team debut in 2019.
O’Neill left Castleford in June to take part in Love Island. He pulled out of the programme after 37 days, citing mental health issues, and is yet to secure a return to the game.
“He’s finished Love Island, he’s a lad I know from his junior days and he’d pull a few in on the day,” said Crarey.
“That would help raise the profile of Cumbrian Rugby League, and we will hopefully help Workington at their ground financially and give them a bit of a boost.
“It would also get his head back on Rugby League.”
Cumbria last played in 2016, when they were beaten 48-16 by Scotland at Barrow.
Former Workington hooker and Barrow coach Murray, 45, is fresh from leading North Wales Crusaders to the League One play-offs and has signed a two-year contract.
“Anthony was the stand-out in a strong field,” said Town Chairman John Pleasants.
Workington have also brought in former coach Gary Murdock as their director of rugby and agreed terms for 2023 with hooker Matty Henson and halfback Ciaran Walker.
SHEFFIELD EAGLES director of rugby Mark Aston believes Lewis Peachey is the perfect fit for the South Yorkshire club.
The versatile forward has agreed a three-year contract at the Olympic Legacy Park after leaving Castleford.
Derbyshire-born Peachey, 21, came through the Tigers’ development system to make eleven appearances, the first in the 37-16 defeat by Catalans in France in April 2019.
He played twice on loan at York last year and spent this season farmed out to Sheffield’s Championship rivals Newcastle.
That second-tier experience, and Peachey’s ability to play anywhere in the pack, appeals to Aston.
“Lewis is exactly the sort of player and person we want around the club,” said the experienced team chief, who has designs on next year making a play-off appearance for the first time since 2013, when the Eagles clinched a second successive Grand Final win in the era of licensing, and therefore no promotion.
“He’s at the start of his career and motivated to really push on and make an impact. I believe he will do that here.
“We have improved as a team and as a club in 2022. With Lewis on board, as well as the others that are going to come in, our goal is to push for the play-offs rather than look over our shoulders.
“We have seen improvements in the pack this year. Lewis can play in the front and back row, so that helps when we want to change things up during a game.”
Peachey’s arrival comes on the back of Sheffield agreeing contract extensions for 2023 with experienced trio Anthony Thackeray, Ben Jones-Bishop and Kris Welham.
Halfback Thackeray, 36, reversed an earlier decision to retire to commit to a fifth season at the club, while winger Jones-Bishop, 34, and centre Welham, 35, are set for second campaigns after signing from York and Featherstone respectively.
Thackeray scored 21 league tries this year and Jones-Bishop 19.
YORK CITY KNIGHTS coach James Ford reckons captain Chris Clarkson provided the perfect illustration of his worth in the impressive 26-24 play-off eliminator win at Halifax.
The highly-experienced former Super League player started in the back row, but switched to stand-off as the Panthers were thwarted in a tight tie which featured four tries apiece.
Ford was delighted when in August, Clarkson, who won two top-flight titles, the World Club Challenge and the Challenge Cup with Leeds and was signed by York from Castleford in 2020, penned a contract extension to cover next year.
And in the wake of the win at Halifax, which sealed a semi-final trip to Leigh, he said: “Chris has had a really good season. He’s very calm and a great influence on our young players.
“He’s got that versatility as well, and he played in the halves quite a lot last season, when others were injured, and this year, when we were bringing Brendan O’Hagan back into the team (following hip problems).
“He has good skill for a middle and decent skill as a halfback.”
Ford, who has been at the helm since 2015 and led York out of League One as 2018 champions, changed tactics for the Halifax clash, explaining: “We’re usually quite structured and organised, because that’s what we believe in.
“We play our way into games, try to make (opposition) middles make tackles and so fatigue them, and isolate the guys on the edges. It’s quite an Australian way of playing and everyone expects us to do it.
“But we had some key personnel missing and we also wanted to come at Halifax a different way and take time and space off their halfbacks.
“With that style, you can’t just dip a toe in. My players bought fully into that different strategy.”
Aussie O’Hagan and fellow pivot Liam Harris have penned two and one-year contract extensions respectively.
FEATHERSTONE ROVERS forward Junior Moors has signed up for another season after winning three awards at the club’s annual presentation evening.
And fellow pack stars Craig Kopczak and John Davies will also be around in 2023, while Brad Day will be back after a season at Newcastle.
Moors, the 36-year-old former Samoa international joined from neighbours Castleford in January.
And the ex-NRL prop has made his mark in helping Brian McDermott’s side finish runners-up to Leigh and make the play-offs (Batley were semi-final visitors).
Moors, who represented Penrith Panthers, Wests Tigers and Melbourne Storm, for whom he played in the 2013 World Club Challenge win over Leeds, took the Steven Mullaney Player of the Year, Coaches’ Player of the Year and Most Valuable Player prizes, the third selected by his team-mates.
He joins Wales international prop Kopczak, 35, who signed from Wakefield last year, and long-serving ex-Sheffield second rower Davies, 31, in penning twelve-month contract extensions.
Fullback Mark Kheirallah, threequarters Joey Leilua and Luke Briscoe, halfback Johnathon Ford and prop Gadwin Springer had previously agreed to stay.
Featherstone already had Luke Cooper, Callum Field, Dan Fleming, Gareth Gale, Craig Hall, Josh Hardcastle and Connor Jones under contract for next year.
Australian hooker Jones, who is in his second spell at Rovers after playing for Salford, was named Best Attacking Player while Springer, who re-joined Featherstone in mid-season after a Super League stint with Toulouse, took the Best Defensive Player award.
Featherstone chief executive Martin Vickers is delighted the France international, 29, is staying.
“Gadwin has made a significant impact and become a real fans’ favourite,” he said.
Experienced Australian halfback Ryley Jacks, who was signed from Melbourne Storm ahead of the season, was handed the Newcomer of the Year prize, with on-loan Wakefield prop Sam Eseh the Rookie of the Year.
Long-serving James Lockwood won the Leadership Award and fellow forward Matty Wildie the Grafters Award.
HALIFAX PANTHERS coach Simon Grix reflected on a disappointing play-off exit at the hands of York and admitted: “It’s a long winter when this happens.”
But the former Shay player, appointed in succession to Richard Marshall midway through the 2019 campaign, is already looking towards next season and added: “You lick your wounds and go again.”
Halifax won 20 out of 27 games to finish third behind Leigh and Featherstone and earn home advantage in the eliminator, only to lose 26-24 to York, whom they best in both regular-season fixtures, 36-10 at home after a 40-24 away win.
Winger Lachlan Walmsley scored a first-half hat-trick to help put the Panthers 22-12 up at half-time.
But York scored twice in the early stages of the second half to level the tie, after which it came down to penalty-goals, with James Glover slotting two for the visitors in between Joe Keyes kicking one for Halifax then hitting a post with a late effort, which would have levelled things again.
Ex-Hull KR halfback Keyes is among a crop of players already signed up for 2023.
And Grix, who hailed the work of his brother Scott as strength and conditioning specialist, suggested hooker Kyle Wood, who was signed from Wakefield a year ago, could also remain.
The 33-year-old made his 350th career appearance against York (24 for Halifax after 27 for his first club Doncaster, ten for Batley, five for Castleford, 36 for Sheffield, 83 for Huddersfield and 165 for Wakefield).
“There’s not that much of Kyle, so to have played through the middle of the field for the best part of those games is a great achievement,” said Grix.
“He has plenty of matches left in him and I think at least another season.”
Second rower Ed Barber, who joined Halifax from Swinton in 2015, has retired from Rugby League and is now set to play union for Huddersfield.
BARROW RAIDERS forward Ellis Gillam is glad to be on board for next season – and is aiming to help his hometown club kick on after a highly encouraging campaign ended in the disappointment of play-off elimination at home to Batley.
The Bulldogs were 18-8 winners in front of a season-high 3,595 crowd at the Matt Johnson Prestige Stadium, where the 25-year-old, who has switched from the back row to the front, got his team’s sole try.
Having come up from League One as last year’s champions, Paul Crarey’s side claimed 18 wins and a draw in 27 games to finish fourth.
Warrington product Gillam, signed from Whitehaven a year ago, has joined Sam Brooks, Jake Carter, Luke Cresswell, Charlie Emslie, Ben Evans, who is moving from Bradford, Carl Forster, Danny Langtree, Theerapol Ritson, Jarrod Sammut, Ryan Shaw, Jarrad Stack, Dan Toal, Shane Toal and Josh Wood on next year’s roster.
And the club have also confirmed the signing of forwards Greg Burke (two-year deal) and Jack Wells (one-year terms) from Super League’s Salford Red Devils.
Along with Barrow team-mates Ritson, Cresswell, Shaw, Brett Carter, Jake Carter, Ryan Johnston, Connor Saunders and Tom Hopkins, Gillam has been named in the provisional Cumbria squad for the game against Jamaica at Workington on Friday, October 7 (see Whitehaven story for full squad).
“I’m pleased to be staying for another year,” said Gillam, who has also represented Rochdale and recently reached 100 career appearances.
“It was an easy decision after the season we’ve had, and the aim now is to sustain this level of performance, finish in the play-offs again next season and maintain the high standards we have set throughput the club.
“We want to be a top Championship team, which is where Barrow belong. With a great coach in Cresta, and a board with big goals to take the club forward, I’m excited for the future.”
WHITEHAVEN have six players in the provisional Cumbria squad for next month’s clash with Jamaica.
The relaunched county side will face the Reggae Warriors as they warm up for the World Cup.
The match is at Workington’s Derwent Park on Friday, October 7.
Backs Luke Broadbent, Andrew Bulman and Curtis Teare, props Liam McAvoy and Tom Walker and utility Perry Singleton are among the 26 selected by coach Paul Crarey, who will have his Barrow assistant Steve Rea and Whitehaven coach Jonty Gorley as right-hand men.
Whitehaven team manager Des Byrne will have the same role with the county team.
Broadbent was on loan from Warrington (he had a previous stint at Workington) and qualifies through being Cumbrian-born (his father Gary played for Widnes, Salford, Whitehaven and Barrow).
The same applies to Kyle Amor, the St Helens prop who is joining Widnes, Wigan trio Sam Halsall, Harvie Hill and Brad Singleton, Wakefield’s Brad Walker, ex-Castleford hooker Jacques O’Neill and Rochdale’s Gregg McNally.
Singleton and Teare both started this season at Workington, but switched to Whitehaven after the club hit financial difficulties and had to renegotiate players’ contracts.
Gorley led Whitehaven to Championship survival and a final position of tenth thanks to five wins in the final seven games of the season.
Cumbria squad: Kyle Amor (St Helens), Jacques O’Neill (unattached), Brad Singleton, Sam Halsall, Harvie Hill (all Wigan), Brad Walker (Wakefield), Jamie Doran, Conor Fitzsimmons, Stevie Scholey, Jordan Thomson (all Workington), Gregg McNally (Rochdale), Theerapol Ritson, Luke Cresswell, Ryan Shaw, Brett Carter, Jake Carter, Ryan Johnston, Ellis Gillam, Connor Saunders, Tom Hopkins (all Barrow), Andrew Bulman, Curtis Teare, Tom Walker, Luke Broadbent, Perry Singleton, Liam McAvoy (all Whitehaven).
Whitehaven have confirmed the departures of Kiwi back Geronimo Doyle, Aussie centre Will Evans and former Askam forward Tom Wilkinson.
Incoming are Australian forward Lachlan Lanskey (from Brisbane Tigers), Fijian prop Lasarusa Tabu (Albi) and Newcastle and ex-St Helens hooker Josh Eaves.
LEIGH CENTURIONS co-captains Adam Sidlow and Joe Mellor have hailed the club’s fans after a record-breaking campaign.
Adrian Lam’s side topped the table and scored 1,306 points – and all-time Rugby Football League seasonal high – in the process.
Their 26 wins from 27 included a club-best 100-4 August success against York, who were back at Leigh Sports Village in the play-off semi-finals on Sunday.
The average attendance for 13 home league games was 2,692, and prop Sidlow, who like halfback Mellor played in last season’s Super League relegation campaign, said: “Our supporters have been brilliant.
“We appreciate their dedication, and the amount of money and time they spend following us.
“They really are like an extra player, and hopefully we have rewarded them with some entertainment.
“With players like (Papua New Guinea hooker) Edwin Ipape and (former Australia internal winger) Blake Ferguson, I think they’re guaranteed that.
“And after matches behind closed doors (as a result of the pandemic), I can say it’s much more fun to play in front of fans.”
Leigh had a six-match spell on the road when their own ground was out of commission in June and July, and Mellor added: “It often felt like there were more of our fans there than the home team’s and that gave us a real boost.”
BATLEY BULLDOGS coach Craig Lingard says being linked with vacancy at nearby Wakefield was a “massive” compliment, but that there was no contact between him and the Super League club before their appointment of Mark Applegarth.
Lingard is from Sharlston, four miles from Trinity’s Be Well Support Stadium, and his stock is high after leading Batley, one of the Championship’s lowest spenders, to the play-offs for the second successive season.
The Bulldogs made the semi-finals last year, going down to eventual Million Pound Game winners Toulouse in France, and by winning 18-8 at Barrow, booked a last-four trip to Featherstone this time.
“I’m ambitious and want to get to the highest level I can,” said the 44-year-old former Batley player, who was assistant to John Kear at the Bulldogs and returned in September 2019 after a spell in charge of Keighley.
“I got told by a few people that I’d got the (Wakefield) job, but I thought someone needs to tell me, because I haven’t applied for it and nobody from the club had spoken to me!
“To be even mentioned in relation to a Super League club is massive for me, but I’ve been concentrating on Batley.”
BRADFORD BULLS are keeping hold of popular hooker George Flanagan and winger David Foggin-Johnston.
Flanagan, 35, came through the Bradford Academy, but made his first-team debut after a switch to Batley.
He also played for Dewsbury, Featherstone and Hunslet before returning to the Bulls in 2018.
Flanagan, who this year played alongside his teenage son, also called George, said: “I pride myself on being a leader on and off the pitch.”
Ex-Warrington youngster Foggin-Johnston, 26, was signed from Hunslet in 2019, having previously played for York.
“I’ve built massive relationships with the club and supporters and I didn’t want my journey to end here,” he said.
“I want to play here and give 100 percent whenever I take the field.
“This year wasn’t good enough by our standards. I owed it to myself and the supporters to come back again and improve.
“We know that next season, our goal is nothing short of the play-offs, and we obviously aim to go further than that.
“We have to buy into what (coach) Mark Dunning wants from us and then see how we go.”
LONDON BRONCOS will have hooker Sam Davis, prop Jordan Williams and Wales back Dalton Grant in their squad again next season.
Davis, 23, made his debut for the club in 2017, and while he signed for York a year ago, returned to the Broncos on loan in June.
He helped in the climb to Championship safety under then interim coach and now director of rugby and performance Mike Eccles.
“Sam’s tough and gritty and leads from the front, and the club means a lot to him,” said Eccles.
Broncos Academy product Williams, 25, had been targeted by rivals after an impressive campaign.
“Jordan was our most-improved player this year, excelling in the front row,” said Eccles.
Former coach Jermaine Coleman brought Grant to the Broncos from London Skolars ahead of this season, when he scored five tries in 19 appearances.
The 32-year-old has also played for South Wales Scorpions, Barrow, Dewsbury and Bradford.
“I feel I adapted well to my role in the centre. I really like the look of the team Mike is putting together, and I’m looking forward to pre-season,” said Grant.
WIDNES VIKINGS back Steve Tyrer says he knows the time is right to blow the final whistle on his playing career.
The 33-year-old ended his second permanent Widnes stint (he earlier had two loan spells from St Helens) on 79 appearances, 46 tries and 242 goals for the club.
Over his career Tyrer, who also had loan spells at Celtic Crusaders and Salford from Saints and played for Halifax from 2012 until 2020, made 347 appearances and scored 2,868 points, more than any other current player.
“It wasn’t an easy decision, but I was in bed after one game and feeling pain in my shoulder, ribs and knee, and I realised my body can’t take any more,” he explained.
“I’ve spoken to players who have admitted they went on a year too far, and I didn’t want to drag out another season for the sake of it.”
Tyrer’s Widnes team-mate and fellow former Saints player Matty Smith, 35, has also retired.
But hooker Jordan Johnstone is returning after three years at Hull.
NEWCASTLE THUNDER have confirmed a fresh date for the latest event to showcase the umbrella organisation which co-ordinates their community programme with that of partner club Newcastle Falcons, of rugby union’s Premiership.
Newcastle Rugby Foundation’s mission is to ‘motivate, educate and inspire via the power of sport’. It currently employs 14 staff who work across a wide variety of projects in both codes.
The event, which was postponed due to the Queen’s death, will take place on Thursday, November 10, and guests will hear from new Foundation ambassador Tony Underwood, the former England and British and Irish Lions winger who played his club rugby union for the Falcons and Leicester.
“I’ve been blown away by the work that the Foundation undertakes, and more so by the individuals who go out of their way every day making a massive change in people’s lives,” he said.
DEWSBURY RAMS coach Liam Finn says getting Sam Day back to the club is a big lift in the wake of relegation to League One.
The 28-year-old hooker left the Tetley’s Stadium last year because of work commitments.
But the former Featherstone player, who first joined Dewsbury in 2018 after a loan spell the season before and has made 75 appearances, with 25 tries, is back on board, explaining: “I can’t wait to get back out there.”
Finn, who played alongside Day at the Rams for three years, added: “He’s been a great player for us before, fast and tough with a great attitude.
“The other lads will be glad to have him back too.”
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