Dewsbury Rams have signed both front-row forward Aaron Hall and hooker Jamie Greenwood for the 2021 Championship season.
Hall, 27, has been on trial with the Rams, but most recently featured in the Championship with Swinton in 2019.
“Aaron has impressed the staff in training with his ability and attitude,” Rams coach, Lee Greenwood said.
“He has improved fitness wise in a short space of time and has shown enough for us to think he will compete for a spot in the 17.
“He knows the standard of the division and is coming to an age where front rowers can reach their peak.
“I know he is happy to have another crack at professional rugby and I look forward to seeing him pull on the Rams shirt.”
Meanwhile, Jamie Greenwood, 22, joins the club having previously played with both Oldham and Huddersfield Giants.
“Jamie is very skilful and talented,” Lee Greenwood said of his new hooker.
“He has also shown the staff and players that he has the right work ethic and personality to go with it.
“He was desperate to be given another chance in the professional game after spells with Huddersfield and Oldham and we’re always happy to give people that chance.
“He has played more at nine but as pre-season has gone on he has trained more at half back.
“Working closely with Finny and Sykesy he has started to look more comfortable. He is keen to perform well in the friendlies and compete for a spot in the team.”
Elsewhere, Lee Greenwood was keen to stress the importance of friendlies earlier in the week.
The coach, who has already arranged friendlies with both Batley and Wakefield, told League Express that the fixtures are so vital in 2021 given the lack of playing time his players have experienced in the last year.
“It’s going to be so important because they haven’t played since last mid-March, if you played in that one.
“You’d have normally had a Boxing Day run out and the season would have started by now. You’d have had all your friendlies and you’d have seen these guys in three games maybe so you’d have a clear picture of where they would sit in your squad whereas we haven’t.
“Some people aren’t going with friendlies but how do you know if somebody can handle 80 minutes?
“Everyone will play probably half a game, in the first one. They might be ready for full games against Whitehaven. To go from not playing, straight into no friendlies and one competitive game, I wouldn’t be comfortable with doing that.
“We’ve got a big squad this year purposefully because of what we think is going to be ahead of us. I need to see a lot of those guys play. We’ve got some lads who have come out of academies (after they’ve) not quite cracked it in Super League, lads who have stepped up from League 1, other guys who we’ve got from different places.
“You can do all the training you want but you need to see them against live opposition, playing in a proper game.”
BATLEY BULLDOGS have signed former Hull FC outside back Jack Logan.
Logan, 25, made over 40 Super League appearances for the Airlie Birds, including a brilliant hat trick against Hull KR in 2019 and joins the Bulldogs after spells with Toronto Wolfpack and Doncaster.
“It all happened really quickly,” Logan explained.
“I spoke to Kieran (Buchanan) early in the week and he put me in touch with Linners (Craig Lingard).
“24 hours later there was a deal signed. I’m very excited to be here and can’t wait to get going. Everyone has been really welcoming.”
Meanwhile, Bulldogs coach Lingard believes Championship clubs should be even more excited than usual for the Challenge Cup fixtures this season.
Not only will they be the first competitive match action for most of the players for over a year but they double up as 1895 Cup qualifiers meaning that if a team wins both, they qualify for the semi-finals of the secondary competition.
“You are effectively three games away from Wembley and as a Championship or League 1 club when can you ever say that,” Lingard told Batley & Birstall News.
“If we get through the first and second round that means there are some tough teams who won’t be in the semi-final, so there is certainly incentive there for us to try and win these two games.”
Batley have a tough task to pass the opening two rounds of the Challenge Cup with a trip to Halifax coming first before meeting either Featherstone or Bradford in the second round if successful against the Panthers.
OLDHAM have signed young amateur star Joe Hartley from Oldham St Annes.
Hartley, 23, trained with the club last year and throughout pre-season ahead of 2021 and has impressed coach Matt Diskin enough to sign his first contract with the club.
“He came on board with us as part of a development plan while maintaining his commitment to Oldham St Annes.
He trained really well with us,” Diskin told League Express.
“He joined us again in pre-season this year and has really impressed.
“With the right development over the next 12 months, I think he can be in a really good position to make his debut.
“He gives us some depth around the winger and centre position but if you look at my career as a coach, I’ve always given kids from the amateur game the opportunity when they’ve earned it.
“Joe is someone we’ve monitored and got recommended. I watched his games last year and he really impressed. Within our programme he’s flourished and he deserves the opportunity.
“He’s a young kid out of the amateur game, we’re not expecting miracles from him, we’re not expecting him to jump straight into the starting line up. He’s still raw in a lot of areas. He’s still got a lot of development to do but what we do see in him is the potential to become an Oldham player. We’ve taken the opportunity to grasp him before anyone else does.”
Hartley is keen to repay the faith shown in him as he becomes the sixth Oldhamer to join the 28-man squad.
“I was thrilled to get a phone call from Matt Diskin more than a year ago, inviting me to training, and even more delighted when I got the good news a few days ago that I was to be offered a contract,” Hartley told the club website.
“Not many opportunities like that come along for somebody who’s been at a community club as long as I’ve been at St Annes. I had never been anywhere else, so I didn’t know what to expect when I went to Oldham. It was a real big thing for me.
“Now, I just want to do my best for Oldham. I’m chuffed to be in such a high-level environment; to be learning new things all the time; and to being pushed to reach new levels by the other lads.
“I feel really comfortable with these lads and at this level and I like to think I’m ready to grasp the opportunity I’ve been given.”
FEATHERSTONE ROVERS CEO Davide Longo will leave the club at the end of March.
Longo has been in his role for four years but departs to take up a new position within professional football.
“It’s been a fantastic period of my life working for Featherstone Rovers and one that I will truly never forget,” Longo said in a statement.
“I started with a plan to improve all areas of the club and I believe we’ve achieved this.
“2019 will remain a highlight for me, it was a remarkable season and one that brought the fans, players and staff together. Furthermore, ranking first for financial performance in the latest ROI measures just demonstrates the club’s financial stability.
“I’d like to personally thank Mark Campbell for giving me the opportunity to work for the Rovers and all the staff and brilliant volunteers for their long hours and commitment during my four years in this post.
“I am a football fan and having been involved in Rugby League since the age of nine, I felt a change was needed for me to experience another sport and write a new chapter in my career.
“I will continue to work hard during my remaining time here and will ensure that the Millennium Stadium is Covid-safe for fixtures to commence in March.”
Meanwhile, Featherstone’s Challenge Cup tie with Bradford Bulls will be streamed by the BBC as part of their expanded coverage of the competition in 2021.
The Rovers’ West Yorkshire clash with the Bulls will follow West Wales Raiders’ challenge against Widnes Vikings.
“Bradford will be a really tough tie; they have recruited really well and have an experienced coach in John Kear who has had plenty of success in this competition,” Webster told Pontefract & Castleford Express.
“I have a huge amount of respect for them as a team and we will need to play well to progress into the next round.
“Our training has moved on well, even though we have been cautious regarding contact. Things will now progress further leading into the end of the month.”
The winners of the tie will face either Halifax Panthers or Batley Bulldogs at home.
LONDON BRONCOS have signed young prop forward Titus Gwaze from Wakefield Trinity.
Following a successful trial, Gwaze, 21, joins the capital club after making his Super League debut for Trinity back in 2019.
“Titus has impressed us all during his trial period and we are happy to offer him a contract for 2021,” Broncos coach, Danny Ward said.
“Firstly, he is a good bloke who has fitted in with the boys and bought into the Broncos way
“He’s young, hungry, and we are looking forward to working with him.”
The club also announced their squad numbers last week with new signing Gwaze taking the 28 shirt.
New signings Chris Hankinson, Ed Chamberlain and Jarrod Sammut are all awarded a number in the starting 13 while Romain Navarrete and Abbas Miski will wear 15 and 17 respectively.
London Broncos 2021 squad numbers: 1 James Meadows, 2 Tuoyo Egodo, 3 Chris Hankinson, 4 Will Lovell, 5 Ed Chamberlain, 6 Cory Aston, 7 Jarrod Sammut, 8 Olsi Krasniqi, 9 Matty Fozard, 10 Greg Richards, 11 Sadiq Adebiyi, 12 Rhys Curran, 13 Josh Walters, 14 Sam Davis, 15 Romain Navarrete, 16 Dan Hindmarsh, 17 Abbas Miski, 18 Jordan Williams, 19 Jacob Ogden, 20 Gideon Boafo, 21 Rian Horsman, 22 Oliver Leyland, 23 Josh Hodson, 24 Will Blakemore, 25 Jacob Jones, 26 Rob Oakley, 27 Jonah Varela, 28 Titus Gwaze
BRADFORD BULLS coach John Kear believes his players will have no problem adapting to the new style of the Championship this year.
As well as the obvious changes regarding Covid-19, there are also rule changes, adopted from last year’s Super League. But Kear isn’t worried about his semi-professional players, in particular experienced hooker George Flanagan.
“I think they’ll handle it without a problem,” he told League Express.
“At four o’clock in the morning, George Flanagan was up gritting roads, during the day, when he’s finished gritting, he’s filling potholes in.
“He goes home, has a sleep and a bite to eat then he goes out on to a field and trains, goes to a gym to do a weight session and then at nine o’clock, he’s back home.
“If he can do that, which he’s done for years, he can handle a few rule changes.
“I’m absolutely full of admiration for the part-time fellas who play in the Championship because they’re good Rugby League players who play to a good standard whilst going out and working and fending for their family.”
WIDNES VIKINGS coach Simon Finnigan has spoken of his admiration at what his players are achieving as they prepare for their first competitive Rugby League matches in over a year.
Championship clubs, many of whom are semi-professional, are having to adapt to the Covid-19 guidelines for the first time this pre-season and Finnigan has real pride for his players and how they’ve maintained their health, both mental and physical, over the last year.
“It’s never been done,” he told League Express.
“They haven’t got any experience. The same can be said for the Super League players who have managed to get through a season. All the other players have maintained themselves mentally and physically to be still athletes that they are is an incredible effort.
“Everyone has made sacrifices but I haven’t seen any of my boys complain and they’ve all come back in really good shape.
“Since we’ve started again, there’s been no downside to what they’ve done. I’m really proud of them and impressed by what they’ve done.
NEWCASTLE THUNDER have provided supporters with an update after fixtures were confirmed in the second tier earlier in the month.
The club’s General Manager, Jordan Robinson told fans that details will soon be confirmed as to how they can keep abreast of Thunder’s exploits after promotion from League 1.
“We’re getting closer to getting back to playing Rugby League and Thunder would like to thank our supporters for their patience and support, not only over the past few months but since the pandemic began,” Robinson said.
“Details will be confirmed soon about how fans can see our first season back in the Championship, including information about the live streaming of games.
“We’re looking forward to lifting some spirits and to welcoming you all back to Kingston Park Stadium once it is safe to do so.”
Meanwhile, coach Eamon O’Carroll told League Express that his players are chomping at the bit to get playing now the schedule has been confirmed but knows it’s his job to make sure the players are ready when the time comes next month to step onto the field again.
“The lads are wanting to get straight into it,” he said.
“They’ve not done it for a year.
“As coaches, we’re trying to ensure it’s as progressive as it can be. If anything, we’re holding them back to make sure we’re not diving in straight away to make sure we’re doing the right things with Covid. Make sure they’re getting everything they need.
“Contact isn’t just body on body, it’s getting put on the floor and contact that you perhaps don’t think of.”
TOULOUSE OLYMPIQUE have arranged a friendly with French rivals Catalans Dragons.
The two sides will meet in Perpignan at the Stade Gilbert Brutus, home of the Dragons, on Saturday, March 13.
The clubs are investigating a way in which the game can be broadcast as Olympique take to the field for the first time in a year.
“We haven’t played for one year now and hadn’t seen the boys for seven months, they were training individually,” Toulouse coach, Sylvain Houles told League Express.
“We’ve had a little bit of muscle injury due to the lack of training but we’re getting better and stronger every week.
“We’re hoping all the boys will be in the perfect shape come the season.
New HALIFAX PANTHERS signing Sam Hewitt has revealed it was an easy decision to join the Championship club on a season-long loan.
Hewitt joined the Panthers from Huddersfield Giants on a short-term deal, after featuring for the Shaymen in a dual-registration appearance in 2020, and is looking forward to gaining some much-needed first-team experience in the second division.
“It was an easy decision for me, if you look at the the ambition of the club with the quality of signings that have been made and already within the squad its obvious that the goal come the end of the season is to be right up there and with a chance to win something and thats important for me, I want to win,” Hewitt said.
“I’m getting to the stage in my career where I need to be playing every week and playing well to get that experience so hopefully I can do that here and add my bit to good team performances but also improve my game at the same time.
“I think getting experience and knowledge in the Championship as a young player is a great foundation for going back into a Super League environment later down the line. It gives you that competitive physical toughness while building match fitness but also you will learn a lot about the game.”
The first game at YORK CITY KNIGHTS‘ new stadium was played last week.
The Knights’ football partners York City fell to a 3-1 defeat to AFC Fylde on Tuesday night but their club Chairman, Jason McGill, was happy to finally play the first game under the lights at the LNER Community Stadium even if it was behind closed doors.
“I’m thrilled that tonight we will play our first match at the LNER Community Stadium. We acknowledge this huge milestone with a mixture of excitement, pride and relief but also with disappointment that our amazing supporters can’t share this important moment in person.
“This new stadium will be a home for the club and our supporters for years to come, providing fantastic matchday experiences and also giving us the opportunity to build the club in many ways.
“There is no doubt that it will be an incredible home for both York City Football Club and York City Knights, and an important destination for every York resident in the years to come.”
Elite Pro Sports’ (EPS) Head of Operations Mike Atkin has praised the new merchandise partnership between his company and SHEFFIELD EAGLES.
Atkin, who has previously worked with Kukri and joined EPS when they were called XBlades, has had a long-standing relationship with the club and is excited to strike up a new deal with the Eagles.
“On the back of Liam (Claffey, General Manager) getting in contact – Tubby (Mark Aston, Head Coach), Liam and myself sat around a table and got things sorted.
“We’re only in year one, and we expect hiccups along the way, but it’s been relatively plain sailing so far.
“One of the things we wanted to do is develop a shirt and release it pre-Christmas and we managed to release two.
“We have been dropping the range as we have gone along which has been on purpose.
“We don’t want to release everything all at once and we wanted to see what the buying habits are with the fans, as we had no previous data with the club.
“The plain black range was a test-bed and the sales on the red hoodies and polos has gone well too.
“We’ll look to keep growing the range.”
SWINTON LIONS and Salford Red Devils could face off in a friendly before the start of 2021.
Championship sides are allowed to play two friendlies before the first round of the Challenge Cup and Salford coach Richard Marshall revealed to Rugby League Live that a friendly against the Lions is being considered.
Swinton start their competitive fixtures with a home tie against new Championship side Newcastle Thunder.
WHITEHAVEN last week launched their brand new YouTube channel.
The club started the initiative called ‘Ask the Club’ with a video featuring high profile members of supporter groups, asking questions to director Andrew Canavan and assistant coach Jonty Gorley.
“As we look to count down, we’ve got this feature to answer any questions you may have as return to the field and anything over these last 12 months which has been a really difficult period not just for the club but the entirety of the game of Rugby League”
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.