Betfred Championship news round-up

BATLEY BULLDOGS coach Craig Lingard wants local favourite Keegan Hirst to follow Luke Blake’s example after agreeing a deal to return to the club for a third spell next year.

The 34-year-old Batley-born prop hasn’t played since 2020, when he turned out for Halifax in all five of their games before the pandemic hit.

Before that, the ex-Bradford Academy player had three years in Super League with Wakefield, having previously been at Hunslet (2008), Dewsbury (2009 to 2011) and Batley (2012 and 2013, then after a 20-game stint at Featherstone, from late 2014 to 2016).

One-time Wakefield hooker Blake, 33, re-signed for Batley after a five-year absence from the game ahead of this season, and helped the club reach the Championship Grand Final.

“Luke had a longer spell out than Keegan has done, but came back and was one of our stand-out players,” said Lingard, who has lost fullback Luke Hooley to Leeds and halfback Tom Gilmore to Widnes, but retained centre George Senior and second rower Dane Manning for next year.

“That shows if the desire is there, it can be done, and knowing Keegan, he won’t be lacking in that area.

“We tried to sign him towards the end of this season, but got tied up in the red tape of the registration rules, but he trained with us and looked in great nick.

“Because of his work as a personal trainer, he is aware of how to keep himself in good shape. While he needs to get some rugby fitness, that will come.

“Keegan knows the club, and we know him, and it’s great to have him back again.

“He wanted to play in Super League, and it was good to see him tick that box, but Batley is his hometown club and has been a big part of his career. I think he feels he has a bit of unfinished business here.”


WIDNES VIKINGS recruit Tom Gilmore is happy to be back where his senior career kicked-off – and is looking forward to showing supporters how his game has developed.

The halfback, who has been a big hit at Batley, helping the Bulldogs to successive play-off appearances and this year’s Championship Grand Final, has agreed a two-year contract, while Widnes have also snapped up Whitehaven’s  Wales international back Will Evans on a one-year deal and agreed a two-year contract extension with prop Will Tilleke.

While Australian Evans, 21, moved to Whitehaven this year after playing for Burleigh Bears in the Queensland Cup, St Helens-born Gilmore, 28, came through the Widnes development ranks and made the first of 58 Vikings appearances, with 15 tries and 73 goals, in 2012.

Gilmore had loan spells at North Wales Crusaders and London Broncos, and after gaining England recognition at both Youth and Academy level, he made the England Knights performance squad, before joining Halifax ahead of the 2020 season, when he played two Super League games on loan to Salford after the lower leagues were put on hold by the pandemic.

He joined Batley after a move to Ottawa Aces fell through as the Canadian club abandoned plans to enter League One in 2021.

Gilmore missed only one game over his two seasons at Batley, where he formed a potent partnership with Ben White.

“I feel I’ve got my better years in front of me,” he said.

“When I was here before, I was often injured. The last couple of years, I’ve been back playing and showing everyone what I’m about. I know this level pretty well, and I’ll get the team around the pitch.”

Coach John Kear has also recently brought in prop Anthony Walker from his former club Bradford – the 30-year-old is part of Kear’s Wales squad – and winger Kieran Dixon, who had a spell on loan from Leigh this year.


WHITEHAVEN have finally landed hometown halfback Jamie Doran – twelve years after he joined Wigan from local community club Kells.

And his fellow pivot and club captain Karl Dixon, backrower Connor Holliday and threequarter Curtis Teare have agreed new deals for 2023.

Now 27, Doran progressed through Wigan’s development system and made two first-team appearances for them in 2014 before being loaned to Workington the following year, after which he signed a permanent Town contract.

Doran, who can also play hooker and loose-forward, has made 186 appearances for Workington, and was a key man in their 2021 League One promotion success, when he featured in all 17 games.

While Town have been relegated, he will remain in the Championship after signing a one-year Whitehaven deal to replace departing Kiwi Nikau Williams.

Workington tweeted: “We’d like to take this opportunity to thank Jamie for his long service and leadership and wish him and his family the very best for the future.”

Doran, who as a youngster also played rugby union for Whitehaven side St Benedict’s, is a long-time target of the LEL Arena club. He played at hooker for Cumbria in the recent win over Jamaica at Derwent Park.

He becomes the club’s fourth new signing as coach Jonty Gorley prepares for a second season at the helm since stepping up from his role as assistant to succeed Gary Charlton.

Former St Helens hooker Josh Eaves has switched from Newcastle and Fijian prop Lasarusa Tabu from Carcassonne, having previously played for their French top-flight rivals Albi and Villeneuve, while Australian backrower Lachlan Lanskey has joined from Brisbane Tigers, who play in the Queensland Cup.

The former Brisbane Broncos development player and Queensland Under-16, -18 and -20 representative will help fill the void left by the by the loss of his compatriot and Italy international Ryan King. 

Promoted in 2019, Whitehaven made the play-offs under Charlton in 2021 and finished tenth this time around.


SHEFFIELD EAGLES director of rugby Mark Aston says winger Matty Dawson-Jones and halfback Jack Hansen are great fits for the club.

Former Super League player Dawson-Jones, 32, has penned a two-year deal after spending the last three seasons at Bradford.

And Hansen, 24, has switched from Swinton, where he has built a reputation as one of the best pivots outside the top flight, on the same length of contract.

Dawson-Jones, who works as a postman, previously played for Huddersfield, St Helens, Leigh and Hull, where his stay was spoiled by a knee ligament injury.

He notched four tries in six Bradford outings before the 2020 lower-leagues campaign was cut short by Covid.

After a broken arm and thumb restricted him to only two appearances last year, he scored six tries in 24 games this time around.

Sheffield previously confirmed a one-year contract extension with young ex-Leeds winger Ben Sheils.

And they also have Jamaica international Ben Jones-Bishop, who claimed 23 tries this year, on the books.

“Matty is exactly the sort of person and player we want,” said Aston, who is plotting a play-off push following the club’s return to their home city at the Olympic Legacy Park.

“He has been around the game for a long time but still has so much to offer.

“We will have a good mix of youth and experience at the club once again and Matty will be key for a number of lads as they make their way in the game.

“We’ll have a competitive squad which he adds perfectly to.

“Jack has bundles of talent, and is really exciting to watch. You want edge-of-your-seat players.

“He’s a great lad and will certainly fit into the group. Jack has been a great servant to the Lions and we’re very pleased to be bringing him in.”

Dawson-Jones and Hansen follow Castleford forward Lewis Peachey into the club.


BRADFORD BULLS back Kieran Gill says the performances of a string of youngsters in the 34-34 draw with Greece bodes well for the club’s future.

The 26-year-old hat-trick scorer was one of only a handful of experienced  players in the home side as the World Cup competitors geared up for the tournament.

Forwards Jordan Baldwinson and Brad England and winger David Foggin-Johnston were the only other regulars in the squad assembled by Odsal coach Mark Dunning, who handed trial outings to ex-Keighley forwards Dalton Desmond-Walker and Aidan Scully.

“We had nine debutants, and they all stood up well,” said former Castleford player Gill, who was signed from Newcastle on a two-year deal twelve months ago.

“I think we’ve got a lot of potential coming through. We first-teamers have trained with the Reserves all year, and the Academy lads always stepped up whenever they had to play for us in the Championship.

“If they perform, it benefits the whole team, and tells Mark that they’re ready to play for us.

“If Mark needs to rely on any of them for next season, he knows they won’t be afraid to make that step up.

“They’ve all got that desire, and no matter what age you are, if you can stand up for the team and the club, Mark is prepared to give you that chance.”

Bradford have lost several senior players, the most recent prop Anthony Walker and winger Matty Dawson-Jones, who have joined Widnes and Sheffield respectively.

“I’m not nervous about that, more excited to see who comes in to replace them,” added Gill.

“I trust what the club is doing. Mark and I chat all the time and he’s always honest.

“Hopefully, with fresh faces, we can improve and push towards the play-offs.”

Both Dunning and Bradford coaching staff member Leigh Beattie are working with Scotland at the World Cup.


SWINTON LIONS will go into the 2023 campaign minus five of their League One Promotion Final stars – but chief executive Steve Wild has reassured supporters that new signings are imminent.

Highly-rated halfback Jack Hansen has joined Sheffield while forward Jack Spencer has retired.

Centre Max Roberts, hooker Matty Wilkinson and prop Lewis Hatton are also leaving, along with forwards Paddy Jones and Deane Meadows.

But Wild said: “Let me assure fans that we are not going into the Championship to be cannon fodder.

“I am clear about this, the board is clear about this, as is the head coach (Allan Coleman).

“We cannot guarantee our league position, but we can guarantee blood, sweat and sheer effort.”

Hansen, 25, scored the late try which cemented Swinton’s 16-10 final victory over Doncaster, his 35th in 113 Lions appearances.

He joined Swinton from Leigh in 2017 and has established himself as one of the stand-out sevens outside Super League.

Coleman said: “He’s a player and one we never wanted to lose, but at the same time we accept and understand why he wishes to move on.

“We call him ‘Spongy’ because he absorbs everything he learns, and we will certainly miss him. I have no doubt that he will kick on even further.”

Spencer, 31, comes from Swinton but didn’t join the club until this year, moving after six years at Oldham.

A product of the Folly Lane community club, with whom the Lions have close links, he started his professional career at Salford.

Having represented England at Academy level, Spencer spent 2012 in the Wests Tigers system, playing for their second team Balmain.

He returned to join Barrow for the 2013 season then had two years at Halifax before switching to Oldham.

Having played more than 100 times for the Roughyeds, he featured in 19 Swinton matches this time around.

“It’s been really hard juggling work and rugby and being a new dad,” he explained.


FEATHERSTONE ROVERS will host Hull KR in a January testimonial match for their popular points machine Craig Hall.

The Hull-born back played for the Robins between 2011 and 2014 and again in 2019 after a spell on loan from Leigh the year before.

Hall, 34, started his career across the city at Hull and has also been at Widnes (on loan from the Black and Whites), Wakefield and Toronto.

He joined Featherstone ahead of the 2020 season, initially on loan from Hull KR, and is currently preparing for his 17th campaign in the professional game, having signed a contract extension until the end of 2023 midway through 2021.

His father David made more than 380 appearances for Hull KR in the seventies and eighties and played for Wakefield and Great Britain (twice).

Hall, who has topped 2,000 career points, was granted a testimonial by the RFL in July.

The match will take place at the Millennium Stadium on Friday, January 20 (7.45).

It will spell likely first run-outs for respective new coaches Sean Long (Featherstone) and Willie Peters (Hull KR).

“I’d like to thank Hull KR for agreeing to be the opponents for my testimonial game,” said Hall.

“I left the club in the off-season of 2019/2020 to join Featherstone, so never got a chance to say goodbye and give my thanks to the Hull KR fans who were always behind me when I was playing for the team I supported from a young age.

“It would be great to see the Millennium Stadium packed out so I would be able to give my thanks to both sets of fans.

“I’ve loved everything about Featherstone since joining in 2020, from those who run and work at the club to the passionate supporters.

“I’ve been very lucky to have been involved in professional Rugby League and to have had a career in something I’ve always loved and still do.”


YORK officials will update supporters on the search for a new coach at a fans’ forum tonight (Monday, October 17).

James Ford, who led the club to this year’s play-off semi-finals, has departed after eight years at the helm to join Wakefield as assistant to new coach Mark Applegarth.

Ford, 40, who led the Knights to promotion from League One as 2018 champions, first arrived at the club in 2011, combining his role as a player with that of second team and assistant coach.

He succeeded Gary Thornton as team chief ahead of the 2015 season.

“Everyone at the Knights would like to thank James for his efforts during his long tenure,” said the club in a statement.

“One of a group central to the turnaround in recent years, he will always be remembered fondly and will be welcome back.

“The club is in conversations with potential replacements and will be announcing a new coach before the end of the month.”

Ford’s departure has coincided with a rebrand under which the club has reverted to the title York RLFC.

The men’s team will be known as the Knights and the women’s as the Valkyrie who, in Nordic history, were a group of warrior goddesses famed for their strength, courage, endurance, agility and durability who protected the gods and chose which of the fallen were worthy of being taken to the majestic residence of Valhalla.

“We are delighted to bring a new look for York RLFC, one that will take us into a future for the club and sport that we will be at the forefront of,” said the club in a statement.


BARROW RAIDERS hooker Connor Saunders says signing his first professional contract is a “massive honour”.

And coach Paul Crarey says the move is another indicator of the club’s eagerness to tap into the local community game.

The 25-year-old made four appearances for Barrow on dual registration from Ulverston this year.

Now he has signed a contract for 2023 and said: “It’s something I’ve wanted since I was a little boy.”

Crarey added: “His decision making is good, and the boys said it was great to play with him as he was very smart.

“If there’s local talent in the area who can do a good job and will listen and develop, we’ll bring them in.

“Connor is very classy as a nine, he’s pretty quick and I think he’s got a big future ahead of him because his attitude is spot on.”

Meanwhile Danny Morrow has followed fellow forward Bradd Crellin into retirement.

Morrow has spent seven years with the Raiders.

The 32-year-old Walney Central product explained: “It’s been one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever had to make.

“It’s been in the back of my mind for several months, and in all honesty, it would have been a lot easier to say ‘I’ll do another year’.

“But in my gut, I knew it was the right time for me, and a weight has been lifted now I’ve drawn a line under this chapter.”


NEWCASTLE THUNDER have confirmed the return to the club of ex-coach Jason Payne.

And the 34-year-old former Thunder captain, who was at the helm between May 2017 and February 2019 and will take charge of the Academy team, will be joined on new coach Chris Thorman’s staff by Rhys Clarke.

The experienced former Newcastle forward, who was a member of Thorman’s Workington side, has signed a one-year deal to become player-assistant coach, including taking charge of the Reserve team.

The 33-year-old Geordie, who had a previous ten-year stint at Thunder, is the first signing made since Newcastle confirmed a return to part-time status after a season as a full-time operation.

“I always thought I’d end up here again, whether in a playing or coaching role,” he said.

“When I found out Chris was going to be the coach, it was set to be a good match. I know the way he works; he knows the way I work.”

Payne, who has been working as head of Rugby League at Northumbria University, said: “There have been some big changes around the club, and with that come new opportunities.”


LONDON BRONCOS have promoted Chris Baxter from Academy coach and talent performance manager to head of youth.

He will oversee the strategic development and direction of the club’s Academy and youth squads.

Baxter has ambitious plans to provide plentiful pathways into the capital club’s development ranks.

They include the reintroduction of a Scholarship squad and engaging with more schools across the South-East.

Baxter worked for the Broncos from 2007 until 2015 and, after spells with Oxford and rugby union clubs London Scottish and Harlequins, returned in 2019.

As well as union, he will consider recruiting players with transferable skills from sports such as basketball and football.

“The club has built a strong reputation for producing some of the country’s best young players, and leading our Academy and youth squads is a great privilege,” he said.

“I truly believe London is a hotbed for outstanding Rugby League talent, but not everyone is aware they may possess the ability to play at the highest levels.

“It’s therefore crucial we engage with as many schools, clubs and organisations as possible to unearth hidden talent and develop young players.”


HALIFAX PANTHERS are stepping up preparations for the club’s 150th anniversary season as new owners settle in.

Former managing director Dave Grayson, who left the Panthers in the summer of last year, is part of a five-strong consortium now in control.

Also involved are Mark Bannister of Eclipse Energy, Craig Wright of Madison May Consulting, Ian Uttley of Stage Freight and Richard Durgan of Zenith Wealth Management.

The club tweeted: “There is lots going on in the background, details of which  will be revealed in the coming days.”

The first fans’ forum of the new regime is at The Shay on Tuesday, October 25 (7.00pm).

Having made the play-offs for the last two seasons, Halifax aim to progress on the pitch in 2023 while also working off it as the game prepares to introduce club categorisation.

“The new board is looking forward to exciting times with the IMG review taking shape,” said the Panthers in a statement.

Founded in 1873, Halifax were among the founder members of Super League in 1996, but dropped out in 2003.


KEIGHLEY COUGARS have added Kiwi prop Mark Ioane to their ever-growing ranks.

The 31-year-old from Auckland has signed a two-year contract after helping Leigh to promotion from the Championship as Keighley rose from League One.

Ioane, who started his senior career in the NRL with Gold Coast Titans and St George Illawarra Dragons, arrived at the Centurions in 2020 after four seasons at London Broncos, where his coaches included current Cougars head of rugby Andrew Henderson.

“Mark is a first-class person and player,” said Henderson.

“He brings NRL, Super League and Championship pedigree to the team so I am excited he has decided to join us.

“I had the pleasure of bringing Mark to London Broncos. He was a tremendous player for that team, and I believe he will be a tremendous player for this team.

“Mark will give us plenty of good go-forward and will work hard for his team-mates defensively.

“His experience and quality will be vital to our pack, and he will be a great role model to our younger forwards.”

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.