With ALEX DAVIS, LORRAINE MARSDEN & MATTHEW SHAW
FEATHERSTONE ROVERS coach James Webster has admitted there are unlikely to be many more 2021 signings confirmed before the future of the Championship for the rest of this season becomes clear.
Clubs across the Championship are still waiting to hear whether this season will be completed and in the meantime many of them have been tentatively putting some plans in place for next year.
League Express understands that Rovers have signed Frankie Halton from Swinton Lions and are also in the race to bring in Leigh’s Matty Wildie, but until clubs know the budget implications for the remainder of this year they will find it difficult to finalise any numbers.
One player who will definitely remain with Featherstone next season is Jimmy Beckett, who has signed a one-year extension with the club.
The 20-year-old spent the early part of this season on loan at Oldham, but returned to Featherstone shortly before lockdown and Webster is keen to see how the youngster can develop over the next 18 months.
“It’s good for the club to get Jimmy sorted,” said Webster.
“He’s a local lad who wants to play for this club, which is fantastic.
“We know he’s young, but in the position he plays there is still plenty of time for him to mature and we expect him to grow not just next year but in years to come.
“People are getting jittery and looking towards next year now and some clubs are doing a bit of business. But no one really knows what their finances are going to be next year. We’ll just have to wait and see what the RFL comes up with.
“We’d love to get on and start recruiting hard for next year, but at this stage we haven’t done a huge amount.
“We have quite a few players already tied up, so we’re fortunate in that respect.
“We are having other players thrown at us, but we’re just waiting for details from the RFL, because what happens with the league this year will have a follow through to what happens with things like distribution and crowds.
“So we’ve just got to wait and see until we can do more than just one or two signings.”
Beckett will be joined at the club by Leeds Rhinos youngsters Louis McConnell and Liam Whitton, who have joined immediately on a permanent basis, following the announcement that the Reserves League would not return in 2020.
Webster already knows the duo well, having coached them at Leeds as part of the dual-registration agreement between the clubs.
BRADFORD BULLS coach John Kear has said he is facing a number of new challenges as he starts to build his squad for 2021 and beyond.
In any other season, clubs would be looking to recruit and retain players after seeing them in action for more than half a season. However, this year they are having to make those decisions based on just a handful of games.
League Express understands fullback Brandon Pickersgill will be the next member of Kear’s squad to commit to the club for 2021 after turning down Super League offers to stay with the Bulls.
His signature would follow those of Wakefield halfback Danny Brough and current vice-captain Sam Hallas, which were both confirmed last week.
Those signings reflect the Bulls’ intention to make a genuine push for promotion next year.
“It has been a very strange year indeed and it has been unprecedented,” said Kear.
“But we’re certainly trying to do our best with our recruitment and retention
“We are looking at 2021 being a vital year for the Championship and for Bradford Bulls in our attempt to get back to Super League.
“We’re planning with that in mind, but we can’t do the finite planning until we know more about revenues and expenditure.
“There will be an element of treading water, but we are trying to be as proactive as we can.”
DEWSBURY RAMS coach Lee Greenwood has said it was an easy decision to sign a new deal with the club, as he wants to continue the job he was brought in to do.
Greenwood joined the club at the start of the 2019 season and last week signed a two-year deal, which will see him remain in charge at the Tetley’s Stadium until the end of 2022.
“During all this I have continued to talk to Mark (Sawyer) regularly about many things and a new deal was one of those,” said Greenwood.
“After we’d discussed it, it all moved quite quickly. I wasn’t looking at going anywhere and the club didn’t have any plans to move me on, so it was all quite straight forward.
“It’s nice to get a bit of security, especially during the current situation. When something like this hits, it does make you realise how vulnerable everything is.
“From everyone’s point of view we want to be competitive every year and not be in a relegation fight every season.
“That was the next stage of the plan and we’d started to do that this year.
“With the way the distribution works out now, the higher you finish the more money that comes into the club.
“So that would have been the plan this year, to finish higher then twelfth and then to be able to work with a higher budget next year.
“I just want keep building slowly every year.”
THE FUTURE is bright for Swinton Lions according to new Director of Development Damian Ridpath.
Coming from a background in sport development, Ridpath has been involved with the Lions since January. Now, with the Swinton board, which includes Ridpath, in full control of the club, he believes they can set their sights on being the best part-time club in Rugby League within five to seven years.
“It’s an appropriate aspiration for where we are as a club,” Ridpath told League Express.
“We don’t have a millionaire backer, but we have a good core set of fans to build on and we’ve got a dedicated and committed boardroom.
“We’re not going to make any outlandish comments, but we’ll build slowly and surely. We’ve been doing that for the last three months while we’ve not been playing.
“Players who come to Swinton can have a good coaching experience and if they put it in, they can go to the next level.
“It’s good for Swinton, because then we can attract the next good player through if one goes to Super League.
“It’s part of where we are at. In years to come, hopefully we can aspire to that level and retain those players, but that’s not overnight.”
A chance meeting brought Ridpath and fellow director Steve Wild together and, since then, he has put his stamp firmly on the club’s community work.
Since his introduction to the club, he has helped set up a women’s side, Lionesses RL, as well as a community development programme that will have links to four different community clubs. He has also set up an Educational Rugby Academy and relaunched the club’s foundation. And he insists there is plenty more to come with a strategic vision outlined until 2025.
“I did a strategic view of the club in a whole range of areas,” he continued.
“We saw where we were strong and where we were not. We have a real hardcore of support who are pound for pound better than most in the league. We’ve got pockets of fans all over Greater Manchester and we’ve got to build on that.
“Manchester is crying out for a quality Rugby League side and that’s what we aspire to be. We’re Swinton Lions of Manchester, it’s on our badge, we feel we are the team for Manchester moving forward.
“Everyone in Swinton Lions is moving in the same direction. We might only move forward a centimetre a day, but these marginal gains eventually become big gains.”
LONDON BRONCOS coach Danny Ward has said that until they are told otherwise, his players are preparing for a return to play and a promotion battle.
“I know that safety has to come first, but it is getting frustrating,” said Ward.
“I thought we might have got some decisions last Monday, but we just have to wait a bit longer and hopefully get the right decision in a couple of weeks’ time.
“I’m sending the message to the lads that I am fairly positive that we will be back playing around August time, or maybe a bit later.
“I’m hopeful that we can get a season up and running.
“From day one of pre-season we have been totally focused on getting back to Super League, so all we can do is continue to stay positive and keep planning as best as we can so we can hit the ground running when we get that green light.”
LEIGH CENTURIONS are facing a battle to keep hold of playmaker Matty Wildie.
The out-of-contract star is understood to have an offer tabled by both the Centurions and his former club Featherstone Rovers.
Wildie spent three years in West Yorkshire with Rovers before spending 2019 with Bradford Bulls.
After signing with Leigh for 2020, the Wakefield-born player has scored two tries in three appearances so far.
The 29-year-old started his career with his hometown, staying with Trinity for five seasons before moving to Dewsbury.
Meanwhile, Leigh’s retail unit in Leigh Market reopened on Saturday. The stall will be open on Fridays and Saturdays until further notice with its opening hours running from 9:30 until 16:30.
YORK CITY KNIGHTS have partnered with the organisation ‘Make it York’ with the aim of working with them across their wider community event programme.
York is set to play a big part in the Rugby League World Cup, with the city hosting five teams and a number of games, including both women’s semi-finals at the LNER Community Stadium.
“We are really excited to be working in partnership with ‘Make It York’ on a number of projects and initiatives over the coming months,” said York Chairman, Jon Flatman.
“One of the club’s key focuses is how we engage with the local community and give back to the city’s residents. We are keen to develop strong relationships with organisations like Make It York to integrate with community activity on a city-wide basis.
“I strongly believe that working together with one unified approach is the best way for businesses across the city to collectively recover from the impact of the pandemic and successfully rebuild.”
OLDHAM second-rower Ed Smith was due to undergo knee surgery on Saturday, and should now have a clearer indication of how long he’ll be sidelined for.
The operation was to investigate a torn cartilage in the same knee on which he has had two previous reconstructions. However, his latest surgery is not connected to those previous operations.
Speaking prior to the surgery, Smith said: “I’m not too sure what will be involved because it all depends on whether the surgeon can repair the cartilage or whether he will have to remove it. He won’t know until he gets in there.
“I could then face a recovery period of six weeks or maybe longer, all depending on what he finds.”
HALIFAX’S Managing Director Dave Grayson has been encouraged by the support the club’s supporters have shown.
The club has been regularly updating supporters on its predicament during the pandemic, outlining the challenges the club is set to face.
And Grayson says the reaction has been positive.
“I had 22 messages after that post went out, 20 of which said they were fully supportive and two said they wanted their season-ticket money back because they were struggling personally,” he told the Halifax Courier.
“So using that as an initial benchmark, I would say the majority of fans are fully supportive.
“We’ve put plans in place, with seven different cash flow forecasts, the 2020-21 budget for the RFL is completed, so we’ve got 18 months visibility of where we’re at and where we’re going.
“That’s enabled the board of directors to be able to make some key decisions around our costs, our revenue and making people on the board responsible for delivering those numbers.”
WHITEHAVEN coach Gary Charlton enjoyed his first interaction with fans since lockdown, when he attended the re-opening of the clubs JJ McKeown clubhouse bar just over a week ago.
“It’s great for the club that the bar has reopened,” said Charlton.
“I went along myself for a few beers with some friends, socially distanced of course. But it was a good day and there were 30 or 40 people in there, so it bought a bit of money in, which is great income for the club.
“It been a long time since anyone had seen their friends, so to be able to go down and see some of the fans and familiar faces and sit down and have a chat with them was great.”
SHEFFIELD EAGLES are looking to continue to provide games from past years on their social media channels as they continue to await a decision on the future of the 2020 Championship season.
The Eagles’ last flashback featured the classic 46-46 draw against Leeds at Headingley from 1994.
“We’re looking at some more games,” Eagles General Manager, Liam Claffey, told League Express.
“All of our games don’t really have a commentary on them unless they’re on Sky Sports. So we’re looking at whoever we would have played at the weekend and having loads of stats on that and an old match report.
“Compared to normal articles, the videos seem to get the most hits on Facebook.”
FORMER Widnes Vikings star Patrick Ah Van’s summer camps have almost completely sold out.
The winger, who also played for Bradford Bulls in Super League, announced his new venture only a few weeks ago but the demand for the camps, aimed at children between nine and 14 years of age, has been great, leading to another session being announced which is almost full too.
The events will be held at West Bank Bears ARLFC, costing £30 with each player getting five sessions of three and a half hours.
The extra sessions will be held between August 10th and 15th.
“Our extra two camps are nearly full guys! We are so excited to see you all,” tweeted Ah Van.
“We will not be putting on any more sessions once these are full guys.”
BATLEY BULLDOGS have honoured club legend Carl Gibson by naming the entrance by the Glen Tomlinson Stand to The Fox’s Biscuits Stadium after the former Great Britain international.
Gibson played 145 times for Batley, scoring 86 tries and was selected for the Lions whilst still a part-time player. He went on to play with Leeds and Featherstone before returning to Batley later in his career.
“I have some great memories here. I’m a Batley lad,” Gibson said on receiving the accolade.
“I feel honoured to have it up there and humbled. It’s amazing.”
Last year, Gibson was one of the first stars to be inducted into the Batley RLFC Hall of Fame.
Meanwhile, after successful trials last week, the Bulldog bar opened yesterday (Sunday). To ensure an accurate record of those present, the event was ticket only.