With ALEX DAVIS, LORRAINE MARSDEN & MATTHEW SHAW
BRADFORD BULLS coach John Kear has expressed his disappointment at the number of teams who have so far stated that they will not be taking part in the RFL’s proposed autumn competition.
The tournament, which would mark the RFL’s 125th anniversary, was first mentioned when it was announced that the Championship and League 1 seasons would not return this year amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
But a number of clubs have already ruled out entering it, preferring instead to concentrate on next year’s League campaign.
The Bulls have yet to announce what their intentions are, but Kear is very keen to be involved. However, that choice could be taken out of the club’s hands if not enough teams sign up to make it a viable competition.
“We fully intend to play in the invitational trophy,” said Kear.
“For me as a Rugby League coach, and for my squad as Rugby League players, we want to play in these games.
“After four months of sitting on our backsides and doing just maintenance work, we’ll be looking forward to getting back to it.
“I cannot understand any Championship or League 1 club not wanting to play. If you don’t want to play games, don’t be involved in the sport.
“The last few months have been terrible for society and terrible for sport, but let’s try and get this sport back on board.
“We want to play and this trophy is the best way the RFL have been able to do that. We can’t play past November, because contracts will be up. We also had to take into account the timeframe when it comes to crowds, because Championship and League 1 isn’t sustainable without them.
“We wouldn’t get full crowds at these games, but they would provide some much needed income to clubs.
“We have to look at the situation as a whole. Yes, we can have our moans and groans, but do we want to play Rugby League? If we do, get the boots on and get out there; if not, get off into the sunset.”
Meanwhile, Academy product Joe Brown has become the latest member of the squad to sign a new deal for 2021.
FEATHERSTONE ROVERS coach James Webster has said plans were in place to allow them to play in the sixth round of the Challenge Cup, but external logistical factors eventually meant it would not be possible.
The withdrawal from the competition of Featherstone along with Toronto and four other Championship and League 1 clubs means the sixth round will now consist of just two ties, with six clubs handed a bye into the quarter finals.
“We were desperate to play in that game,” said Webster.
“We got all our Covid regulations and the stadium worked out for training a long time ago, at some cost, to get ready for that game.
“We were hoping that any competition we could then play in would slide on from the back of that game.
“But with a month or six weeks between the Challenge Cup and any form of a new competition even starting, it was a step too far for us.
“So it was disappointing we had to pull out.”
YORK CITY KNIGHTS are closing in on the signing of former Warrington Wolves star Ryan Atkins.
Atkins, the fifth highest try-scorer in the Super League era, is in advanced talks with the Knights ahead of a move to the club next year, League Express understands.
The current Wakefield player is believed to have turned down a move to Batley Bulldogs, who made a major play for the centre, in favour of joining York, although Atkins is taking a pay cut in joining the North Yorkshire side.
The centre, who is currently on the books of Wakefield Trinity, the club with whom he made his Super League debut back in 2006, won the Challenge Cup in both 2010 and 2012 with the Wolves.
Meanwhile, the Knights have also made the decision to withdraw from the Challenge Cup and the RFL’s invitational competition.
SWINTON LIONS coach Stuart Littler believes the club’s decision to withdraw from the RFL’s Autumn Invitational Tournament will help them build towards the future.
The club announced its intention to not play again in 2020 on Thursday. While he and everyone associated with the club are disappointed they won’t be able to take to the field again this year, Littler believes the decision is the right one.
“With it being opt in or opt out, at this moment in time its not the best thing for us,” Littler told League Express.
“We’ll have a full pre-season. There’s a World Cup at the end of next year and I’ve got four or five players who are looking to play in that. You don’t want them limping into that. You want players playing well and not coming to the business end of next season with it being non-stop from October.
“We’ve got to put Swinton in the best position moving forward, both with the players and the finances involved too.”
Finances are a big concern for most of the clubs that have so far opted out of the competition, but Littler also pointed towards player welfare as a point of concern for him and other teams.
“The injury risk is high with being off for several months and then going into a season with a three-week run up.
“You’d have 50 per cent contact week one and then 75 to 100 per cent at the back end of week two and 100 per cent early in week three. Realistically, you’re doing two full-contact sessions before a game after seven months off. In my opinion you’re running the risk of some serious injuries, as we’ve seen with the NRL.”
The Lions continued to build towards 2021 with three new contracts signed for next year. Lewis Hatton and both Jacob Smillie and Cobi Green have inked deals with the club for next year.
Hatton will be entering his third season with Swinton next year while Smillie and Green will join from Bradford.
LONDON BRONCOS may not yet have confirmed if they are in or out when it comes to the RFL’s invitational Autumn competition, but coach Danny Ward has said he’d prefer to focus instead on a promotion challenge next year.
“If there is no promotion or relegation at the end of the autumn competition I think it’s pretty pointless,” admitted Ward.
“It will probably cost us more to get back in and play in it than we could potentially win in prize money.
“I think we’d be in a better place if we just plan to have a really good pre-season and plan for the new season in February.
“If we play in this new competition we wouldn’t finish until the end of November. By the time the guys have then had a bit more time off and got Christmas and New Year out of the way, you’re coming back into pre-season in January and they would be undercooked for the new season.
“I don’t see the benefits of that at the moment, so we might as well just focus on having a really strong pre-season.
“If there is no promotion from this tournament, but it’s on the cards for next year, that has to be the focus.”
TOULOUSE OLYMPIQUE coach Sylvain Houles admits he wasn’t sure whether he would offer a new contract to winger Paul Marcon.
The French winger signed a new deal with the club until the end of 2022, but Houles puts that down to hard work by Marcon.
“We weren’t sure whether we would keep him, but we had a good chat and he applied himself,” Houles told League Express.
“He had a great off-season, did everything the right way and that set him up. He is always on the right wing and has delivered very consistently. He wants to improve and that’s why we gave him this long-term deal.”
Meanwhile, the club announced the signing of experienced NRL and Super League prop Mitch Garbutt last week.
Garbutt will join the club from Hull KR for the 2021 season, while club stalwart Constantine Mika will leave the club at the end of the season after four years in the south of France.
SHEFFIELD EAGLES General Manager Liam Claffey confirmed that the decision to withdraw from their Challenge Cup tie against Hull FC was based on both logistics and player welfare.
The Eagles were set to face Super League opposition at home for the first time in five years when the Airlie Birds came to town later on this month, but concern for player safety comes first for the Eagles.
“Our issue was that our last game was in March and Hull would have had three competitive games before playing us, so it was a player welfare issue for us,” Claffey told BBC Radio Sheffield.
“Players would be going into a game not game-ready against full-time professionals. We were concerned about injuries to our players.
“The logistical issues around taking them out of the furlough scheme, not just for that but for training leading up to it and the testing, which is quite an expense, and everything else that comes from hosting a professional match at the moment with all the stringent guidelines in place.”
WIDNES VIKINGS have confirmed they won’t take part in the RFL’s autumn competition.
“After receiving full details of the competition and learning the criteria the club would need to meet, a decision has been made that it would be in the club’s best interests to not enter,” a statement read.
“The costs and potential risks of returning to play this autumn outweighs the reward, and with no guarantee that supporters will be allowed to attend these fixtures there is very little financial gain to be made.
“As already mentioned, the club and our loyal supporters have worked hard in order to build a financially stable model and our aim since the cancellation of the season has been to protect the foundations we have built together. Competing in the autumn competition could potentially jeopardise that, which is why the club has decided to opt out.”
WHITEHAVEN coach Gary Charlton already knows where he will target one of his first bits of recruitment for next year, despite only having seen his current squad in action on six occasions this year.
The club announced last week that would not be entering in to the 125th Anniversary tournament proposed by the RFL, instead focussing on their plans for 2021. That includes a scouting team that is working hard to find potential new recruits.
“Now that we know where we stand over this year, we can start looking ahead to next year and getting a squad in place that can help take us forward,” said Charlton.
“Hopefully we can get our own guys signed back up and then add two or three new faces.
“Looking at the results we had this year, we do need to add to what we had.
“Everyone knew we were short of halfbacks. We tried to bring one in before the season started and were let down at the last minute. That threw us a bit and we never really got over it, so we’ll be looking to add there.
“But in the games we did play, I felt we were competing with teams and weren’t that far away from getting the results.
“So if we can add two or three players to strengthen us, it will hopefully take us to the next level.”
DEWSBURY RAMS coach Lee Greenwood has spoken about the different environment he faces at Dewsbury compared to that in his previous job at Gloucestershire All Golds.
“It is a totally different challenge for me here,” said Greenwood.
“At the All Golds it wasn’t about any pressure to stay in the division or getting promotion. It was about trying to develop the game and facing the challenge that I put on myself to do things the right way, to be as competitive as possible and do right by the game as a whole.
“But it’s different here. The first goal is always to stay in the Championship and once you do that it becomes trying to finish as high up as you can.
“Distribution is worked on depending on where you finish and each place higher brings a bit more money in. So it’s about aiming to finish higher every year to work with a bigger budget the next and slowly keep building like that.”
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