YORK CITY KNIGHTS coach James Ford handed a debut to Toby Warren and a Championship bow to another teenager Myles Harrison as his side faced Newcastle Thunder in Friday’s Magic Weekend curtain-raiser at Kingston Park.
With the North Yorkshire club unable to make the play-offs, Ford is keen to run the rule over the emerging talents in his squad as he looks towards next season.
Like versatile teenage back AJ Towse, fullback Harrison and back row Warren are products of nearby amateur club Heworth and have signed contracts until 2023.
Towse, who currently has a rib injury, and Harrison both featured in York’s 26-0 Challenge Cup third-round home defeat by Wigan Warriors in April.
The three were loaned out to Rochdale Hornets last month, with Towse having previously been at another League 1 club, Coventry Bears.
Warren and Harrison have also spent loan time in the Leeds Rhinos development system.
“They did okay for Rochdale, they both did okay for Leeds Academy and Myles did okay against Wigan. I have got plenty of confidence in them,” said Ford of Warren and Harrison.
“They’ve done their extras and we’ve put them through a lot of work to try and build a robust athlete in the future.
“The boys have respected how hard they’ve worked at their games and they deserved their opportunity.”
Hooker Will Jubb is to see a specialist after missing the Newcastle game through concussion, with Ford explaining: “It’s his second one this year, so we need to get him assessed by a neurologist.”
Pack star Jordan Baldwinson is nursing a knee injury.
Both the former Wakefield player and fellow forward Sam Scott are reported targets of Bradford Bulls for next season while York are said to be interested in Bradford winger or fullback Joe Brown.
While the away game against Toulouse Olympique on Saturday has been cancelled due to the travel issues posed by Covid, the Knights host London Broncos on Sunday, September 19.
BRADFORD Bulls have agreed a new contract with highly-rated hooker Tom Doyle.
News that the 22-year-old Academy product will be at Odsal next year provided another boost ahead of the clash with table-topping Toulouse Olympique after John Kear’s side sealed a play-off berth thanks to their 36-18 win at York City Knights.
Influential halfback Danny Brough was back from an eight-match injury lay-off, turning out alongside Jordan Lilley at the LNER Stadium, where the current capacity of 4,000 was reached.
Keeping ex-Leeds man Lilley on board for 2022 means his impressive link-up with Brough, who signed a two-year deal on joining from Wakefield ahead of this season, and Doyle could continue to develop.
“People are probably sick of me saying it, but whenever we have had two genuine halfbacks in the side, we have won,” said experienced coach Kear, whose team visit Widnes on Sunday before finishing their regular-season fixtures with a home game against Whitehaven.
“You can see the difference when he is out there, and Jordan Lilley is also maturing greatly.
“In addition, Tom is progressing really well as a player and has been great this year, having played 80 minutes a lot of the time.
“He is developing all the time and he is very comfortable within the club and the group.
“We put him back on the field at York at 13 and he showed his versatility. It is a really good re-signing which shows we are building for the future and there is more to come.”
Doyle, who had five tries from 16 appearances ahead of the Toulouse meeting, said: “I spoke to John and told him I wanted to stay here and didn’t want to go to another club.
“With us having such a good crack at promotion this year, there’s definitely a chance and if not this year, we will go again and we all have ambitions to take this club back to Super League.”
Bradford are reportedly interested in signing Newcastle Thunder winger Kieran Gill for next season.
BATLEY BULLDOGS coach Craig Lingard says he expects to keep new signings to a maximum of six as he looks to next season while plotting a play-off campaign this year.
The West Yorkshire club have already sealed deals for 2022 with a string of existing players, much to Lingard’s satisfaction.
“Continuity is key, and we wanted to get out of that cycle of having to make wholesale squad changes every few years,” he explained.
“In addition, we all know next year is likely to be fairly pivotal given the suggestions of a new league structure from 2023.
“We want to be in as good a shape as we possibly can be, and if we can get in a solid pre-season, with the bulk of the squad present all the way through, it would be a big plus.
“Getting so much retention sorted out so soon is great and we’re currently doing our due diligence on a few potential newcomers, I’d say at this stage, no more than five or six.
“That’s important when you are working to our kind of budget, because value is crucial and it’s imperative any new signings fit in both as players and people.
“We like to have a decent conversation to ensure not just that we are happy with them, but that they are happy with us as a club and myself as a coach.”
Of course the current campaign remains the priority, and Batley went into action at home to Whitehaven having had a blank weekend and in fifth place.
That’s because of the call-off of their game against Toulouse Olympique, with part-time clubs currently not required to travel to France due to issues posed by the pandemic.
“It’s always a question of whether a chance to rest up outweighs maintaining that rhythm of playing each week,” added Lingard.
“We’ve looked on the positive side and tried to create two blocks of two games either side of the call-off.
“We were pleased to get wins against Swinton and Sheffield, and having played Whitehaven, we have another home game against Dewsbury on Sunday.”
SHEFFIELD Eagles coach Mark Aston led the praise for Rob Worrincy after the 36-year-old winger revealed he will retire at the end of the season.
Worrincy is in his fourth spell with the South Yorkshire club, having also played for London Broncos, Castleford, Halifax and Dewsbury.
He made a Super League appearance for Castleford in 2004, and earlier this year, passed the 200 career tries milestone.
Worrincy, whose younger brother Michael played for Harlequins (now London Broncos), Bradford Bulls, Leigh Centurions and London Skolars, has played in more the 330 matches.
He won the National League 2 (League 1) Grand Final with Sheffield in 2006 and, with Halifax, the Championship Grand Final in 2010 and Northern Rail Cup in 2012.
“I always say that once a player leaves, he leaves, and there are only a few rare occurrences I’ve re-signed a player after they’ve departed,” said Aston.
“We’ve had Rob with us on four separate occasions so he is absolutely an exception to that rule and that’s a testament to just what a special individual he is.
“He is an athlete through and through, the way he trains, the way he looks after his diet and nutrition, the work he does away from the club, he’s exemplary.
“Rob’s a role model and mentor to so many younger players and a strong voice about the place. He will be a loss to both Sheffield Eagles and the sport.”
Worrincy said: “It was a really, really tough decision. Playing any sport in general is enjoyable, but doing it professionally is something to be truly grateful of.
“I’ve enjoyed my playing career and it’s been in the back of my mind for the last couple of years that I’m coming to the backend of it.
“For one reason or another I’ve managed to talk myself out of it, but now I think the time is right.
“With the way things have turned out, finding myself back at the Eagles, it feels like a fitting time to call it the end.”
Sheffield are reportedly keen on signing Oldham props Martyn Reilly and Liam Kirk for next season.
DEWSBURY Rams are gearing up for Sunday’s derby trip to Batley – and despite the disparity in league results this season, Bulldogs coach Craig Lingard is wary.
While play-off chasers Batley were fifth ahead of their home clash with Whitehaven, Dewsbury’s recent 43-22 home defeat by Newcastle Thunder was a twelfth in 18 matches for Lee Greenwood’s side.
That meant the Rams went into their away game against Sheffield Eagles in twelfth place and still in need of a victory to seal their second-tier survival this year.
Those losses include a 38-10 home setback against Batley, whose Fox’s Biscuits Stadium ground is just 2.3 miles away from Dewsbury’s Tetley’s Stadium base, on July 15.
The Rams are seeking a first win in six competitive Heavy Woollen clashes, their last coming in July 2018 by a 23-20 margin.
Lucas Walshaw, who is now at Batley, scored twice, while Adam Ryder and Gareth Potts also grabbed tries and Paul Sykes kicked three goals and Michael Knowles a one-pointer.
“It’s an historic derby, and one we’re looking forward to, and we know how much it means to both sets of supporters,” said Lingard.
“The formbook will go out of the window, and we know we’ll have to work very hard to get anything, because Dewsbury are a dangerous side.
“Lee had done a good job working with a budget which I’d imagine is similar to our own. Neither of us is shopping at Harrods, shall we say.
“I know he’s had to do it tough because of injuries and problems caused by Covid. He’s struggled to put out a settled side, and I think their league record shows that.”
Meanwhile, Greenwood is to host Dewsbury’s Player of the Year awards on Friday, September 17 (7.30 for 8pm), with all supporters invited (minimum age eleven).
It’s free entry for the event, which includes interviews with the first-team squad, in the Royal Suite at The Tetley’s Stadium.
Dewsbury complete their fixtures with a home game against Oldham two days later, Sunday, September 19.
FEATHERSTONE ROVERS‘ fullback Alex Walker is enjoying life at the club – and is eager to maintain his impressive form as James Webster’s side eye play-off success and promotion to Super League.
The 26-year-old went into the home showdown with Halifax having scored six tries in four games on loan from Wakefield Trinity, where he is out of contract this year.
Walker was a key member of the London Broncos side who shocked Toronto Wolfpack to win the Million Pound Game, and a top-flight berth, in Canada in 2018.
Three years on, the Harlow-born player who came through the Broncos’ Academy system is hoping to use that experience to help Featherstone follow in the Broncos’ footsteps.
“I’ve settled in well and I’m enjoying my time here,” said Walker, who joined Wakefield following London’s relegation back to the Championship in 2019.
“It’s good to be among the tries, but to be honest, the other lads are putting them on a plate for me, I’m just finishing things off.”
Second-placed Featherstone claimed their 17th win in 18 league games as Oldham were beaten 48-10 at Bower Fold, where Walker crossed twice.
Their only defeat going into the Halifax game was by a 23-6 margin at home to leaders Toulouse Olympique in early August, with many predicting the two will clash again in the Championship Grand Final, which will take place on Sunday, October 10.
Webster’s side are in line for a home play-off semi-final on Saturday, October 2, with regular-season games away to London Broncos and at home to Sheffield Eagles to come before that.
“They are big games, because we want to maintain our momentum and everyone wants to stake a claim to be involved in the play-offs,” added Walker.
Featherstone, meanwhile are being linked with a move for Leigh Centurions halfback Matty Wildie, who played for them between 2016-18.
The 30-year old playmaker started out at Wakefield and has also played for Dewsbury Rams and Bradford Bulls.
HALIFAX PANTHERS coach Simon Grix hailed the return of Connor Robinson in the win over Swinton Lions while praising Scott Grix’s performances at halfback in his absence.
Ex-player Robinson returned to The Shay ahead of this season after four successful seasons at York City Knights.
But the 25-year-old former Hull KR man has missed matches due to a foot problem and Covid issues.
He featured against Swinton, resuming his partnership with fellow ex-York player Liam Harris and allowing Scott Grix, the coach’s older brother, to revert to fullback as Halifax responded positively to their first defeat in ten outings, 25-6 at Widnes Vikings.
“I was really pleased for Connor,” said Simon Grix. “It’s been frustrating for him because early on, he had issues with his form, then there were problems due to injury and Covid, so it’s been a bit stop, start.
“This is a good time to be returning, because the squad has been a bit skinny, and it was great to see him back out there, although I think Scott was very good in his absence and then showed what a quality fullback he is.”
Having visited Featherstone Rovers, Halifax go to Whitehaven on Sunday before finishing their regular-season fixtures at home to Batley Bulldogs on September 19.
“It’s all about performance levels, getting up to where we need to be and putting ourselves in a good position for the play-offs.”
Robinson, who is under contract for another year, could have a new halfback partner next season, with Halifax being linked with Hull KR’s Joe Keyes.
The Enfield-born 26-year-old, who began his career at London Broncos, has been on loan to both York and Bradford Bulls, for whom he played between 2016-19, this season.
Keyes has a year remaining on his Rovers contract, but both club and player are believed to be open to his departure.
The Panthers are also said to be tracking Leigh Centurions forward Matty Gee.
TOULOUSE OLYMPIQUE’S home game against York City Knights on Saturday has been cancelled, meaning the promotion-chasing club’s first match in France this year will be a play-off semi-final on Saturday, October 2.
With France remaining on the UK Government’s ‘amber list’, which forces anyone returning from the country who isn’t fully vaccinated to isolate for at least five days, part-time teams aren’t required to play there during the regular season.
But the RFL have confirmed the rule does not apply to top-six play-offs, and because table-topping Toulouse are sure of a top-two finish, they will go straight into the semi-finals, with their tie to take place at the Ernest Wallon Stadium.
Should they win, they would also have home advantage in the final on Sunday, October 10.
The last time Sylvain Houles’ side played at the venue shared with leading rugby union team Stade Toulousain was in March 2020, when Batley Bulldogs were beaten 34-14.
Having faced Bradford Bulls in a game which was switched to the Tetley’s Stadium at Dewsbury due to a dance festival taking place at Odsal, Toulouse’s only remaining regular-season match is against Newcastle Thunder at Kingston Park on Saturday week, September 18.
WIDNES VIKINGS fans deserve better than the performance put up at Whitehaven – whatever the mitigating factors – according to coach Simon Finnigan.
The former Newcastle Thunder team chief’s options were so limited, he could name only three substitutes up in West Cumbria, where his side crashed to a 64-6 loss.
It was an eleventh league defeat of the season for Widnes, who having started the campaign with hopes of making the play-offs, were fourth-bottom before the home game against Oldham.
“Our fans were great, I spoke to a few of them at the motorway services on the way up, and I think they understand the circumstances we are in at the moment,” said former Vikings player Finnigan, who took charge on a two-year deal in succession to Tim Sheens in November.
“Some of the issues we are facing can’t be fixed immediately, and the players who went out there tried their best and put their bodies on the line, so I take full responsibility as the coach. Whatever the circumstances, we have to be better.”
Widnes, who have agreed a two-year contract extension with second row Adam Lawton while teenage fullback Danny Hill is said to be interesting St Helens, host Bradford Bulls on Sunday before completing their fixtures with a trip to Swinton Lions on September 19.
OLDHAM face a fight to keep hold of some of their key players as they contemplate relegation to League 1.
Winger Ryan Ince and prop Tyler Dupree have already been linked with Widnes Vikings.
Now Sheffield Eagles are said to be targeting frontrowers Martyn Reilly and prop Liam Kirk.
Both were signed by former Roughyeds coach Matt Diskin ahead of this season – Reilly, 26, from Dewsbury Rams and Kirk, 24, from Bradford Bulls, where he came through the Academy.
Diskin departed in June after seven successive league defeats, with ex-Leeds Rhinos and Toronto Wolfpack team chief Brian McDermott joining as coaching consultant.
However going into the away game at Widnes Vikings, Oldham had picked up only one point – from a draw against basement side Swinton Lions – since his arrival.
NEWCASTLE THUNDER have taken Leigh Centurions prop Tom Spencer on loan for the remainder of the season.
Having hosted York City Knights in a Magic Weekend curtain-raiser, Eamon O’Carroll’s side complete their first second-tier campaign since 2009 with a trip to Oldham on Sunday and a home clash with Toulouse Olympique on Saturday week, September 18.
Spencer, 30, had a spell on loan at Oldham back in 2016, having started his career at hometown club Wigan Warriors, for whom he made seven first-team appearances.
He began his first spell at Leigh in 2014, following two loan stints there, and after playing for London Broncos for two seasons, went back to the Centurions in 2019.
He has also been on loan to Swinton Lions this year.
“Tom has excellent leadership qualities and strengthens our front row,” said O’Carroll.
Newcastle’s former Castleford Tigers winger Kieran Gill, who went into the York game on twelve tries for the year, has been linked with a move to Bradford Bulls for next season.
The 25-year-old joined Thunder after a season-long loan in 2019, when he crossed 28 times in 23 games. He scored six tries in five outings in the truncated 2020 campaign.
WHITEHAVEN coach Gary Charlton was just as pleased with his side’s defence as their attack as Widnes Vikings were beaten 64-6 at the LEL Arena.
The home side ran in eleven tries with nine players making the scoresheet, but Charlton insisted: “Defence wins matches, and we did really well in that area.
“When you defend properly, you find other things often fall into place. We were able to build pressure, and we got the rewards. Now the aim is to maintain that standard.”
Whitehaven will be without skipper Marc Shackley and fellow prop Tom Walker for the remainder of the season due to a knee injury and a pulled leg muscle respectively.
SWINTON LIONS will outline their plans to make their stay in League 1 as short as possible at a fans’ forum on Thursday.
Members of the board and coach Allan Coleman will be present at the event at the Swinton branch of the Royal British Legion on Cheetham Road.
While he wasn’t able to pull off an against-the-odds escape from relegation, former Leigh Miners Rangers chief Coleman, who is also the England Community Lions director of rugby, has been handed the reins on a permanent basis.
The 45-year-old impressed the board during a four-match caretaker stint following the departure of Stuart Littler, to whom he had been assistant since 2019.
Having lost all 14 previous league games, Swinton, who last played in the third tier in 2015, won 22-18 at Dewsbury Rams in Coleman’s first match, then drew 22-22 at home to Oldham.
Ahead of the home clash with London Broncos, they had suffered defeats by Batley Bulldogs, Bradford Bulls and Halifax Panthers.
LONDON BRONCOS have to up their game in order to cement their play-off hopes and give themselves a chance of challenging for promotion back to Super League, says skipper Will Lovell.
The centre, who made 17 appearances when the capital club played in the top flight in 2019, was encouraged by the recent 42-12 home win over Sheffield Eagles.
It followed defeats by Toulouse Olympique and Whitehaven, and Lovell says scoring 28 unanswered points in the second half was a good sign.
“Our form before the match was poor, we made no secret of that,” said Lovell.
“Disruptions due to Covid (the scheduled game at Newcastle Thunder on August 22 was called off due to an outbreak at the North-East club) meant we benefitted from an extended period on the training ground and I believe that showed.
“Sheffield made us work extremely hard for our points and we had to perform strongly as a team.”
Having visited Swinton Lions, the Broncos host Featherstone Rovers on Sunday and go to York City Knights on September 19, and Lovell added: “It’s onwards and hopefully upwards.
We need to be making great strides each week.”
The above content is also available in the regular weekly edition of League Express, on newsstands every Monday in the UK and as a digital download. Click here for more details.