With ALEX DAVIS, LORRAINE MARSDEN & MATTHEW SHAW
WIDNES VIKINGS have extended the contract of star playmaker Matty Smith into the 2021 season.
The move capped off a big week of recruitment for the Vikings, which saw them sign five players to new deals into 2021 and beyond.
Smith joined the club at the beginning of 2020 after making over 200 Super League appearances for six different clubs.
“The biggest thing for me signing here though is the challenge it has presented, and potentially being a part of a squad that gets this club back to Super League,” Smith said.
“Widnes is a massive club, and if I can be a part of getting them back to where they belong it would be right up there with some of the trophies that I have won.”
Smith’s extension came after Jack Owens (one year), Connor Dwyer (one year), Logan Tomkins (two years) and Jayden Hatton (one year) all signed new deals with the club and Smith believes that the Vikings are building an even better squad for next year with experienced forwards Matt Cook and Lee Jewitt already set to join for 2021.
“We’ve signed some really good players already, and I’m sure there will be more announcements to come, so we are building again for next year, which is exciting. I think we’re going to be even stronger next year, so I’m looking forward to that.
“I know we can start training soon to get ourselves fit and ready to go, and I’m sure we will be in a good place come early next year when we’re back playing.”
DEWSBURY RAMS coach Lee Greenwood is surprised by the amount of business being done across the Championship as clubs continue to battle the financial effects of the Coronavirus pandemic.
Greenwood is keen to keep his 2020 squad together for next year and he admits he is baffled by some clubs choosing to make big changes after only a handful of games this year.
“We put a squad together this year on a very small budget, and I expect that to be the same for next year,” said Greenwood.
“We’ve not been planning on having loads of money available next year, because we won’t.
“We started the season off alright and our main remit now is to keep as much of the squad together as we can.
“We’d put a good squad together and we want to keep as many of them together again for next year.
“But, with what some of the other clubs are spending and offering, it might be difficult.
“Maybe I was a bit naive, but I thought with the current situation there would be less money in the game next year. But maybe that’s not the case when you see some of the big offers that are out there.
“I thought that sort of money wouldn’t be available next year and that clubs would just be trying to keep hold of what they had.
“Bearing in mind that only a few games had been played, some poor recruitment must have taken place for some clubs to know after four or five games that they wanted a clear-out and to change their squads.”
SWINTON LIONS have completed the signing of veteran halfback Martyn Ridyard.
The 34-year-old will link up with the Lions in 2021 after having enjoyed his Testimonial year this term.
A Leigh Centurions legend, Ridyard is in his second spell with the Centurions after having made 250 appearances and guided them to Super League back in 2016.
After a spell with Featherstone he returned to LSV last year, but was loaned out to Rochdale this season.
But League Express understands he will link up with the Lions next year, where he will be joined by current Leigh team-mate Sam Brooks, who the club confirmed as a new signing last week.
The Scotland international is another sound acquisition for Stuart Littler’s squad, after having spent the majority of his career competing at the top end of the Championship.
“Everyone at the club is very excited about this signing,” Littler said of Brooks.
“The way the game is now transitioning means that the ball is in play for longer periods. This therefore means that forwards who can play big minutes are of great value.
“When Sam is playing consistently week in, week out, his minutes are generally of a high quality. He is also now of an age where he can be an important guiding figure for the younger members of our pack. Sam is a no-nonsense forward and I really do feel he will fit well into our systems and structure.”
Meanwhile, the club has moved to sign Louis Brogan on a new one-year deal with the Lions.
The young star featured in all five of Swinton’s games this year after joining the club from Leigh Miners Rangers last year.
BRADFORD BULLS coach John Kear has said the fans were taken into consideration when the club decided to state its intention of playing in this autumn’s 125th Anniversary Cup competition.
Earlier this month the Bulls became the first club to formally announce that they would be taking part in the tournament. They have since been followed by Leigh and Dewsbury, but with the majority of clubs turning down the invitation, the Bulls may still find themselves without any games until 2021.
It is hoped that if this tournament does still take place it will be allowed to be played in front of small crowds, if lockdown restrictions allow.
“We had to think about the season-ticket holders,” said Kear.
“They have only had three home games, when they’ve paid for over a dozen. So if we can give them another four games in this competition then at least they’ve had half the value of it.
“You can’t just think about your own self-interest, you have to look at the game as a whole and those who contribute to the game.
“The people who contribute to the game most are the people who pay through the gates, because without them we don’t have a game.”
Elsewhere Academy graduate Ebon Scurr has signed a new one-year deal to remain at the club, but League Express understands the Bulls have released four of their young players, with Evan Hodgson, Daniel Waite-Pullen, Keelan Foster and Vytas Vaznys all not having their deals with the club renewed.
YORK head coach James Ford plans on using an extended off-season to optimise numerous aspects of the club’s performance measures.
The Knights confirmed they would not be participating in the autumn competition, meaning they face at least another four months without any sort of action.
But Ford plans on using the time to his advantage and as a student of the game, intends on using it to enhance standards at the club.
“You’ve got two options; you can mope around and waste time doing nothing or use that time to benefit your players and yourself,” he said.
“I’d like to think we’re doing the latter. I’m watching as many games as I can, and I’m trying to clarify our model as we learn the rules that are likely to come into place. On the back of that we can start planning our pre-season and get to a point where we’re really happy with our model. And we’ve tweaked other things with how we analyse our games and the KPIs.
“Your week to week is normally spent preparing for your next game, so we’re fortunate that we have some time to improve our systems that will benefit the development of our players.”
Asked where he specifically wants to direct his focus, Ford added: “We’ve had a good look at our analysis and how we can get more from players in the community.
“We’re looking at different systems for tracking development. I had a good chat with Danny Wilson at Hull FC and how they monitor their players’ progress and I was pretty impressed with what they had to say. It highlighted that we have a few areas where we could get better.”
FEATHERSTONE ROVERS coach James Webster has said the fact that many of his players are already contracted for next year will be a big boost to the club as well as the individual players.
With uncertainty still surrounding budgets and central funding due to the curtailment of this season, many clubs may have to take their time to finalise their 2021 squad. But with many players already signed on, Featherstone could have it a bit easier than some others.
“We’re one of the rare clubs that have players signed up on two year deals,” explained Webster.
“So we’re not going to have to go out and recruit as many as some other clubs.
“Money is going to be tight next season though now and we’re still waiting to find out the distribution from the RFL.
“Because we have players signed up it’s good. It’s not really going to be the best time for those players coming off contract this year.
“As far as I know a contract is a contract and I’ve not been told we’ll have to renegotiate those deals.
“So that would be a huge boost for the players if they didn’t have to worry about that.”
One bit of business Featherstone are already thought to have done is the signing of 22-year-old forward Callum Field from Leigh Centurions.
OLDHAM have made a busy start to their recruitment for next season by announcing three new additions to their 2021 squad.
Incoming are former Leeds Rhinos youngster Tyler Dupree, while prop Luke Nelmes, who was with the club in 2018 has returned and fans’ favourite Danny Langtree has agreed a new two-year deal.
Langtree has been with the club for ten years, only leaving briefly at the start of 2019 to try his hand at Super League with Hull FC. The move didn’t work out and he returned to the Vestacare Stadium to help the club win promotion to the Championship for 2020.
“Tyler is a very talented young prop who has been in the first-team squad at Leeds and has come through the Rhinos’ systems,” said coach Matt Diskin, who is delighted with the early shape his squad is taking.
“He still has a bit of maturing to do as a front-row forward; but what a talent! We’ve had to face a lot of competition to get him and that says a lot about him and his potential.
“Luke is a massive handful for any opposing pack and I’m delighted he’s coming back to Oldham. He’ll be a massive addition for us in 2021.
“He wants to improve on what he did for the club in 2018, in terms of attending to what he calls unfinished business.
“To re-sign Langers for another two years is a real coup for the club. He’s a fantastic threat out wide.
“We massively under-used him in our six games earlier on this year. We didn’t give him anything like enough good ball and we will be working hard on rectifying that in the build-up and in the preparation for next season.”
Elsewhere the club has also confirmed that Lewis Charnock and Matthew Fletcher are already part of next year’s squad after signing two-year deals ahead of this season.
WHITEHAVEN Chairman Tom Todd has been delighted by the early response from fans about their redundant 2020 season tickets.
While fans can request a refund for the missing games on their season tickets, the club has urged as many supporters as possible to donate the cost they have already paid back to the club.
Another option is to roll their season ticket over to next year and get their 2021 pass at a discounted rate.
“The response we’ve had has been very positive,” said Todd.
“We have only had one person so far ask for their money back, and that was because the chap had lost his job. There have also been two people wanting to roll theirs over.
“The others have donated back to the club.
“This sort of reaction reinforces the game’s image that we all look after each other.
“The more people that ask for a refund or to roll their ticket over knocks on to next year’s budget, so the fact that most people are donating back to the club is a big help for the club.”
LONDON BRONCOS coach Danny Ward knows that this year’s recruitment will be harder than ever before, given the continued uncertainty in the game.
With this season now officially cancelled and London looking unlikely to feature in the autumn competition proposed by the RFL, Ward now has plenty of time to prepare for 2021. But a lack of clarity over central funds distribution and how much crowd income clubs can expect will inevitably add difficulties to the retention and recruitment process.
“In a normal season it would be hard enough for us to prepare for next year,” admitted Ward.
“When we are going for promotion, you don’t know until October if you’ve achieved that or not. So when you’re trying to build a Super League squad in October and November and it’s hard because lot of players are already snapped up by then.
“But this year is probably even harder then most, because we don’t know what the budget is going to be or where we’re going to be as a game.
“Our priority, though, will be with lads that are already at the club and we’ll only change what we need to. We will look to sort them out before bringing anyone else in.”
TOULOUSE OLYMPIQUE coach Sylvain Houles has revealed that Ben Reynolds’ defence was a major factor in his interest in the halfback as a replacement for the departing Stan Robin.
Reynolds, a try-scoring halfback with experience in Super League with Leigh, Wakefield and Castleford, has signed a two-year deal with the French side, beginning next year and Houles has long been an admirer of the 26-year-old.
“We have played plenty of times against him and I’ve always liked the way he plays,” Houles told League Express.
“He’s a tough halfback who doesn’t mind defending. That’s why I really like him. He defends well and aggressively and that’s what you want from your halfback.
“After that, you want your halfback to attack well and he’s got that sense, he’s got great skills and a great kick and can attack the line with good speed.
“I really think he will suit the way we play with our style. We want smart players and he’s got that sense of knowing how to create.”
Meanwhile, hooker William Barthau has announced his retirement from the sport.
Barthau joined the club in 2018 as a halfback, but Houles transitioned the former London Bronco into a role at hooker. He leaves Rugby League to pursue a career elsewhere and to concentrate on his family life.
The club has also moved to secure winger Ilias Bergal on a two-year deal.
BATLEY BULLDOGS have confirmed that if the autumn Invitational competition goes ahead, Kirklees Council would cover the cost of Covid-19 testing.
Both the Bulldogs and Dewsbury Rams have worked together to secure a deal with the local council that covers them into the 2021 season as well as any possible tournament in the autumn.
“This is an insurance policy, otherwise the testing could cost a phenomenal amount of money that we couldn’t afford,” said Bulldogs Chairman, Kevin Nicholas.
“I just feel it is imperative that all clubs make the enquiries of their local authorities to establish their position.
“We need to address the issue rather than simply waiting and assuming testing won’t be here next year.
“I can’t overestimate the value and the comfort that gives us going forward. It has been a major boost to the club this week.”
LEIGH CENTURIONS have confirmed the signing of Adam Walker, which was first revealed in League Express.
Walker had been a free agent after leaving Salford Red Devils earlier this year.
The former Huddersfield star is said to have trialled with Wakefield in the interim, but the Centurions have swooped to snap up the forward after receiving a positive response from their supporters on season-ticket refunds.
“Adam is a proven quality forward who I have known for some time since his brother played for us some years ago,” said Centurions’ owner, Derek Beaumont.
“He has been through a tough period and is on the right side of it and chose our club above a Super League club, because he knows the support he will receive and that he will build with us to the pressure pot of Super League as we grow into it again ourselves.
“I am confident we will see some top-quality performances from Adam. He is a big, tough, no-nonsense player who likes to play the game and mix it up and I am looking forward to watching him in a Leigh shirt.”
SHEFFIELD EAGLES‘ search for a first permanent home since 2013 looks to be back on track after the bosses behind Sheffield’s Olympic Legacy Park revealed plans to start construction in September, despite the continuing delays affecting the project.
The Eagles have played in six home venues since the demolition of the Don Valley Stadium in 2013, but the project’s director, David Hobson, believes the plan is progressing towards construction beginning sooner rather than later.
“The community stadium is a key part of Olympic Legacy Park and we want to get it open as soon as possible,” Hobson told The Star.
“I will admit it has taken a long time to get to where we are and that has affected the Eagles.
“We were ready to go in February, we had a contractor and the money was there from the Scarborough Group, but then Covid-19 pitched up in March.
“People do like to see construction and progress and we are very mindful of the Rugby League World Cup next October, but we are progressing on a number of other fronts and not just the stadium.”
While the original plan, drawn up around the time of Don Valley Stadium’s destruction, was just to replace the old stadium with some added extras, the new Sheffield Olympic Legacy park project has grown considerably.
“The plan in 2013-14 was to build a new smaller community stadium with other things happening around it,” added Hobson.
“But when Richard Caborn got involved we moved it to bolt on health and wellbeing as well, and bring those things together with sport at the elite and community level.”
The Eagles have, meanwhile, confirmed the departure of both Lewis Taylor and Zack McComb. Taylor leaves to pursue other work commitments, while McComb is set to sign with another club.
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