Oldham have confirmed the re-signing of the newly available Danny Bridge, ending speculation over his future.
Bridge, who was part of Oldham’s initial 2020 squad before his drugs ban during the season, is now able to resume his career after his drugs ban was reduced earlier in the month.
The centre will now rejoin the Oldham squad after last featuring for them in their 16-14 win over Whitehaven last February.
“I’m very happy to say I’m back at Oldham,” Bridge said.
“It hasn’t been the best 12 months of my life, but I didn’t expect to be playing in 2021 so I’m very grateful for the change of rules and the reduction in my ban.
“I’ll be back training with the squad and I can’t tell you how good that will feel.”
Despite his reduced ban, Bridge still admits his wrongdoing but also is keen to express his gratitude as Oldham hand him another opportunity.
“I know what I did was illegal and wrong, but I never intended to cheat or to enhance my performance. There were issues in my life which had got on top of me and I made wrong choices in trying to deal with them.
“I am very grateful to the many people who have helped me through this, especially Chris Hamilton (Oldham RLFC chairman) and the people at Rugby League Cares and Sporting Chance.”
Bridge also offered a personal apology as he looked forward to joining his teammates once again.
“I would like to apologise publicly to all the people who have been affected by this and to tell them how sorry I am.
“I just want to put it all behind me now and get on with the job of earning my place in the Oldham team and helping us to do well in the Championship.
“I’ve been talking to club captain ‘Gaz’ Owen, a great and close pal of mine, and he’s been telling me how well the new-look squad is shaping up in training and how much everybody is looking forward to getting out on the field again.
“He’s told me all about the good new lads who’ve been signed and told me to expect a lot of competition for places in the forwards. I knew that already, though, from the lads who have been re-signed and the new boys who have come in.
“Competition will be fierce and it will be very interesting to see how we go. I can’t wait.”
FEATHERSTONE ROVERS made a big statement last week, announcing the signing of former Castleford Tigers forward Junior Moors.
Moors spent six seasons with Rovers’ neighbours after signing with the Super League club from Melbourne Storm and joins the Championship side after making over 100 appearances for the Tigers.
“Junior is a significant signing for the club,” Rovers coach James Webster said.
“He brings a vast degree of experience from stints within the NRL and Super League.
“His ability to mix his game up between power and skill adds another dimension to our already strong pack.”
Rovers Football Manager Steve Gill, who worked with Moors at the Tigers, was understandably thrilled to snare his man.
“I’m really pleased to get a player of Junior’s quality to the club, we have a bit of work to do with his visa, but I don’t foresee a problem.
“The big man will certainly give us some punch up front and it’s something both myself and James Webster had discussed going into this campaign.
“I would also like to say thanks to our CEO Davide Longo, as well as the Board of Directors for their support in this deal.”
Meanwhile the player himself is looking forward to a new start with Featherstone.
“I’m really excited about joining Featherstone Rovers for the 2021 season, the centenary season for the club. Really looking forward to meeting all the boys and the staff and getting stuck into pre-season and getting ready for a big year.”
The club also began announcing their squad numbers on Sunday and the full list will be available in next week’s League Express.
TOULOUSE OLYMPIQUE have signed vastly experienced Frenchman Rémi Casty after his release from Catalans Dragons.
Casty had spent his entire career, all bar one year in the NRL with Sydney Roosters, with the Dragons but found himself without a club at the end of 2020, however Toulouse have continued their impressive recruitment ahead of the 2021 season with the addition of the powerful middle forward.
“I’m just happy to have signed for Toulouse Olympique and am excited about our mission,” Casty said.
Toulouse President, Bernard Sarrazain, said: “Rémi’s arrival is an essential asset in view of the team’s objective. He is a competitor and a leader, he knows what his role will be within the group, and we expect a lot from him.”
Meanwhile, the club have terminated the contact of Frank Winterstein with immediate effect.
The 34-year-old and his family have been suffering from homesickness throughout the current pandemic and so after arriving in France to take part in the Championship in 2020, Winterstein leaves the club to head home after playing only four games for his side.
Winterstein signed for Toulouse from NRL club Penrith Panthers after spending one year at the foot of the mountains. He’s also featured for Canterbury Bulldogs and Manly Sea Eagles in Australia’s top competition as well as Wakefield Trinity, Celtic Crusaders and Widnes Vikings in Super League.
SWINTON LIONS coach Stuart Littler insists there was never any chance his squad wouldn’t return to training as soon as they were able.
Some clubs have only chosen to return at the start of February when contact training is allowed but Littler wanted his team in as soon as possible to build up the bonds in his squad and are now training and testing weekly.
“You can’t beat training with your mates and getting through something together to build that resilience within the group,” he said.
“For a Championship team, we’ve got a few logistics but we totally understand where we’re at and what stages we’re at. We’re being very careful with us being at stage one plus. We’re following the protocols and the guidelines.
“It was important to get our lads back into training and build that camaraderie and togetherness.
“We’re in a privileged position as elite performers. We know that. We adhere to every rule and every procedure that is put in place. Any risk and they’re not in, it’s as simple as that. We can’t take that risk as a club. There’s no need for anybody to take any risks with what’s going on.
“We’ve created a safe environment and the lads wanted to be part of that just for their mental wellbeing and togetherness as a group.”
WHITEHAVEN coach Gary Charlton believes the club is ready to take on the challenge of playing games behind closed doors.
Championship clubs, along with three teams from League 1 will begin playing in March with two rounds of the Challenge Cup before the Championship begins in April and it is highly likely that at least the first handful of matches will be played without a crowd.
“I think it will be for quite a lot of teams as well,” Charlton said.
“We’ve got to try and overcome those challenges. We need to be playing rugby like everyone else. We need to go down different avenues and try to source funding that can help us through the times we’re in now.
“Hopefully we can get this vaccine pumped out to a lot of people and they’ll give us the go ahead to start playing but a lot of teams will need crowds. It’s going to be really hard for a lot of teams if they haven’t got crowds in because that’s the major source of funding.”
Meanwhile, the club are searching for a physio to work with the squad in 2021. Any interested parties should get in touch with Team Manager Des Byrne.
WIDNES VIKINGS coach Simon Finnigan is keeping focused on the bigger picture as his Vikings side sit out training until the beginning of February.
With a month’s worth of training already under their belts, Widnes have chosen to only return to pre-season when phase two begins and contact training is allowed.
“We’ve been in for four or five weeks before shut down so it’s not a huge setback for us,” Finnigan told League Express.
“One thing they’re accustomed to now, having been off for eight or nine months in the previous season, they’re very well adapted at getting on with it and training on the streets during their one a day that they’re allowed to do.”
Finnigan only joined the Vikings mid-way through 2020 so the opening to the 2021 pre-season was his first work with his new squad and the former Newcastle Thunder coach was pleased with the progress his players were making.
“We’d been in for a while and I was really pleased with where we were at and the squad we were producing in training. We’ll hit the ground running again. The players had come in in really good shape when they’d been away for so long. It won’t take us long to get back to where we were.”
BATLEY BULLDOGS‘ fundraising for breast cancer charities has topped £130,000 as a further £12,000 was raised by the club in 2020.
The club weren’t able to host their annual Pink Weekend in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic but still continued to fundraise in other ways after Beverley Nicholas, wife to Batley’s long-serving Chairman, Kevin Nicholas, died with cancer in 2019, inspiring the launch of the event.
“In an unusual year, we have an unusual time of announcing our Pink Weekend value,” Beverley’s daughter, Alexandra, told Batley & Birstall News.
“A big thank you to everyone who has supported us through the strange times we have had.
“This year, we had the half-time draw in May, which was exclusively for the Pink Weekend, along with several fundraisers and small donations.
“We are very appreciative of that. Don’t forget to support us in 2021, whatever that may hold. This year we have raised £12,000 for our three breast cancer charities.
“That brings out total to £130,000. So, it is only onwards and upwards from here.”
New BRADFORD BULLS forward Dan Fleming knows he has a tough task to break into the club’s first team after returning to the club in December.
The Bulls returned to training on Wednesday and posted no positive Covid-19 tests among their playing and non-playing staff as the training session went without a hitch.
But Fleming, who is also coached by the Bulls’ coach John Kear at international level, is excited for the competition for places at the club.
“There is competition for places – I am getting a bit older and I still want to fight for my place because there will be people in front of me,” Fleming said.
“There are the likes of Engy [Anthony England] and Steve Crossley, Ebon Scurr and Levy [Nzoungou] and I am sort of in between them so it makes it more important for me to perform and hopefully get a good run of form and kick on.”
Meanwhile, Kear was pleased with the club’s clean bill of health during the week.
“We thought there may be one or two cases coming back after a period away from training but we are absolutely delighted to have returned an all-negative round of testing,” said Kear.
“It is testament to how seriously the players are taking the protocols in place and they are keeping themselves safe which has allowed us to return to training.”
The club are also on the lookout for a first-team equipment manager to join the team for 2021 who would prepare the kit and accessories for all first team and academy games.
The deadline for applications is not set in stone but is currently in place for the end of January.
HALIFAX PANTHERS coach Simon Grix is pleased to have returned to training ahead of the 2021 season.
His side may not be able to practice contact work just yet but Grix is excited for the challenge ahead.
“We are privileged to be able to continue to train in a time where many others aren’t so we are planning meticulously in an attempt to minimise the chances of having to shut down.
“Its a challenge, creating meaningful sessions for a contact sport where there is no contact allowed, but it is not forever and in the grand scheme these problems are quite trivial.
“The new lads are bedding in nicely and in the not too distant we will be able to enjoy our rugby again.”
Meanwhile, the Panthers last week announced that their partnership with Calderdale College has received the RFL’s accreditation.
Calderdale College is now one of only nine colleges in the country to have the accreditation meaning that the Panthers’ academy is now open to both women and men looking to pursue sport.
“The rugby academy provides an excellent pathway for late developers into the professional game,” Grix said.
“With a high standard of on-field coaching and physical development, college performance is monitored closely with the hope of unearthing the next rugby star.”
The club have also signed hooker Amir Bourouh on loan from Wigan Warriors.
LONDON BRONCOS coach Danny Ward is pleased to have his squad back in training.
The Broncos players hadn’t trained for so long and so Ward was pleasantly surprised with the way his players had stepped straight into training.
“It’s been a great week back amongst it, the energy and enthusiasm has been awesome from the boys,” Ward said.
“We have turned the return to stage one training into a real positive. It has allowed us to work closely with small groups of players, one to one coach and zone in on all the core skills.”
The Broncos have looked to promote plenty of young faces into their first-team squad but Ward insists they’re there because they are good enough.
“Everyone is in this squad on merit and have a chance for selection,” he continued.
“If I didn’t believe they were good enough to play first team they would not be here.”
“A lot of these lads like Josh Hodson and Jacob Jones have done pre-Season with the first team before, they have been exposed to this environment, they know what is expected and it is not such a big step up for them.”
“We also have players like Jimmy Meadows and Sid Adebiyi who have come through the system and have been around a few years now, they are becoming leaders on the field and are great to have around the new squad members.”
NEWCASTLE THUNDER’S Kingston Park could be used as a neutral venue to stage Championship matches when the competition restarts in April.
Spectators are highly unlikely to be able to attend matches when the season begins and so the competition is looking into the possibility of using neutral venues to host multiple games in a similar fashion to Super League in 2020.
Kingston Park, as well as Widnes’ DCBL Stadium, offers an artificial pitch which could stand up to the harsher weather conditions in the early part of the season. However more centrally positioned venues could be more favourable.
Meanwhile, both Thunder and their rugby union neighbours Newcastle Falcons are launching a free weekly activity programme which will help keep young people and families engaged during lockdown.
The activities will be posted each day on both clubs’ social media channels and further details can be found on their websites from Monday 25th March.
YORK CITY KNIGHTS have drawn praise after the success of their zoom calls with supporters allowing the club to connect with their fanbase.
Not only are the Knights utilising zoom but they are also reaching out through phone calls and letters.
“The whole club are all as one,” season ticket holder Andy Knowles, who was on one of the calls, told the York Press.
“I’ve watched York for decades and it’s never been as good as this, the link between the fans and the club. I just saw the zoom calls as a brilliant way of keeping in touch with the fans.
“There’s a mental health side to it. That’s why they’re doing it – they’re aware that some fans are really struggling. When you go through months and months of uncertainty, it makes you realise what it does mean.
“There’s a young guy on there, about 13, 14, up to 60s, 70s – the diversity of fans they’re engaging with is really good, and everyone had a voice. Jon Flatman went round the group and there was an open general discussion of what we’ve been up to, what we’ve missed, what we want to do when Covid calms down, an update on the club.
“I know some fans live alone, and some fans aren’t confident with IT, and the club is going to do what they did in lockdown one, which is give one or two people a phonecall. Jon sent numerous postcards to people from York City Knights. Then he got senior players to give people a ring each week, have a chat with them and make sure they’re alright.”
Coach James Ford said: “I think it was really good for the players on the call to listen to what the fans and people in the city are going through and just how much this team and their efforts mean to the supporters.
“It was really nice to listen to supporters sharing stories about games, tries and moments in seasons that they remember really fondly. I think it’s great for the players to see how well supported they are and just what kind of connection we’ve built with our supporters.”
SHEFFIELD EAGLES will continue their new initiative of zoom calls with supporters after the success of the opening instalment last week.
Captain Matt James was joined by coach Mark Aston and James Glover and supporters of the club in a call which lasted just over an hour, giving fans the opportunity to ask questions and allowing club representatives to catch up with their fanbase.
“It was a great chance to just talk with the players, in a small, group find out about everything going on with them but also speak about what’s going on with me too, really encouraging supporters to get involved,” one supporter said of the zoom call.
The next call will take place on Thursday at 2pm and will feature Oliver Davies, Bradley Knowles and Anthony Thackeray as well as Aston.
New DEWSBURY RAMS signing Keenen Tomlinson is excited to start a new challenge ahead of the 2021 season.
The Jamiacan international, who has swapped Batley for Dewsbury is keen to begin another chapter after spending three years at the Fox’s Biscuits Stadium.
“I needed a new challenge this year to push myself and I have a little baby girl so wanted to stay near home. I guess I know a little about the club from playing for Batley for last 3 season and know a few of the players.”
Tomlinson is also looking forward to showing his utility value to the team in the Championship, a competition with which he is well versed.
“I’m not a winger. My preferred position is back row and then centre. I’m a bit of a utility player, I can play anywhere I’m needed really, I’ve played prop and wing in the same game.
“I really enjoy this division. It’s a very tough league where there are no really easy games. You have to bring it every week.
“I’m really looking forward to getting back out there. This is the longest I’ve not played competitive rugby since I started playing when I was seven.”
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