With ALEX DAVIS, LORRAINE MARSDEN & MATTHEW SHAW
Whitehaven coach Gary Charlton has come up with his own suggestion of how a shortened Championship season could play out while still being competitive for all.
It is likely a decision will be made on the remainder of the season this week, but Charlton fears there will not be enough time to complete a regular season considering how late in the year they may be restarting.
“If we can’t get back soon I’m not sure there’ll be enough time to get the lads fit and get all the games in before next season is upon us,” said Charlton.
“Our guys have been ticking over, but to get them back ready for a game we’re looking at four to six weeks of contact work to toughen them up again.
“We need to find a way to keep the fans’ appetite for the game strong. The longer this goes on, the more fans we’ll lose to other things.
“We need to keep the fans interested, so maybe we do something like the 1895 Cup and split the teams into groups. The teams could all play each other that way with the winners of the groups going through to a final.
“That would give clubs the chance to make a bit of money, and it would give the players a bit of game time before they come back for pre-season, while the fans would have something to get invested in.”
FEATHERSTONE ROVERS coach James Webster has said he will wait until there is a definite return date before looking at getting some of his overseas players back in the country.
When the game was suspended in March, Conor Carey and Alec Susino returned to Australia to spend lockdown with their family, while Louis Jouffret headed back to France for the same reason.
They are yet to return, and Webster has suggested they may not be back at the LD Nutrition Stadium until next season.
“It’ll be fairly easy to get the guys back from France and Australia now with no quarantine period, so we’ll just wait until we know when we’ll be back before we get them back over,” said Webster.
“We’ll also wait and see what sort of competition they’ll be coming back to.
“They’ve been away a long time now and life in Australia is a lot more comfortable than it is in England right now, so whether they would want to come back for a much shorter season I’m not sure.
“We have spoken to them and they’ve been honest. Once they know how long the season is going to be they’ll make that decision.
“We’re pretty open-minded about it. If they decide they don’t want to come back for this season we’ll be fine with that.”
Elsewhere, the latest players to commit to the club are veteran Brett Ferres, who has signed a one-year contract extension, and 21-year-old halfback Jake Sweeting, who has also signed a one-year contract extension.
SWINTON LIONS have responded to social media backlash over the departures of both Rob Fairclough and Gavin Bennion to local rivals Rochdale Hornets by announcing the re-signing of Jack Hansen until the end of 2022 and vice-captain Will Hope on a one-year extension, as well as the capture of Nick Gregson, who represented the club for the 2021 season.
The Lions earlier in the week had expressed their disappointment in the loss of Fairclough and Bennion to the Hornets. They claimed that comments made on social media seemed “deliberately designed and calculated to undermine our club”.
However, the news of the trio of signings will soften the blow for those disappointed by those departures.
A former Wigan Warriors player who made 14 Super League appearances in 2016 and 2017, Gregson first played for Swinton in 2016 on dual-registration from the Cherry and Whites. But he has most recently featured for rugby union side Preston Grasshoppers.
“Nick fits in with our recruitment plan and I know he cannot wait to get started with us,” Lions coach Stuart Littler said.
“We competed with several clubs on Nick’s recruitment and I am delighted to get it over the line. I’ve no doubt that his consistency in performance will get better and better with us.
Meanwhile, Littler was pleased to secure the future of pack leader Hope into 2021 and playmaker Hansen.
“Will has been outstanding since he joined the Lions and I have a lot of trust in him. He is our vice-captain and has a real presence within our team.
“He has shown great drive and determination to come through a testing time following a terrible injury, and in pre-lockdown he was back to his brilliant best.
“He was playing big minutes and tidying up for the team all over the park. Some of Will’s great work can often go unnoticed, but I know for a fact that it’s greatly appreciated by every one of his team-mates.
“Jack is developing into an outstanding young player, and he has also grown into a quality young man throughout his time with us. I have coached Jack from his being in college and we have a very close bond. I really see him developing into one of the Championship’s best halfbacks over the next few years.
HALIFAX coach Simon Grix believes his club is in its healthiest state for years and he is excited by its recruitment ambitions.
Grix and director of rugby Ian Croad have been working through the club’s recruitment and retention in recent weeks and have been encouraged by the business they have been able to do so far.
Talks with potential new recruits are ongoing and Grix said: “Everyone is pushing ahead and making plans and we’re no different.
“I have a good idea of how we want to play, so we’re not going to reinvent the wheel, but as it is every year, things change and we’re ticking along nicely.
“Over the last 12 months the club has done a lot behind the scenes to get itself in the best position it’s been in for a long time.
“We’re not the wealthiest team in the competition, but we have enough pull to attract players and we are doing that.
“It’s inevitable we will lose players to more money and no doubt we’ll miss out on some new players we have our eyes on. I’d imagine those who have backers will still be backed and those who aren’t will have to cope with Sky reductions, which will make things tight. But we’re happy with how things are going so far.”
WIDNES VIKINGS have said that the decision on the future of the Championship season will ultimately inform their decision on their participation in the Challenge Cup.
The RFL announced on Friday that the Challenge Cup would go ahead as planned, but added that both Championship and League 1 clubs have a deadline before the end of July to signal their intentions about their participation.
“This decision is a complex one, with a number of factors to consider, including the current furlough situation, the cost and implementation of testing, which would be required to compete, and the future of the Championship season, which is yet to be confirmed,” the club said in a statement.
“While Super League will be back up and running in August, Championship and League 1 clubs are still awaiting confirmation on the future of the 2020 season, which will ultimately inform our decision on the Coral Challenge Cup, along with the other factors mentioned.
“The club are now working through the process of coming to a decision on the matter, and considering whether the Vikings will be able to continue or would need to withdraw from the competition.
“Once a decision has been made on this matter, Widnes Vikings will communicate the decision with the RFL and our supporters.”
The Vikings are set to take on Catalans Dragons at home in the sixth round of the Cup after dispatching Swinton Lions in the fifth round back in March.
TOULOUSE OLYMPIQUE coach Sylvain Houles believes Johnathon Ford is the right man to help the club achieve their Super League dream.
Ford is now set to play into his tenth season with the French club after penning a two-year deal last week and Houles now wants the Aussie star to create a legacy for Toulouse moving forward.
“He’s been a part of this club since the beginning,” Houles told League Express.
“We want him to finish the job with us and be part of the magical moment and leave some kind of legacy here.
“I think he is the right man to take us to Super League. That’s why we offered him another deal. I believe he will do it. He is really focused.
“He’s a very good professional. He wants to inspire players around him. He’s a big part of our project.”
DEWSBURY RAMS coach Lee Greenwood has backed the RFL’s decision to leave it until this week to make a call on the rest of the Championship and League 1 season.
“It’s been hard for them to make the call and I think they have been doing the right thing,” said Greenwood.
“If the RFL had said that, just because everyone wanted a decision last month, that there was going to be no more rugby for the rest of the year, but then two days later an announcement was made that crowds would be allowed from a certain date, then all hell would have broken loose and they’d be asked to reconsider.
“So I think they have done the right thing delaying a decision for as long as they can. It would have been daft to make a call before there was any talk of when crowds might be allowed back.
“But realistically a decision now needs to be made so we get enough time to get the games in to make a season worthwhile.”
BATLEY BULLDOGS coach Craig Lingard has warned that any decision reached by the RFL on the Championship’s resumption and the future of promotion and relegation won’t please everybody.
A decision is due by Thursday, but Lingard believes that the news won’t be good for all.
“Everybody is going to try and look after their own house and you are not going to get a one-size-fits-all solution,” Lingard told the Batley & Birstall News.
“Teams who are trying to push for promotion, such as Featherstone, Leigh and Toulouse, are desperate to get back and play as soon as they can.
“For us as a club, we won’t come out of this too badly, but if we have to play behind closed doors and try to generate income when it won’t be there, that will impact the finances of the club not just this year but going forward as well.”
BRADFORD BULLS coach John Kear has stressed the importance of allowing fans back into the game as soon as possible, as otherwise they may be lost to the game for good.
It still remains unclear whether the season will resume, let alone when fans will be allowed into stadiums for live games. But for Kear, this has to be a priority.
“It is very important that we do play this year because people have spent the last four months getting into new habits,” said Kear.
“They haven’t watched a rugby match for well over 100 days now and if we don’t play again this season it’ll be nearly ten months without a competitive game. So it will be very difficult to get them back into games week in, week out, and buying season tickets, when they have other new hobbies.
“It’s important that we give the fans something back by getting back to playing as soon as we can. We need to play to reward our fans for their loyalty and their desire to watch Rugby League at this level.”
YORK CITY KNIGHTS Chairman Jon Flatman has reiterated that the restrictions on mass gatherings will have to be lifted for his side to grace their new stadium.
The City Knights were due to play their first game in the LNER Stadium this year, but the coronavirus crisis has added further hurdles in their path.
“There are still testing events to occur and they can’t occur until the restrictions on mass gatherings are lifted,” Flatman told League Express.
“I know that the council and the builders are working as hard as they possibly can so they can ensure that all is in place. The stadium is in a good place, so we’ll wait for the test events.
SHEFFIELD EAGLES General Manager Liam Claffey has admitted that the best-case scenario for a resumption on developments to the Olympic Legacy Park (OLP) is September.
Work was originally set to begin towards the very end of 2019, but the project, headed by former Sheffield United Chairman, Kevin McCabe, has been badly hit by the Covid-19 pandemic.
“It has been halted because of Covid, and they’re looking hopefully for a September start date,” Claffey told The Star.
“It’s a lot later than we anticipated, but we’re in the hands of God at the moment.
“If I felt our future was going to be outside of the city in Doncaster, or at a makeshift OLP, then there is no future for Sheffield Eagles; we need a stadium of our own.
“So I don’t think I would have been involved. I would have sought employment elsewhere and I would have looked at different options, so I’m confident it will happen – it’s got to happen.”
LONDON BRONCOS coach Danny Ward has said even when they get a decision on the rest of this season, it will still be difficult for the club to plan too far ahead.
“We’re not thinking of any scenario other than getting back playing and trying to get back into Super League,” said Ward.
“The hardest thing for us is that we’re at an absolute standstill when it comes to planning for next season.
“We want to be back in Super League next year, but we don’t know if we will be or not, so we can’t plan on having Super League money available.
“The Championship funding next year would be hugely different to what we got this year with parachute payment, so the difference between where we could be and the worse-case scenario is huge.
“It’s frustrating as well that we can’t even talk about retention of the current squad yet. They are our most important players. Before we bring others in, we want to secure the ones that are here and putting in a massive effort for the club.”
LEIGH CENTURIONS duo Gregg McNally and Martyn Ridyard are set to run 72 miles over three days to raise money for both the Two Hips One Knee Fundraiser and the Action4Alfie charity.
McNally and Ridyard will run four miles every four hours for 72 hours to reach their goal, starting from Friday, August 7th at midday.
The pair originally set a target of raising £800. However, even with a few weeks until departure, they have already overtaken their target and are well on the way to £1,000.
Readers who would like to donate to their cause, visit their just giving page at https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/gregg-mcnally4milechallenge
OLDHAM Chairman Chris Hamilton has said the support of the fans during the Coronavirus pandemic has been crucial for the club.
In a statement on the club website he wrote: “Can I thank all of you for your ongoing support to the club at this difficult time for everybody.
“The support of people through the lottery, the sponsorship for the replaying of last year’s Promotion Final and, more recently, the buying of leisurewear and then the NHS T-shirts have all played a key role in helping us to keep the club going.”
This article features in this week’s League Express, which is available from all good newsagents, or is available for subscription, either for the printed version of the paper or the digital version. In order to learn more and to subscribe for the best and most comprehensive coverage of Rugby League, go to https://www.totalrl.com/league-express/