Dewsbury Rams coach Lee Greenwood says being able to hold training sessions during a 17-day gap between games is a boost ahead of a couple of key matches.
The cancellation of the Rams’ trip to Toulouse, with France remaining on the UK government’s amber travel list, means Greenwood and his players have extra time to focus on this Sunday’s home meeting with Swinton.
That’s followed by a visit to Whitehaven, who like Dewsbury and Swinton, are fighting to climb away from the second-tier danger zone.
Dewsbury suffered a disappointing 38-10 derby defeat by visitors Batley in their last match, with Greenwood bemoaning the “awful defence” which allowed their neighbours to score five tries without reply after centre Will Oakes went over to level the clash at 10-10.
“It was pretty grim,” he added. “While we’ve had the odd blip, there’s been nothing as long-lasting as that. We could hardly have chosen a worse time to lose our way than in a home derby, and it wasn’t good.
“You don’t want to lose any game, but obviously not one which has so much meaning for the supporters, and in some ways it’s a frustration that we have to wait to try and put things right.
“But having said that, we knew there was a high possibility of the Toulouse match not taking place, and being able to stage some proper training sessions with some coaching has been a positive from the situation.
“It seems a while since we’ve done that, because we’ve had injuries and protocols to follow.
“It’s often been a case of doing a head count to make sure we have 17 players available, and in some ways, I think the lapses against Batley were a culmination of that lack of structure.”
Greenwood says Swinton will provide a tough test despite being bottom of the table.
“They have some good players, and a lot of their defeats have been down to fine margins, so we’ll have our work cut out,” he added.
NEWCASTLE THUNDER coach Eamon O’Carroll believes the inclusion of Thunder duo Jake Anderson and Evan Lawther in the Lancashire squad for the Academy Origin clash with Yorkshire next month is another sign that the ambitious club are building on firm foundations.
The Kingston Park outfit, who were elevated from League 1 ahead of this season through an application process, are targeting a Super League berth in the long term, but want to ensure they have a solid infrastructure in place.
While Newcastle are running a festival involving 600 players from under eight to under 16 level on Sunday, the club’s director of rugby Denis Betts recently spoke of his vision of building a squad made up mainly of players from or based in the North East.
“It’s no good having a team of blokes who are dropped in, play, then leave for Yorkshire, Lancashire or wherever,” he said. “We want Thunder to be a part of the area.”
Newcastle run an elite Academy, recently gaining a new licence for the 2022-27 period, and have produced a string of players who have made the first team, including England Under 19 front rower Anderson, who had featured in three previous three games going into the visit to Batley (Thunder host Whitehaven on Sunday).
Centre Lawther is also pushing for inclusion, with both players products of Gateshead Storm, one of a number of thriving community clubs in the area.
“The North East is a really fertile place for Rugby League, and encouraging the growth of the game is a massive part of the club’s ethos,” explained O’Carroll, who has worked hard to build contacts in the region since his appointment in December of last year.
“I’ve been really impressed by the work being put in by coaches and volunteers and numbers who are playing.
“I went to watch the North East Cup final between Cramlington Rockets and Wallsend Eagles, which was played at our ground earlier this month, and that reinforced just how exciting the potential is.”
Thunder’s Academy manager Michael Heap will be part of the Lancashire coaching team led by Shane Eccles for the Academy Origin clash, which takes place at Westwood Hall in Leeds on Wednesday week, August 4 and will be streamed on OurLeague from 11am.
HALIFAX PANTHERS coach Simon Grix says he will fine-tune rather than make major changes as he bids to keep his side’s play-off charge on track.
The Panthers went into their clash with Sheffield on the back on six straight wins, and have an eagerly-anticipated home derby against Bradford on Sunday.
Halifax will be out for revenge after a 27-26 defeat by the Bulls back in April, when Jordan Lilley’s late field-goal proved decisive.
“We’ve got a few strings we haven’t used yet. We have got to the stage now that we can predict what our opponents might do,” said Grix.
“We won’t go away from what’s been successful, but we might tweak things around as well.”
The Shay chief has halfback Connor Robinson, centre or winger Nick Rawsthorne and forward Ed Barber pushing for a return following injuries.
Halifax expect to have on-loan hooker Amir Bourouh back from Wigan after he was recalled by the Super League club after a spate of injuries.
The 20-year-old Wigan development product who was brought up in Halifax and played for Siddal, featured in the recent 14-12 win at Huddersfield.
Bourouh made his Warriors debut in the 30-26 win at Salford in April 2019 and played three further times for them last year.
He joined Halifax on a season-long loan in January, with Grix explaining: “Amir is a local product on his way up in the game.
“Circumstances dictate he needs somewhere to continue his development as he attempts to build on the positive performances he had for Wigan in 2020.”
Wigan assistant coach Matt Peet said: “We feel this is the perfect opportunity for Amir to develop his game and allow us to monitor his performances.
“Halifax are a very professional organisation with a smart coach in Simon Grix. Amir is from Halifax and is excited to represent his local club.”
Wigan will retain a recall option.
SWINTON LIONS have extended their agreement to train at the AJ Bell Stadium until the end of 2023.
While the Lions play home matches at third-tier rugby union club Sale FC’s Heywood Road stadium, and in April, announced an extension of that deal until the end of 2023, training takes place seven miles up the M60.
Both Salford and Sale Sharks play at the AJ Bell, although there are fears the Rugby League club could be forced out if the Sharks, who are an offshoot of Sale FC and play in union’s Premiership top flight, succeed in a bid to buy the venue, which is currently owned by City of Salford Community Stadium (CosCos), a joint venture between Salford City Council and property company Peel Holdings.
Swinton chief executive Steve Wild explained: “We recently set up our own club gym and treatment facility at the AJ Bell, but while that agreement currently runs until the end of 2023, our separate arrangement regarding the outside training pitches was due to expire at the end of this season.
“We felt it important to bring both elements into line and provide some security for the club, and with the extension of the Heywood Road agreement also in place, we have some certainty moving forward.
“Overall our training facilities are second to none and are easily of Super League standard.
“Not only do we have access to grass and synthetic outdoor pitches, but we now have a dedicated club gym for our own private use, as well as a fully-kitted-out treatment room together with extra office space.
“Also, now that Covid restrictions are hopefully easing, it’s important to point out that our facilities at the AJ Bell Stadium will also be made available to our Manchester Lions junior teams and our Lionesses, plus our community club partners such as Folly Lane.”
Swinton, who are battling relegation, have re-signed Huddersfield and Ireland prop Ronan Michael on loan, this time for the remainder of the season, and taken former London Skolars utility back Ben Steele on trial.
Former Salford Academy player Steele has recently returned from a spell in Australia.
SHEFFIELD EAGLES have signed a serving paratrooper who is also a Great Britain bobsleigh international.
Welsh winger Olly Butterworth, who played rugby union in the development system of leading provincial side Scarlets as well as for Cardiff Metropolitan University, has signed a contract until the end of the season.
The 23-year-old is a private in the 2nd Battalion of the Parachute Regiment.
Last week he competed for the Infantry team in the Army Rugby League’s Lawson Cup competition.
Having been introduced to bobsleigh by the military, Butterworth joined the GB squad in 2019 and has taken part in the World Cup, World Championships and Europa Cup.
“I am very happy to be on board (at Sheffield),” he said. “The plan was to move back to rugby after spending a few years with the GB bobsleigh team.
“For me, rugby has always been a part of my life but when I joined the Army I had a chance to take up bobsleigh.
“I competed for Great Britain for two seasons but I wanted to make the move back to rugby, as I’m coming into my prime physically so it’s perfect for me.
“It’s great to be aided by the likes of (Sheffield coaches) Mark Aston and Keith Senior too.
“I have spoken in-depth with Mark about wanting to develop as a player and to find out where I belong. Hopefully I’ll be able to slide into that teamsheet when the time is right.”
Aston, whose side host York on Sunday, said: “It’s great to have Olly on board. He’s a character and with a rich CV outside of Rugby League with his career in the Armed Forces and his time with the GB Bobsleigh team.
“He’s an athlete, he certainly looks after himself and it’s our job now as coaches to try and develop him into a Rugby League player and to understand the game.
“With his height and build along with his pace and power, if we can do that we could have a real asset on our hands.”
FEATHERSTONE ROVERS coach James Webster has praised his second-in-command Paul March after he guided Rovers to 1895 Cup glory at Wembley.
The Australian was among a number of club personnel forced to miss the big trip to Wembley because of the Covid issues which at one stage put the match against York in doubt.
Former Wakefield and Huddersfield halfback March, 42, has had spells as player-coach of York, Hunslet and Keighley as well as hometown community club Dewsbury Celtic.
Webster, whose side have a plum home clash with Toulouse on Sunday, said: “Paul works for the club’s foundation, and through that does a great job within the community, and he’s invaluable for me as my assistant as well.
“He has a lot of experience of coaching, and it was great to see him come out of the shadows a little bit and do such a good job of leading the team in difficult circumstances.”
Rovers, meanwhile, are expanding their partnership with neighbouring community club Featherstone Lions, from whom they signed current players Gareth Gale and Josh Hardcastle.
It will include joint pre-season training sessions, recruitment into the Lions junior systems through Rovers Foundation activities and coach education workshops for junior coaches.
There will also be opportunities for Lions juniors to take part in matchday activities at the Millennium Stadium.
The two clubs will also collaborate to develop the women’s game in the town, Rovers will feature on the Lions shirt as sponsors while all registered primary-age children at the Lions will be eligible for a free Rovers season-ticket.
Rovers chairman Mark Campbell said: “Both clubs have benefited from a good, long-standing relationship but I’ve always felt we should be doing more as a club.
“We’re really pleased that both clubs are continuing to work together and this agreement sees that work go to another level.”
BRADFORD BULLS could be playing home matches on a below-minimum-width Odsal pitch until the end of the season.
The RFL, who own the stadium where stock car racing also takes place, had hoped the widening of the surface would have been completed ahead of the clash with Featherstone, which took place on Sunday.
But with contractors being engaged on other projects – many football clubs had already planned closed-season pitch maintenance – the governing body have been unable to find anyone able to carry out the work.
In order to facilitate May’s return of the Bulls to their historic home after a spell ground sharing at Dewsbury, the RFL gave special dispensation for games to take place on a pitch measuring 96 metres by 52 metres (the minimum regulation size is 88 by 55).
That dispensation has now been extended twice, most recently for a month, covering five Championship matches so far, and according to League Express sources, it will probably be extended until the end of the season.
The Bulls, who vacated Odsal in 2019, citing rising maintenance costs, returned after signing an 18-month tenancy agreement with the RFL, who paid an undisclosed sum to purchase the stadium from the club in 2012.
Bradford, who with first-choice halfbacks Danny Brough and Jordan Lilley still out inured, have extended the loan of Hull KR halfback Joe Keyes, visit Halifax on Sunday.
BATLEY BULLDOGS coach Craig Lingard reckons Leeds have got a jewel in Levi Edwards.
The 17-year-old second rower or centre is on loan to his hometown club, scoring two tries in the recent 38-10 derby win at Dewsbury.
Lingard, whose side visit Widnes on Sunday, is hoping to hold onto Edwards for a while longer.
“I know he is highly thought of at Leeds, and I can see why,” said Lingard of the ex-Siddal player, who came through the Rhinos Scholarship programme and was fast-tracked into the first-team squad this year.
“It’s not just his performances here – he did well against Toulouse too – but the way he is in training, in terms of work rate and how he conducts himself.
“He’s a local lad who played for Batley Boys before moving to Siddal, and our fans took to him immediately.
“Leeds may want him back, and with the way things are with Covid, Levi might be needed for the first team there. Were that to happen, I’m sure he could handle it.
“But hopefully, he will be available to us, and I think Leeds believe he’s better off gaining experience in the Championship than playing Academy rugby.”
WIDNES VIKINGS forward Kenny Baker is looking forward to making his 100th professional appearance on home territory in front of plenty of Vikings fans.
The 29-year-old was set to reach the milestone at London Broncos, but the match was cancelled because of Covid issues in the home camp.
Now he has an extra spring in his step as he prepares for Sunday’s visit of Batley, the club’s first outing since restrictions on the number of spectators were eased.
“All the lads love playing in front of the Widnes fans,” said Baker, who was a late recruit to the senior ranks, joining North Wales Crusaders in 2016 after stalwart service at community club Ince Rose Bridge.
“They always give us a big lift, and to make my 100th appearance in front of them will be special. Playing that many games in any sport is massive, but to do it in such a physical game as Rugby League is great.”
Wigan-based Baker, a member of the England Lions team to tour South Africa in 2011, made 79 appearances for North Wales before joining Widnes ahead of the 2020 season, during which he featured six times.
LONDON BRONCOS coach Tom Tsang is hoping Covid issues at the club clear up in time for Sunday’s visit to Oldham.
With more than seven players unavailable for the home clash against Widnes, and no available slot for a rearrangement, the match was cancelled.
That left Tsang playing the waiting game as he bids to build on the 50-20 home win over York in the first match following Danny Ward’s departure.
The play-off hopefuls are under extra pressure to pick up points following the deduction of two points for the failure to fulfil the away fixture at Toulouse in April.
The Broncos also agreed to make a financial contribution in respect of the expenses the French club incurred as a result of the cancellation.
Toulouse were awarded a 24-0 win under the RFL’s operational rules and Covid protocols and the Broncos were charged with off-field misconduct.
They had argued that with travel restrictions in place, they should not have been expected to visit France.
WHITEHAVEN prop Ryan King is desperate this year’s World Cup goes ahead – even without Australia or New Zealand.
The 24-year-old Australian who recently made his debut for the Cumbrian club after nine months out with a knee ligament injury which needed surgery, is targeting a place in the Italy squad and aiming to add to his three caps.
“I played in our qualifiers against Spain and Ireland, and it would be great to be involved in the tournament,” said King, who was in the development systems of Sydney Roosters and Cronulla Sharks.
“Being in this country ahead of the tournament was in my thinking about coming here, and especially after the length of time I’ve been out, it would be great to carry on playing after the end of the Championship season.
“I’m not there yet, and I realise I have a lot to do to prove my worth for a place, but it’s a great incentive.”
Whitehaven visit Newcastle on Sunday.
YORK CITY KNIGHTS coach James Ford says he’s unaware of any move by divisional rivals Bradford Bulls for experienced second row Sam Scott.
The 31-year-old started his second spell at the club in 2018, and has also played for Sheffield and Batley.
Rumours have emerged suggesting Scott, who was in the Knights’ Wembley line-up for the 1895 Cup final clash with Featherstone, is a Bulls target for 2022.
Ford told local newspaper The Press: “Sam is a good player and is a handful with how he carries the ball.
“Is Sam going to get some interest from other clubs? Of course, he is. Am I aware of if he has agreed a deal with another club or not? No, I’m not.
“I’ve known Sam a long time, I played with him and I’ve coached him for a number of years and he’s a straight shooter.
“If he is leaving, I’m pretty sure that he will come and tell me. And if he does go, then I want him to finish the season by seeing the best version of Sam Scott.
“I’m sure the supporters do. I’m sure that Sam will want that as well because he’s a proud guy.”
York have an away game against Sheffield on Sunday.
OLDHAM coaching consultant Brian McDermott was handed hopeful news on the fitness front ahead of his second match since joining the Roughyeds’ survival bid.
Hooker Declan Gregory (ankle), halfback Dave Hewitt (ribs), winger Tommy Brierley (back) and centre John Hutchings (calf) were responding well to treatment before the crunch visit to Whitehaven, which is followed by Sunday’s Bower Field meeting with London Broncos.
All four missed McDermott’s first match, the 54-22 home defeat by Bradford.
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