Betfred Championship news round-up

YORK CITY KNIGHTS have signed Ireland international frontrower Ronan Michael on a two-year deal amid suggestions coach James Ford could move to Wakefield.

Ford, 40, has been at the helm since 2015 and led the ambitious Knights to promotion from League One in 2018 and to this year’s play-offs. 

Wolfhounds World Cup squad member Michael is from the County Dublin coastal town of Balbriggan and spent this year on loan to York from Huddersfield, making 19 appearances (with three tries) and helping the Knights reach the play-off semi-finals.

Having originally played rugby union for Dublin club Clontarf, the 22-year-old joined Huddersfield’s Academy after catching the eye with Irish Rugby League side Longhorns, based in Navan, and in January 2020, he was farmed out to play in Canberra Raiders’ development system.

But the move ended early due to the pandemic, and he returned to make a Super League debut in the 19-6 defeat by Wigan in the final game of that campaign.

Michael had loan spells at Whitehaven and Swinton in 2021 before his season-long loan to York, where his approach and commitment to recovering from an ankle problem impressed York’s coaching staff.

Michael said: “It’s been a great first year at the club. From the start, everyone was really welcoming and I think we’ve had a great season.

“Everyone stuck by me through my injury and I really want to pay that back to everyone now after they’ve been around for me throughout this year.

“The club gave me an opportunity to play by taking me on loan, then backed me to get back fit.

“Everyone helped me get back to playing and the (26-24) win at Halifax in the play-offs was a career highlight.

“It’s unfortunate with the way we went out at Leigh (in the semi-finals) but I’m over the moon to be committing my future to York.”


HALIFAX PANTHERS are under new ownership after a takeover by a five-strong consortium of local businessmen.

Former managing director Dave Grayson, who left the club in the summer of last year, is part of the consortium alongside Mark Bannister, Craig Wright, Ian Uttley and Richard Durgan.

The change of ownership is subject to RFL approval and outgoing director Ian Croad said: “This is a significant moment in the history of our great club.

“I have every confidence in the new company. The new IMG proposals reward investment, so the timing is perfect.”

The club has confirmed the departures of centre Greg Worthington, who has joined Barrow, and forward Brad Knowles as coach Simon Grix regroups ahead of another planned promotion push next year.

The Shay side made this year’s play-offs, but bowed out at the first hurdle as visitors York won 26-24.

Ex-Leigh and Toronto man Worthington, 32, featured in that match at the end of his second season at Halifax.

But fellow former Featherstone player Knowles, 29, signed during the last close-season after three years at Sheffield, missed out, even though he had returned to fitness following a hip injury sustained in the opening match of the campaign.

“I probably would have liked Greg to stay, but you have to change and move on at times,” explained Grix.

“Greg got an offer that financially is better for him and which he probably couldn’t refuse. We couldn’t quite get there.

On Knowles, Grix explained: “The injury Brad suffered was horrific and to get back with the attitude he’s shown is brilliant.

“Had we not been playing for anything, he would have played a lot more just to see if we could get him back to where we need him to be.

“Unfortunately with trying to shoot as high as we could, other players have done really well in his absence to the point where it was difficult to fit Brad in.”


FEATHERSTONE ROVERS have made a good choice as new coach in Sean Long, according to his old St Helens colleague Paul Wellens.

Long, 46, was appointed by Rovers in succession to Brian McDermott the same day fellow former England and Great Britain star Wellens, 42, was announced as Saints coach after the departure of Kristian Woolf.

Former Featherstone football manager Long, who has spent the last two years as an assistant coach at Leeds, will join up with the Millennium Stadium club after working as part of the France backroom team at the World Cup.

“I’m delighted for Sean,” said Wellens.

“I’ve worked with him both as a player and a coach, and, like me, he has wanted to take a coaching opportunity.

“He has always had an ambition to be a head coach and for him to get a great opportunity at Featherstone is fantastic.

“We remain in regular contact. He is a good friend as well as an ex-teammate and work colleague, and I wish him every bit of success. I’m sure we will continue to talk rugby.

“He has had experience with Featherstone in the past, so he knows about the place itself, and I’m sure he will do a fantastic job.

“I’m looking forward to seeing how Featherstone go under him as he’s a fantastic coach and he will certainly get them playing attractive rugby.”

Rovers’ former London Broncos halfback Morgan Smith has joined neighbours Wakefield.

Meanwhile, Featherstone have appointed Nigel Brown in a newly-created role to deliver an enhanced programme of events, which the club see as a strategic priority to maximise revenues throughout the year.

Brown has more than 20 years of experience in the industry, including music events and sports-themed dinners.

“We’re fortunate to have an excellent facility that is entirely our own, and flexible enough to deliver events of any configuration,” he said.


BATLEY BULLDOGS coach Craig Lingard has paid tribute to Mark Moxon as his right-hand man prepares to link up with Wales for the World Cup.

The former Huddersfield and Hunslet halfback is also assistant to Wales and former Batley coach John Kear.

He and Lingard are fresh from leading the Bulldogs to the Championship Grand Final.

While Batley were beaten 44-12 at Leigh, they won praise for a battling performance.

Now ex-Bulldogs fullback Lingard is looking to next season, when he and Moxon, who was brought to Batley by Kear in 2011, aim to pilot their charges to the play-offs for the third season running.

However they will have to do out without talented fullback Luke Hooley, who has joined Leeds, and Dewsbury-bound backrower Louis Collinson. 

“Mark has been outstanding, and has played a really big part in our progress,” said Lingard, who took the reins in succession to Matt Diskin in September 2019.

“I think I’m more of a manager than a coach, which is what Mark does really well.

“There’s no point working with a clone of myself. Mark can do things I can’t, and having him around lets me focus on things I’m good at.”

Lingard, who works to one of the lowest playing budgets in the Championship, fears he is set to lose other influential players alongside ex-Wakefield man Hooley.

“It’s inevitable that other clubs will be looking at our lads,” he added.

“I think we’re going to lose a few of our strike players and pivots, so they will need to be replaced.

“We’ve known that was likely for three months or so, so we’ve been thinking about it.

“I’ll sit down with the Chairman (Kevin Nicholas) and we’ll finalise the budget now we know our division.

“But I know it will be similar to this year’s, because he certainly won’t put the club in jeopardy.”


BARROW RAIDERS stalwart Luke Cresswell believes Paul Crarey’s side, further boosted by the signing of experienced centre Greg Worthington from Halifax, is well placed to push on following their run to the play-offs.

The 2021 League One champions, who have agreed a one-year deal with ex-Featherstone, Leigh and Toronto man Worthington to help cover for the loss of Hakim Miloudi, surpassed expectations by finishing fourth, before an 18-8 home defeat by Batley in an eliminator.

It was a first second-tier campaign for Barrow since 2019, when they were relegated in their second season after promotion as League One play-off winners.

And fullback Cresswell, 27, who figured in all 32 matches in all competitions this year, scoring twelve tries, to take his appearance tally since signing from amateurs Barrow Island in 2016 to 94, believes it was a campaign of progress.

“It’s been great all-round,” he said.

“When you achieve what’s been achieved, the club has to have done a really good job.

“Everyone has been brilliant, including the staff, volunteers and supporters. It’s been special for the fans because they support us through thick and thin.”

Cresswell, who was part of Paul Crarey’s Cumbria county-team squad for Friday’s clash with Jamaica at Workington, continued: “In the past, we’ve struggled in a lot of games when we’ve been in the Championship, and taken a lot of heavy defeats.

“So it felt amazing to be part of a team going into every game knowing we could potentially win, and confidence bred confidence.”

Barrow are also bringing in Bradford prop Ben Evans and Salford forwards Greg Burke and Jack Wells, and Cresswell added: “I think we’ve got good structures in place and a good base of local and travelling lads.

“It looks like we’re going to keep that for next year, and with the new additions coming in, we’ll be striving to improve again.”


BRADFORD BULLS forward Sam Scott says he wants to repay the club’s faith after extending his contract to cover 2023 – and he says he’ll be fit and firing after a knee problem ended his 2022 campaign at Easter.

The experienced second rower was signed from York, where he was in his second spell, last close-season.

But the 32-year-old was making only his fourth appearance when he suffered his injury during the 20-17 Good Friday home derby defeat by Halifax.

Now Scott, who has also had two spells at Sheffield and one at Batley, is aiming to make up for lost time and help Bradford climb the table under Mark Dunning after a disappointing ninth-place finish.

“Last year didn’t go to plan from a personal perspective and I’m looking to right a few wrongs and repay the faith Mark has shown in me,” said Scott, who was an accomplished local-league cricketer before focusing on Rugby League.

“I only played a handful of games last year so didn’t show the Bradford fans my best over a whole season, although I’d say in the games I played, I had a good dig.

“The club has shown faith in me, offering me another year, and I want to show what I can do consistently over a whole season and really help us climb the league table.

“I’ve played in this division for more than eight years now, so I know what it’s all about. I hope my experience will rub off on the younger lads we have.”

Scott added: “I started training towards the back end of the season, but didn’t want to rush back but rather ensure I’m totally ready for next year.

“It will be a fresh start, Mark will be putting his own stamp on things, and we need to bring that feelgood factor back to the club.”

Prop Anthony Walker has left Bradford for Widnes.


WIDNES VIKINGS recruit Kieran Dixon says his inside knowledge of the club and coach John Kear after a loan move from Leigh made agreeing a permanent deal a straightforward decision.

And the experienced back believes the famous old club, which has also brought in Wales prop Anthony Walker from Bradford, where he played under Kear, and agreed a one-year contract extension with backrower Olly Davies, will produce a far stronger showing in 2023 as they aim to make the play-offs for the first time since dropping out of Super League in 2018.

Ex-London Broncos, Hull KR and York player Dixon scored three tries in five Widnes appearances after falling down the pecking order at Leigh, who signed him a year ago.

The 30-year-old London-born fullback or winger was part of the Broncos side who replaced Widnes in Super League, and scored ten tries and kicked 75 goals in 27 top-flight games for the capital club in 2019.

Walker and Dixon, who has topped 1,100 career points, follow St Helens prop Kyle Amor and Hull hooker Jordan Johnstone into the club (the latter had a previous four-season stint at the Vikings).

“I spoke to John Kear about the potential for staying, and it’s nice to get the deal done,” said Dixon.

“I really enjoyed the loan spell. I wasn’t playing much at Leigh but had the opportunity to come here and play in front of the fans and enjoyed my time, so it was a no-brainer to stay on.

“Although only on loan, I had the backing of the fans, and after hearing their support for a player that wasn’t actually their player, to become part of the squad is great.

“It’s a club with a rich history and with the new recruits we’ve got coming in, we’ll have a team that is going to challenge and be around the top end of the table.”


KEIGHLEY COUGARS have made Wakefield prop Sadiq Adebiyi and Doncaster centre or backrower Robbie Storey their latest new recruits.

Ex-London Broncos player Adebiyi, 25, is a Nigeria international.

Former Castleford, Carcassonne and Dewsbury player Storey, 23 later this month, was part of the Dons side beaten by Swinton in the League One promotion final.

Like Hull KR threequarter Ben Crooks, Wakefield loose-forward Brad Walker, Newcastle and ex-Warrington pack man Ellis Robson, Widnes back Lloyd Roby and Bradford hooker Thomas Doyle, Adebiyi and Storey have signed two-year contracts with the Cougars since their promotion as League One champions.

“Sadiq is a first-class person and player,” said head of rugby Henderson, who worked with him at the Broncos.

“Robbie came through the Castleford system and we feel he has a lot of potential.

“He left Castleford to experience life in the French competition, which suggests he isn’t afraid to take himself out of his comfort zone.

“He is a powerful ball carrier and solid defender who has impressed us this season with his performances at Doncaster.

“We have identified areas within his game he will need to focus on in this upcoming pre-season to help become the player we feel he can be.

“Rhys and the coaching team are really looking forward to working with and developing Robbie further.”

So far contracted to Keighley for 2023 are Mo Agoro, Adebiyi, Dane Chisholm, Crooks, Doyle, Keenan Dyer-Dixon, Toby Everett, Billy Gaylor, Charlie Graham, Kyle Kesik, Aaron Levy, Josh Lynam, Jack Miller, Dan Parker, Eddy Pettybourne, Robson, Roby, Nathan Roebuck, Brenden Santi, Harvey Spence, Alix Stephenson, Storey, Kyle Trout, Walker, Jake Webster and Lewis Young.


LONDON BRONCOS hooker Sam Davis says the capital club’s form towards the end of the 2022 campaign shows they can mount a play-off push in 2023, when their squad will include the highly-rated Australian fullback Jarred Bassett, who has moved from neighbours London Skolars.

The Broncos won six of their final eleven games to move clear of the drop zone under then interim coach and now director of rugby Mike Eccles.

Academy product Davis, 22, who played Super League rugby for the club in 2019, left for York during the last close-season, but returned on loan in June and has agreed a twelve-month contract at Wimbledon.

“Overall, this year was disappointing, but beating a few teams who reached the play-offs (Halifax and Batley) shows how it’s possible to turn things around,” he said.

“We all want to be competing to make the play-offs next season and get the Broncos back to being the club we all know they can be.

“Mike is a great team leader and motivator who gets the whole squad onboard with his vision, which excites me.”


SWINTON LIONS coach Allan Coleman reflected on a “short holiday” in League One and spoke of his determination to establish the club back in the Championship.

The ex-Leigh Miners Rangers chief, who remains involved in the England Community Lions coaching set-up, replaced Stuart Littler, to whom he had been assistant, in late July of last year, but was unable to stave off relegation from the second tier.

The Greater Manchester side got back at the first attempt, beating Doncaster 16-10 in the League One promotion final, and Coleman, who last month signed a two-year contract extension, said: “We weren’t particularly happy with the performance, but we were very happy with the outcome.

“I’m chuffed to bits for the players, who really dug in, the fans, who have been our 18th man, and everyone connected with this club.

“We said we wanted our stay in League One to be a short holiday. We’ve got the plane back to the Championship, now we have to work hard to make sure we cement our place there.”


SHEFFIELD EAGLES have agreed contract extensions with nine players, with two of them committing for a further three years.

Props Blake Broadbent, 23, and Tyler Dickinson, 26, are now under terms with the South Yorkshire club until 2025.

Loose-forward Evan Hodgson and centre or backrower Connor Bower have extended until 2024 and backs Jason Bass, Matty Chrimes, Josh Guzdek and Izaac Farrell and forward Bayley Liu to 2023, when director of rugby Mark Aston wants his charges to push for the play-offs after this year’s eighth-place finish.

Sheffield had already signed versatile forward Lewis Peachey from Castleford on a three-year deal while agreeing further twelve-month terms with halfback Anthony Thackeray, winger Ben Jones-Bishop and centre Kris Welham.

Already under contract were centre Ryan Johnson (until 2024) and back Ross Oakes and forwards Brandon Douglas, Joel Farrell, Vila Halafihi, Liam Kirk and Mikey Wood (until 2023).

“We want everyone within the squad to push each other further forward,” said stalwart Aston.


TOULOUSE OLYMPIQUE chief executive Cedric Garcia says there is “huge relief” that coach Sylvain Houles has agreed to stay at the helm in the wake of relegation from Super League.

The 41-year-old, who led Olympique to a 34-12 victory over Featherstone in the Million Pound Game in 2021, will now seek a second promotion in three seasons.

“Sylvain really needed time to rest and reflect upon the season,” said Garcia.

“On the management side of things, with all that happened to us, last year was really tough, so it was important that we gave him time to make his decision.

“It’s not just that he is a fantastic coach, he has all of our values and that is so important to this club.

“It’s the Toulousain way, just like the football and rugby union in this city, it’s a brand we like to play with flair and style.”


NEWCASTLE THUNDER coach Chris Thorman says getting Jason Payne back to Kingston Park is a “no-brainer”.

The North-East club’s former player and coach who is now head of Rugby League at the city’s Northumbria University is set to join the backroom staff under the former Workington coach, who was appointed late last month.

“Jason has great knowledge of the game, both in the city and further afield, and of the club,” said Thorman.

“We have two universities here, and we’d like to forge closer links with both, so he can help on the front too.

“Getting Jason back on board is a no-brainer for me.”

Thorman says he is close to finalising contracts with several players as the club move from full to part-time status.

Thunder, who ended the season under the interim control of Denis Betts, who has left his post as director of rugby, finished twelfth in the table.


WHITEHAVEN interim chief executive Ashley Kilpatrick says the club is comfortable with the A, B and C of IMG’s recommendations for the future structure of the divisions.

The global management firm has suggested the introduction of three grades based on a range of on and off-field criteria, A being the highest, to determine which division each plays in.

The gradings would be reviewed annually, and Kilpatrick told the Cumbria Crack website: “We all know what direction they want the game to move in and what we have to do moving towards the changes.”

Meanwhile Kilpatrick says the club “totally understand” former St Helens and Widnes forward Liam Cooper’s decision to depart after two seasons due to increased work commitments.

He joins Ryan King, Nikau Williams, Will Evans, Geronimo Doyle and Tom Wilkinson in exiting the LEL Arena. 

The above content is also available in the regular weekly edition of League Express, on newsstands every Monday in the UK and as a digital download. Click here for more details.