London Broncos will kick-off the new league campaign playing home matches at Rosslyn Park Rugby Union Club before returning to Ealing Trailfinders – as they look to a long-term future at AFC Wimbledon Football Club’s new Plough Lane stadium.
Rosslyn Park’s The Rock, which has a 4G pitch and is used by the Broncos for training, will host the capital club’s opening home Championship games, which will be behind closed doors.
When fans are allowed back into grounds, the Broncos will be back at Trailinders’ Vallis Way.
But they hope to get the green light to groundshare at the 9,300-capacity Plough Lane, which opened in November, when the fan-owned football club put the proposal to Dons Trust members on Wednesday, March 31.
It’s believed there is overall support for a move which would provide AFC Wimbledon with an obvious financial boost, but there are some concerns over the potential impact on the pitch of playing additional matches.
The Broncos have spent the last five seasons at Trailfinders, but that venue wouldn’t meet Super League guidelines should the club manage to regain the top-flight status enjoyed in 2019.
Plough Lane would be the tenth different venue used regularly since the club’s formation as Fulham in 1980, when they were based at Craven Cottage.
The others are Crystal Palace National Sports Centre (two spells), Chiswick Polytechnic Sports Ground, Barnet Copthall Arena, The Stoop (three spells), The Valley (two spells), Griffin Park and The Hive as well as Trailfinders, which is twelve miles from Wimbledon.
The Broncos said in a statement: “Following recent meetings, including a visit to the stadium by our captain Will Lovell to meet Dons Trust co-chairman Xavier Wiggins, the desire to work with AFC Wimbledon, and the Dons Trust, is enormous and we continue to be impressed by what we learn about them as a community sports club.
“We hope, of course, that Dons supporters will embrace our interest to play our home games at Plough Lane but also to form a lasting partnership with a very impressive club.”
Meanwhile, Broncos coach Danny Ward is please at the prospect of playing at Rosslyn Park for the time being.
“It can only be a positive for us,” he said. “It is our training pitch and our first-team base, so to be able to play on this surface could be a big advantage for us.”
The Broncos’ first home Championship game is against Oldham on Saturday, April 24.
Spectators are due to return to sports grounds in limited numbers from May 17, with the Broncos’ first home game after that against Bradford on Sunday, May 23.
NEWCASTLE THUNDER director of rugby Denis Betts says there is a personal sense of pride when he observes the job head coach Eamon O’Carroll is doing at the club.
Betts coached O’Carroll at Academy level at Wigan and first-team level at Widnes before handing him his first taste of coaching at the Vikings when injury prematurely ended the 33-year-old’s playing career, writes Lorraine Marsden.
O’Carroll then took himself out of his comfort zone to coach in France at Catalans under Steve McNamara, before being reunited with Betts after Simon Finnigan left Newcastle for Widnes.
“I love to see any player I have been involved with along the way doing well in his future career,” said Betts.
“I have seen Eamon develop and been around him a lot. I know a lot of other people who know him and have known him as a coach and a player, and you always just hear so many good things about him.
“When he first started coaching at Widnes he was ambitious, the lads liked him and he knew what he was trying to do. So it’s nice seeing how he’s doing now.
“When he became available to come here it was a no-brainer. I just had to make sure he understood what he was doing and why he was doing it.
“You can tell by his voice that’s he excited by the job. He’s already put his stamp on the side, he know how he wants them to play.
“For me, watching him work fills me with great pride and I’m sure I have made the right decision bringing him here.”
Thunder’s 2021 squad numbers: 1 Lewis Young, 2 Jack Johnson, 3 Matty Wright, 4 Kieran Gill, 5 Calum Turner, 6 Jake Shorrocks, 7 Josh Woods, 8 Nathan Wilde, 9 Bob Beswick, 10 Mikey Wood, 11 Ukuma Ta’ai, 12 Sam Wilde, 13 Liam McAvoy, 14 Evan Simons, 15 Ted Chapelhow, 16 Jay Chapelhow, 17 Connor Bailey, 18 Alex Clegg, 19 Evan Hodgson, 20 Cole Oakley, 21 Reece Dean, 22 Samy Kibula, 23 Joe Brown, 24 Rhys Clarke, 25 Ollie Gowing, 26 Kieran Hudson, 27 Alex Donaghy, 28 Cian Tyrer.
TOULOUSE OLYMPIQUE have suffered a major setback after winger Paul Marcon was ruled out of the forthcoming season by a damaged knee.
The 25-year-old France international was injured during the warm-up game at Catalans Dragons and scans revealed a ruptured anterior cruciate ligament which requires surgery and a lengthy recovery period, writes Steve Brady.
Toulouse coach Sylvain Houles told League Express: “It was devastating news for Paul and for the club too.
“He is such an integral part of what we are doing here and he will be sorely missed. We are all hoping he has a fast recovery and is back in the squad as soon as possible.”
On a brighter note, Marcon’s centre partner Junior Vaivai, who was also injured in the Catalans game, has recovered and is ready to rejoin training.
Meanwhile, Toulouse have announced that their new captain is 31-year-old stand-off Johnathon Ford.
The former Sydney Roosters and Cook Islands international takes over from Con Mika, who has left the club and joined French Elite 1 side Villeneuve.
Houles added: “Johnathon is clearly a leader on the pitch and it was a natural choice to make him captain.
“He has the full respect of players and everyone at the club.”
Ford said: “It is a great honour to lead this historic club and I hope in some way that I can help it to achieve its massive potential.
“We’ve assembled a strong squad and it is up to us as players now to repay the faith the club has shown in us.”
OLDHAM skipper Gareth Owen is looking forward to the time when there will be two rival hookers keeping him on his toes.
The long-serving 28-year-old is currently vying with recent signing Dec Gregory for the Roughyeds’ number nine slot.
Matt Diskin moved for the former Hemel, Rochdale, North Wales and Castleford player, 24, after Matty Wilkinson suffered a broken leg during training.
But the Bower Fold coach, himself a former Super League and international hooker, said: “We were going to sign Dec anyway.
“We needed three hookers, and now we’ve got them, and all quality players. We’ll just be without Wilky for a while and that’s a shame.
“Dec will get his chance a bit sooner than we had envisaged, but he’s a confident lad who backed himself when he joined us for pre-season training.”
Former Salford player Owen, who has been at Oldham since 2014 and has made more than 130 appearances, said: “I’m gutted for Wilky.
“He’s a great lad and a good mate and since he joined the club (from Salford midway through the 2017 campaign), we’ve worked well together.
“It’s great to have Dec on board, and I think it can be the same between us as it is with Wilky, and when he’s fit again, there will be some real competition.
“We’re getting a good squad together and we seem to be investing in a big, mobile pack which will help us hookers set the platform for the backs to do their stuff.”
Diskin added: “All three of the hookers offer something bit different from each other, and it’s great for a coach to have those kind of options.
“Some matches we might only use one, in others, we will interchange, it just depends who we are playing against.”
Gregory spent last season at Castleford, but with Man of Steel Paul McShane and hot prospect Jacques O’Neill on the scene, was unable to force his way into the first team.
Oldham open their Championship campaign against Swinton at Bower Fold on Good Friday, April 2.
DEWSBURY RAMS coach Lee Greenwood could have to play the waiting game with his latest signing Alex Smith.
The Rams have agreed a one-year deal with the halfback, who impressed during the pre-season derby against Batley but is currently sidelined by injury.
Smith, who has represented England Universities and played for Salford Reserves early last season, was ruled out of pre-season trip to Wakefield.
“We’re not exactly sure as to the extent of the problem, or how long Alex is likely to be out for,” said Greenwood.
“But we didn’t want to leave him in the lurch, so to speak, so we have signed him, and hopefully we won’t have to hang on too long to get him back into training.
“He first joined up with us in November, and we soon saw positive things, and he backed that up during the Batley game.
“He’s a young kid who has warranted a contract, and when he’s back to full fitness, he could certainly be a contender.”
Greenwood has a seasoned first-choice halfback pairing in Paul Sykes, 39, and Liam Finn, 37, but also wants cover and to create competition and future options.
“They can’t go on forever, though people have probably been saying that about them for the last ten years,” he pointed out.
Greenwood had already recruited both his younger brother and ex-Oldham player Jamie as well as ex-Warrington and Salford development player
Jamie Abram, who can both play in the halves.
At the helm since October 2018, he has challenged his players to make weekly team selection a tough task.
“Training sessions are going to be very important,” he explained. “That’s where those who aren’t in the side can show me they should be.
“I want the players to work hard in every session and ensure I have some tough decisions to make.”
Dewsbury’s first Championship game is at home to Whitehaven on Saturday, April 3.
BATLEY BULLDOGS coach Craig Lingard is hoping James Brown will be back for the first game of the Championship campaign.
The experienced forward is stepping up his comeback from a hamstring problem with a view to facing Featherstone away on Good Friday, April 2.
“We’re getting him back into full training and we’re optimistic he will make it,” said Lingard of the former Swinton man.
The Bulldogs boss is awaiting the results of a scan on utility man Anthony Bowman, who has a knee injury.
Winger Wayne Reittie is a worry because of knee and shoulder injuries, while second row Dane Manning is recovering from a dislocated shoulder.
“There are a few things up in the air, but that’s only to be expected given the unique nature of the last year and this pre-season,” said Lingard.
“We’ve been back in training since November, but it’s been stop-start, which hasn’t been helpful, but that’s the way it is.
“I have to praise both the staff and the players, because they have accepted the hoops we’ve had to jump through and just got on with it.
“It’s a sign of how desperate we all are to get back to playing competitive rugby, and it’s great that the season is finally under way.”
Lingard reckons it will be a good few weeks before clubs get into any kind of rhythm regarding team selection and tactics.
“There’s been a limit of two warm-up matches, which has brought its own challenges, because normally I like four, and that’s after a normal previous season,” he continued.
“Obviously last year was nothing like normal, so when the league games get going, we’re still going to be a bit behind where we’d ideally like to be.
“But every club is in the same position, and if that’s what we have to accept to get back into business, I’ll take it.”
BRADFORD BULLS have offered Anthony Walker a way back into Rugby League – more than three years after he was forced to retire.
The 29-year-old former St Helens, Wakefield and Wales prop stopped playing the sport in November 2017 after scans revealed a brain abnormality which had been present since birth.
But after being given the all-clear, only for the pandemic to put the brakes on his comeback attempt, he was finally handed a trial with the Bulls.
And after impressing in pre-season clashes against Swinton and Keighley, he has penned a contract.
“I am buzzing to have signed,” he said. “It has been a long time coming these last twelve months since I got the all-clear, but now to have the deal and the security I wanted is great.
“The game feels a lot faster and it took me a while to adjust, but I felt more comfortable against Keighley, it is just getting used to the new rules defensively.
“I have always been in and around the boys but now I have signed and can officially play I feel like I am part of the squad.”
Coach John Kear believes Walker’s extended stay will prove of real benefit to Bradford, and is backing the player to show what he’s capable of.
“I am delighted and really pleased for him – it is great for Bradford as he will add to our middle channel but it is also very good for the individual,” he said.
“Ant has had a long time out and come back like he has and we are really happy with him and are more than happy to offer him a deal.
“He will be very important for us this year – he has signed until the end of the year because he wants to show us how good he is.
“He backed himself to get back and now he is backing himself to show his true worth and I am sure he will do that.”
HALIFAX PANTHERS coach Simon Grix says the time invested in coaching forward Will Calcott is paying off after the 23-year-old penned a new two-year deal at The Shay.
Calcott, man of the match in this year’s pre-season win over Oldham, made his debut against Leigh in the Super 8s in 2017, following a four-game loan stint at West Wales Raiders.
He played twice for Halifax in 2018, when he also had a spell at Rochdale, eight times in 2019 (plus one game for Hunslet) and featured in three of last year’s matches.
Coach Simon Grix explained: “We are really pleased to reward Will’s progress.
“He has worked hard over the last couple of pre-seasons to improve his game and physical condition.
“Will is a late bloomer, missing out on the academy system, but we have invested time in him and it’s starting to pay off for him now.
“He is a big lad with plenty still to learn but we feel he is on an upward curve with the kind of hard working approach we want at our club.”
“Being a local junior, he is very proud to represent his hometown club and I am sure that will be evident in his performances.”
Calcott added: “I’m really pleased to be extending for another year.
“I’m developing and learning all the time from the coaching staff here and a lot of the senior players so it was a no-brainer for me to extend my contract.”
SHEFFIELD EAGLES hope centre Connor Bower will be back in action by the middle of April after picking up a knee injury during training.
The 24-year-old former Hull and Doncaster player came off worse in a collision with prop Tyler Dickinson.
Coach Mark Aston explained: “After twelve months out, coming back and playing games, there will always be a massive risk that some players will pick up injuries.
“Connor did all the training and preparation that needed to be done before we went into a 13 v 13 full contact game.
“But unfortunately he ended up with big Tyler falling on him. It put his knee in an awkward position, but it isn’t as bad as we first feared.
“It should be around four to six weeks, and we’re obviously hoping it’s the former.
“The kid has had a great pre-season, got himself in good shape, and I’m sure he’ll keep working to get himself back.”
Bower was signed on a two-season deal in November 2019 and played in five of the Eagles’ seven games last year.
He scored 14 tries in 28 games for Doncaster in 2019.
SWINTON LIONS have become the latest club to partner a team in Nigeria – and the first to back a side in the North of the African country.
The lions are linking up with Kano Lions as both clubs prepare for a return to competitive action after leagues were put on hold by Covid.
With a population of four million, Kano is the second-largest city in Nigeria after the capital Lagos, where three clubs, Eko Trinity, Lagos Haven and Lagos Rhinos, are partnered by Wakefield, Whitehaven and Leeds respectively.
Swinton director of development Damian Ridpath explained: “This again is an example of the new outwardly looking nature of our club.
“Swinton Lions have set out to support community clubs both at home and abroad over the last 12 months and we now welcome Kano into our family.
“We will look to share good practice and offer development support moving forward to the Kano branch of our pride of Lions.”
Swinton chief executive Steve Wild added: “Our new partnership is tremendously exciting.
“We take very seriously our responsibility to advance the development of the sport, whether that’s within the UK or further afield.”
WIDNES VIKINGS coach Simon Finnigan has called on all his Rugby League experience – plus a string of contacts within the game – to prepare his new side for the new season.
And the 39-year-old former Super League player and Ireland international, appointed in November after a year and eight months in charge of Newcastle Thunder, admits only time will tell if he’s got things right.
Finnigan, who has also had a spell as assistant coach at Toronto, said: “We’ve come through a unique twelve months with no similar period to look back on and analyse.
“Neither Super League nor the NRL were shut down for as long as the Championship and League 1, so there’s a limited amount to gain from looking at what they’ve done.
“We have come up with way of training which we think has prepared us without too much risk of players picking up injuries after such a long spell of not having matches.
“You have to be mindful that we need to get to the end of a long season as well.
“We’ll find out over the course of time if we have got things right.”
YORK CITY KNIGHTS‘ new home has been given the thumbs up by Super League star Jake Connor.
The England international played for Hull in the recent first Rugby League match at the LNER Community Stadium.
And Connor liked what he saw of the 8,500-capacity venue which the Knights will share with York City Football Club.
“I really liked the stadium, and with fans in, it will be even better,” he said. “It’s a great pitch and the set-up behind the scenes is good.
“York are an ambitious club and I think the new ground is perfect for what they are trying to achieve.”
The Knights’ newly-signed former Leeds forward Adam Cuthbertson has been given the green light to return to full training following a shoulder injury.
FEATHERSTONE ROVERS back Thomas Minns is targeting another promotion to Super League as he returns from the foot injury which followed a drugs ban.
The 26-year-old helped Hull KR from the Championship to the top flight in 2017 before being suspended after testing positive for cocaine following a match the following year.
Minns, who admitted taking the drug at a time shortly after his mother died, was banned until July 2019, and his return was slowed when he broke a foot during training.
Minns, who joined Featherstone on a two-year deal in September 2019, said: “The feeling and vibe among the lads reminds me of the year we got promoted with Hull KR with how everyone is buying into everything and putting 100 per cent in.”
WHITEHAVEN have taken versatile Scotland international Oscar Thomas on trial.
The 27-year-old, who played in the 2017 World Cup, has had spells at London Broncos, Bradford, Sheffield and Swinton.
He can play halfback, fullback or hooker and helped Swinton win 14-0 at Whitehaven in the first round of last year’s curtailed Championship campaign.
“He has experience and has played at a high level,” said Whitehaven coach Gary Charlton.
“Just in training we have noticed he talks a lot, which is a good trait to have playing in the positions he does.”
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