Batley Bulldogs coach Craig Lingard has one eye on next season as he tries to keep his side’s play-off bid on the boil this time around.
The former Bulldogs fullback says agreeing contracts for 2022 with key players James Brown, Luke Hooley, Ben White, Tom Gilmore, Alistair Leak, Ben Kaye, Toby Everett, Dane Manning and Lucas Walshaw is a big development.
Captain and loose-forward Brown has been with Batley since moving from Swinton in 2015.
Fullback Hooley and stand-off White joined from Wakefield and Barrow respectively ahead of last season.
Scrum-half Gilmore moved from Halifax in November after initially agreeing a contact with Ottawa Aces before the Canadian club pulled out of playing in League 1.
Ex-Egremont Rangers man Leak has been at Batley since 2013, having moved from Cumbria to study in West Yorkshire, fellow hooker Kaye, previously at Halifax, joined ahead of this season, while prop Everett moved from Dewsbury in 2019.
Manning started his second spell with the club after joining from Halifax in 2017 while fellow second row Walshaw arrived from Dewsbury last year.
“We’ve got the nucleus of next season’s team in place nice and early, and that’s pleasing for a number of reasons,” said Lingard, who saw Leak score a hat-trick of tries in the recent 38-6 win at Swinton.
“They’re all good players, and good players attract interest from other clubs, so we were keen to get them secured.
“This is an important time of the current season, and having uncertainty over what’s happening next year can be a bit disruptive.
“Getting players sorted early provides a sign to others that the club means business and hopefully, we can get more signed up soon.
“With all the talk of changes in the competition structure for 2023, next year is a big one for all clubs, and we don’t want to get left behind.”
Having hosted Sheffield, Batley have a blank weekend after the cancellation of their away game against Toulouse, and are at home to Whitehaven on Sunday week.
Coping with the Covid outbreak which forced the call-off of NEWCASTLE THUNDER‘s home clash with London Broncos is another step on the coaching learning curve says Thunder team chief Eamon O’Carroll.
The North-East club hope to start training again on Wednesday ahead of their scheduled trip to Dewsbury on Sunday.
That’s followed by an eve-of-Magic Weekend clash with York at Kingston Park on Friday, September 3, a trip to Oldham and a home meeting with current leaders Toulouse as ambitious Newcastle close their first second-tier campaign since 2009, when they were known as Gateshead Thunder.
“The postponement against London was both frustrating and disappointing,” says O’Carroll, who took the reins on November, shortly before the club gained elevation to the Championship in place of Super League-bound Leigh through a bidding process.
“Like most clubs, we have a plan in place for an outbreak, and hoped to be able to minimise the effects and tried our best to do that, but too many people were impacted, and we didn’t really have any other option but to seek a postponement.”
O’Carroll, whose side have suffered four successive defeats after winning five of their previous twelve league games, added: “Hopefully we can get going again on Wednesday, and get the Dewsbury game on, but it could be that we are still missing some players, so we will wait and see how things develop.
“Given the circumstances of the season and the number of clubs who have been affected by Covid, we’ve probably been fortunate to go so long without any issues.
“It would have been great to get all the way through the season, but we are where we are, and we’re working our way through it.
“Learning to deal with things like this is another step towards establishing ourselves as a solid Championship club and adds to my own experience and knowledge as a coach.”
OLDHAM chairman Chris Hamilton is keeping tight-lipped on reports that Widnes will sign prop Tyler Dupree and winger Ryan Ince.
As the Roughyeds desperately battle to avoid relegation – they have brought in Featherstone halfback Harvey Spence on loan to cover for injuries – rival clubs are circling, with hooker Jamie Abram said to be attracting plenty of interest.
“At this time of the season, and with the situation we are in, speculation over players is the nature of the beast,” Hamilton told League Express.
“It doesn’t help, but there’s not much we can do about it, and as a club, it’s our policy not to comment on individuals until anything concrete happens, be it staying or leaving.”
Dupree, 21, came through the Leeds development system and gained experience during temporary spells at Featherstone, York and Batley.
A product of leading Halifax community club Siddal, he joined Oldham ahead of the current campaign, and has produced a string of powerful performances.
Dupree went into the home clash with Toulouse having scored tries in six successive outings, taking his season’s haul to nine.
Ince, 25, started his career at hometown club Widnes before a move to Leigh and joined Oldham in November after two loan appearances for them in 2020.
Abram, 20 is the younger brother of Oldham fullback Dan, with the pair the sons of former favourite Darren, who played for the club in the first two seasons of Super League in 1996 and 1997.
Jamie spent time in the development systems of Salford and Warrington before a switch to Dewsbury, and signed for Oldham in April.
On-loan centre Lloyd Roby has been recalled by parent club Widnes after two appearances while experienced prop Liam Kirk faces a spell on the sidelines after a series of head knocks.
Oldham hope another front rower, Jack Spencer, will be available before the end of the season after scans revealed the Hip/back problem which has kept him out since May will not require surgery.
The 30-year-old former Salford, Halifax and Barrow player will instead have a number of cortisone injections.
DEWSBURY RAMS coach Lee Greenwood hailed his fresh halfback combination of Alex Smith and Riley Dean after the 23-22 win over Widnes which put extra distance between the Rams and the relegation zone.
Ex-England Universities representative player Smith, 24, who played for Salford Reserves in 2020, was signed in March despite picking up an injury while on trial at the Tetley’s Stadium.
Dean, 19, a product of leading community club Siddal, where Greenwood had a spell at the helm, joined on loan from Warrington after the Super League club recalled him from a stint at York.
Seasoned duo Paul Sykes, the former Bradford, London Broncos, Wakefield and Featherstone player who recently turned 40, and Ireland international and ex-Halifax, Wakefield, Featherstone, Castleford and Newcastle man Liam Finn, 37, are both at the club.
But Finn is currently recovering from a broken thumb while Greenwood said of Sykes: “He has put his body on the line in quite a few games this season with the way he plays, so I thought I would give the young lads a chance.
“I have said for most of the season that Finn and Sykes won’t be able to go on forever. I think there were some promising signs with the two young halves playing. Dean was a calming influence, and for him to slot in after just a few sessions with us was great.”
In a game in which Dean’s 39th-minute field-goal proved decisive, Greenwood fielded loan signing Dale Ferguson, but Featherstone have recalled both the 33-year-old Scotland international backrow and prop Jimmy Beckett, who also faced Widnes.
“Dale was influential, especially as we had quite a young team out, and I think they did themselves proud,” added the team chief, whose side host Newcastle on Sunday having visited Featherstone.
“The game was similar to a few others we have played this season where we have got ourselves into a good position before letting the opposition get back into it. It was nice to be on the right side of the result for once.”
SHEFFIELD EAGLES halfback Harry Tyson-Wilson is hoping for further opportunities to cement a contract extension after helping the Eagles beat visitors Oldham in their first match in three weeks after a Covid outbreak at the club.
Like his elder brother, 26-year-old prop Bobby, Harry, 24, was signed by Sheffield coach Mark Aston ahead of the current campaign to provide competition for Izaac Farrell and the experienced Anthony Thackeray.
The Tyson-Wilsons are sons of former Hull player Rob Wilson, and both came through the Black and Whites Academy.
After a spell in Australia, Harry played for Doncaster, Hunslet and York before a stint in the amateur game with West Hull.
He returned from a short loan spell back at Doncaster to make a second Eagles appearance, playing alongside makeshift stand-off Aaron Brown, who is normally a loose-forward.
Harry’s late field-goal provided a welcome seven-point cushion, and he explained: “I was very happy to be back out there.
“It was good to get a game as I’ve been in and out of the team and to get the win in the end certainly helps too.
“I want to be in the team, trying to impress in every game that I play and get a contract for next year.”
Harry, who like Bobby, made one Super League appearance for Hull, revelled in the main playmaker role.
“It gave me a bit more responsibility, especially with the kicking as I think I did about 90 per cent of it,” he explained.
“It is something that I like to do so I didn’t mind at all. I’m confident in myself and my game in general didn’t change with organising the team.
“As a partnership, myself and Aaron were a bit scratchy. But considering we hadn’t played together in the halves before, I think we went okay.”
Having visited Batley, Sheffield go to London Broncos on Sunday.
WIDNES VIKINGS coach Simon Finnigan is delighted key player Kenny Baker will be staying in his “happy place” next season.
The hardworking and highly-popular forward has waived a contract clause allowing him to leave to pursue a full-time deal elsewhere and has committed to the club for what looks set to be a crucial 2022 campaign amid the game’s likely restructure.
The 29-year-old signed from North Wales Crusaders in 2020 and recently made his 100th career appearance at senior level, having previously provided loyal service to community club Ince Rose Bridge.
His retention provides another squad building block for the former Super League club, who had already agreed extensions with fullback Jack Owens (to 2024), stand-off Danny Craven (2023) and centre Steve Tyrer (2021).
Widnes have also announced the signing of Newcastle loose-forward and former player Sam Wilde on a two-year deal to start next season and are poised to land two Oldham players – prop Tyler Dupree and winger Ryan Ince, another old boy.
Baker, hailed for his influence on the Vikings’ younger players, went into the home clash with Halifax having scored four tries in 17 outings this year, after chalking up three in six last season.
“Kenny has been immense,” said Finnigan, whose side head to Whitehaven on Sunday. “There’s not been a game where he hasn’t come off the field exhausted, because he gives it his all every week.
“It’s a big statement for the club to keep him. He’s found a place he’s really happy and I’m really happy he’ll be here next year.
“It’s not a new signing, but it feels like one because he’s such influential player for us.”
Baker said: “It’s an honour to play for this club, so the decision was a no-brainer. I have enjoyed myself from day one.
“I hope we can string a good run of results together these last rounds to go into next year with some form and confidence.”
FEATHERSTONE ROVERS coach James Webster says seasoned campaigner Craig Hall will be influential both this year and beyond.
The versatile 33-year-old, who recently signed a contract extension to 2023 with the Super League hopefuls, was one of two Rovers players to reach milestones during the 44-14 home win over York.
Halfback Dane Chisholm chalked up his 100th career appearance (38 for Featherstone, who signed him in 2019, 43 for Bradford, seven for Sheffield, seven for Hull KR, one for Melbourne Storm and four for France).
Meanwhile Hall’s four-try haul took him past the 200 mark (his 203 are made up of 23 for Featherstone, who signed him ahead of last season, 69 for Hull KR, 21 for Leigh, 25 for Toronto, 17 for Wakefield, 47 for Hull and one for Widnes).
With Wakefield loanee Alex Walker at fullback, Webster played Hall on the wing as his side made it 15 wins from 16 league games ahead of the home clash with Dewsbury.
“Craig can play various positions, which is fantastic for us,” he pointed out. “He is a quality player and we look forward to him finishing the campaign off strongly.”
Hall, who also kicked six goals against York to take his seasonal tally to 62, plus one field-goal, said: “You don’t do it for records or personal achievements, it was just good to get the win.
“We were a bit scratchy in the first half but we got through it in the second. It was great to come from behind against a great team.”
On his switch to the wing, he added: “I am comfortable in a number of positions and wherever the coach decides to play me, I will do my best.
“I am really enjoying it here. I have been doing some community stuff which I like, so I am having a good time on and off the pitch.
“I missed the Widnes game (in mid-July) through isolation, but touch wood, there will be no injuries that stop me in the next two years.”
Featherstone visit Oldham on Sunday.
HALIFAX are focused on fine details as they approach the business end of the season, says coach Simon Grix.
The play-off chasers went into their game at Widnes on the back of nine successive wins and having had a blank weekend because of the cancellation of their scheduled clash at leaders Toulouse.
And Grix, whose side host bottom-placed Swinton on Sunday, believes the break has been of benefit.
“I think the boys will have enjoyed a couple of days away from the club and being able to avoid the physical contact of a match,” he explained.
“Having said that, we put them through a couple of tough training sessions to make sure they earned that time away!
“Near the top of the table, detail is the difference between teams, and the likes of Toulouse and Featherstone are very good on it.
“That’s also an area we’ve been working on, and we want to keep the momentum going over the next four rounds of matches.”
Halifax had tight games against Bradford and Newcastle before the French call-off, and Grix continued: “We got the wins and a bit of practice at grinding them out, and it puts us in good stead for whenever we get a little bit under the pump.
“We know what the plan is in those situations, we know how to tick those matches off, and it does make you feel a little bit better.
WHITEHAVEN coach Gary Charlton says it’s one game at a time as his side stake a late claim for the play-offs.
The recent 32-18 success against London Broncos was a fourth consecutive win for the Cumbrians, who having visited York, host Widnes on Sunday seeking a sixth straight home victory.
York, Swinton, Oldham and Dewsbury were all seen off at the LEL Arena prior to the visit of the Broncos.
“In the first half, we were short of where we wanted to be,” said Charlton, whose side trailed 18-12 at the break.
“But in the second half, we played well, and were outstanding defensively. We got two points against a full-time outfit so we were pleased.”
After the Widnes clash, Whitehaven face Batley away, Halifax at home and Bradford away, and Charlton continued: “They are all tough games against handy teams.
“But we are looking forward to them, and we’ll just take each as it comes and go out there trying to do out best.”
Whitehaven’s former Warrington Academy forward Ellis Gillam is to join his hometown club Barrow next season.
BRADFORD BULLS coach John Kear says his former club Sheffield’s reluctance to rearrange the Covid-affected clash between the sides is “very disappointing”.
The match should have taken place at Odsal on August 8, but was the second of two Eagles games postponed due to an outbreak at the South Yorkshire club.
Sheffield coach Mark Aston, a player when Kear was at the helm, believes having midweek as well as weekend matches in the current circumstances is “crazy”.
Kear responded: “It’s very disappointing. I know they’re citing player welfare and the fact they’re part-time, which means travelling after work, but we’re 30 miles up the road.
“I’d understand them being against a midweek game if it was at Whitehaven or London, but it’s not.”
Talking to the Telegraph and Argus, Kear continued: “We feel we’ve got a duty to the competition to play as many games as we can, and also to our supporters, who’ve paid good money for season-tickets.
“Now we’re having to rely on the RFL to help us out in this situation.”
Having hosted Swinton, Bradford visit York on Sunday.
YORK CITY KNIGHTS have signed Warrington backrow Jacob Gannon on loan, but fellow teenager, halfback Corey Hall, has been recalled by Leeds.
Gannon’s brother Morgan is at Leeds while the pair’s father is former Halifax, Huddersfield, Hull KR and Widnes prop Jim.
While Jacob has yet to make his first-team debut for Warrington, he has impressed at development level.
He was included in the England Academy squad scheduled to tour Australia and New Zealand last year before Covid forced a call-off.
York coach James Ford said: “Jacob is a young middle with good ball skills and a very good approach to developing his game.”
Gannon said: “I’m really excited to have the opportunity to play at York and to gain valuable experience in the Championship.”
York, who host Bradford on Sunday, also have Wigan back row James McDonnell and Leeds hooker or halfback Corey Johnson on loan.
LONDON BRONCOS fell way below the standard expected in losing at Whitehaven, admits captain Will Lovell.
The 32-18 defeat was a big setback for the capital club, whose hopes of atoning for it by winning at Newcastle were thwarted by the postponement of the Kingston Park clash due to Covid issues at the North-East club.
The loss in Cumbria left London occupying the sixth and final play-off place and allowed Whitehaven, who were seventh ahead of their visit to York, to close the gap between the pair.
London were 18-6 up at one stage thanks to tries by Abbas Miski, Josh Hodson and Rhys Curran and three conversions from on-loan Wigan centre Chris Hankinson.
But Whitehaven pulled a try back five minutes before the break and added three more in the second half.
“We were embarrassed as a team and hurting after that loss,” said centre Lovell.
“In the first half, we were in a position to kick on and dominate, but we allowed Whitehaven to get back in the game by making individual errors.
“We want to apologise to our fans who made the long trip. The performance did not match the standards London Broncos expect and needs to change drastically for us to be able to challenge at the top end of the table come the end of the season.”
London host Sheffield on Sunday.
SWINTON LIONS interim coach Allan Coleman has called on his team to produce 80-minute performances for the remainder of the campaign.
Coleman was concerned at the way the competitive approach shown early on at home to Batley collapsed, with the outcome a 38-6 defeat, the first under his command following a win over Dewsbury and draw against Oldham.
Having visited Bradford in the follow-up to the Batley fixture, the bottom-placed Lions head to Halifax on Sunday.
“We have four games to go and we know the odds are against us surviving in the division, but we have to give everything every game, and if we do go down, make sure we go down fighting,” he said.
“Having started well against Batley and taken the lead, I thought we folded when they started to get back into it, and that’s not good enough.”
TOULOUSE OLYMPIQUE have created what is effectively a third team by partnering with nearby club Gratentour, who will play in France’s Elite 2 division.
Ambitious Olympique’s existing Reserves, known as the Broncos, are in Elite 1,
Toulouse president Remi Dufour explained: “We realised that the passage between the junior level and Elite 1 was brutal for some young players, who could be discouraged and turned towards other sports.
“The goal is therefore to offer these players an alternative with the Elite 2, which would allow them to become more experienced at the senior level and have more time to prepare to perform in Elite 1.”
Toulouse’s first team went into their match at Oldham having won all eleven games this season.
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