HALIFAX have become the latest club to opt-out of the RFL’s autumn invitational competition.
The Fax board confirmed that they would not be participating after considering all the factors involved with a return to action.
“As a Board we have a duty of care to both the club and all its staff,” a club statement said.
“Whilst the end of season tournament is a commendable gesture by the RFL, our club will not be taking part for the following reasons.
“Our players, who are part time, have not played for four months, have no suitable training facilities or time to get back up to match fitness. The risk to players picking up injuries (as evidenced in the NRL) is too high for us to consider allowing them to play.
“Financially the Board has worked very hard, alongside its stakeholders, to manage its way through this pandemic.
“The current situation sees the club having a chance to survive 2020 with help from those stakeholders. However, the prohibitive costs of testing, un-furloughing players, matchday costs, playing either behind closed doors or restricted crowd numbers, simply puts all that hard work at risk.
“The club’s longer term survival and growth is paramount and the Board feel that this has to take priority; therefore we will not be entering this end of season competition.”
It continued: “Consequently, the club’s Commercial Director, Steve Lambert, will now start contacting our sponsors next week to start opening discussions about 2020 reclaim options and 2021 sponsorship opportunities.
“Likewise, all our season ticket holders will also be sent a letter / e-mail next week with regard to the same topic.”
BRADFORD BULLS coach John Kear is delighted to have the spine of his team already in place for next season after fullback Brandon Pickersgill became the latest member of the squad to sign an extended deal.
The 23-year-old, who made his club debut in 2017, enjoyed a positive start to the campaign with three tries in six games before the Coronavirus pandemic struck.
With a league campaign now not returning until 2021, Kear is confident he has the basis of a squad in place that will prove strong enough to challenge for a return to Super League.
“Getting Brandon over the line is a big signing for us,” said Kear.
“It means we now have our one, six, seven and nine in place for next year, with Brandon, Jordan Lilley and Danny Brough in the halves and Sam Hallas at hooker. So that’s a pretty good spine.
“We can now build in the indians to go with the chiefs, so we’re very happy with what we have in place so far.
“That is the key area to have in place in any team and hopefully other players will look at this and see we’re having a big go next season and want to be a part of it and get a bit of success.”
LONDON BRONCOS coach Danny Ward has revealed his squad is devastated that they have had their hopes of a quick return to Super League taken away from them this year.
The Broncos, along with the other Championship and League 1 teams, found out last Monday that the season would not be returning following its suspension due to the Coronavirus pandemic.
It means the capital club will now have to wait until 2021 to make another assault at promotion, and will likely have to do it on a much smaller budget than they had this year.
“We weren’t expecting an announcement at that time, so it took us all by surprise a little,” admitted Ward.
“We’d all been really positive about getting the season going again and trying to achieve our goal of getting back into Super League at the first attempt.
“To have that dashed is heartbreaking for the boys and it will take a while to pick up the pieces and see where we go next.
“But I understand the reasoning and there are worse things happening in the world right now than what’s happening in Rugby League.
“We’ve probably got half the lads contracted for next season anyway, but the rest are out of contract in November, so we have some work to do there.
“Our budget for next year will take a massive hit now. This year we had the parachute payment from Super League to work with and we wanted to give promotion a crack while working with that.
“But we’ll not have that opportunity now and we’ll be going down to the standard Championship funding next season. That will have a massive consequence on the club and how much David Hughes, our owner, needs to invest.”
TOULOUSE OLYMPIQUE coach Sylvain Houles has revealed that the club will enter into pre-season in October as opposed to accepting the RFL’s invitation to join the tournament that is set to replace the Championship and League 1.
With Super League very much still on the club’s radar, they will begin preparations early for the 2021 season.
“We’ll come back early October to have our off-season,” said Houles.
“That’s the plan at the moment. The imports want to go home, so we will let them go. We’re not really interested in getting into competition in October or November. There’s no point for us, it would probably cost us a lot of money to organise it. Our main goal is to make sure we take the club to Super League.”
Last week, Toulouse announced the re-signings of key trio Mark Kheirallah, Paul Marcon and Paterika Vaivai but also the departure of Tony Maurel at the end of 2020. The winger made 153 appearances for the club, notching 75 tries.
FEATHERSTONE ROVERS coach James Webster believes veteran forward Brett Ferres can continue to have a major impact on his squad next season.
The 34 year-old signed a one-year extension to his Rovers deal earlier this month and Webster is delighted to have someone of Ferres’ experience to call on again next year.
“Brett has been fantastic in the short time he has been with us and I have really enjoyed coaching him,” said Webster.
“He’s tough and he brings a lot of experience. His body will be pretty good next year after having almost a full year off.
“He’s quite worldly, so he understands what is needed in different situations. He has adapted to Championship Rugby League really easily.
“He’s a big asset to the club and the younger players here have really benefited from having him around. The players that we are speaking to at other clubs as well are keen to work with a player like Brett.
“As a player, when you can work alongside someone who has been there and done it, like Brett has, you can learn a lot from them by seeing what they do in training and games. They probably teach more than the coach does at times.
“He’s keen to pass his knowledge on and he has been doing a little bit of coaching this year already. He’ll be continuing that next year.”
SWINTON LIONS coach Stuart Littler believes the decision to cancel the Championship season in 2020 was the most sensible action the RFL could have taken.
“Taking everything into account with costing and fans, this has to be the safest thing for everyone currently, as well as the safest place financially for a lot of clubs,” Littler told League Express.
“It’s a balance. There are a lot of teams at the top of the league who have recruited heavily for promotion. That’s a goal for every Championship team and I do think that needs to be supported moving forward. It’s a chance to progress your club on and off the field.
“We’re probably not punching up there currently, but we aspire to be there. We’re trying to progress the club on and off the field year on year, while growing by climbing a little further up the league.
“I’m disappointed for the boys; they all want to play rugby and have worked really hard in lockdown. We’re here to be a team together who are working towards victory and progressing the club.
Meanwhile, the Lions are set to decide whether to participate in the RFL’s invitational tournament, with a meeting taking place this week between Littler, the board and club captain Rhodri Lloyd, who signed a new two-year deal with the club last week.
“He is another player who was not without admirers at other clubs, and therefore we are very happy to have kept hold of him,” Littler said.
“Rhodri has now been here since 2015 and he has been through everything with us both good and bad. He buys into everything we are trying to create at the club and he will continue to be very influential in our future successes. He has really grown with his leadership skills within his role as club captain and I really trust him.”
As well as Lloyd, the club also announced the retention of Billy Brickhill into 2021 last week.
LEIGH CENTURIONS coach John Duffy admits he’s disappointed that the Championship won’t return this year.
The decision was made last week to cancel the 2020 season for both the Championship and League 1. But the Centurions had been hoping that the season would resume with Super League in their sights after a promising start to their campaign earlier this year.
“It’s very disappointing,” Duffy told League Express.
“I’m absolutely gutted for the fans, owners, players and coaches. But the decision has been made, so we’ve just got to plan for the future. We can start recruiting for next season now.
“We’ve been speaking to most of our squad now and we’re getting round it. Like every club, we’ve got our targets and we’re just touching base with who is available and who we can press on with.”
BATLEY BULLDOGS have thrown their support behind the RFL’S proposed autumn invitational competition.
Batley were one of the clubs wary of playing games behind closed doors, but with the government set to allow small crowds in stadiums by October, the competition appeals to the Bulldogs.
“As a club we want to play in the Cup competition proposed in October and November, which would hopefully give us a minimum of six games,” Chairman Kevin Nicholas revealed in a statement on the Bulldogs’ website.
“However, we have plenty to sort out if at all possible as, after all, we are a Rugby League club and therefore we should want to play Rugby League.
“We as a club, along with most other clubs, said we did not want to play behind closed doors, so that has been ruled out for the Championship.
“At the moment, unless things change we are looking to have crowds from October, but with social distancing. We believe that our stadium can accommodate a sufficient crowd to make this feasible, although it’s certainly not ideal.
“We can get the numbers in to accommodate our average gates, but the crowd will be spaced out around the whole of the stadium, not just in specific areas. It will be all-ticket games and tickets will likely be for a particular part of the stadium.”
SHEFFIELD EAGLES are set to announce whether they will partake in the RFL’S proposed invitational competition early this week.
With the Championship season cancelled for 2020, clubs in both League 1 and the Championship have the option to enter the competition, which is set to be played later this year, with the Eagles looking to reveal their decision in the coming days after details were revealed to clubs via a Zoom meeting on Friday.
A statement on their website read: “There will be a number of factors for the club to consider in regards to the autumn competition muted and these will be discussed this week as we await further details on it from the governing body.
“Sheffield Eagles would like to thank all our supporters, sponsors and partners for their continued support and will update them in the coming days.
“The club would also like to put on record its thanks to our playing and backroom staff, whose response since we ceased training on 17th March has been exemplary and their patience and resolve has been a testament to the club.
DEWSBURY RAMS will extend their dual-registration agreement with Super League club Hull KR into next year.
In the early stages of this year the partnership worked both ways, with players such as Will Oakes (on loan) and Matty Gee turning out for the Rams, while a number of Dewsbury’s younger players got some valuable game time as part of the Robins’ reserve side
“I’m really pleased that we will be continuing our partnership with Hull KR,” said Rams coach Lee Greenwood.
“In the short time we were linked, both clubs were benefiting from the relationship.
“Tony Smith and I are in regular communication, which allows the partnership to be a success, and I see no reason why this will not carry on in 2021.
“I know that any players we are offered on loan or dual-registration from Hull KR will bring a good attitude and fit in quickly within our squad.
“Will and Matty seemed to enjoy putting a Dewsbury Rams shirt on and I know that our players that turned out for Hull KR reserves were proud to do so.”
As well as the player-side of the partnership, the two teams will contest a pre-season game in 2021, from which Dewsbury will receive all gate receipts.
OLDHAM forward Ed Smith will no doubt be hoping the club agree to play in the proposed new Championship and League 1 competition later in the year.
The 27-year-old recently underwent successful knee surgery and is already eyeing up a return to action.
“As far as I can tell the operation went well,” said Smith, ahead of a meeting with his surgeon over the weekend.
“It was straightforward; he just took out the cartilage.
“It might be a couple of months before I can play again, but I will be talking to the surgeon to see when I can start gentle exercise and begin my rehab.
“I bought a bike early on in the lockdown, so I’ll be back on that as soon as I’m allowed.
“The fact that there is no rugby at present is no good for most of the lads but, to be honest, it suits me. Training wise, we are all doing our own thing anyway and I’ll be working hard to get back to match fitness as soon as I can.”
WHITEHAVEN Chairman Tom Todd has said that now there has been a decision from the RFL, plans can be put in place for 2021.
Confirmation came on Monday night that the season will not be returning this year and, while no doubt disappointed, Todd is glad that clubs now have clarity in relation to the unprecedented situation.
“We are satisfied that a decision has been made and we know where we stand,” Todd told the Whitehaven News.
“Now we can start actively recruiting for next year and we know when we need to bring players in.”