With ALEX DAVIS, LORRAINE MARSDEN & MATTHEW SHAW
WIDNES VIKINGS coach Simon Finnigan has spoken of his pleasure at seeing his former club Newcastle Thunder promoted to the Championship.
Newcastle got the nod ahead of Doncaster, Barrow Raiders, Rochdale Hornets and Workington Town to become the 14th Championship club in 2021.
“I think it was the right decision to promote Newcastle and I’m really happy for everybody at that club,” said Finnigan.
“What they did while I was there and before that has meant they’d worked really hard to get themselves in a position to get up the ladder.
“Unfortunately we just missed out on doing that the natural way last year, but that’s irrelevant in this decision as the chance was put out there to all the clubs.
“It’s fantastic for the North East and I’ll definitely be looking for those fixtures when they come out. It’ll be great to get back up there and see everyone.
“I guess I have played a very small part in a very big picture of Newcastle getting to where they have. Before I joined the club, they were already starting to develop off the field and Jordan Robinson and everyone else up there were doing a great job on the amateur scene up there.
“I’ve played a part and I and I am happy to have done so, but there are so many people up there who have made this happen and I am delighted for them all.
“I had a big smile on my face when it was announced and I’ll certainly be watching their progress closely as a Newcastle fan next year – apart from the two weekends when they play Widnes!”
OLDHAM returned to training last week for the first time since the coronavirus lockdown, and it was certainly a night to remember for Cameron Leeming, who was forced to sit out most of the session following an injury.
But a broken nose isn’t going to stop him preparing for the new season.
“It’s been good getting back in and it was nice to see the lads again,” said Leeming.
“I live in Leeds and we have lads from all over the place at the club, so there are some of them I haven’t seen for nine months, so it was great being back with them.
“It was typical though, I waited nine months to get back to training and then last five minutes before breaking my nose.
“It’s a bit sore still and we tried to pop it back in that night but we couldn’t so I now have to wait for an appointment at the hospital to get that done.
“Hopefully once that’s done I’ll be back out there again.
“That should probably be me out of training until it’s done, but I have asked if I can at least go along and do some running with the guys.
“Pre-season is a lot about fitness anyway so I think I should be ok.
“If it was a normal pre-season and a few more weeks into it I probably wouldn’t mind a rest, but after so long without it I don’t want to miss it.
“I’m sure the lads will have a laugh at how my face looks, but I’m looking forward to that.”
FEATHERSTONE ROVERS coach James Webster has said his players have all returned to training in much better shape after eight months away then they did after just a few weeks off ahead of the ill-fated 2020 season.
Webster’s squad have been back in training for a few weeks now and he has been impressed by what he has seen so far.
“It’s been cold and getting back to training at night has taken some getting used to again,” admitted Webster.
“We’ve also had to get used to what we’re allowed to do and what we can’t do under the Covid restrictions, but it’s going well.
“It was difficult to start for the players and it certainly hasn’t been a normal start to pre-season.
“But they have all adapted well so far and we’ll continue to monitor that constantly.
“The aim is to get to Christmas with us all fit and healthy and then reassess where we are.
“Generally though the boys are in better shape than they were when we came back in last year. We’d made the Grand Final and I think they went out and partied because of that.
“A few got married and I think Spain, Greece and Mexico got a hammering from most of our boys last winter. And when we came back in, they weren’t in very good shape at all.
“But because for a while there was a chance we could still have played this year, they were always preparing for that return so that’s kept them in reasonable shape.
“That’s meant we’ve not had to go too far out of the box in training yet, which has been good.”
BATLEY BULLDOGS are waiting until the confirmation of the 12th Super League club before finalising their squad ahead of 2021.
The final spot in the top division will be announced today (Monday) and Bulldogs Chairman, Kevin Nicholas, hopes to now move in with players more clear on the situation for each club after Keegan Hirst was forced to retire due to injury, leaving Batley one short in their squad.
“It would appear that certain players are waiting to see which club gets promoted to Super League,” he said.
“Those clubs are also waiting for a potential change in personnel.
“Nothing is going to happen until we find out which club is going to end up in Super League and then hopefully we will be able to finish off our recruiting.”
“We have got two players who we have a possibility of signing.”
Meanwhile. Nicholas also confirmed that the club are on sound footing financially despite the Covid-19 pandemic taking a toll on all Rugby League clubs.
“We are continuing to pay the bills and not getting into any further debt,” added Nicholas when providing his latest update to supporters.
“We are managing to keep our head above water there, so that is good.”
DEWSBURY RAMS coach Lee Greenwood has said the recent departure of Sonny Esslemont can open the door for some of the younger members of the squad.
The 26 year-old had agreed a new deal with the Rams for 2021 before a promotion at work changed his situation and he was no longer able to commit to the club.
“It is a blow to lose anyone who’s capable of playing in the Championship so it’s a shame to lose Sonny,” said Greenwood.
“He’d bought in to everything we were trying to do at the club, had a good attitude, was a good trainer. But he got a promotion at work that he couldn’t turn down and it means he can’t commit to part-time rugby any more.
“Things like that happen at this level and you just have to deal with it.
“But we have brought some players in who definitely have potential and can cover the gap Sonny leaves in the back row.
“This is now a chance for them to come in and stake a claim and if we don’t feel like we need to directly replace him them we won’t, but the funds are available if we want to bring someone else in.”
LONDON BRONCOS coach Danny Ward knows that a potentially later start to the campaign in 2021, gives him plenty of opportunity to make up for the lost time caused by the Coronavirus pandemic.
With the RFL set to further discuss plans with clubs this week as to when the new season might kick off, clubs could head into the Christmas break with a plan of action finally mapped out.
And with the option of a March start for the 1895 Cup before the league kicks-off in April, Ward is confident that he has enough time to prepare his squad for the new campaign.
The Broncos could yet find themselves kicking-off in mid-March should their application to join Suer League be successful when the decision is announced today (Monday).
“We’re finally seeing a bit of a light at the end of the tunnel in terms of getting games going,” said Ward.
“The boys are itching to get going again. They just want to play and it’s been a long time for them so hopefully it won’t be too much longer until we’re back in the swing of things.
“With games probably not starting until end of March or the beginning of April, we know that even after Christmas, we’ve still got a good three month block to give the boys a good pre-season.”
BRADFORD BULLS coach John Kear feels some sense of normality is returning to the club, with three separate teams all back in training for the first time since March.
The first team were the first to return last month, with the Academy following on shortly afterwards. They have now been joined by the Scholarship, and while all three teams still have strict Covid-19 rules to follow, Kear is delighted the club is actually getting the ball in hand again.
“The Academy team need to train completely separately to us as they are a different bubble, but it is great they’re back,” said Kear.
“We’ve also had the go ahead to get the scholarship back as well ad they’ve also returned to training.
“So all of a sudden there is a sense of normality coming back. It’s certainly not normality, but there is a sense of it and everyone is feeling pretty buoyant about it.”
TOULOUSE OLYMPIQUE Coach Sylvain Houles is happy for his side to be back on the training field.
The French side were able to welcome plenty of overseas talent for the first time with Ben Reynolds and Latrell Schaumkel training alongside Eloi Pelissier while Joseph Paulo and Dom Peyroux, both signings from St Helens, have visited the club.
“We took the initiative to recruit all the time with the objective of always bringing more quality,” Houles said.
“Now we have to make sure to create a good group and that all the players know our game in order to put it in place every weekend.”
Houles did concede, however, that some players who have returned to training have plenty of work to do to bring back their match fitness.
“There are those who have been good professionals and have continued to train and others who have done less… It is a bit disappointing for some because it is their job, they have to maintain their body and stay in form.
“There are a few who have a lot of work to do.”
SWINTON LIONS Coach Stuart Littler would like to see scrums return when the game is able to resume fully, without the fear of Covid infections.
Vaccinations have begun to be rolled out across the UK allowing thoughts of a return to normal in the not too distant future. In 2020, scrums were removed from Super League games due to health and safety restrictions and while some didn’t miss that element of the game, Littler, who was confirmed as the Ireland Head Coach for the 2021 World Cup last week, would like to see them return when possible.
“I like the scrum element,” he said.
“I like the NRL style where you can manipulate the numbers so I’m leaning towards that one but I totally understand why the scrums have gone with the current situation.
“I’m pro rugby and pro the game but looking at the game moving forward, if we were in a situation with no Covid, I’d be leaning towards the scrums as they are in the NRL.
HALIFAX PANTHERS Coach Simon Grix has provided an injury update as pre-season begins for Championship sides.
Fitness levels will be low for most with most players having not taken to the field since March but Grix is happy with how some of his new faces are settling in.
“The new lads are settling in well and we are all enjoying each others company again,” he said.
“Obviously after such a lay off the lads have work to do to get to where they need to be in terms of fitness, some more than others, depending on their commitment when out of sight.”
“From a skill quality angle, rusty is the word that springs to mind but again it is expected and improving session on session.
“The 3G we train on is pretty unforgiving so they are all a bit sore at the minute as they become accustomed to the load.”
Meanwhile, Grix was able to reveal that Ben Kavanagh, who suffered a dislocated hip early on in 2020, is set to return from injury to full training in January.
WHITEHAVEN coach Gary Charlton is hoping his final two Australian signings will arrive in the country in the next few weeks.
Lachlan Walmsley and Nikau Williams have already arrived in Cumbria and started training with their new team mates last week. But Ryan King and Dylan Morris remain down under for the time being.
“Lachlan and Nikau are settling in well, they just think it’s really cold over here,” said Charlton.
“It’s something different for them. They’ve come over here to play rugby league and hopefully we can start soon.
“I’m expecting Ryan and Dylan to be here before the New Year. They’ll have Christmas at home and then come over and join us when we’ll hopefully only be a coupe of weeks into pre-season.”
FORMER Sheffield Eagles General Manager David Butler has been appointed as the Rugby League European Federation’s General Manager.
Butler, who has also held roles within the RFL, returns to the sport after roles as the Head of Participation at British Equestrian and Director of Delivery for Basketball England.
“I am truly delighted to be joining the RLEF and would like to thank the board for giving me this tremendous opportunity,” Butler said.
“I’m looking forward to working with them, the staff team and the member nations to continue the growth and development of rugby league in the northern hemisphere.
“I have been fortunate to be involved with the RLEF as a volunteer for some time, had some wonderful experiences and know the absolute value of the international game. This a dream position for me and I can’t wait to get started.”
YORK CITY KNIGHTS are offering free season tickets to under 16s in the 2021 season as they prepare to move into their new home, the LNER Community Stadium.
“We are confident fans will be allowed in the ground for our 2021 season but as there may be restrictions on crowd capacities, we are restricting the membership on sale to certain categories,” the club have said.
The categories and prices for the early bird sales are Adults (£175), Concession (£144) and u16s (Free).
“If you buy one of the Early Bird memberships or you renew your 2020 membership you will get priority access to ‘top up’ your membership to the Premier Club as we receive further clarity around the number of fans allowed in the ground and restrictions on hospitality due to Covid-19.
“With the Early Bird packages finishing on the 24th December we recommend buying early to guarantee the package of your choice for the first season in our new home. From January memberships will be available through the Stadium ticketing platform.”
LEIGH CENTURIONS allowed their season ticket holders to select both their home and away kits ahead of 2021.
The club released five designs of each kit by both supporter Oliver Wilcock and by the club’s kit manufacturers Ellgren.
The most-voted design from each designer for each kit then went head to head to decide the strips for the Centurions next year on Sunday with the winner revealed today, in line with the announcement of the 12th Super League team.
“I am really excited by the fresh approach from Ellgren and the quality of their training kit we have already received,” club owner Derek Beaumont said.
“When Oliver (Wilcock) contacted us with some professionally provided designs it gave the board the idea of the competition as it befitted the time and efforts he had made off his own back to promote himself.
“It has been a dour year for our fans with nothing to really support, despite having largely left their money in the club, so hopefully this will give them something to have a little banter and discussion around. No doubt it will also invoke some friendly banter and rivalry from other clubs which can only be good for the game.”
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