With ALEX DAVIS, LORRAINE MARSDEN & MATTHEW SHAW
YORK CITY KNIGHTS captain, Tim Spears, will continue with the club into 2021.
Spears joined the Knights in 2016 following the takeover of the club by Jon Flatman and he helped the club earn promotion to the Championship during his spell with the club.
“Tim is a very driven and focused young man who sets and upholds the highest standards,” Knights coach James Ford said of Spears.
“He’s been key to our progress and will be central to the direction we’re aspiring to go in.
“Tim will also be picking up some off-field duties which I believe will really help us continue to grow. Tim’s mental qualities and experience will be vastly important for us in 2021.”
Spears himself is excited to help the club progress further after already seeing a huge difference during his time in North Yorkshire.
“When I first came to York, I don’t mind saying that the culture wasn’t where it needed to be to win,” he explained.
“We had a lot of young lads and we were in a sort of rebuilding phase and I used to walk around scowling a fair bit because I wasn’t happy.
“I wasn’t happy with the way we trained and how we were in games.
“From a leadership perspective, a lot of it was on my shoulders, but now we’ve got a team full of really good, senior players.
“Seeing that shift in culture has been great. For example, rather than a few blokes doing extras because they think they have to do them to now seeing everyone buying into it and a number of different people leading those extras and collectively working hard is brilliant.
“Now, even when we’ve won comfortably, we sit down and spend ten minutes looking at the good stuff but half an hour looking at where we could get better. That culture and ethos has grown from being a few individuals to being the York way.
“I’m so proud of seeing that grow and to now see the group become such a tight, hard-working, honest bunch of very committed Rugby League players.”
BATLEY BULLDOGS Chairman Kevin Nicholas has revealed that the club won’t have to test players for Covid-19 if and when they begin pre-season training for the 2021 season.
Super League players are currently tested weekly while they compete in the league, but when training begins for Championship clubs, they will only be required to test if a player develops symptoms. However, there are conditions.
“It has been decided that when we do come back to training at our level, we won’t have to be tested every week,” Nicholas told the club website.
“We’d only have to test if a player has symptoms and they would keep away from training.
“Another condition behind that is that we can’t train more than twice a week.
“There’s been no decision yet whether we’ll have to test when we start playing on a weekly basis.
“Nothing is set in stone. All we can hope for is over the next month, things change and improve.”
BRADFORD BULLS‘ returning outside back Rhys Evans has said stability was one of the major factors behind his decision to pen a two-year deal with the club.
2020 has been a strange year for the 27 year-old. At the turn of the year Evans, who had scored three tries in 15 appearances for the Bulls in 2019, joined Leeds Rhinos on loan for the season. Despite failing to make an appearance in the early stages of the campaign, he signed a permanent deal with the Rhinos and was immediately loaned back to Bradford.
He featured twice for the Bulls before the Championship season was curtailed and subsequently returned to Leeds, when he made his debut against St Helens on August 9. He also featured against Catalans on Wednesday night.
“It has been a bit strange going back and forth a bit this year but there is a good relationship between the two clubs and they have always been clear with me about what’s been going on,” said Evans.
“Since I left Warrington in 2017, I have just had one year at a time at clubs so it will be nice to get that stability of knowing that I’m going to be at Bradford for a couple of years.
“I get on really well with John Kear and I know what the club is about. They are building a squad that can challenge next year and I wanted o be a part of that.
“I know that there are a lot of lads at the club that are itching to get going again and put their best foot forward next year and really challenge in the Championship.”
WHITEHAVEN‘S new signing Dean Zammit is confident he can make the step up to the Championship following his move from NCL club Wigan St Pats.
The Malta international prop came through the Penrith Panthers’ junior system and played semi-pro for St Mary’s in the Ron Massey Cup competition before travelling to England at the start of the year looking for an opportunity in the Championship or League 1.
He initially joined the amateur club as problems getting his Maltese passport meant he was unable to sign for a semi-professional club. He was unable to get the issue resolved before the Coronavirus pandemic caused the season to be curtailed.
But that issue has been resolved now and the 27-year-old is excited to get started in 2021.
“I’m really stoked everything has worked out and I’ve got an opportunity at Whitehaven,” said Zammit.
“Mark Stamper at the club had seen my highlights package and made contact as they were interested in me.
“We chatted back and forth and then I went up and had a look around the club. I really liked what I saw so it was really easy to decide to go and play my rugby up there.
“I haven’t seen too much of the Championship, but from what I have seen its a pretty similar standard to what I was playing back in Australia. The main difference is going to be the conditions, especially early on in the season when might be playing in stormy weather, which you don’t get in Australia.
“I am confident that with a good pre-season behind me I can make the step up from the amateur game.
“In Australia all I played was semi-pro, so I am used to that standard, but it’s been a while since anyone played so I am just looking forward to getting a game.
“It can’t come soon enough and I am looking forward to the challenge.”
SWINTON LIONS coach Stuart Littler is looking for his squad to make progress when the Championship begins in 2021.
The Lions had one of their best seasons in recent history in 2019, wining ten of their 27 Championship fixtures. And while Littler is keen not to cap his side’s potential, he does believe strides can be made up the table come next season.
“We’ll keep our targets in house,” he said.
“Most of the boys know what we’re aiming for. We had our best season in 20-odd years in the one before this one, but we want to go one better than that.
“We want to change the perception of Swinton Lions both on and off the pitch and I think we can make a few more strides forwards.
“I’m really happy with our squad. We’ve got a consistency. We’ve got genuine competition all over that squad. It’ll only help our squad. We’re all about togetherness and a family ethos.
FEATHERSTONE ROVERS will welcome Connor Jones back to the club in 2021, just a year after he made a move to Challenge Cup finalists Salford Red Devils.
The Australian arrived at the club midway through the 2019 season and started every game in the clubs run in the 2019 play-offs that culminated in a Grand Final appearance against Toronto.
Jones’ impressive appearances at hooker and halfback earned him a deal with Salford, for whom he has made four appearances this season.
He will continue to compete for a place in Ian Watson’s side before making a move back across the Pennines.
“I am really pleased that Connor has decided to re-join the club,” said Rovers coach James Webster.
“We felt we were a little light in competition for the hooker spot this year with just Dean Parata, so his inclusion will add competition and depth in what is an extremely important position.”
Meanwhile Webster was delighted to see three members of his 2021 squad finally get some game time under their belts as Leeds Rhinos went down to Catalans on Wednesday night.
Rovers’ loanees James Harrison and Brett Ferres, who have not played since March, were both named in Richard Agar’s team, as was Loui McConnell, who will join Featherstone ahead of next season.
“I thought Brett did outstandingly to play 80 minutes in his first game in seven months,” said Webster, who is also the Rhinos’ assistant coach.
“It was James’ first taste of Super League and he did some really good things and showed he could physically handle Super League. He hasn’t played for a long time and did really well against a strong Catalans team.
“It was great for Loui to get 15 minutes at the end of the game. With the reserves being cancelled this year he probably wasn’t expecting to do anything this year, so for him to turn up and train with us for a couple days and then do what he did was really good.
“It shows he is going to be a great prospect for us next year.”
DEWSBURY RAMS coach Lee Greenwood has not ruled out adding more names to his 2021 squad, but insists he will not be rushing into further signings.
Last week Chris Annakin and Jason Walton became the latest players to sign new deals, taking Greenwood’s squad to 22 players.
The coach has also announced his squad numbers for the new campaign, with some key numbers currently unoccupied, suggesting more business will be done at a later date.
“I’m really happy with the squad at the moment,” said Greenwood.
“The main focus was about keeping the majority of the squad together and we have managed to do that, apart from a handful of guys who have moved on.
“We’ve managed to replace those with some good players who have come in and if we had to play tomorrow then I am more than confident of playing with what we have.
“We still have space to bring one or two more in. However, we have a base now which we are happy with.
“We’ll look at what we look like in pre-season and then assess if and where we need to improve.
“I will not rush into anything. I’m happy to be patient and bring the right people and players we want here.”
Dewsbury Rams’ 2021 squad numbers: 1 Joe Martin, 2 Andy Gabriel, 3 Adam Ryder, 4 Matt Fleming, 6 Paul Sykes, 7 Liam Finn, 8 Frazer Morris, 10 Tom Garratt, 11 Jason Walton, 12 Michael Knowles, 13 Chris Annakin, 14 Sam Day, 16 Connor Scott, 17 Joe Wardill, 18 Davey Dixon, 19 Sonny Esslemont, 21 Brad Clavering, 23 Jon Magrin, 24 Jordan Schofield, 25 James Thornton, 26 Bailey Liu, 29 Rhys Davies.
OLDHAM have welcomed Ben Heaton back to the club, nine years after he crossed the Pennines to join Halifax.
In his time away from the club Heaton spent seven seasons at Halifax, where he scored 58 tries in 137 games, plus another seven at Batley, where he went on loan for a spell in 2014 after a lay-off with a leg injury.
In 2019 he joined League 1 club Hunslet and proved a thorn in Oldham’s side when he scored two late, long-range tries to pull off a 36-28 win for the Leeds club.
“Ben has a wealth of experience, plus tough and uncompromising attributes which will be good for the team and good for the club,” said Oldham coach Matt Diskin.
“With ball in hand he’s strong, skilful and determined, while he’ll also provide defensive stability on the edges.
“He’s a huge signing, you can be sure of that.”
SHEFFIELD EAGLES fans will have to wait a little longer for more signing news from the club.
Initially, the Eagles were hoping to make more announcements before the end of September but throughout October, Sheffield will announce further recruits to their 2021 squad.
The Eagles have already registered some strong members for next year’s squad after re-signing the likes of Rob Worrincy and Anthony Thackeray, with the latter a key part of Mark Aston’s squad in the last few years helping the club win the inaugural 1895 Cup as well as finish seventh in last year’s Championship.
LEIGH CENTURIONS will team up with Ellgren as their new technical partner for the 2021 season.
The company will supply all of the club’s playing and training apparel as well as other products.
“When Ellgren first got in touch with us I was so impressed with their positivity,” Centurions general manager, Neil Jukes, said.
“To even try and start something fresh and new in the current climate is commendable and they displayed an enthusiasm which was infectious.
“In numerous meetings, their Managing Director Jonathan Schofield and his team have shown repeatedly how much they wanted to work with us and they see us very much as a flagship for the company.
“Having a technical partner that shares the same goals as us is vitally important to us and I’m sure this is going to be a great relationship for the coming season.
“I have no doubt that our supporters will love the new designs for playing and training kit and there will be some Leigh fans with Christmas stockings bulging with some top quality Ellgren products.
“Ellgren have given us so much confidence already with their approach and I think we are going to be a really good fit for each other.
“They are so pleased to have us on board and we will do everything we can to help them grow too.”
TOULOUSE OLYMPIQUE coach Sylvain Houles has confirmed the club is still looking for signings but they are not yet close to announcing anything.
The French side had an impressive 2020 before lockdown, registering five wins out of their fives games and have added some key players to their squad already in the likes of Mitch Garbutt and Ben Reynolds as they continue to work towards promotion to Super League.
“We’re still looking for players who are on the market and to see if anyone will bring depth and quality to our squad,” Houles told League Express.
“I would like to make a couple more signings.”
WIDNES VIKINGS have announced that their ‘Vikings Learning Centre’ is now enrolling ahead of the start of the new academic year.
The courses, which are free, are taught in the DCBL Stadium and are aimed at both 16-18 year olds as well as over 19s and are in partnership with the local Riverside College.
The centre is offering a NCFE Level One Certificate – Sport Studies & Employability Skills course as well as a NCFE Level One Award – Employability Skills course with both starting on the first Monday of November.
Anyone who would like to enrol should contact the club on firstname.lastname@example.org.
HALIFAX have re-signed veteran fullback Scott Grix.
The 36-year-old, the brother of Fax coach Simon, has put pen to paper on a new one-year deal.
“I’m delighted to have signed to stay for next year,” said Scott.
“I am grateful for the opportunity to work with my brother and do my best to help mould the future of the club. It could potentially be my last year and to do that at my hometown club in my testimonial year is pretty exciting. Having lost a few senior players, I’m looking forward to being a part of the next generation and seeing what we can do.”
Young halfback Oliver Waite has also signed a new contract with the club.
“We welcome Oli back for another crack at creating himself an opportunity in 2021,” Grix said.
“Oli had some great junior years at Siddal and spent some time at Wigan before joining us. There is clearly a player in there, and it is now up to Oli to apply himself and the coaching staff to work with him to realise his potential.”
LONDON BRONCOS are still to make a signing for the 2021 season, despite the campaign drawing closer.
A number of the club’s current players, such as Rob Butler, Olly Ashall-Bott, Matty Fozard and Guy Armitage, have all signed new deals elsewhere.
But the Broncos have been noticeably quiet on the recruitment front and that has resulted in suggestions they may go part-time, but League Express understands those suggestions are wide of the mark.
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