Swinton Lions will play a friendly against Bradford Bulls this week as their preparations for the 2021 Championship campaign step up.
The Lions will face John Kear’s side to help the squad set up for their first game against Newcastle in the Challenge Cup and coach, Stuart Littler, believes it’s important to get a hit out before the competitive rugby begins.
“It’s important, regarding injuries to get that in us.”
“It’s just getting that confidence back in them that they are ready for it and are good to go, back into someone running at you with a bit of purpose and venom.
“I think we’re ready for games now. The boys are looking forward to getting back on a rugby field really and we’ve got a friendly to get some footage to the boys, what’s gone right, what we can work on and try and put things in place for the Newcastle game.
“Usually we have a couple running into a season (friendlies). As much as we have got a squad with a lot more numbers this year, we’ve done that to allow us in training to run against each other, we felt it was important to get a full hit out under us.
“I was trying to get one for a couple of weeks. I spoke to John Kear earlier in the year and he rang us back and confirmed that they want to play us in a friendly.
“It’ll be a good challenge against a strong side. When we run between ourselves at training, obviously all the boys know our plays, know our structures, we review our training, but a different opposition throws different things at you. It’s unexpected and more realistic.”
BRADFORD BULLS coach John Kear has confirmed every member of his squad will be given a chance to show what they can do, when the team finally return to action in a pre-season game against Swinton Lions on Saturday, March 6.
The match comes almost a year since they were last in action and is the first of two pre-season fixtures ahead of the opening Challenge Cup game on Sunday, March 21.
The Bulls will also play Keighley Cougars on Saturday, March 13.
“When we play Swinton it will be 51 weeks and a day since we last played – not that I’ve missed it,” said Kear jokingly, who clearly has been keeping count.
“We sat down and felt that if we could get two games in before the Featherstone match it would be really useful to the players and us as a team structurally to prepare.
“Everyone who is fit and able to play will play against Swinton. I will guarantee everyone at least a 15-minute shot so that they can put their hand up for when we start narrowing it down, which inevitably we will have to do for the Keighley game.
“I still expect to play 24 or 25 players in that second game and then hit Featherstone the week after with what we feel is our best 17 and the 17 players that can get us the win and see us into the next round.
“We have to find a balance in that Keighley game between giving people game time and getting the starting 17 ready for the Cup game.
“But one of the other reasons we want to play everyone in one of the games is because we want them to experiences all the paraphernalia that goes around the Covid protocols.
“It’s not quite as simple as what they’d be used to, which is rocking up an hour and three quarters before a game with their boots and just getting ready to play.
“They are going to have to be temperature checked and there’ll be a lateral flow test. There is all sorts of other things they will have to get used to.
“We’re going to use the trial games not only to look at what we’re doing on the field, but how efficient, and how well, we can manage things off the field, so that the players can just focus on their performances.”
NEWCASTLE THUNDER coach Eamon O’Carroll has said he has enjoyed his first pre-season as a head coach.
O’Carroll joined Thunder during the off-season from Catalans Dragons where he was assistant to Steve McNamara and, despite the challenges the club and sport have faced, he is confident his players are ready to take on the challenge of Championship rugby this season after promotion from League 1.
“I’ve really loved it,” he told League Express.
“Obviously it’s had its challenges along the way. A first job as a head coach always will. It’s been great to get to know the lads and get them training.
“We had a bit of a later start to training than everyone else because we share the facilities with the Falcons. We made sure that everything we were doing, we were doing right for both.
“Once I actually got in and had a look at the lads, I’ve been really impressed with them. Their attitude is fantastic, they all want to learn and they’re helping me and I’m helping them.”
Pre-season has been a challenge regarding Covid but the club’s policies have worked well according to the coach.
“I think we just have to make sure we’re doing the right thing. If we didn’t plan it or organise it as well then we could have been caught out with some Covid issues.
“Touch wood, we’ve been lucky. It was certainly the right thing to start when we did. We’ve still got plenty of time to prepare. It’s important that we do the right thing by the players and get enough contact and the right progressions.”
Meanwhile, the club’s foundation has welcomed Steve Beaty as Community Manager with Danny Gilroy and Joe Eltringham also joining as Community Development Officers as their development of Rugby League expands through 2021.
“This is a really exciting development for Rugby League in the north east, particularly with the Rugby League World Cup kicking off in Newcastle this October,” Chair of the Foundation, Mick Hogan said.
“We are building on the success of our development programme and the creation of new clubs like Newcastle Magpies and Wallsend Centurions is a real positive, particularly in the areas where there traditionally hasn’t been Rugby League activity.
“The diversity of our Rugby League offer will emphasise that it is a sport for everyone from pre-school tots to over 35s masters, women and girls, touch rugby and the various forms of disability Rugby League.
“Accessibility and inclusivity will remain at the heart of everything we do. The Foundation, along with our partners, are driving up the numbers of young people playing the game in schools. It is important we transition these new players into clubs all across the region which will ultimately result in a stronger Newcastle Thunder.”
OLDHAM coach Matt Diskin has revealed the club’s squad numbers with a number of new additions taking shirts in the first 17.
Tommy Brierley, Ben Heaton and Ryan Ince are all included in the backs while Martyn Reilly takes the number 13 shirt.
Luke Nelmes, Tyler Dupree and Liam Kirk all have numbers on the bench reflecting the club’s additions in the pack over the off-season.
New hooker Dec Gregory, who joined from Castleford Tigers last week, takes the 29 shirt.
Gregory has been signed after the loss of Matty Wilkinson to a broken leg.
“We needed three hookers and now we’ve got them — all quality,” Diskin told Oldham’s club website.
“We’ll be without Wilky for a while and that’s a shame, so Declan will probably get his chance a bit sooner than we had envisaged.
“We were going to sign him anyway because he’s a confident lad who backed himself when he joined us for training and he has done really, really well.
“He’s an experienced hooker who has brought something different to the No 9 spot and, albeit Wilky will be out for a while, I’m still feeling pretty comfortable with what we’ve got at hooker and in our ‘middles’ (props).
“In some ways, Wilky’s bad luck spotlighted exactly why we needed three hookers. Declan knows what he’s doing and we are confident he will take his opportunity.
“We have real depth and quality among the 9s (hookers) and the middles and Declan will fit comfortably into that group — no doubt at all.”
The club have also recruited a number of young players into the squad: James Barran, Callum Green, Ben Holcroft and Max Roberts have all joined from Wigan Warriors while Joe Hartley moves over from Oldham St Anne’s and they take six of the final eight numbers in Oldham’s squad.
“They are quality kids,” Diskin told League Express.
“I don’t think there’s any long-term risk with them, short-term it’s the consistency of performance and that’s where the level of physicality of the Championship will benefit them because they’ve got to turn up week in and week out. It’s not just about being quick and skilfull, you’ve got to have that physical presence.”
The club have also announced their two friendlies. Oldham will meet Featherstone Rovers away from home on Saturday before welcoming Halifax Panthers at home on Saturday, 13th March.
Oldham 2021 squad numbers: 1 Dan Abram, 2 Tommy Brierley, 3 Ben Heaton, 4 Cameron Leeming, 5 Ryan Ince, 6 Lewis Charnock, 7 Dave Hewitt, 8 Phil Joy, 9 Gareth Owen, 10 Jack Spencer, 11 Danny Langtree, 12 Liam Bent, 13 Martyn Reilly, 14 Matty Wilkinson, 15 Luke Nelmes, 16 Tyler Dupree, 17 Liam Kirk, 19 Matthew Fletcher, 20 Jode Sheriffe, 21 Shaun Pick, 22 Kyran Johnson, 23 Callum Green, 24 Max Roberts, 25 Danny Bridge, 26 James Barran, 27 Ben Holcroft, 28 Joe Hartley, 29 Dec Gregory, 30 John Hutchings
YORK CITY KNIGHTS have added young Warrington halfback Riley Dean to their squad for 2021 on a season-long loan.
Dean, 19, made his Super League debut in 2020 for the Wolves before being called up to the Ireland squad for the 2021 Rugby League World Cup qualifiers.
“I’m really excited about joining the club and buzzing to be able to get the chance to apply myself in a new environment. Hopefully, I can bring something new to the team.
“Going out on loan was something I’d been thinking about and it was more making the right move for me, and York is a great option with a good squad and coaching staff behind it.
“I’m hoping to be able to show a good version of myself and enhance the team if I’m given the opportunity to hopefully get some game time under my belt.”
Dean is a direct replacement for the unfortunate Morgan Smith who will miss the 2021 season after rupturing his ACL in training.
Meanwhile coach James Ford has said it is important his team faces a tough challenge in pre-season, given the current limitations on the number of friendlies allowed.
That test will come in the form of Super League outfit Hull FC, who will travel to the LNER Community Stadium on Thursday, March 11, the first time the City Knights will play at the new venue.
For Ford, the game will play a vital role in helping him decide on his starting team for the opening league game against Toulouse on Saturday, April 3.
“When Jon (Flatman – chairman) and I spoke about the pre-season schedule I wanted to see the players under some stress and wanted to be up against a quality side,” said Ford.
“We are fortunate enough to have an opposed session against Leeds Rhinos this week, before we go up against Hull.
“Hull will be a challenge for us but I will get to see my players go up against some of Super League’s very best and se how we cope under that pressure.
“We will be making judgements on our players from that game. We have got a very good squad and I still don’t know who my best 17 is – I have got a best 23 at minute.
“So the players will pick that opening 17 themselves by how they continue to train and how play against Hull FC and then Sheffield in the Challenge Cup just after that.”
York will be led by a new captain for that game after former Super League winner Chris Clarkson took on the role from Tim Spears.
HALIFAX PANTHERS have signed Nick Rawsthorne from Hull KR on a one-year deal.
Rawsthorne, who is Halifax born, joins the club where he made his first-team debut back in 2016, scoring four tries in seven appearances before signing for Hull FC.
Now 25, Rawsthorne is looking forward to joining his hometown club after his move to the Robins didn’t allow him to break into the Super League side on a permanent basis.
“Absolutely buzzing to be back at Halifax, it’s my hometown club and where it all started properly for me.
“We’ve got a really exciting squad for this season and I can’t wait to get stuck in.”
Meanwhile, coach Simon Grix expressed his pleasure at the patience his club has shown, waiting for the right player to become available.
“I have said previously we are looking for new recruits and waiting patiently for the right ones. Shaun (Robinson) hanging up his boots moved us along a little quicker and we are really happy to welcome Nick back to his home town club.
“Nick left us as we couldn’t provide the full time environment he wished to test himself in. He comes back with a point to prove and an opportunity to kick start his career after a tough 18 months.
“He displayed his undoubted potential in his first stint and has learnt plenty in some good environments over the last few years. He returns with more experience and adds to the competition in our back line.”
WIDNES VIKINGS coach Simon Finnigan believes it is the right call for his squad not to play friendlies before their season begins with a Challenge Cup fixture against West Wales.
Finnigan, who took over in the off-season, moving from Newcastle Thunder, hopes the cautious approach will be the best one for his team.
“I’m very cautious on playing too many games before what I think will be a very tough season anyway,” he told League Express.
“I think with the rules around Covid and making sure our stadium’s right, even though our stadium is ready to go, I don’t think we need it.
“I might look back halfway through the year and say ‘we probably should have played a couple of games’. Where my squad is, I don’t think we need to.
“I’m not fully convinced that you need that amount of contact either, in terms of training for it and getting into a game. I think a lot of it is mentally you need these games.”
While adamant that the Cup game against West Wales won’t be viewed as a friendly, Finnigan knows it will play a key part in preparing his side for the Championship campaign.
“We’ve got some Challenge Cup games that we’ll get involved in and we’ll use that, not as a friendly, but how we tick some boxes for our contact.
“We don’t want to send them in under prepared but I don’t think we need to be over prepared. I think that’s a very dangerous route to go down.
“As much as we’ve got to look after the players’ welfare, we don’t want to give them too much to do.”
BATLEY BULLDOGS coach Craig Lingard has said his side are well on track to be ready to return to action when they face Halifax Panthers in the Challenge Cup on Saturday, March 20.
Like the rest of the Championship sides, it will be the first time the club have played in over a year, and Lingard has said preparations are ready to step up another level.
“I’m pretty happy with where we are at the moment,” said Lingard.
“We’ve done a lot of stop start stuff in training to get everybody back in and try to get them battle ready.
“Our preparation now, as we head towards games, is that we’re having to increase our contact and game time.
“We’ve practised a lot of six-tackle sets, eight-tackle sets and nine-tackle sets to try and get them used to that six-again rule.
“But now we’re going to do some ten, 15 or 20 minute games in training where we just run them continuously to get the players used to that continuous aspect of Rugby League again.
“There is no substitute for playing an 80-minute game, but you can’t replicate that in training.
“So we’re going to start reducing the workload in the gym and increase the time their working on the field and shift the focus more to that.”
SHEFFIELD EAGLES have signed young centre Max Clarke on a one-year deal.
Clarke, 21, came through the junior ranks with London Broncos and is looking forward to the move up north.
“It’s an exciting move for me,” he said.
“I had a few chats with Mark (Aston, coach) and the things he said about the club, and how they want to go forward, was great to hear.
“It’s going to be good to learn from one of the best centres England has ever had in Keith Senior, so I’m excited about that as well.”
“We have two good centres in James (Glover) and Connor (Bower) so it will be interesting going forward.
“I know I have to earn my way into the team but it is an exciting opportunity for me and hopefully I can get some decent game time this season.”
Former LONDON BRONCOS academy player, Matt King has died at the age of 33, the Rugby League Benevolent Fund announced last week.
King, who was left paralysed after an injury sustained as a 17-year old, died on Tuesday after suffering heart failure.
“We are devastated at the loss of a young man who was an inspiration to everyone who had the privilege to meet him,” RL Benevolent Fund general manager Steve Ball said.
“In true Matt King style, he fought to the very end but tragically his battle ended at 4.30 this morning.
“Our thoughts are with Matt’s family, especially his wife Ilona and their two lovely daughters, two-year-old Arabella and baby Georgia, who is just 11 months old.”
King’s injury led to the creation of the RL Benevolent Fund which helps support players in need. He was awarded an OBE in 2012 for his services to charity.
FEATHERSTONE ROVERS will play two friendly matches before the season begins with the Challenge Cup.
James Webster’s side will first play Oldham on Saturday before playing Batley Bulldogs the following week. Both ties will be played behind closed doors.
“As a group we are really excited to be closing in on the start of the season,” Webster said.
“As you start friendlies you always get that anticipation that competitive rugby is just around the corner.
“It’s fantastic that both Oldham and Batley have agreed to play us. We will be facing two strong, well coached sides. We will be using as many players that are physically ready so that we can prepare for the contact elements that players have obviously missed now for 12 months.”
New DEWSBURY RAMS signing Aaron Hall believes he had to join the club after speaking to coach Lee Greenwood.
Hall joins the Rams after a trial period having last featured in the Championship for Swinton Lions in 2019.
“I had to join after speaking to Lee about the club, players and fans and the vision moving forward this season and beyond,” Hall told the club website.
“The Championship is a very tough league and you have to be prepared both physically and mentally every week as different teams pose different challenges.
“I’m looking forward to testing myself again at this level and proving to myself that I can consistently perform and contribute to the success of Dewsbury Rams.”
WHITEHAVEN Director Andrew Airlie gave the club’s YouTube channel a flavour of what it has been like to prepare the squad for the 2021 season.
The club have recently launched their new YouTube channel and in their second feature, Airlie compared the task undertaken by the club and their rivals in restarting the season to climbing a mountain.
“It’s like trying to climb Mount Everst but with no gear,” he said.
“It’s been a big task, a very big task. All the rules that we have to follow. There was a lot of work in the background just to get them back into training. We got through it and we got them back on December 1st.
“The next stage we’re going to is playing behind closed doors unfortunately which isn’t the best thing at the moment because we’d like the fans back in. We’re working towards that now.”
TOULOUSE OLYMPIQUE coach Sylvain Houles is happy with how the club’s pre-season is going.
While their Elite side compete in the French domestic division, his Championship side have been continuing preparations for the 2021 season and will play Catalans Dragons in a friendly a week on Saturday.
“Pre-season is going well,” he told League Express.
“We haven’t had any Covid since the beginning. We adapted a little bit with our planning but it works well and I’m quite happy.”
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