Harrison Hansen is hoping his career will go full circle with a return to Super League via the south of France.
The former Wigan, Salford, Leigh and Widnes forward joined Toulouse Olympique last season and he is feeling “stronger than ever” for the challenge of promotion back to the top flight where he began 17 years ago.
Hansen feels born-again at the championship’s French outfit and told League Express: “I feel fantastic, I know I’m 35 but I feel 25 and I can’t wait for the new season. This year has given us more senior guys a new lease of life, I’ve never had such a long period of recovery, fitness and training.
“At this time of the year we are normally limping around just trying to get through winter but we’re good to go and I feel stronger than ever.”
Hansen’s trademark powerful bursts from second row or loose-forward are being matched by his support for Toulouse’s promotion, whether it be in 2021 with a successful bid to become the 12th team, or via the normal route the following season.
He said: “We’re 100 per cent ready for Super League. If they want a team that will be competitive, we are the one. We’re a full-time squad which has proved itself at the top of the championship for some time and we’ve added some real quality players for 2021.
“If we get a fair hearing and people are genuinely interested in expansion for the game it should be a no-brainer.
“Even if I wasn’t at Toulouse I’d still vote them in because of the way they play and the way the club is run.
“The Stade Wallon is made for Super League and one of the best footy pitches I’ve ever been on and if you were to put us in tomorrow we’d be ready because the team that we have assembled is incredible.
“Everything’s there ready for Super League and we’ll prepare for it but if we don’t get the nod we’ll carry on and try to dominate in the championship.
“I definitely think we are the best option because to give it to Bradford, Fev or London is just going backwards. They’ve had their chance, it’s time now for a team with full-on French flair, which is bursting with energy for the challenge.
“The style that coach Sylvain Houles wants us to play in is so attractive to new supporters and we think it will be effective even against some of the teams at the top of Super League.
“Where we are situated, everything’s in one place, the stadium, the airport, the city centre, it’s a simple package for supporters with regular cheap flights and masses of hotels. The infrastructure is second to none.”
FEATHERSTONE ROVERS have given themselves some more options in the pack with the signing of prop Craig Kopczak from Wakefield Trinity.
The Welsh international has spent his 14-year career in Super League, making 340 first team appearances across his time with Bradford, Huddersfield, Salford and Wakefield
Kopczak joins an experienced pack which also features former Giants team-mates Brett Ferres and Dale Ferguson and he adds a vital extra body to James Webster’s squad.
“Craig is a big signing for us and has a lot of experience behind him,” said Webster.
“He’s a big body and while we have some good experienced middles we felt we lacked a bit of size, which he gives us.
“We now have a lot of middles so there be tough competition for places, which is fantastic.
“If you lose a couple of middles through no ones fault it makes it difficult to put a strong squad out, so we have some insurance there now as well.
“That is probably us just about done. We’ve got a lot of players compared to previous years and the reason for that is that I have seen first hand at Leeds how quickly a squad can be dismantled because of Covid and through track and trace.
“Super League players occasionally got track and trace through family and contacts, but our guys have the added exposure of working as well. So I can envisage some squads being light at training in the run up to the start of the season.
“Plus we haven’t got the ability to use dual reg again next year, which means we’ve needed more bodies in than before.
“We have a much stronger squad all round this year, which is a refreshing change from having quite a small squad as in previous years.”
HALIFAX PANTHERS Director of Rugby, Ian Croad, has admitted the club is still in the market for players with the squad not yet finalised.
The West Yorkshire club rebranded last week, changing their name to the Panthers (see Gareth Walker’s Championship Focus for more details) and the club is looking to create a more entertaining and expansive playing squad.
“Fans want to be entertained,” Croad said.
“Fans want to see tries being scored, clean breaks, long range tries. I think you’re going to see a more expansive game.
“The pressure is now on to produce the goods on the field to match the hype. We haven’t finished yet, there could be a little bit more coming in just to add a little bit more spice.
“The squad we’ve built already is probably a little bit better than we’ve had in the past.”
Former Sky Sports commentator Eddie Hemmings has personally endorsed LEIGH CENTURIONS‘ bid to be part of Super League in 2021, as part of the club’s promotion on social media channels.
Hemmings provided a voiceover for the club, citing the impressive facilities at their disposal at the ‘World Cup standard’ Leigh Sports Village.
“It’s purpose built for the Super League,” said Hemmings.
“It’s more than just a stadium though, as its title suggests, it’s a sports village with an eight-lane indoor sprint track, two full size training pitches and two full size artificial training pitches. All capped off by the latest ultimate grass pitch which is a World Rugby and UEFA accredited facility.
“The village even has its own swimming pool and state-of-the-art gyms, packed with the latest hi-tech equipment. It houses four changing rooms and has more facilities than required to enter Super League.”
The Centurions have recruited impressively this season while the Championship has been suspended with the likes of Ryan Brierley returning to the club alongside other stars such as Matty Russell.
“It (Leigh Sports Village) houses an impressively recruited 2021 playing squad packed with Super League, NRL and international experience.
“But what sets this sports village alight is game day when its army of passionate fans bring a fantastic atmosphere.”
BRADFORD BULLS coach John Kear has said there will be room in the squad to add some more faces ahead of 2021, should their Super League bid be successful.
And he admits they are unlikely to be short of options as the club’s brand is still attractive to players across the game.
“If we get the chance to be in Super League next year, we definitely have a strong base in the squad to build on,”said Kear.
“I’m not denying that there would have to be additions, which there would.
“But one byproduct of the current situation is that there are lots of players available, both domestically based and overseas.
“We don’t currently have any overseas players at the club, so there is plenty of room for manoeuvre there if we get the nod.
“So yes, we do have a strong base, and yes we do realise we’d have to top that up, but we do have the opportunity to do that.
“I have already had overseas agents contact me because a) there is this possibility of Super League, and b) because we’re Bradford Bulls.
“As a brand this club still carries a name. They are one of only four clubs to have won the Grand Final so that shows what the brand still holds for people.”
Meanwhile, the club have signed England Academy Internationals Joe Burton and Rian Rowley, who will both feature in Leigh Beattie’s Under-19s next term
WHITEHAVEN have brought one of their own back to he Recreation Ground, with Gregg McNally returning to the club 12 years after initially making his debut for them.
Since then, the 29-year-old has had spells at Huddersfield Giants, Leigh Centurions and Bradford, as well as making loan and dual registration appearances back at Whitehaven, plus Oldham and Barrow.
With 2020 signalling the end of his second spell with Leigh, Haven coach Gary Charlton was quick to offer him another deal with his home town club.
“Gregg is a great signing for us,” said Charlton.
“He has played in the Championship for a lot of years, he’s a proven try scorer and can play in a few different positions.
“He will add a lot to our squad.
“We need to be more competitive in 2021. We fell a little bit short in the games we played this year.
“We were close to winning a couple of those games and having someone like Gregg coming in now, will not only make us more competitive, but his experience will hopefully be able to get us over the line in games like that.”
WIDNES VIKINGS coach Simon Finnigan knows from previous experience the added pressure he will face whilst in charge at his home town club.
Despite growing up in Australia, Finnigan moved back to Widnes in 2003 when he signed to play for the Vikings and has lived in the town ever since.
“Without a doubt there is pressure on when you live in the town and see the fans out and about,” said Finnigan.
“Everyone has an opinion and you are in amongst that every day.
“I’ve experienced that as a player so I am aware of what the pressure will be like.
“But my experience with the Widnes public is that as long as you put everything into the job, try your best, and they know you want to be a part of it and that you will give everything to the club, then they are quite good with you.
“It might not always work out as you’d want, but if you give them everything they’ll get behind you.”
SHEFFIELD EAGLES have signed Bobby Tyson-Wilson on a one-year deal.
The prop forward, brother of Harry who has already signed with the Eagles ahead of 2021, initially came through Hull FC’s academy before spells with both York and Doncaster as well as West Hull in the amateur game.
“I am buzzing to be at the Eagles,” the player said.
“It’s great to be at a competitive club again.
“I spent a bit of time at Doncaster and York in the past but the majority of my last few two or three years have been with West Hull.
“Tubbs got in contact with me and asked me what I was up to.
“With this COVID pandemic, it’s good to be doing something, getting involved with the team, and I am happy to be here and compete for my place.”
Meanwhile, the Eagles have teamed up with the Ukraine Super League Project.
The project which is led the Ukranian Federation of Rugby League will see the country’s top competition reorganised with new regional teams established who will be aligned to English clubs.
Former Sheffield star Gavin Brown helped establish the partnership, saying, “I was privileged to coach eight of the Ukraine National team in 2018 when I was Head Coach at my amateur club Milford ARLFC in Leeds.
“Artur Martyrosian and others had dedicated a great deal of their own to to put the structures in place from grass roots to their own Super League in Ukraine which I am sure will be a huge success. Seriously watch this space because the Ukraine people were made for this sport!”
The club also announced they have become an ‘authorised sales provider’, for the upcoming World Cup next year.
The agreement sees the Eagles become the first club to announce such a deal which will see the club sell hospitality on behalf of the tournament organisers.
LONDON BRONCOS chief executive Jason Loubser has said the club will still be pressing ahead with plans to regain a spot in Super League, even if their bid to be the 12th team in the league in 2021 is unsuccessful.
In an open letter to fans he wrote: “Of course, we feel that we are one of the stand out candidates for a place in the sport’s Premium competition.
“A strong London side opens doors in the media and commercially that Rugby League needs as a National game.
“However, should our bid be unsuccessful we are already well underway with preparations for building a squad capable of winning the Championship and an off-field progression that would ensure the club is making huge strides forward.
“These plans were in place long before Super League became an opportunity and all of our staff have been fully focussed on building the club this summer.
“We’re fully aware of our own fans’ frustrations with the lack of signings this year so far however, David (Hughes – owner), Danny (Ward – coach) and myself have wanted to take a cautious approach to squad building.
“We have very specific requirements when we look to bring in players, a requirement that ensures the dynamic and tightness of the squad is not disrupted and we are still very active in talking to players for 2021.
“The general feeling, around the whole game, and not just within the club, is that there will be a lot of activity in early 2021 when clubs can plan for the start of the season and potential travel issues are lifted so we are confident of picking up further quality throughout the winter.
“What I can assure fans is that we will start 2021 with a squad of players raring to go regardless of which competition we are in.”
DEWSBURY RAMS coach Lee Greenwood has added another experienced head to his backroom staff with the recruitment of Paul Mennell.
As a player Mennell represented Batley Bulldogs, Halifax and Doncaster, before joining the Rams as the Reserves team head coach.
He has now returned to the club to work with the first team.
“Paul is a great addition to the coaching staff,” said Greenwood.
“He was a very smart player at this level and has good ideas about the game.
“He enjoyed his time at Dewsbury before, coaching the reserve team and he’s happy to be back involved.
“You can never have enough good people involved in your club so Paul will fit in nicely alongside Nathan Graham, Paul Sykes, Adam Mitchell and myself.”
OLDHAM coach Matt Diskin has thanked the club’s Supporters’ Association (ORSA) for their help in building a strong squad for next season.
Every year, money contributed to ORSA’s Squad Strengthener is used to sign new players, or, as in previous years, to go towards the wages of loan players.
This year has been no exception, despite the uncertainty caused by the Coronavirus pandemic.
“I’m much more confident about 2021 than I was last time,” said Diskin.
“We’ve signed some real quality for next season and it wouldn’t have happened without Squad Strengthener.
“We can’t put into words how much we really appreciate that help.”
YORK CITY KNIGHTS have delved into their archives upon the release of their new shirt designs for 2021.
The City Knights are all ready to move into their new LNER Community Stadium and in celebration, they have recreated a version of the iconic amber and black chevron, first worn in 1990 by Tawera Nikau whose son will don the York colours for the first time next year.
The away shirt, meanwhile, is a solid colour which was worn by the 1981 Division 2 champions.
“The club is delighted to release these new kits in partnership with Supro,” club Chairman, Jon Flatman, said.
“We have worked closely with the Supro team to create something quite special, in terms of the team wear and the wider merchandise offer. Part of the commitment from Supro was ensuring the kit and team team-wear is available for the fans from the outset.
“The designs and quality of the 2021 kits are fantastic and really tell a story of our heritage in an exciting and progressive way. They demonstrate the progression we are making as a club but as always very mindful of our history.”
Meanwhile, the club announced the death of former player and legend of the club Geoff Pryce who lost his battle with Covid-19 aged 59.
League Express will run a full obituary in next week’s issue.
BATLEY BULLDOGS‘ club doctor, Dave Findlay, will step down in the new year after 10 years of service.
“The Doc” has been a key pat of the Bulldogs’ successes during his decade with the West Yorkshire club including their charge to the Grand Final in 2013 as well as their Middle 8s campaign in 2016.
“We’d like to thank him for his service to the club and wish him well for the future.
“As a result however, there is an opening now for a club doctor, to work as part of our medical team.
“This post would be best suited to a G.P with an interest/experience in Sports Medicine or a casualty doctor.
“If you are interested in this opportunity to become part of the Batley Bulldogs team and gain experience working in professional rugby league, please send a CV to email@example.com”
The above content is also available in the regular weekly edition of League Express, on newsstands every Monday in the UK and as a digital download. Click here for more details.