By ALEX DAVIS, LORRAINE MARSDEN & MATTHEW SHAW
Sheffield Eagles general manager Liam Claffey says he understands the delay by the RFL in making a decision on the Championship’s resumption, although he admits his club would like some clarity sooner rather than later.
With so many questions yet to be answered, little can be done in preparation for 2021 and Claffey believes that next year should be the priority.
“2021 is a big year for the sport with the TV deal and the World Cup and my personal opinion is we should be focusing on that and beyond,” Claffey told League Express.
“We’d like a decision (on 2020) sooner rather than later. Our players would like a decision and as a club we need it, so we can decide what we’re spending this year and also the potential refunds for sponsors if we need to do that. And then we can see what our finances look like after that.
“We understand the RFL wants to delay the decision, because that was the will of some clubs and the guidelines are changing in different ways. We’ve seen what is happening in Leicester, but pubs are also opening.”
An executive board meeting at the RFL is scheduled for today (Monday) and while there are no guarantees that any decisions will be made, it could shed some light on a variety of matters, including the fate of this year’s Challenge Cup.
Sheffield are one of the Championship clubs in the sixth round of the competition, having drawn Hull FC at home, and the Eagles expect to contacted after the meeting with news about this year’s competition.
Meanwhile, Claffey also confirmed that the club has held positive talks on the construction of the Olympic Legacy Park.
Building was initially set to begin late in 2019 but now, with the easing of guidelines relating to Covid-19, construction is set to begin.
BATLEY BULLDOGS Chairman Kevin Nicholas believes that the RFL’s survey that was sent out to all Championship clubs will find that there is no appetite for playing behind closed doors.
A decision has yet to be made as to whether the Championship will restart, despite Super League nearing a return early next month. Nicholas admits that if the only option open to clubs is playing behind closed doors, then the season wouldn’t restart because of the cost.
“The cost of testing is £5,000 a week,” Nicholas told Bulldogs fans on their official Facebook page.
“The government have said they wouldn’t be happy with self testing because they couldn’t rely on the results.
“The Rugby League have now sent a survey out to clubs to get our view. The result, in my view, will be that there is no appetite for playing games behind closed doors. If that was the only option, we wouldn’t be playing this year.”
Nicholas is, however, confident that if the situation improves and a 25 per cent capacity crowd is allowed to watch Championship games, the situation is feasible for his club.
“Going forward, if everything goes well and the numbers don’t increase, there is scope for playing with limited crowds in my opinion. We would be happy to play with a 25% stadium capacity. We could cope with that. There would have to be rules in place but we could cope with it.”
Meanwhile, the club is hoping to reopen their Bulldog bar next week. As of July 4th, pubs nationwide, excluding in Leicester, have been able to open their doors once again and Nicholas is hoping Batley can benefit.
“We want to make sure we can do everything properly. We’ve decided we’re having a run through next weekend. It may bring some money into the club, which is always welcome.”
SWINTON LIONS coach Stuart Littler believes the club is in a good place after the board of directors confirmed a controlling stake in the club last week.
Despite recent on-field successes, the Lions had been in a state of limbo since their previous owners left the club. But now Littler is excited to see the club move forward, spearheaded by new director of development, Damian Ridpath.
“Damian has been massive since coming in,” Littler told League Express.
“He’s come in with new ideas, but we’ll probably only see those ideas put into practice when we get back to some sense of normality.
“We’ve got a strategic plan now to move forward, both on and off the pitch. That’s got to be done organically and in the right way. We don’t have a millionaire backer, but we want to build an organisation with roots in the community and good pathways.”
Despite the uncertainty surround the Championship competition, with this news, Swinton can start to prepare for this season, the next and beyond and Littler admits that recruitment is constantly ongoing.
“We want to build consistency,” he continued.
“We want to reward the players that have done the business for us on the field with contracts. We’re in the process of trying to get some contracts done and we do have some news that can hopefully be rolled out. We’re also actively looking where we can improve the squad.”
Meanwhile, the club reported the sad death of former captain and halfback Alan Taylor after a long illness.
Taylor played for the club between 1980 and 1981 after joining from Wigan. He played 34 times for the club, scoring seven tries before leaving for Oldham in May 1981.
HALIFAX head coach Simon Grix has echoed the thoughts of John Kear and called on the RFL to make a decision on the future of the Championship.
Bradford boss Kear called on the RFL to take the lead and make a call on the future of the competition last week, following the unsuccessful forum held for the clubs the week before.
Now Grix has followed suit, stating that the RFL are the only ones in a position to resolve the matter.
“From the limited knowledge that’s been fed back, getting all the teams to agree on what’s the best way forward is going to be impossible,” he said.
“So I’m not overly optimistic about returning, but as the situation changes and costs change, things could change too.
“But we’re lacking that leadership, if you look at the NRL, they’ve made the decisions during Covid, not the clubs. That might be what we need now too.”
The prospect of a competition in autumn and winter is one the Fax chief is open to, but he admits it comes with its own risks.
“I’d love to get back playing and doing my job, but there are still some considerations to think about,” he added.
“If a player was to injure himself and you’re paying him a sizeable contract in 2021, that’s a risk that needs some consideration when you’re putting them at risk in what would be an irrelevant competition.
“For the sake of the game I genuinely do think getting it back on is something we need to do, but not at all costs.”
BRADFORD BULLS coach John Kear has said even though they have still to receive an official decision from the RFL, the club is starting to make plans for a return to action this year.
The club confirmed last week that their office is slowly opening back up, with skeleton staff returning on a part-time basis.
“It’s great for the club that we can start opening things up a bit more,” said Kear, who also has plans in place for when the players return.
“Although across the game there seem to be doubts about the Championship coming back this year, we are anticipating a return to play and taking a glass-half-full attitude.
“With that in mind we have to make some plans and preparations and that is what the returning staff will be doing, as well as attempting to engage with fans again and keep them up to speed with anything that is going on.
“I am delighted that Super League is coming back, but the Championship is the second-highest competition in our game and we need to endeavour to attempt to get back playing.
“We have a three-week mini pre-season planned out and ready to implement when we get the go-ahead. It doesn’t involve much running, as they’ve done a fair amount of that and we’ve been tracking them with GPS.
“The thing they can’t do is put the heavy weights through their body, so that will be a priority in that three weeks. They also need to get some contact. Players do become battle hardened, but when it’s been more than 100 days that they have not been hitting each other about, that needs to be another important part of our return to train and play plans.”
DEWSBURY RAMS coach Lee Greenwood has said a long-term situation of playing games behind closed doors simply will not be viable.
The RFL are still weighing up the opinions of all the Championship and League 1 clubs, before making a decision on if, when and how the game will return below Super League this year.
But for Greenwood, if the game returns, the fans need to as well.
“A lot of our clubs rely and budget on matchday income, so without it, plus extra costs to play the games behind closed doors, it’s probably a non-starter,” said Greenwood
“They’re hoping schools will be back in September, and once you say they’re back to normal, to me that’s everything able to get back to normal. Fingers crossed that means we might be able to get crowds back then too.
“The preferred option would be to come back for game one with crowds, but we’d need to be pretty definitive as to when we could do that.
“If we get that, we’d go with it, but if we have to wait and see and not know until September, we can’t just say we’ll play next week.
“If it goes past September, we just don’t leave ourselves long enough to get enough games in to make it worthwhile.”
FEATHERSTONE ROVERS forward Jack Bussey has said the novelty of lockdown has worn off now and he is just ready to feel the full force of the game again.
The 27 year-old returned to the club in 2019 after spells with London Broncos and Toronto Wolfpack, and is now just ready to get back onto the pitch, if and when the Government and the RFL allow.
“I got some weights from the club gym before lockdown happened so I have been doing a bit of them and some running to keep myself fit,” Bussey told a Q&A session on the club’s social media channels.
“Speaking to a lot of the lads this is the longest time off any of us have had from rugby since we started playing. I have been playing since I was five, so it’s a bit strange.
“At first the body was happy for the break; you’ve not got the bumps and bruises and you’re waking up and you feel okay.
“But now I’m starting to miss feeling like I have been hit by a car.”
YORK CITY KNIGHTS captain Tim Spears believes his side could have an advantage over other clubs post-lockdown due to their training on fitness app Strava.
Lockdown has seen plenty of people join the social fitness app that helps people track, record and share their runs, bike rides, swims and other physical activities and York have used the app to their advantage while training from home.
“The coaching staff have done a really good job of creating groups on Strava,” Spears told The Press.
“They’ve set weekly challenges and levels that we’re expected to hit.
“There’s added competition from all of the boys getting involved with it and trying to beat your team-mate or your own effort from the previous week.
“That’s been really useful.”
TOULOUSE OLYMPIQUE will start training sessions with their Under-19s staff for all Rugby League abilities in September.
Despite the ongoing situation with Covid-19, a statement on the club’s website, translated from French to English stated “Hygiene measures will of course be implemented for the benefit of all involved.
“The staff of the Under-19 team at Toulouse Olympique is inviting all people born between January 1st 2001 and December 31st 2003 to come and take part in training sessions, whether they are familiar with Rugby League or not. No prior experience of Rugby League is necessary. Only motivation and desire are required.
“Sessions will be in conjunction with the training of the club’s Elite 1 team, who compete in the French Championship.”
LONDON BRONCOS have launched a new lottery initiative, which looks set to benefit the game in London as a whole.
Players in the lottery can choose what their payment goes towards, with the club’s Youth Programme and Community team Brixton Bulls already joined as beneficiaries.
“For a long time the Broncos have tried to build relationships with the community clubs in the South East with varying degrees of success,” said Broncos’ commercial manager James Milner.
“We feel that the Community RL Lotto not only helps us generate much needed revenue for the costs of developing our own players, but also gives the community clubs a chance to get behind this project with direct benefits for them right from the very off.
“The Broncos first team is perhaps seen as the highest point a player can reach in the South East. But we have to remember the hard work that goes on in primary schools, mini’s Rugby League and all of the years after that leading to the Scholarship programme by many hard working volunteers across the game.
“This is one way we feel we can support the people carrying out this work and help our own system thrive at the same time. So we urge our fans to support this in their numbers where they can. It is a vital source of income for the club and the wider Rugby League community.”
OLDHAM’s specially commissioned NHS T-shirt has proved to be a big success and will be seen across the country, after orders came in from places such as Liverpool, Hull, Kent, Spennymoor, Sunderland, Surrey, Suffolk, Cambridgeshire and Wiltshire.
The top, priced at £29, was created in appreciation of the front-line work done by NHS staff during the coronavirus pandemic and was ordered by over 100 people in the first nine days after it was launched.
“Given the short time available and the spread across the UK, we are very happy indeed at the public response,” said Chairman Chris Hamilton.
“We would like to thank everyone who has taken part and who will be wearing shirts that reflect the wonderful work of the NHS at all times, but especially during the Covid-19 pandemic.”
Half the profits from the sales will be donated to NHS charities.
WHITEHAVEN back Jason Mossop has called for support in raising much needed funds for the Yewdale Ward at West Cumberland hospital.
He and several other Haven players are taking up the ‘Five Wainwrights’ walking challenge in support of the acute mental health inpatient unit.
“The suicide rate in our area is twice that of the national stats, so we would love to help raise money for this great ward & team of staff. Help save lives!,” tweeted Mossop.
To donate to the challenge, visit https://www.gofundme.com/f/west-cumbria-mental-health-sponsored-walk
FORMER Widnes Vikings winger Patrick Ah Van is setting up a summer skills camp in Widnes.
The camp will be aimed at children aged between five and 16 and bookings will be taken on a first come first served basis.
A number to call to book has yet to be announced by Ah Van, but demand is expected to be high, given the player’s reputation in the town.
“I will be providing all camp details over the coming days & providing a number to call and book,” said Ah Van, who featured for Widnes between 2012 and 2019, on Twitter.
“This is the ONLY WAY to reserve a place due to the limited number of spaces available.
“This camp is only the beginning.”
The camp will be non-contact and implement all government guidelines surrounding Covid-19.
FORMER Leigh scrum-half Jamie Durbin has been fined by the courts after admitting a harassment charge.
The 35-year-old played for Leigh between 2009 and 2010, as well as featuring for Warrington, Widnes and North Wales Crusaders.
Durbin appeared at Warrington Magistrates Court late in June with the court hearing that he turned up at a relative’s home several times last month making demands for alcohol and money. He has now been given a restraining order preventing him from entering the street until Christmas Day.