Widnes Vikings coach Simon Finnigan believes the decision for his squad not to immediately return to training is the right one despite Championship clubs now being allowed to train in a socially distanced capacity.
The Vikings are set to return on February 1st when they are allowed to train in the stage two setting which allows contact.
“We won’t be returning on Monday because with what’s going on, certainly in Halton, the infection rates and everything around that, we will return to training on February 1st when stage two begins,” Finnigan told League Express.
“We were in stage two when we broke up anyway, we’d been training for five weeks so to come back to stage one, for what would effectively be four sessions is just not sensible in terms of the health of the squad and their families and the community in general.
“I know from our own personal experience within the community we’re in, the spike’s quite high and schools for example are pleading not to send their kids in and do everything at home.
“And for us to go outside of that, to bring players in for four sessions and put them at risk themselves and their families at risk and when everyone else is following the guidelines. That’s the view of our club and I respect that. I think we’re right in doing so.”
Despite being well on with pre-season preparations, Finnigan knows it was the right call to end training amid the national Covid-19 spike.
“I think it was the right decision to pause, certainly for the Championship and League 1 clubs. If we get to the season and it’s the end of March again, I don’t think it’s the worst decision in the world, we’ve got to weigh everything up and make sure we get it right.”
OLDHAM star Danny Bridge has been given the green light to restart his career after his two-year ban for testing positive for cocaine was reduced to three months.
The World Anti-Doping Agency changed its rules relating to the use of recreational drugs when the new year began and because it has been demonstrated that the drugs were taken out of competition and without attempting to improve his performance, Bridge can resume his playing with Oldham.
“As a club, we fully support both UKAD and the Rugby Football League in their stance in removing drugs from sport,” Oldham Chairman, Chris Hamilton, said.
“The club takes a strong anti-drugs line and does not approve of any player taking recreational drugs. We expect our players to avoid use of any illegal drug.
“As a club, we have continued to support Danny throughout this difficult time and we thank the RFL and Rugby League Cares for their support also.”
Meanwhile, Hamilton urged the supporters to get behind the club as the deadline approached for the early-bird season tickets last Friday.
“The fans have been brilliant during the pandemic, but I can’t stress too much what season-ticket sales will mean to the club this year.
“We’ve gone all out to put a strong, competitive side on the field and the fans have played a big part in that.”
WHITEHAVEN Coach Gary Charlton believes his squad is shaping up well as training resumes ahead of the Championship season.
The kick off may have been delayed but after getting in a couple of weeks of training already, Charlton and the rest of his backroom staff are happy with their squad’s progress.
“We had a few weeks of training, the lads were breaking in nicely and we had to stop for two weeks,” he told League Express.
“Our conditioning man is really happy with the way in which they’re travelling at present.”
The resumption of training will have to be conducted outside with social distancing maintained, however. But Charlton is ready to adapt to continue his team’s training.
“We’re going to have to follow the rules,” he continued.
“There will be no contact. We’ll try and do everything we can with them. Everybody’s in the same boat, we’ve got to try and get on with it the best way we possibly can.”
With two weeks of training missed, and the promise of contact returning to training in February at the earliest, Charlton knows the importance of pushing back the season to ensure the welfare of players when the games resume.
“It wouldn’t be fair on them if they hadn’t had contact and you asked them to play a game of professional Rugby League,” he explained.
“You need a minimum of three or four weeks of being knocked about a little bit to try and get used to it again.
“It’s like muscle memory. You’d think it was only a tap but if you haven’t been hit for that long, the tackle becomes really hard.”
SWINTON LIONS Strength and Conditioning coach Colin Robinson has been nominated for the Public Servant of the Year Award at the Spirit of Salford Community Awards.
Robinson has been combining his role at the Lions with volunteering with the North West Ambulance Service and has been on the frontline since last spring when the first national lockdown was announced.
“My first reaction was surprise as to why I’d been nominated, but now that it’s sunk in I feel immensely proud,” Robinson said after his nomination.
“I love my work with the North West Ambulance Service and I love my involvement with the Lions, so anything which draws attention to both organisations is fantastic.
“We have a great community spirit at Swinton Lions and our physio Lyndsey Watkins and player Lewis Hatton are also involved on the frontline against Covid.”
The S&C coach will have to wait until March to find out if he has won the top award.
FEATHERSTONE ROVERS will re-commence pre-season training on Tuesday night, the club have confirmed in a statement.
The Rovers will restart in a socially distanced capacity following government guidelines to ensure a safe environment.
“We look forward to training commencing again on Tuesday night. We are lucky that we own our facility and the protocols that we were carrying out prior to this stoppage were of the strongest standard.
“Whilst players have been chomping at the bit to progress in their training, we have been fully supportive of both the governments and RFLs approach of keeping people safe.”
Meanwhile, new Rovers recruit Craig Kopczak believes the Rovers look good ahead of 2021.
The experienced forward joins Featherstone from Super League side Wakefield and is looking forward to playing with the likes of James Harrison who also experienced Super League rugby with Leeds Rhinos last year.
“I watched James Harrison when he played for Leeds,” Kopczak told the Pontefract & Castleford Express.
“I am relishing playing with him and to see how he goes.
“I can maybe help him along with my little bit of leadership and experience. I know the likes of Dale Ferguson and Brett Ferres, and Kris Welham who has recently joined as well. There is a great mix of experience and youth in there.
“I have been around the game for many years and I was Wales captain for many years.
“I can use that leadership out there and help the team.”
Meanwhile, the club are offering fans the chance to cement themselves into the Rovers history books as they celebrate their centenary year.
Centenary square will be unveiled in the Autumn and fans can immortalise themselves or their loved ones with a stone which can be bought on Featherstone’s website.
LONDON BRONCOS assistant coach Jamie Langley believes only positives can be taken out of the disruption for his squad over the last 10 months.
The Broncos finally returned to training today (Monday) and Langley is happy with the way the players have kept themselves in shape throughout 2020 and into 2021.
“It’s been a valuable experience for all of us and one of our philosophies at the club is to ‘control the controllable’ and the players have put that to the test, utilising the time wisely, to grow as individuals,” Langley said.
“The players’ leadership group has taken responsibility for ensuring high standards were maintained during the period away from the club and we are particularly proud of that.
“Building relationships and cohesion within the group is very important to us and there is only so much we can achieve via Zoom calls, so getting back together, even from a 2 metre distance, is very important.
“As staff, we are excited to get back to coaching and doing what we love. We have had plans A, B, C and perhaps D put aside, and several false starts but c’est la vie, it challenges you to exhibit flexibility.”
TOULOUSE OLYMPIQUE coach Sylvain Houles is happy with the players’ response to missing out on promotion to Super League.
Leigh Centurions were instead picked to be promoted in the place of Toronto Wolfpack but Houles and his squad still have their eye on the top league.
“The day (after the vote) was one of our best training sessions… they want to work even harder to go out and be successful on the pitch.
“When we started up again it had been eight months since we’d seen and trained the players, we know the off season would be long, perhaps right up to April, but we have to get going again.
“We have six new players so there’s a lot for them to learn about our style of play.”
Former NEWCASTLE THUNDER coach Simon Finnigan believes his old side will be in and around the top places in the Championship in 2021.
Thunder were promoted to replace Leigh Centurions, who gained a place in Super League this year, after Finnigan’s departure to Widnes Vikings but he has nothing but praise for what they’ll be able to bring to the competition.
“No question, off the field, they’ll add value,” he told League Express.
“But on the field, with what they’ve done with recruitment, they’ll be in and around the mix at the top. They’ll make it a much tougher competition as well.
“I think it was the right decision. On and off the field, the club, they’re doing everything the right way.”
Four BRADFORD BULLS academy stars have signed contract extensions with the club taking them into 2021 as Bulls players.
Will Adams, Isaac Coleman, Daniel McGrath and Layton Heywood will all be a part of the revamped academy structure with the under 19s returning to action after the u18s featured last year.
“It is a pleasure to retain Will, Isaac, Daniel and Layton – all of who have come through the club’s Scholarship system to get to this stage,” Bulls Head of Youth, Leigh Beattie, said.
“Our focus has always been developing from within our own Academy set-up and thanks to the support from Bullbuilder year on year we are able to do so.
“As soon as it is safe to do so, we will return to training and focus on developing these young men along with the rest of the lads to give them the best chance when the action returns on the field.”
HALIFAX PANTHERS will be back in training on Tuesday after two weeks off.
Championship clubs are allowed to resume training this week but only in stage one which requires teams to socially distance and train outside.
“We probably would have been in this weekend but we’ve had a late Christmas snow, haven’t we?” Coach Simon Grix told Panthers TV.
“It’s nice to have that lifted and get back training and pick up where we left off in our training for the season.
“We’ve trained very little in comparison to what a normal pre-season looks like. Before Christmas last season, we were in a little bit early granted because we didn’t make the play-offs, we did between 20 and 24 sessions, 24 training nights.
“This year, prior to Christmas, we’ve only had nine. That tells a story there where we’re not quite where we’d like to be at this stage.
“We’ve had another two weeks off now but it looks like we’re going to get those two weeks back with the season being pushed back and it is what it is.
“We’ll make the most of the sessions we have got so we can start where we’d like to.
Meanwhile injured duo Sion Jones and Ben Kavanagh are both working through their rehab. However, Jones is suffering with extensive niggles after his serious knee injury while Kavanagh has progressed quicker than expected after his long-term injury problems.
DEWSBURY RAMS Chairman Mark Sawyer has revealed that some Rams players have taken pay cuts to remain at Dewsbury this season.
Despite some of their players receiving offers from other clubs after the Rams’ promising start to the season in 2020, some chose to stay and build on that even with a pay reduction.
“I thought we might have had a task ahead to keep them on board,” Sawyer told the Dewsbury Reporter.
“Me and Lee both spoke to the players and in all the years I have been at Dewsbury, I have never experienced an easier re-recruitment of players and many of them agreed to take a contributory reduction in their pay next season.
“Just to make sure the club was secure.”
Even with the impressive re-signings the club has made, there is still room for more if needed but the Rams aren’t out to panic buy with a strong squad already assembled in their eyes.
“The squadbuilder money is there as well from last year,” Sawyer continued.
“Lee is determined to bring the right people in and not panic buy.
“We have got our eye on two or three decent players at the moment who we will enter into negotiations with.”
YORK CITY KNIGHTS coach James Ford knows there’s light at the end of the tunnel despite the announcement that the Championship will be delayed by several weeks.
While clubs in the second tier are now able to train once again, they will have to wait a bit longer to return to the field for the first time since March last year.
“I’d like to think we all watch the news and we’re aware of what’s happening in society,” Ford told the York Press.
“It’s not good at the minute but to me, there’s clearly light at the end of the tunnel. It doesn’t matter how far they put the season back – we’re not going to moan about it. It is what it is.
“We’ll focus on what we can control and that’s getting our preparation right, making sure we hit the ground running. We probably didn’t quite get to the levels we wanted to at the start of 2020 and we’re certainly looking to put that right this year.”
Meanwhile, three York Rugby League clubs are among the latest organisations to benefit from the grants being awarded by the 2021 Rugby League World Cup.
£230,000 was given out by the competition’s CreatedBy programme with York City Knights Foundation, Heworth ARLFC and New Earswick All Blacks ARLFC receiving over £25,000 between them.
SHEFFIELD EAGLES Assistant Coach Keith Senior has opened up on his struggle with mental fitness once his career finished.
Senior, who finished his career back in 2011 and has been coaching with the Eagles since 2015, explained how tough it was to lose his coping mechanism in life, playing rugby.
“Everybody in every aspect of life has problems that arise, I emotionally couldn’t deal with things when I didn’t have rugby as my coping mechanism,” Senior said.
“Once that was taken away, I realised emotionally I couldn’t deal with things and when I had to deal with things, I couldn’t manage them properly and I didn’t deal with them in the right way.”
RLCares has helped to set up the Offload men’s mental fitness programme in response to the lockdowns which have occurred in the last 10 months and for Senior, it’s a huge positive that the stigma of men’s mental health is being broken down.
“Mental fitness in my career wasn’t really spoken about. But I think this is one of the stigmas that we are trying to break down,” he continued.
“A lot of it was sports psychology rather than dealing with problems, dealing with issues.”
BATLEY Sporting Charitable Trust, who work alongside Batley Bulldogs, have begun a fundraising mission in order to keep their work going through the Covid-19 pandemic whilst also looking for a session support assistant to work with the team on a voluntary basis.
The trust, whose vision is to “promote mutual respect for all ethnicities, ages & genders and to mobilise the local community using the power of sport and other means,” have set up a goal of £5,000 to help with its running costs.
“We work with all ages, from primary school age through to older people, we are a small staff team with a few dedicated volunteers and we want to be able to continue the work we do bringing people together through the power of sport,” their fundraising page said.
“Now more than ever we need to continue our work to help those hit hard by the pandemic in the area, we need your help to continue this work.”
To make a donation, visit their fundraising page at: https://www.gofundme.com/f/raising-funds-to-continue-our-community-work
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.