Bradford Bulls coach John Kear says his new-look team will take confidence from their 20-14 Boxing Day win over Castleford Tigers.
Winger Joe Brown touched down twice alongside Sam Hallas and the impressive Rowan Milnes in a Bulls’ team featuring four debutants.
After the off-field uncertainty of recent months Kear believes that on the pitch, his side has made a solid start to their 2020 preparations.
Kear said: “I was really pleased with the performance.
“It will give the players a lot of confidence in what we’ve been practising and that the messages we’ve been giving them are correct.
“I think they’ll have a lot of belief in each other as well, because obviously we had some players making their debuts.
“We looked very fit and worked very hard, although you could say we could have been a bit smoother with some of our execution.
“But they certainly committed so much defensively to the organisation that we’ve put in place and I was absolutely delighted about that.”
On individual performances, Kear added: “I thought Rowan Milnes was exceptional leading the team around and Jordan Lilley was too.
“Up front the big men got us going in Steve Crossley, Anthony England and Sam Barlow, while Brandon Pickersgill was excellent at fullback.
“Joe Brown was a revelation on the wing, scoring two tries, looking very dangerous and competent in defence as well.
“There were plus points with young guys like Ebon Scurr and Keelan Foster, and it was a very good Boxing Day all round for us.”
Kear provided a positive update on prop Liam Kirk who was stretchered from the field in a neck brace but who was on his feet shortly afterwards and will now go through the sport’s concussion protocol.
And he confirmed that the club will be appealing against Barlow’s second-half yellow card after suggesting it was a case of mistaken identity.
Kear added: “Sam is trying to turn over a new leaf and he doesn’t want that being on his record.”
LONDON BRONCOS coach Danny Ward says he has benefited significantly from six weeks working under Great Britain boss Wayne Bennett.
Ward and Salford’s Ian Watson were appointed as Lions assistants after impressing Bennett in interviews earlier this year.
And despite a disappointing tour that saw Great Britain lose all four matches, Ward says he still took plenty out of the trip personally.
“It was a fantastic experience, I loved every minute,” he said.
“It was tough losing the games, but the southern hemisphere is a tough place to go.
“I know the squad and staff came under criticism, but for me it was fantastic working with that group of players and they worked so hard.
“For my development and as a coaching experience it was great.
“And you learn as much from defeat as you do from victory.
“Wayne is a fantastic coach with a great knowledge of the game.
“It was great for a young coach like me to get to work with him.
“He has a great relationship with his players and staff, and he knew how to deal with different situations; it was great to see and learn from.
“You can’t argue with his record and what he’s done in the game.”
Ward says criticism of the Lions and the tour didn’t affect him and that he still believes Great Britain has a future in the coming years.
He explained: “I didn’t pay any attention to it (the criticism), although you are aware of it from people on social media.
“It’s like anything – at the Broncos we always try to put those outside factors away from the group.
“You don’t listen to it or buy into it, you just control what you can and all those blokes worked really hard for each other and wanted to win.
“You can’t get excited when everyone’s patting you on the back, so it’s the same if people are hitting you.
“I’m a fan of Great Britain and still think it’s massive for the game.
“Whether it all went smoothly is another thing, and there’s always stuff you’re trying to fix up and work on.
“But the concept has been away for quite a while and it shouldn’t just be binned off after one tour.
“The way some people were going on was as if we’d been undefeated in the southern hemisphere for 100 years. But I can’t remember many teams going down there and dominating things.
“I thought the criticism was harsh at times.
“But I still believe in the concept, and I think there’s still space for both England and Great Britain.”
BATLEY BULLDOGS halfback Ben White impressed coach Craig Lingard on his Boxing Day debut against Dewsbury, despite the fact he broke his finger in the first half.
White is now set to miss two to three weeks of training and is unlikely to feature in any further pre-season games.
The former Swinton and Barrow player made his Bulldogs’ bow in the 14-all draw that left new coach Lingard satisfied with his team’s first hit-out.
Lingard said: “Ben hurt his finger early on but played on.
“I thought he played well in his first game for the club and gave glimpses of what he can do when he gets settled with the players around him.
“I think he’ll be a good acquisition for us, but his injury leaves us with only one halfback now, so we couldn’t be in a worse position.
“A lot of players were six or seven out of ten, but I wouldn’t say anyone cemented their place in the team as such.
“But it was the first game, five or six weeks into training, and you wouldn’t expect anyone to be firing on all cylinders.
“Both teams will have had positives and areas of improvement to come out of it.
“Our completion rate and basic errors were a bit of a worry, but there was certainly some positive stuff as well and we’ll take that into our other friendlies and the start of the league campaign.”
Lingard revealed that Dane Manning played despite cutting his foot on Christmas Eve and that prop Mickey Ward was taken off during the match as a precaution.
The coach added: “Mickey had a bit of an issue with his calf – he didn’t have any feeling in the lower part of his leg, so we took him off.
“But after a bit of a stretch the feeling came back and there was no point in putting him back on and risking any further damage or him having to miss any training.”
DEWSBURY RAMS coach Lee Greenwood says the Boxing Day draw with Batley has reinforced his view that his side must learn to win tight matches.
The Rams lost a host of close contests in 2019 and Greenwood has targeted it as an area of improvement for the new season.
He said: “I’m not saying that we shaded it overall, but it’s a game we could have won.
“We scored three tries to two and had a few chances to sink a drop-goal in the last few minutes, and didn’t really get ourselves in a position to do that properly.
“We need to be better in tight games than we were last year, because we lost too many of them.
“This season that would be a point each and we go into extra-time for another point, and we just need to be a bit better in those situations.”
Greenwood reported a clean bill of health from the Bulldogs’ clash and was satisfied overall with how his team performed.
He added: “It was a bit scrappy, but I’m sure all Boxing Day games are
“I don’t think either team has been on mud much – we train on our 3G pitch and I know Batley have been doing a bit too.
“When it’s a bit of a heavy pitch and nobody wants to lose, then it’s hard to stand out.
“Both teams had a number of decent performers but it’s unfair to judge anyone on that one game.
“There were plenty of positives and we were missing a few key players that are still to come back in.”
HALIFAX Chairman Dave Grayson believes the club can continue to make progress on and off the field next year.
Grayson was part of a new board of directors that took control of Fax in 2019, and says the year had “several successes”.
Now he wants them to build on that in 2020 on a number of fronts.
In an address to supporters, Grayson wrote: “The first team has seven new players and an enhanced coaching team structure.
“Pre-season training has been tough and we hope to see the benefits of that earlier in the season this time around.
“Unfortunately, due to the financial challenges of less RFL funding in 2020, our reserve team will not be competing in the Super League reserve structure.
“However with the partnership between Huddersfield Giants and Hunslet Hawks we will look forward to players moving across all three teams to benefit all over the course of the coming season.
“Our Academy, women’s and wheelchair teams will be looking to continue to improve on this season’s success.
“Our foundation has been strengthened at board level and we also welcome Frank Watene back into the foundation fold, which I am sure will take it to the next level.
“The newly formed support groups will hopefully take traction and we see positive change in several areas.
“The link between our community clubs needs to continue to develop, so Halifax RFLC can be seen more out there and give the Giants, Rhinos and Bulls a run for their money.
“Financial projections show the reality that this year we will need to manage our finances more prudently than ever.
“Our risk mitigation plans are in place to manage and monitor progress as the year goes on. Your financial support will be even more important than ever, for sure.
“No doubt we will have the usual roller coaster ride of emotion and opinion from all associated with this great club.
“That’s natural, but all we would ask is that we all stick together and support each other to enable us to take major steps forward in all areas during 2020.”
WIDNES VIKINGS are set to hand their quintet of triallists a chance to impress in Sunday’s opening pre-season game at Rochdale.
Vikings coach Tim Sheens is expected to field a youthful team against a Hornets side that is in the early stages of rebuilding itself.
Also expected to feature are the five players still on trial with the Vikings, including three former Hornets.
Backrower Jordan Case and hooker Callum Wood have both been on the books at the Crown Oil Arena, while winger Kevin Brown spent time there on loan from York.
The trio are hoping to catch the eye alongside former Salford fullback Connor Williams and ex-Swinton hooker Lewis Hulme, the son of Widnes favourite Paul.
Off the field, the club has been rewarding its fans for their loyalty during a difficult year with a 12 Days of Christmas promotion.
Starting on Christmas Day the Vikings have been offering prizes and tickets to randomly selected season-ticket holders.
The initiative, which runs to January 5, has already seen the club hand out a signed home and away 2020 shirts and a signed Great Britain jersey.
In the coming days, signed Shane Grady boots and two Summer Bash tickets will also be among the prizes.
SWINTON LIONS director Steve Wild believes that Barry McGuinness, the latest addition to the board, can aid the club’s long-term vision.
McGuinness is the managing director of Daisymill Technologies Ltd, a mechanical, electrical and plumbing contractor that has recently started sponsoring the club.
It brings the club’s new board of directors to six, alongside Salford City Councillor Stuart Dickman, Swinton businesswoman Lindsey Smethills, Supporters’ Trust Chairman Stephen Parker, government law department official Stuart Fletcher, and operations director Wild.
Wild said: “We recently welcomed Barry and Daisymill Technologies to the club as a valued sponsor, but I’m now really pleased to reveal that behind the scenes we have also been progressing detailed conversations about the club and its future.
“Those conversations progressed to a mutual interest in formally adding Barry to the board.
“We are not so naïve as to believe that there aren’t some major challenges ahead, but the board is taking immediate steps to frame a sustainable and exciting future strategy, and to place the club in the best possible place to meet those challenges head on.
“I’ve no doubt that Barry will prove to be a key figure in progressing our ambitions, and on behalf of everyone at Swinton Lions I’d like to extend him a very warm welcome to our famous club.”
FEATHERSTONE ROVERS will field close-season signings Craig Hall, Louis Jouffret, Dale Ferguson and Alec Susino in Sunday’s first pre-season game of the year against York.
The team will be supplemented by dual-registration players from partner club Leeds that are still to be confirmed.
Coach James Webster is still without seven players through injury from his 21-man squad.
Thomas Minns, Dean Parata, John Davies, Brett Ferres, Brad Day, Connor Carey and Dakota Whylie are all unavailable.
OLDHAM coach Matt Diskin will take his full 20-man squad to Sunday’s opening pre-season game at Barrow Raiders.
The Roughyeds are still looking to bolster their ranks ahead of the 2020 season, with the front row a priority.
But all of Diskin’s current squad are fully fit and should all play at Craven Park.
That will mean first appearances for close-season signings Dan Abram, Jode Sheriffe, James Worthington and former Raider Lewis Charnock.
YORK CITY KNIGHTS have paid tribute to club Hall of Fame member and World Cup winner Basil “Baz” Watts, after he died at the aged of 93.
Watts made his debut for York on October 8, 1949 and played 354 games, scoring 65 tries for York before retiring in May 1961.
He also played five games for Great Britain, including the 1954 World Cup Final, and was part of the York side that reached the final of the Yorkshire Cup in 1957.
A club statement read: “Everyone at York City Knights would like to pass on our sincere condolences to the family, friends and former team-mates of Baz at this sad time.”
The funeral service will take place at York crematorium on Thursday, January 9 at 2.20 pm, and a plate will be provided for donations to the RSPCA and Alzheimer’s Society.
SHEFFIELD EAGLES have launched a new club website ahead of schedule.
An Eagles statement explained: “The website is still in a development stage, so please bear with us whilst the site is updated both with content and design issues and errors are rectified over the coming weeks.
“The club had hoped to launch the site at a later date, but the gifted site agreement with the RFL/Fluid on our previous website ends on January 1 and so the change was needed to be made prior to this to ensure the site was still live.
“We apologise for any issues during the next couple of weeks and thank you for your patience and understanding.”
LEIGH CENTURIONS have confirmed their opening pre-season match will take place against Super League Grand Finalists Salford.
The match will be staged at the AJ Bell Stadium on Saturday January 11 with a noon kick-off, with full details on the club’s website.
The early kick-off is to avoid clashing with the Premier League clash between Manchester United and Norwich City later that day.
The two clubs have not met since Ben Reynolds scored a try and kicked three goals in the Centurions’ shock 2018 Challenge Cup win at the Leigh Sports Village.
TOULOUSE OLYMPIQUE have hailed the success of a recent business club lunch to thank existing sponsors while attempting to attract others.
The event took place at a local restaurant and saw Toulouse president Bernard Sarrazain look ahead to the 2020 campaign.
A club statement read: “The event was a real success, delighted partners, and encourages the whole TO XIII Business Club team to repeat these events.”
The next one is expected to take place on Thursday January 30 ahead of the start of the new campaign.
WHITEHAVEN are still no further on with securing the visa needed for an overseas halfback target.
Coach Gary Charlton is hoping to add a further playmaker to his Championship squad and has identified an international.
But the club has been help up by visa delays that remain unresolved.
One positive for Charlton is that his squad is injury-free heading into the new year.
© League Express Mon 30th Dec 2019