Ambitious James Woodburn-Hall is aiming to carry on catching the eye at fullback as he tries to help Halifax Panthers reach the play-offs.
But had his sporting life taken a different turn as a teenager, the Jamaica international might have been plotting a tilt at football’s Premier League.
For the talented 26-year-old from Isleworth in West London was once on the books at nearby Brentford, who have just won promotion.
At the same time, he started playing Rugby League at Feltham Community College, which had close links with Harlequins – now London Broncos.
Woodburn-Hall ended up going 13 rather than eleven-a-side as he joined the Quins development scheme, and a decade on, he has no regrets.
He played in Super League for London Broncos, then after becoming a university student in Leeds, in League 1 for Hemel Stags and London Skolars before joining Halifax in 2016.
“Growing up, I just loved sport, and I played basketball as well as football and Rugby League,” he told League Express.
“I enjoyed being involved on the Scholarship scheme at Brentford, but only a few go on to become full-time professionals.
“The chance to join the Broncos came up, and I don’t regret taking it, because I got to play in Super League, and now I’m at a great club in Halifax.
“It can be a challenge combining work and Rugby League, but the positives definitely outweigh the negatives, and I enjoy being part of the group.”
Halifax went into their game at York occupying a play-off berth, and Woodburn-Hall added: “The aim is to be in the top six come the end of the season.
“If you get into the play-offs, you never know what might happen, because it’s basically cup-tie rugby.
“It’s a tight division, and I think the lay-off caused by the pandemic has had a levelling effect.
“At times this season, we have shown what we’re capable of, and like all teams, the aim is to find some consistency.”
SWINTON LIONS say coach Stuart Littler has the “100 per cent unequivocal support” of the board as he battles to lead his side away from the relegation zone.
While the Lions reached round three of the Challenge Cup, beating Newcastle and Oldham before defeat by Super League Warrington, they went into their home league game against Newcastle bottom of the table after eight defeats from eight.
Meanwhile, hopes of a first-ever trip to Wembley were dashed by a 36-22 defeat at York in the semi-finals of the 1895 Cup.
Former Salford, Leigh, Rochdale, Swinton and Ireland player Littler, 42, was assistant coach at Swinton before stepping up when John Duffy left for Featherstone in July 2017. He has also been Ireland coach since September 2018.
“While we are all naturally disappointed with our league position, it is our firm belief that the club’s interests are best served by strength through unity,” said Swinton in a club statement.
“Alongside Stuart, we have an outstanding coaching and backroom team, in whom the board also have complete faith.
“We also have trust in our players to do everything within their powers to secure the wins we need.
“Stuart and our coaching staff have never once cited injuries as the reason for our league position, but the fact remains that the strength of our squad has been severely affected by long-term and short-term injuries to key players.
“The board is fully aware that we are currently short on playing numbers and will continue to support Stuart in identifying suitable additions to the squad.
“Our fans were absolutely fantastic in their support of the team at York, and this was greatly appreciated by the players and staff.
“With similar backing between now and the end of the season, we will stand the best chance of achieving our immediate goals.”
The Lions host Halifax on Sunday.
SHEFFIELD EAGLES have three sets in their ranks as they aim to mount a play-off challenge this season.
Eagles fans are used to seeing the Burns (long-serving hooker Greg and fellow pack man Paddy) and the Farrells (second row Joel and halfback Izaac).
Now Sheffield have the Tyson-Wilsons, halfback Harry, 24, and prop Bobby, 26, both signed ahead of this season.
They came through the development system at Hull, where dad Rob was a back rower in the nineties.
And each went on to made one Super League appearance, Harry in 2014 and Bobby the season after.
Harry then had spells at York and Hunslet and Bobby at York and Doncaster, while the pair have also played in the community game for West Hull.
While Harry is providing competition for Izaac Farrell and Anthony Thackeray, Bobby made a try-scoring debut in the 50-18 home defeat by Featherstone.
He followed that up by helping Mark Aston’s side fight back for a 25-25 home draw with Whitehaven.
“I’ve got more work to do, but considering I haven’t played in nearly two years, I was glad to get back out there,” he said.
“As a group, we’re disappointed not to have got more wins, and we’ve got to work harder on a few things.
“Every game this season is going to be a tough contest, and we’ve just got to stick with playing our style of rugby.”
Aston believes there is plenty more to come from Bobby, explaining: “We haven’t signed him just for now.
“It’s all about giving people opportunities and there is no doubt about his potential, but after making his Super League debut at a young age, he fell out of love with it.
“Having played amateur, he’s got the twinkle in his eye again, and it’s all about whether he wants it or not.”
Sheffield, meanwhile, have signed ex-Bradford back rower Evan Hodgson from Newcastle.
LIAM SALTER says there’s plenty more to come from YORK CITY KNIGHTS as the forward-thinking club target a promotion push on the back of a first trip to Wembley in 90 years.
James Ford’s side are looking forward to facing Featherstone in the 1895 Cup final on Saturday, July 17 after seeing off spirited Swinton 36-22.
Centre Salter scored his side’s first try, wearing a headguard after an accidental collision with teammate Kieran Dixon during training.
Both were in the Hull KR side beaten by Leeds in the 2015 Challenge Cup final at Wembley, and the 28-year-old, who joined York in 2019, is looking forward to going back.
It’s only a second visit to the world-famous stadium for York, who were beaten 22-8 by Halifax in the 1931 Challenge Cup final.
“These are the kind of games you want to play in, and we’re all buzzing to have the chance to go to Wembley and pick up a trophy,” said Salter.
“I’m grateful to our physio team for putting me back together, because I ended up in A&E after a clash of heads on the practice ground.
“It was touch and go for a while, but luckily I came through all the tests, and it was great to be able to play my part.”
York, fresh from moving into their new LNER Community Stadium, also have serious aspirations of reaching Super League.
They’s made an inconsistent start to the league campaign, and went into their match at Halifax having won four and lost four.
“There’s a lot more to come from us,” added Salter, who helped Hull KR win a top-flight place via the 2017 Qualifiers.
“I think we’ve only got to around 60 percent of what we’re capable of, and that was the case against Swinton, who gave it a good go.
“We’ll keep working to develop and improve, and I think we can go far in both league and cup.”
BRADFORD BULLS can cope with the loss of playmaker Danny Brough through injury insists coach John Kear.
The veteran halfback, signed from Super League Wakefield, has been a key man for the Bulls this season.
But he may need surgery after picking up a bicep injury during Bradford’s home victory over Newcastle – their seventh win in succession ahead of the trip to Featherstone.
It’s feared the 38-year-old former Hull, Huddersfield and Scotland player could be out for more than two months.
“Danny’s made the team play better. The more he has played with those around him, the better he’s got and the better the team have got,” said Kear.
“It’s taken a bit of wind out of our sails. But these things happen. If you didn’t think anyone was going to get injured, you’d only sign 17 players.
“But we’re confident. If we’ve to change slightly what we have to do because of the personnel, we’ll do that and we’ll do it well.
“You’ve got to have a squad and that’s what we’ve got, and we’ll obviously make contingency plans.”
Kear’s team are without a game this weekend after the cancellation of their scheduled clash with Toulouse in France on Saturday.
They are next in action at home to Widnes on Sunday week, June 27, by which time the Odsal pitch will be back up to the required size.
To facilitate their return to Odsal from Dewsbury, Bradford were given special dispensation to play their games against York and Newcastle on a narrower-than-regulation surface as work was carried out to enable Rugby League to take place alongside stock car racing.
The new-look pitch will measure 89 metres by 62 metres.
Bradford, who had played at Dewsbury since the start of the 2020 season after leaving Odsal due to rising maintenance costs, have agreed an 18-month tenancy agreement with the RFL, who bought the historic stadium in 2012.
WHITEHAVEN coach Gary Charlton reckons Ryan King will prove to be a key signing for the club.
The Australian prop who has designs on representing Italy at the World Cup was the first of a string of recruits for the current campaign, but has had to play the waiting game after damaging a knee in his last match Down Under.
King has shone in reserve-grade leagues in recent years after playing in the junior systems of both Sydney Roosters and Cronulla.
And Charlton, who has also brought Aussies Dean Zammit and Lachlan Walmsley as well as Kiwi Nikau Williams in his bid to establish his side in the second tier, says he has seen enough of the 23-year-old on the training ground to know he has the ability to make an impact.
“He’s a player, you can see that by the way he goes about things and what he’s done during his return from injury,” he explained.
“It was desperately unlucky that Ryan damaged an ACL while finishing off the Australian season.
“We had already done the deal to bring him over, we knew we wanted to go ahead with it, and while he could have stayed in Australia for some of his recovery, with the way the Covid regulations have affected travel, we thought it best to get him over here.
“He’s had the chance to get used to the club and the town, and he’s worked really hard on his rehab.”
Meanwhile, Whitehaven chairman Tom Todd and four fellow board members, Steve Nicholson, Peter Boyle, Andrew Airlie and Paul Shepherd, have resigned amid internal conflict at the club.
In a statement, the club said: “We ask for time to rectify and move forward. We will comment further in due course.”
Todd joined the board in May 2015, and under his chairmanship, Whitehaven bounced back from relegation in 2016 to win promotion back to the second tier as League 1 champions in 2019.
FEATHERSTONE ROVERS coach James Webster has gone back to front in bolstering his side with two loan additions.
Hull KR fullback or winger Will Dagger followed seasoned Salford prop Darcy Lussick to the Millennium Stadium ahead of the big home meeting with Bradford.
The pair are also available for Sunday’s visit to Dewsbury, and the deals could be extended after that.
Ex-Warrington player Dagger, 22, is familiar with both Webster, previously assistant coach at Hull KR, and Featherstone, having had a loan spell there in 2019.
He made twelve appearances for Hull KR last season, taking his overall club tally to 30, but has yet to feature competitively under Tony Smith this time around.
“Featherstone rang up for a fullback and we were looking to get a fullback out, so it was perfect timing,” said Smith, who has forward Owen Harrison out on loan in the Championship at Newcastle.
“Daggs has played there before and knows Webby, as I do. I think it’s fantastic for his development.
“He’s played 20 minutes of a friendly in pre-season and that’s the only pressure he’s been able to apply. He does well in training but it’s a different story to playing.”
Australian Lussick, 32, had two spells at Manly around a three-season stint at Parramatta before joining Toronto for the 2018 campaign.
Salford signed him following the Canadian club’s demise, and he has figured five times for them this season.
“Darcy will bring some added depth to an area where we are currently a bit thin,” explained Webster.
“With James Harrison, Jack Bussey, Brett Ferres and Dale Ferguson all unavailable as well as Luke Cooper just coming back from injury, it’s added a lot of extra pressure on our other middles.
“Obviously Darcy has played at a high level in both the NRL and Super League and it’s great to have him.”
NEWCASTLE THUNDER director of rugby Denis Betts believes Thunder, Hull KR and Owen Harrison will all benefit from the forward’s spell in the North-East.
While two packmen, back rower Evan Hodgson and prop Mikey Wood, have left for Sheffield and Hunslet respectively, the 22-year-old is settling in at Kingston Park after a season-long loan was agreed.
Harrison, who came through the former City of Hull Academy – captaining the Under 19s in 2018 – is a back rower by trade but can also play prop, the position in which he has made most of his 14 Hull KR appearances.
He previously had a spell on loan at Dewsbury, who handed him his senior debut in 2019 before he was recalled to play ten times for Rovers that season.
Harrison, who made his Newcastle debut from the bench in the 31-12 defeat at Bradford earlier this month, said: “I’m really looking forward to getting going.
“It’s almost a year since I last played so I can’t wait to rip in and enjoy playing rugby again.
“It’s been a tough year with Covid and I’ve had a bit of injury, so I had about six weeks off prior to coming to Newcastle.
“I’m looking to build up my match fitness and then work on developing how I play the game.
“I want to crack Super League and playing well for Newcastle is a stage towards getting there.
“It’s all well and good training full-time, but there’s nothing like playing a game and I need to be back playing rugby.”
Betts said: “Owen is someone who is going to be a great asset to us for the rest of the season.
“He has great Super League experience and is young but also has a bit of edge to him where he wants to try and get better.
“He has been in full time training at Hull KR so has that mentality and toughness about him, he is going to give us some extra punch and put us onto the front foot.
“He is a big man with presence but is also a high-quality footballer with great hands.”
Having visited Swinton, Newcastle are at home to Oldham on Sunday.
WIDNES VIKINGS centre Jake Spedding says Simon Finnigan’s side can climb the table – with the help of strong defence and their vociferous fans.
The Vikings went into the home clash with London Broncos on the back of league wins over Whitehaven and Oldham and a narrow 1895 Cup semi-final defeat by his former club Featherstone.
They are back on duty at the DCBL Stadium on Sunday, when Sheffield visit, and the 24-year-old said: “I don’t think it’s any coincidence that our performances have got better since the fans returned.
“We got those two wins, then even though we fell short against Featherstone, we produced a good effort.
“The fans were great, and there was one set where we kept Featherstone in their own 20 with the help of our supporters roaring us on.
“There were some poor results early in the season, but I think we’ve been building game on game, and we know every match is massive for us from here.
“We have some good attacking players, so if we get our defence right, we know we can challenge.
Ex-St Helens and Barrow player Spedding, who joined Widnes from Featherstone last year, is pleased with his own progress.
“It took me a little while to get going again after last season’s lay-off and an injury, but I’m working hard and getting there,” he said.
DEWSBURY RAMS prop Will Oakes believes a break from action will help Lee Greenwood’s side going forward.
The Rams, who have had problems with injuries and player departures, went into their home game against Toulouse having had a fortnight without a match.
The visit of the powerful French side was the second of three tough tests, which started with the 30-10 defeat at the division’s other full-time club London Broncos.
Dewsbury head to Featherstone on Sunday, and Scotland international Oakes said: “It’s important to have a break from matches every now and again.
“It means you can put in a few big sessions, which in turn help you improve and get stronger as the season goes on.”
The loss to London was the Rams’ fourth in seven league outings, and Oakes, signed from Hull KR after a loan spell last season, added: “We have learned a lot from the defeats. They showed us some things which needed fixing.
“There have also been a lot of positives, which we can build on.”
OLDHAM coach Matt Diskin hopes centre Ben Heaton, halfback James Barran, winger Kyran Johnson and prop Jack Spencer could be available when his side visit Newcastle on Sunday.
That’s after he was able to name long-serving prop Phil Joy and second row Danny Bridge in his squad for the home game against Sheffield on Saturday.
Joy, 29, who made his Roughyeds debut in 2012, damaged a hamstring during pre-season.
The game against the Eagles was brought forward by 24 hours to avoid a clash with the England versus Croatia football international at Wembley.
On-loan winger Louis Senior has been recalled by parent club Huddersfield.
TOULOUSE OLYMPIQUE‘s promotion bid has the total support of Catalans legend Thomas Bosc.
The former Dragons back who is now assistant coach of the Perpignan side reckons having two Super League representatives would lead to a real resurgence of Rugby League in France.
“Two teams in Super League would give two chances for French players to develop at the highest level every week,” said the 37-year-old. “What a boost for the game in France.”
“I hope Toulouse will go up and what a derby that would be!”
BATLEY BULLDOGS coach Craig Lingard wants Aiden Ineson to carry on pushing for a berth in the Bulldogs team.
The halfback who played once last season has returned to the club following a spell in the community game with Dewsbury Moor.
Ineson, 24, faces tough competition in the shape of established Ben White and Tom Gilmore, while Lingard can also call on Joe Sanderson and has played Luke Hooley at scrum-half.
“Aiden has great ability and a fantastic attitude,” said the team chief, whose side head to York on Sunday. “He’s part of our plans going forward.”
In addition, forwards George Senior and Anthony Bowman are back at the Fox’s Biscuits Stadium following loan spells at League 1 Hunslet.
LONDON BRONCOS coach Danny Ward is looking forward to calling on Pat Moran after the former Warrington prop, who had been playing for Avignon, completed the necessary isolation period after flying in from France.
The 23-year-old made one Super League appearance for the Wolves in 2019 and also had loan spells at Rochdale and Sheffield, before spending last year at Widnes, where he played in all seven matches before the season was curtailed.
“We’re really pleased to have Pat on board and we’re looking forward to working with him,” said Ward, whose side have successive home games against Whitehaven and Swinton on the next two Sundays.
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