Whitehaven forward Ryan King is ready to make up for lost time – and repay the faith shown in him by the Cumbrian club as they fight for second-tier survival.
The 24-year-old Australian signing finally made his debut after a nine-month absence following knee surgery in the 14-4 defeat by Halifax.
King says he would have understood if Whitehaven had “ripped up” the paperwork for his move after he damaged an anterior cruciate ligament late last season.
But they not only stuck with the deal, but brought the Italy international over to the UK to complete his rehabilitation.
“That meant a lot,” said King, who has impressed in Aussie reserve-grade leagues in recent years after playing in the junior systems of both Sydney Roosters and Cronulla.
“I did the ACL while playing for Cronulla-Caringbah in the Sydney Shield play-offs (run by the New South Wales RL), which was a sickener.
“I missed out on the Grand Final, which we won, and I had just agreed the move to Whitehaven, and I have to admit I thought they would have ripped up the contract.
“It was great to hear not only that they still wanted me, but that they thought it would be good if I still flew over as planned.
“That meant I could get settled into the town and the club, and they’ve been great with me all the way through my comeback.
“Charlo (coach Gary Charlton) and (assistant) Jonty (Gorley) have been really good, encouraging me all the way by never rushing me.
“It was great to finally play against Halifax. I really enjoyed it and while I was a bit rusty, the knee felt fine, which was a relief.”
After a blank weekend, fifth-bottom Whitehaven continue their bid for crucial wins when they host second-bottom Oldham on Sunday and King added: “It’s a big game.
“We’re both to near the bottom of the table, and they will come desperate to close the gap on us, but it’s a big chance to get what would be a big win.”
WIDNES VIKINGS could have Paul Clough and Owen Farnworth back to prop up their bid for victory away to London Broncos on Sunday.
Experienced former St Helens, Bradford and Huddersfield player Clough, 33, was signed ahead of this season while Farnworth, 22, came through the Vikings development system.
Both have been out injured, but are in contention for the trip to Ealing Trailfinders, where Simon Finnigan’s side will seek a first win in three matches.
It follows a blank weekend, which after 17 games in all competitions, the coach says is much-needed.
“It’s been useful, because we’ve had a busy season so far, and we’ve had a lot of injuries, especially among our middles.
“That has led to players being on the pitch for more minutes than normal, and fair play to them for doing that.”
Widnes’s 32-10 home defeat by Featherstone last time out followed a one-point loss away to Halifax, but before that, Bradford and Sheffield were beaten.
Finnigan says cutting out errors is crucial if his team are to add to their five wins and a draw from 13 league matches.
“Against Featherstone, we didn’t hold the ball well enough,” he said. “We had a poor completion rate and dropped it early in the tackle count too many times.
“That meant that we weren’t taking any energy our of them, but they were taking it out of us, and that has an obvious knock-on effect later in the match.”
Widnes scored two tries in three minutes during the third quarter of the game, and Finnigan added: “I was pleased with that spell, but it was only a spell.
“We know we can produce from periods of matches, but we have to do it for longer, and cutting our mistakes will help. We need to fix that up.”
Widnes, who have agreed a one-year contract extension with experienced back Steve Tyrer, are also hoping centre Jake Spedding will be back for the Broncos clash.
OLDHAM are keeping close tabs on the fitness of hookers Gareth Owen and Dec Gregory as they prepare for Sunday’s key trip to Whitehaven.
An ankle injury kept Gregory out of the 54-22 home defeat by Bradford which marked former Leeds and Toulouse chief Brian McDermott’s first match as coaching consultant at the relegation-threatened Roughyeds.
Meanwhile, skipper Owen aggravated a back niggle, leaving recent signing Jamie Abram to play for longer than would otherwise have been the case.
Abram, the younger brother of fullback Dan, joined from Dewsbury to reinforce the squad after hooker Matty Wilkinson suffered a broken leg during pre-season.
Winger Tommy Brierley, centre Ben Heaton, scrum-half Dave Hewitt and props Phil Joy and Jack Spencer were already in the treatment room.
And winger Joe Hartley, props Liam Kirk and Tyler Dupree and second row Danny Bridge all needed attention during the Bradford clash.
McDermott’s arrival to work alongside assistant coach Brendan Sheridan following Matt Diskin’s departure as head coach was confirmed just six days before the game.
A blank weekend has provided an opportunity for him to work with the squad before the crucial nine-match run-in as Oldham, who were promoted in 2019 and are currently second-bottom of the table, with two teams to go down, aim to avoid a return to League 1.
McDermott, who praised the “unity” of the squad, saw positives in a spirited second-half performance after Bradford bossed the opening period to be 26-0 up at the break.
Winger Holcroft, backrow Martin Reilly, Dan Abram and Dupree scored tries.
“There’s a commitment to the fans and the club you’re playing with to have a dig for each other, and I think that was certainly true after half-time,” said McDermott.
“The challenge to my players now is to replicate that for a full game, not just in small parts.”
HALIFAX PANTHERS are having to play the waiting game as they seek a seventh successive win.
But coach Simon Grix is picking the positives of a blank weekend as he prepares for Sunday’s away clash with Sheffield.
The 14-4 home victory over Whitehaven last time out left his play-off chasers fourth in the table after 13 out of 22 scheduled regular-season matches.
Halifax have picked up nine league wins in all, and Grix, who has halfback Connor Robinson closing in on a return from a broken foot, reflected: “Normally when you are on a winning run, you don’t want a pause, and hopefully we can maintain the momentum we have created.
“But it does provide a chance to recharge the batteries, and get some bodies right again, because we’ve had a few battles of late, and some of the lads looked a little bit tired against Whitehaven.”
The Cumbrian visitors were restricted to two penalty-goals, and Grix explained: “I was obviously pleased not to concede a try, although I couldn’t really have complained if they’d scored one.
“It was a scruffy game with a lot of dropped balls by both sides, and it didn’t really flow too much.
“Whitehaven are a big, physical side who rolled forward, and at times, we played into their hands.
“But our goal-line defence was good, with plenty of urgency, and we scored two decent tries to get a solid win.
“It was important to get the two points, and we did that. We’re beyond the halfway stage now, and we’re in a really good spot.
“It’s been a bit of a rollercoaster season too far, and we have a poor spell and put ourselves under a bit of pressure. But we’ve done a good job to get back on track.
“We’re pretty happy with where we are, but there’s a long way still to go.”
The Sheffield game is at Wakefield’s Mobile Rocket Stadium because on ongoing pitch maintenance work at the Keepmoat Stadium, Doncaster, the Eagles’ home for the season.
BRADFORD BULLS skipper Steve Crossley reckons John Kear pulled off a masterstroke by bringing back Joe Keyes on loan from Hull KR.
Now the experienced prop is hoping the 25-year-old Ireland international will be allowed to continue bolstering the Bulls’ play-off bid.
Keyes, who was with Bradford between 2016-19 after joining from London Broncos, was signed after veteran playmaker Danny Brough was sidelined by a bicep injury which needed surgery.
Since then, Kear’s other first-choice halfback, ex-Leeds player Jordan Lilley, has been ruled out by a fractured rib.
With promising youngster Billy Jowitt also unavailable due to a broken arm, Keyes’ loan has been extended on a week-by-week basis.
The London-born player, who scored 24 tries in 60 Bradford games first time round, made the second appearance of his second spell as Oldham were beaten 54-22 last time out.
Partnered by winger or fullback Joe Brown, he proved highly influential and scored a hat-trick of tries while kicking nine goals.
Bradford, who are in third place, aim for a third successive win against Featherstone at Odsal on Sunday.
“Joe has been outstanding, in training and in the two games he’s played so far. It’s as if he’s never been away,” said Crossley.
“He’s not been gone too long, and a lot of his old teammates are still here, so he’s just been able to slot straight back in.
“With Broughy and Jordan out for a while, it’s been really good to have him, and hopefully he’ll be here for a bit yet.”
Crossley has also praised the recent impact of 22-year-old hooker Tom Doyle and prop Ebon Scurr, who is 21.
“They more or less broke through last year, and they’ve nailed down their spots now. We’ll see plenty more from them this year,” he said.
“Tom has become a good little general in the middle, even though he’s so young and while Ebon’s not fancy, he’s got that tunnel vision which means he drives and gets good yards.”
LONDON BRONCOS acting coach Tom Tsang is targeting successive wins as he plans for Sunday’s home clash with Widnes.
The former Coventry team chief is making the most of a fortnight’s gap between games as he works to provide stability following Danny Ward’s departure.
Tsang guided his charges to a 50-22 home win over York, their eighth in 13 league outings this year, six days after being promoted from assistant coach.
“It was a pretty hectic and testing week,” said the 36-year-old, who arrived at London as Academy head coach in 2019 and had been acting assistant coach since the departure of Jamie Langley to rugby union club Sale Sharks two months ago.
Ward, who had been in charge for three-and-a-half years after himself stepping up from assistant coach (to Andrew Henderson), is being linked with a possible switch to rugby union with Ealing Trailfinders, where the Broncos currently play home matches.
The ambitious West London club have their sights sets on a place in the Premiership after losing out to Saracens in this year’s two-legged play-off final.
Meanwhile Tsang, who was with Coventry for eight years, is focused on maintaining his own club’s play-off push as they seek a Super League return.
“Those first few days were mainly about keeping the squad together and focused,” he explained.
“I was proud of how the players responded and really pleased with the win and the nature of the win.”
Both skipper Will Lovell and on-loan Wigan back Chris Hankinson scored two tries each, while Josh Hodson, Abbas Miski, Jacob Jones and Oli Leyland, with the first of his career, all crossed.
“It was a strong performance, and it gives us a lot of confidence,” added Tsang. “It is a good starting point for moving forward for the rest of the season.
“This break between games has allowed us to take stock and refresh ourselves ahead of a really important sequence of fixtures.”
NEWCASTLE THUNDER coach Eamon O’Carroll reckons the 24-12 win over Dewsbury, a fourth victory in five outings, is another indicator that his side are slowly but surely getting to grips with the “tough” division which is the Championship.
But Steve McNamara’s former right-hand man at Catalans insists neither he nor his players will be resting on their laurels as they continue the second half of the season.
Next in line is a trip to Batley on Sunday, when Thunder will seek a sixth win in league game number 13.
“It’s been a massive learning curve, and that will carry on as we continue to evolve as a club and a team,” said the 34-year-old former Wigan, Hull, Widnes and Ireland prop, he was appointed in November and works alongside director of rugby Denis Betts.
“We’ve changed things as we have gone along, including our training regime, with a good number of players now staying overnight between sessions, and I think that has contributed to our recent improved results.
“It’s put us in a better position in terms of the table, and it’s boosted confidence, but we know there is a long way to go and some really big tests coming our way, because this is a really tough and competitive league.
“We were expecting it to be this way when we got the nod to move up (Newcastle were elevated from League 1 to replace Super League-bound Leigh through an application system), and it’s certainly a jump up in levels.
“We know there’s an extra degree of pressure to prove ourselves because we weren’t promoted through performances on the field, and also because having seen the input of the people behind the scenes to get our application approved, we now want to do out bit to match the work they have put in.
“I’ve got to give credit to the players, because they have worked really hard to get up to speed and have bought into what we are trying to do and the alterations we have made. Their attitude has been excellent.”
O’Carroll is optimistic that the 14-day break between matches will help players like the Chapelhow twins, Jay and Ted and Matty Wright get over knocks picked up during the Dewsbury clash.
BATLEY BULLDOGS coach Craig Lingard says he’s already looking forward to the return match with Dewsbury – at home on Sunday, September 12 – after a 38-10 victory in his first competitive Heavy Woollen derby at the helm.
Lingard, who figured in many such clashes during his ten years as a Batley player, saw his sixth-placed side score seven tries on Thursday, two of the from on-loan Leeds teenager Levi Edwards, to snap a losing run which had gone back three games.
“It felt good to win again, especially at the ground of our biggest rivals,” said the team chief, whose charges have won eight of 13 league matches and have a home game against Newcastle on Sunday.
“The limited crowd meant the atmosphere wasn’t what it’s usually like at these games, and we were a bit subdued early on, and perhaps didn’t show the level of energy a derby deserves.
“But when we found our feet, we were fine. I think we managed our possession pretty well, and we achieved what we wanted to by keeping them pinned back in a short pitch.
“I’m happy to get a win in my first derby, and we’re all looking forward to the rematch, which all being well, will be in front of a bigger crowd.”
DEWSBURY RAMS coach Lee Greenwood will be playing the waiting game as he aims to right the wrongs of his side’s 38-10 home derby defeat by Batley.
The Rams, who have slipped a place to fourth-bottom of the table, were scheduled to visit Toulouse on Saturday, but with France remaining on the UK government’s amber travel list, the match is cancelled.
Next up is a key home clash with basement side Swinton on Sunday week, August 1, with a trip to fellow survival chasers Whitehaven to follow seven days later.
Greenwood fielded on-loan Halifax back rower Connor Davies and prop Tom Garratt, who has signed a two-year deal to join Hull KR next season.
Dewsbury have received an undisclosed fee for the 6ft 5in 26-year-old former Huddersfield junior, who joined from Siddal ahead of the 2020 campaign.
FEATHERSTONE ROVERS coach James Webster reckons winger Gareth Gale could easily make a go of it in Super League.
His teammate, Ireland international forward Frankie Halton, has already agreed a two-year deal with Hull KR starting next season.
Gale, who has grabbed 20 tries in league games this year, has been watched by a string of top-flight clubs.
And Webster can understand the interest in the locally-born 26-year-old, whose six tries in the 68-12 home win against Newcastle equalled the Rovers record.
Former Featherstone Lions player Gale, signed last year, is in his second spell at the club, having cut short his stay in 2018 due to commitments away from Rugby League.
“He’s been a great find for us, a good local product. There will have been clubs taking a good look at him and I an see why,” said Webster.
“He’s a lovely lad who works really hard at his game, and he has talent and plenty of potential still.
“I suppose at 28, he’s relatively old for starting a career in the full-time game, and he would have to leave a good job to go down that road.
“He could certainly handle Super League in terms of physicality and while he would need to pick up a few things, it’s nothing a full-time pre-season wouldn’t solve.”
Promotion-chasing Rovers, who have twelve wins from twelve league games, visit Bradford on Sunday.
YORK CITY KNIGHTS have landed Hull KR halfback or fullback Mikey Lewis for a second loan spell this season.
The 20-year-old scored three tries in four appearances in his first – a double in the 35-14 win at Widnes and a spectacular length-of-the-field effort in the 36-22 home 1895 Cup semi-final victory over Swinton.
Lewis, who has made five appearances for Rovers this year, said: “I am very excited to return to the club. I really enjoyed the last time I was here.”
York coach James Ford added: “I’m absolutely delighted to be able to bring Mikey back. I really enjoyed working with him previously and am excited to do so again.
“He is a strong player who performs with a high degree of confidence and tenacity. I’m confident he will have a positive impact on our team and squad.”
York host Swinton on Sunday with Ford desperate to snap a losing league sequence which goes back six matches to the 37-18 away loss against Bradford on May 30.
Halifax, Batley, Whitehaven, Newcastle and London Broncos have also defeated the Knights.
Ford said of the 50-20 defeat at London: “We made too many simple individual errors at the start of the game, we missed one-on-one tackles that led to tries, we kicked the ball fairly poorly, then when we had possession and territory, we didn’t look slick enough with the ball to post enough points.”
TOULOUSE OLYMPIQUE have tempted Romain Navarrete back to France from second-tier rivals London Broncos.
The Tricolores international and former Catalans prop moved to the capital during the closed-season after four years at Wigan.
Now the 27-year-old, who began his career in the French domestic league with Pia, then Limoux, will bolster ambitious Toulouse’s bid for promotion to Super League.
Navarrete, who also played in Super League for Wakefield on loan from Wigan, has made seven appearances for France and is in the initial squad for this year’s World Cup.
After the cancellation of Saturday’s home clash with Dewsbury with France remaining on the UK government’s amber travel list, league leaders Toulouse’s next match is the eagerly-awaited top-two clash at Featherstone on Sunday week, August 1.
SHEFFIELD EAGLES have loaned 21-year-old second rowers Chris Ball and Jordan Bull to League 1 sides London Skolars and Doncaster respectively.
The pair, who can also play in the centres, were signed in October but have had limited opportunities with the Eagles, and coach Mark Aston is keen for them to get game time.
Ball is a London Broncos Academy product while Bull is a former England Students international who is in his second spell at Sheffield after a stint at Castleford.
Olly Davies and Joel Farrell filled the second row berths when Aston’s side won 30-22 at Swinton last time out and face Halifax on Sunday.
That game takes place at Wakefield because of ongoing pitch maintenance work at the Keepmoat Stadium, Doncaster, the Eagles’ home for this season.
SWINTON LIONS have made Dougie Owen their first head of youth development.
The appointment follows the club’s recent RFL accreditation as an official England Talent Pathway partner.
Owen worked in Wigan’s development system for five years before becoming an assistant coach at Swinton in 2018.
For the last two years, he has focused on strength and conditioning, a role he has previously held with the England Community Lions team.
Owen, who has also worked within the RFL coaching department, said: “This is not only a fantastic opportunity for me to get to work with talented players and coaches in the local area, but also an honour to be offered the position with a club of Swinton Lions’ standing.
“I will do everything possible to match the drive and determination of the club to build something special. I’d like to thank the board for their confidence in me, and (head coach) Stuart Littler for his continual support.”
Littler’s charges are next in action away to York on Sunday.
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