Whitehaven back Oscar Thomas is hoping the latest stop-off on his tour of England will lead to another World Cup campaign with Scotland.
The twelve-times capped 27-year-old, who qualifies for the Bravehearts through his father, has signed a season-long deal with the Cumbrian club after a impressing during a trial spell.
The West Londoner is now in his ninth season of senior rugby, and has steadily worked his way up the country.
He started at London Broncos, coming through the Academy ranks to make his debut for them in Super League against St Helens in 2014.
That was after a valuable loan spell at London Skolars in 2013, and Thomas also had a stint in top-flight rugby union with London Irish before returning to the Broncos.
He spent the 2016 and 2017 campaigns at Bradford, then had a season at Sheffield before joining Swinton in 2019.
Thomas played four times for the Lions before last season was put on hold, and the pandemic also scuppered his plans to play for Palau in France this season.
“The move was lined up, but things changed because of Covid, and I’m thankful that the Whitehaven opportunity came up,” explained the Bolton-based player.
“I’ve really enjoyed myself so far, the rest of the boys have been really welcoming, and I think we can be competitive in this division.”
Thomas, who could face his old club Sheffield at the Keepmoat Stadium, Doncaster on Sunday, added: “The club want to consolidate in the Championship, and hopefully I can help them do that.
“And I know that by playing well for Whitehaven, I’ll improve my chances of making the Scotland squad.”
Thomas played twice during the 2017 World Cup, against co-hosts New Zealand in Christchurch and the 14-14 draw with Samoa in Cairns, and continued: “It was a fantastic experience.
“I’d really like to be involved again this year, snd that’s part of the reason I was so keen to come to Whitehaven.”
WIDNES VIKINGS coach Simon Finnigan says fan power can help resurrect his depleted side’s season.
The Vikings are approaching a key spell of matches, with Sunday’s trip to Oldham preceding an 1895 Cup semi-final clash at Featherstone, with a Wembley appearance up for grabs, and home games against London Broncos and Sheffield.
Widnes, who have had a difficult start to the campaign, played in front of their fans for the fist time in 14 months against Whitehaven on Sunday, and Finnigan said: “They are proper rugby people who really get behind us, and we need them going forward.
“There’s nothing like running out in front of your supporters, and the lads will buzz off their backing.
“We’ve been doing it tough so far this year, there’s no doubt about that, and the return of fans is huge for us.”
Widnes went into the Whitehaven game having suffered successive defeats, 70-0 by Toulouse in a game played at Swinton’s Heywood Road ground and 35-14 at home to York.
Finnigan’s selection options have been limited by injury-enforced absences for much of the season so far, and he has also lost on-loan Warrington forward Ellis Robson.
A season-long deal for the 22-year-old had been agreed, but the Super League club had a recall clause, which they invoked before subsequently loaning him to Bradford.
“I was very critical after the Toulouse game, but I couldn’t fault the effort and intent all the way through the side against York,” said Finnigan.
“Being down on numbers has been the story of our season, and it does have an effect. Having players out injured hurts the ability to rotate, which has an effect of energy levels, and sometimes people have to play out of position.
“But every club has problems, and you can’t use injuries as an excuse. You have to take the attitude that you get on with it, and as I’ve said several times, intent and effort in the right areas will put you in a position to win matches.”
LONDON BRONCOS are back at Ealing Trailfinders now fans are allowed back in grounds – and captain Will Lovell is keen to ensure the switch from another rugby union club, Rosslyn Park, doesn’t derail the push for a Super League return.
Having played their first two home league games at The Rock, which also serves as the Broncos’ training base, and won both, Danny Ward’s side faced Bradford at Vallis Way, which was the nomadic club’s home from 2016-2020, a period which included the Super League campaign of 2019.
It was the first of a sequence of home games scheduled for Trailfinders, continuing with Sunday’s clash with Dewsbury, before a planned move to football club AFC Wimbledon’s new Plough Lane stadium, possibly in August.
As well as offering the potential to expand corporate and marketing activities, Plough Lane would also meet Super League requirements, should London succeed in winning promotion.
Centre Lovell, in his second spell at the club after playing for League 1 London Skolars, is determined to lead a return to the top flight as soon as possible.
The 28-year-old, originally picked up by the Broncos after representing hometown rugby union club Northampton as a junior, knows competition in the second tier is tough.
But he believes the recent 40-6 win at Batley shows London are heading in the right direction.
“We’re happy with the points we are scoring, but the way we’ve conceded tries is frustrating, so this was an improvement,” he said.
“There has been a lot of defensive work in training and we wanted to put in a better performance from that point of view against Batley.
“They are a good team and had won four games running before we played them, so to beat them is encouraging.
“We are still a long way off where we need to be, but I think we are progressing.”
BRADFORD BULLS coach John Kear reckons Ellis Robson’s versatility makes him the ideal loan signing.
The 22-year forward has been recruited for an initial two-week period after parent club Warrington recalled him from a season-long stay at Widnes.
The Bulls have also taken Hull’s recently-signed Fijian back Mitieli Vulikijapani on the same terms.
Robson made seven appearances for the Wolves last season, and Kear, whose side host York on Sunday having taken on London Broncos in the capital, believes that experience is just one of the factors which makes his arrival so useful.
“Ellis can play either in the middles or on the edge and is pretty efficient at both,” he said.
“He is likely to come off the bench and you couldn’t ask for anyone better as that’s the props and the back row all covered.
“If you feel you need energy and workrate, this kid has both, and he also has Super League experience.”
The Bulls have also agreed a contract extension until 2022 with teenage back Joe Burton, who was signed from Leeds late last year and made his debut in the recent 23-22 win at Swinton.
Meanwhile, Kear praised Stuart Duffy after the long-serving Bulls football manager announced his retirement.
Duffy, who has served the club for 23 eventful years, during which they won three World Club Challenges, three Super League titles and two Challenge Cups as well as slipping down to League 1 level, took his decision following a period of ill health.
Kear said: “I have been fortunate to be involved with this great game for a number of years and Bradford Bulls and Stuart Duffy seemed to be interwoven.
“Stuart has worked with many head coaches during his time at Bradford and they, like me, relied on his contacts and work to make our lives easier and allow us to get on with our job.
“On behalf of all the coaches he has worked with and on behalf of the current performance staff, I would like to thank Stuart for his dedicated service and support.”
Duffy said: “I am pleased to have worked for this great club for so many years. I have some great memories of some great times which I will cherish forever.”
Bradford’s home clash with Newcastle, which was scheduled for last Monday but postponed, has been rearranged for Sunday, June 6.
YORK CITY KNIGHTS coach James Ford believes he can get even more from Hull KR player Mikey Lewis as his loan spell at the LNER Stadium continues.
The 19-year-old, playing fullback rather than his more usual half-back role, produced an impressive two-try debut performance as Widnes were beaten 35-14 at the DCBL Stadium.
Having hosted Oldham, York have an away game against Bradford on Sunday, while Lewis is also set to be available for the 1895 Cup semi-final at home to Swinton seven days later.
“I believe that there’s another two or three levels in Mikey,” said Ford, after seeing his charges bounce back from a 16-12 home defeat by Featherstone.
“We’ll continue to sit with him and have a look at some stuff and I’m sure we’ll see an even better player going forward.”
Lewis’s four appearances for Rovers this season, which took his total for the club to 13, were all at half-back, but Ford reckons he is a more-than-capable fullback.
Injury problems mean he was the sixth player to play the position this year after Matty Marsh, Hull loanee Connor Wynne, Kieran Dixon, Ben Jones-Bishop and Myles Harrison.
“I saw Mikey play fullback for Hull KR against Salford (in October of last year) and I thought that he was absolutely tremendous,” explained Ford.
“I know he came into the team late that day because I spoke to Greg Minikin, and he hadn’t practised an awful lot there.
“I was blown away by the level of his performance with him not being a regular fullback. With a little bit of guidance and support he could become a real threat there.
“There are a bits and pieces that he’s going to have to learn because it’s obviously a different position.
“But he’s confident, strong and quick, and with his footwork, a running threat off any kind of ruck win or offload opportunity.
“He’s played a lot of Rugby League at half-back so he understands the attacking structure side of things well.”
HALIFAX PANTHERS coach Simon Grix believes his players are learning to cope with high expectation levels as they prepare to welcome fans back to The Shay when Featherstone visit on Sunday.
The former Ireland international has been frustrated by his side’s inconsistent start to the season.
The Panthers went into their game at Newcastle having won two and lost three in the league.
They had to wait to try to build on the 36-0 derby victory at Dewsbury when the scheduled home clash with Sheffield was postponed because of Covid problems in the Eagles camp.
“We wanted to try and build some momentum, but we understand why the game couldn’t take place, and it was a reminder that we still have to be careful,” said Grix.
“Hopefully Sheffield weren’t impacted too badly, and we tried to use an unexpected blank date to refresh the lads after a busy spell.”
Halifax have signed a quintet of players – centre Greg Worthington and prop Gadwin Springer from Toronto, frontrower Dan Murray from Hull KR, half-back Connor Robinson from York and prop Adam Tangata from Wakefield – on two-year deals.
And Grix explained: “I think the buzz created by some signings and the club’s Panthers rebrand probably heightened expectation levels, and after a long spell without matches because of the pandemic, it’s taking time to find some rhythm.
“We’ve produced some decent performances, but also some disappointing ones, and in the defeats (by Bradford, Toulouse and Oldham), we contributed to our own downfall.
“The Oldham game was a real low for us, because we made so many silly errors, like giving away three penalties for incorrect play-the-balls.
“But we responded the right way against Dewsbury. They are are a good side, and you have to earn wins against them.
“I thought that for the first time this season, we looked like a team, rather than a group of individuals, and the game win gave us a confidence boost and some self-belief.”
DEWSBURY RAMS coach Lee Greenwood was pleased to snap a losing sequence with victory at Swinton, but remains concerned by his side’s inconsistency within matches.
The Rams led 16-0 at half-time in the first game back in front of fans at Heywood Road last Monday, but ended up hanging on for a 20-18 win.
Greenwood has had extra time to work on the training ground after the postponement of the Heavy Woollen derby at home to Batley.
That match will now take place in July to hopefully allow more spectators into the Tetley’s Stadium than would have been the case.
Greenwood, whose side head to London Broncos on Sunday, said of the Swinton clash: “The result and two points are the main thing.
“If I’d been asked before the game does it matter how we win, I would have said no. It was just important to get a victory after three defeats in a row.
“We knew Swinton would be hard to beat, that they would be hard to break down at times, and they were.
“In the first half we played very, very well. We controlled the ball well, we looked threatening and it was all going to plan.
“They then came out second half really hard, we were too soft and we never turned it around in that 40 minutes.
“There was a bad pass, a loose ball, an error, bad discipline. They just seemed to roll on one after the other.
“We never got out of it and we need to be better than that. It’s happened too many times this season, whether it be first half or second half.”
SHEFFIELD EAGLES are co-funding a two-year spell as a Rugby League development officer in the city for former England and Great Britain women’s star Andrea Dobson.
The RFL, Sheffield City Council and Sheffield City Trust are contributing alongside the Eagles with the hope of capitalising on this year’s World Cup.
The England versus Greece men’s group game will take place at Sheffield United Football Club’s Bramall Lane stadium.
And both semi-finals of the wheelchair competition will be at the English Institute of Sport, as will the mid-season International against Wales on Saturday, June 26.
Dobson, who skippers Featherstone, has more than a decade of experience as a community rugby union coach in Sheffield.
She made her Great Britain league debut at 16 and has played in four World Cups, including the inaugural women’s tournament in 2003.
When she retired from the international game in 2019, she had made a record 24 appearances for England and Great Britain, a number as captain.
“I’m thrilled to be in a position to make a positive difference to Rugby League in Sheffield, which is my home city,” she said.
“I’m looking forward to bringing to life the potential that there is for Rugby League here. The World Cup is a huge opportunity for us to grow the game.”
SWINTON LIONS marked 125 years since the formation of the club by wearing a special one-off kit for their first game back in front of fans against Dewsbury at Heywood Road last Monday.
Now 125 replicas of the navy blue shirt, which is a nod to the original colours of a club who have become synonymous with royal blue and white, have been made available to fans on a first come, first served basis.
To emphasise the vintage feel to the Supro-manufactured top, club sponsors agreed to their logos being left off.
Each replica will be tagged with a unique number.
Swinton, beaten 20-18 by Dewsbury, faced Toulouse at Heywood Road on Saturday and visit Batley on Sunday.
TOULOUSE OLYMPIQUE are ready to carry on coming to England as they plot a route to Super League.
With part-time teams not crossing the Channel currently because of ongoing government quarantine guidelines due to the pandemic, the French side have already given up home advantage for two matches – against Widnes and Swinton.
Both took place at Swinton’s Heywood Road ground.
The next two weekends are blank, then Toulouse face Dewsbury at the Tetley’s Stadium on Sunday, June 13 in what will be the Yorkshire side’s first home game back in front of fans.
NEWCASTLE THUNDER coach Eamon O’Carroll says getting to know each other off the pitch will help his players gel on it.
The former Ireland international only took the reins in December, tasked with quickly moulding a squad to compete in the second tier following the club’s elevation from League 1.
Going into Sunday’s home game against Halifax, Thunder had picked up a win and a draw to go with three defeats.
“It’s been pretty stop, start so far, so it’s been hard to get into any real kind of rhythm,” said O’Carroll.
“That’s compounded by the fact that a lot of lads are new to the club, so are still getting used to things.
“At our level, you don’t get that many training sessions, and because of the Covid restrictions, there’s been little chance to socialise.”
While Newcastle were beaten at London Broncos recently. O’Carroll believes there were positive spin-offs from the trip.
“It was obviously a lengthy coach journey, so the lads were finally able to have a decent chat,” he explained.
“It was great to see some of the new players coming out of their shells and having a laugh, and it will help us going forward.”
BATLEY BULLDOGS are having to play the waiting game as they aim to bounce back from what coach Craig Lingard described as their “worst performance of the season” against London Broncos.
The Bulldogs, who had won four on the spin going into the home game, but slumped 40-6, were due to visit neighbours Dewsbury in their following match.
But the derby was postponed, and will now take place in July to hopefully allow more spectators into the Tetley’s Stadium than would have been the case.
Next up for Batley is Sunday’s home clash Swinton, and Lingard said: “We need to be wary, because if you are slightly off it in this league, you will be turned over.
“On reflection, I think that’s what happened against London, who are a good team and were able to exploit those little margins of difference.
“Looking at previous matches, it was probably our worst performance of the year, but after reviewing it, I don’t think we were as bad as I thought on the day.
“London executed all their attacking shapes while we played too laterally sometimes. “Hopefully it is just one of those days where those little things haven’t clicked as they have done previously.”
FEATHERSTONE ROVERS coach James Webster wants to carry on showing fans “something special” is building at the club.
Ambitious Rovers were 68-0 winners over Oldham in front of 1,670 fans as limited numbers were able to return to the Millennium Stadium on Monday.
“It was a fantastic result, and I’d like to thank all our supporters, whether they were at the game or not,” said the Australian.
“They have put their hard-earned cash in over the last 14 months without getting as much back as they usually would.
“It was really good to see them in and around the ground again, and they created a great atmosphere. Hopefully they could see we are building something special here.”
Prop James Lockwood added of the fifth league win in five: “It was a good performance and it was nice to score some points and nil them.
“I think we had been due a result like this, and it shows what we can do when we hold onto the ball.”
Having taken on Sheffield at the Keepmoat Stadium, Doncaster, Featherstone face Halifax at The Shay before returning home for their 1895 Cup semi-final against Widnes on Sunday week, June 6.
OLDHAM hope coach Matt Diskin will be back on duty for Sunday’s home game against Widnes following a spell of isolation.
Diskin had been in close contact with a family member who tested Covid positive, leaving his assistants Brendan Sheridan and Jode Sheriffe in charge for the trip to York.
Meanwhile, the Roughyeds have taken versatile back Tom Nisbet on loan from St Helens for an initial two weeks.
The 21-year-old has come through Saints’ Scholarship and Academy ranks, playing once in Super League last season.
The Lancashire and England representative player said: I’m excited about joining Oldham and playing at senior level in the Championship.”
Oldham chairman Chris Hamilton said: “We have a good relationship with Saints, who have a big production line of young players coming through.
“Tom is in the first-team squad at Saints and waiting for his chance. In the meantime, he can help us out and get some senior rugby at the same time.”
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