TOULOUSE OLYMPIQUE coach Sylvain Houles says studying the defensive techniques used by the world’s top teams has paid dividends so far this season.
His promotion-chasing charges, who have already sealed top spot in the table to put them in the most advantageous position possible going into the play-offs, have conceded less than nine points per game on average.
And Houles, who says strengthening his side’s defence was part of the thinking behind signing St Helens back rowers Joseph Paulo and Dominique Peyroux ahead of this campaign, has revealed he has spent hours studying footage of the defending Super League champions as well as NRL kingpins Melbourne Storm.
“We were probably known as a team who liked the offensive side of the game,” said the former France international, whose team aim to maintain their 100 per cent record for the year when they complete their regular-season fixtures at Newcastle Thunder on Saturday.
“Of course that’s important, and we have tried to maintain that approach, but I also knew we needed to improve in defence.”
Both Paulo, 33, and Peyroux, 32, are seasoned internationals (for Samoa and the USA, and the Cook Islands and Samoa, respectively) who starred in the NRL before joining Saints, and Houles explained: “They had knowledge and experience of the systems St Helens use, and I wanted to draw on that.
“I spent much time studying sides like St Helens and Wigan, Melbourne Storm snd Sydney Roosters, to see how the defend and tried to pick up tips.
“We have sent a lot of time working on defence and it has paid off so far, although we all know the hard work is yet to come in terms of trying to win promotion.”
Toulouse beat Bradford Bulls 60-6 last time out, and Houles added: “Our discipline let us down and we gave away too many penalties, but on the whole, defended them well.
“That side of our game pleased me, and so did the way we were clinical in taking our chances.”
LONDON BRONCOS interim coach Tom Tsang is targeting as strong a finish to the season as possible as he tries to underline his credentials for getting the job on a permanent basis.
The former Coventry Bears team chief, who stepped up from assistant after Danny Ward departed in July, says the club’s decision to go part-time next year has not affected his desire to remain at the helm.
“My ambition is to get the head coach role and lead the club going forward,” confirmed the 36-year-old former Huddersfield junior and Great Britain Universities representative player.
Tsang, who arrived at the capital club as Academy coach in 2019 and became Ward’s assistant in May, after Jamie Langley left to join the coaching staff at rugby union club Sale Sharks, was in charge for the seventh time, and chasing a fifth win in that spell, when the Broncos hosted Featherstone Rovers on Sunday.
They went into that game occupying the sixth and final play-off berth after their 34-32 victory at already-relegated Swinton Lions.
“Despite Swinton’s league position, they are a solid well-organised side, and the fact that they have pushed so many opponents hard this season is a sign of how competitive the Championship has been,” added Tsang, whose team close their regular-season fixtures away to York City Knights on Sunday.
“They made us work for the win, and we were pleased to come through the match and get it and keep our bid to make the play-offs going.
“A top-six finish is the aim and it’s important we make that our sole focus.”
The Broncos have confirmed hooker Matty Fozard will join his hometown club Widnes Vikings next year while prop Greg Richards has signed for Hull KR.
Lebanon international winger Abbas Miski, who scored his 18th try of the year against Swinton, is joining Wigan Warriors.
SWINTON LIONS coach Allan Coleman has brought in former Wigan Warriors, Featherstone Rovers and Bradford Bulls forward Connor Farrell as his assistant.
The appointment of the 27-year-old, who had a loan spell at the club from Wigan in 2017, is initially until the end of the season.
But Coleman hopes to get the green light to extend the agreement into 2022, with his relegated side bidding to make their stay in the third tier as short as possible.
Persistent injuries led to Farrell, the younger brother of Wigan star Liam, retiring last year.
And Coleman, who has stepped up to the top job after being assistant to Stuart Littler, believes he can make a significant contribution at Swinton.
“We know each other well, he has recent experience as a player and plenty to offer as a coach, and I think we can complement each other,” he said.
“Connor has already been a big help, and my plan is to have him board for what will be a very important season for the club next time.”
Coleman, who was encouraged by his side’s battling performance in the 34-32 home defeat by London Broncos, says he’s making progress on building a squad for 2022.
“I can’t give any names as yet, but I’ve spoken to both existing players and plenty of potential new signings,” explained the former Leigh Miners Rangers chief.
“Some have accepted, some have said no and some are thinking about what we’ve offered, and while these things are never quick, I feel I am making progress.
“It’s important to me to be able to build my own squad, and I’m happy to be judged on the side I put out each week.”
Having faced Sheffield Eagles away, the Lions close a disappointing campaign with a home game against Widnes Vikings on Sunday.
“We’ll be doing everything we can to end in a positive way, then we’ll turn our attention to preparing for next year,” added Coleman.
OLDHAM chairman and chief executive Chris Hamilton has revealed his frustration at the uncertainty over the future structure of the league and central funding levels as he plans for next season in League 1.
The relegated Roughyeds’ supremo accepts members of the current squad are ripe for being picked off as rival clubs circle, and says it’s difficult for him to try to re-sign existing players and recruit new ones until the financial picture becomes clearer.
And Hamilton, who told League Express that retaining the services of former Leeds Rhinos and Toronto Wolfpack coach Brian McDermott isn’t out of the question, is also having to delay decisions on the club’s coaching set-up for 2022.
“We seem to have been talking about the possible league structure and funding levels for weeks and weeks without being much closer to knowing exactly what we will be working with, and that’s really frustrating,” he explained.
“The uncertainty is making a task which is already hard, particularly if the figures which have been bandied about turn out to be correct, even harder, and I’m fed up of having to keep players and agents on hold when they ask about what’s happening.
“Obviously other clubs have been able come in, talk to and make offers to our players, which they are perfectly entitled to do.”
Last time Oldham were relegated from the Championship, in 2017, it took them two attempts to return, with Scott Naylor standing down as coach after the 2019 promotion play-off final victory over Newcastle Thunder.
He was succeeded by Matt Diskin, who parted company with Oldham in June after a run of seven straight defeats, having overseen two wins in their first four league games of this season.
The bold recruitment of McDermott to work alongside existing assistant coach Brendan Sheridan might have failed to bring the desired results, with Oldham having gone into their penultimate game at Newcastle Thunder on Sunday with seven defeats and a draw during his reign.
But Hamilton has been impressed with the majority of performances.
Captain and hooker Gareth Owen, 29, who joined from Salford Red Devils in 2015, is to retire at the end of the season.
IT’S two in, two out at WIDNES VIKINGS after confirmation that London Broncos hooker Matty Fozard and Bradford Bulls prop Levy Nzoungou have been signed for next season while frontrow duo Paul Clough and Matt Cook are to retire.
Former France junior international Nzoungou, 23, featured in the development systems of both St Helens and Melbourne Storm before starting his senior career at Toulouse Olympique.
He has since played for Salford Red Devils and Hull and French side Albi Tigers, joining Bradford ahead of last season.
“I’ve heard a lot about the Widnes fanbase and I’m very excited to be back playing with some familiar faces. It’s an exciting challenge,” he said.
Fozard, 26, was born in Widnes and had a brief spell in the Vikings Scholarship system before joining St Helens, for whom he made one Super League appearance in 2014.
He also played in the top flight for the Broncos, joining after their promotion in 2018 following three seasons at Sheffield Eagles.
“It’s pretty special. I grew up around Widnes, went to school there, played for them as a kid. I think it’s just the right time to come home,” he said.
Widnes have also landed versatile Dewsbury Rams back Matty Fleming and their former loose-forward Sam Wilde, currently at Newcastle Thunder, for next season.
Clough, 33, and Cook, 34, who were both playing in Super League last season, will bow out following Sunday’s game at Swinton Lions.
Clough, who twice played for England Knights earlier in his career, arrived from Huddersfield Giants. He earlier had spells at St Helens, who loaned him to Widnes in 2015, and Bradford Bulls.
England international Cook joined from Castleford Tigers, having previously played for Bradford, Hull KR and London Broncos.
“Each year the demands on my body are increasing, and ultimately this has led to my decision,” said Clough, who made his 350th career appearance earlier this season.
WHITEHAVEN coach Gary Charlton and his right-hand man Jonty Gorley will have new roles at the club next season.
The former will become director of rugby while the latter will step up to take the coaching reins, aiming to build on an encouraging 2020 campaign.
The Cumbrian club went into their home clash against Halifax Panthers with hopes of edging into the play-offs still intact after a 22-14 win at Batley Bulldogs, their tenth victory in 20 league matches.
Charlton and Gorley worked together at Workington Town and have been in tandem at Whitehaven since October 2018, guiding the club to promotion as League 1 champions in 2019.
Former Whitehaven player Charlton, who has also coached amateur sides Egremont Rangers and Maryport, was appointed to replace Carl Forster as coach and brought Gorley with him.
“I’m privileged and excited,” said Gorley, who works as a welder.
“It obviously helps that I am already at the club, knowing the lads, the backroom staff, the directors and how the club works.
“We have already started putting together a squad that I feel will compete and build on this season.
“I have been involved with professional Rugby League for eight years now as an assistant coach and before that I spent twelve years-plus involved with local community clubs, Scholarships and Academies.
“I’ve worked under some great coaches who have taught me a lot, be that when I was playing or coaching, and this will stand me in good stead.”
Whitehaven, who visit Bradford Bulls on Sunday, have announced that popular Papua New Guinean back Jesse Joe Parker will retire at the end of the season.
The 36-year-old, who played for the Kumuls in both the 2008 and 2013 World Cups, joined in 2012 after previously playing for Featherstone Rovers.
He made his 200th Whitehaven appearance earlier this year.
Also leaving the club are centres Jason Mossop and Sean Croston, utility back Oscar Thomas and props Kris Coward and Dean Zammit.
BRADFORD BULLS have signed former Hull trialist Eldon Myers on a two-year deal.
In the wake of a worrying back injury to Brandon Pickersgill which left the highly-rated fullback, who is being linked with Featherstone Rovers, in need of hospital treatment, Myers’ arrival provided a further boost for the Odsal club.
That’s after halfback Jordan Lilley’s decision to sign a contract extension through to 2023 and Elliot Kear’s inclusion in the squad for the visit to Widnes Vikings.
Wales international Kear, 32, agreed to a second spell at Bradford in May, signing from Salford Red Devils until the end of next season, but had to complete his training to become a firefighter before being available.
His fellow back Myers, 24, spent a couple of months at Hull early in 2020 after being spotted playing rugby union for the Royal Navy, but was unable to take up the offer of a two-year deal after being unable to negotiate his release from the service.
He has now left the Navy, and was also included in the squad at Widnes as Bradford, who host Whitehaven in their final regular-season game on Sunday, continued the countdown to the play-offs.
Bulls coach John Kear explained: “I think he is a great athlete, tough and strong, and will certainly add some strike to the threequarters.”
Lilley, 25, has become a key player since signing from Leeds Rhinos, initially on loan, in 2018.
“There were hurdles in the way but we managed to get there in the end and it is brilliant to be staying,” he said.
“I am regaining my confidence and that is one of the reasons why I signed again. I feel like I am having one of the best years of my career.”
Bulls prop Levy Nzoungou is to join Widnes next season.
FEATHERSTONE ROVERS have agreed one-year contract extensions with former Super League duo Tom Holmes and Junior Moors as they target a place in the top flight themselves.
Halfback or hooker Holmes, 25, and experienced former NRL forward Moors, 35, arrived ahead of this season, from Huddersfield Giants and Castleford Tigers respectively.
It’s a second spell at Featherstone for Holmes, who started out at Castleford and had a season with Rovers before joining Huddersfield, who loaned him back for part of the 2019 campaign.
“I’m very excited and grateful to get this sorted,” said Holmes. “Special things are happening here and I want nothing more than to be part of it.”
Australian Schoolboys star Moors played for Penrith Panthers, Wests Tigers and Melbourne Storm before spending six seasons at Castleford. He represented Samoa in the 2013 World Cup.
“It’s been an awesome year to date and I can’t wait to get stuck into the business end,” he said.
Featherstone are gearing up for the play-offs having secured a second-place finish and therefore home advantage in the semi-finals.
They close their regular-season fixtures at home to Sheffield Eagles on Sunday.
HALIFAX PANTHERS coach Simon Grix says he’s proud of what his play-off-bound team have achieved this year.
The West Yorkshire side went into their game at Whitehaven in third place despite a 64-22 setback at Featherstone Rovers seven days before.
“But for a few lucky bounces and a couple of times us gifting them opportunities, it would have been closer,” said Grix, whose side close their regular-season fixtures at home to Batley Bulldogs on Sunday.
“We have work to do but we are not too despondent. As badly as a defeat hurts, we hope to earn ourselves the opportunity to go back there and right some of those wrongs.”
Grix added: “It’s not quite time to reflect on the season in its entirety yet, but I am proud of what our team has achieved.
“There have been many barriers over the last 18 months, some published some not. But ultimately, we have been able to pull together and play with pride in our jersey.”
BATLEY BULLDOGS coach Craig Lingard views Sunday’s final regular-season fixture at Halifax Panthers as an ideal play-off tune-up.
His side have sealed a top-six place, but missed the chance to bolster their hopes of finishing third or fourth, therefore sealing a home elimination tie, when they lost 22-14 at home to Whitehaven.
It was only a seventh league defeat of the season for Batley, who were aiming to bounce back by recording a 13th win when they hosted neighbours Dewsbury Rams in a Heavy Woollen derby on Sunday.
“We want to finish strongly and see where that takes us in terms of our final position, who we face in the play-offs, and where,” said Lingard.
“Playing at home would be the ideal scenario. That is an advantage for us, particularly at Batley.”
The Bulldogs have added backrow Nyle Flynn, winger Greg Johnson, centre Dale Morton and prop Michael Ward to the lengthening list of players contracted for next season.
DEWSBURY RAMS have held off interest from elsewhere to agree a contract extension with winger Andy Gabriel and have also retained hooker Reiss Butterworth for next season.
The 27-year-old Gabriel joined from Keighley Cougars in 2019 and has been a consistent performer on the right edge.
The Odsal Sedbergh product crossed for a late try, his twelfth of the season, as Lee Greenwood’s side marked their second-tier survival with a 24-20 win at Sheffield Eagles.
“I am really pleased to have signed,” he said. “I feel like I have really settled here in Dewsbury and in the Championship, so it was a really easy decision.
“This year has been a disappointing one, there can be no denying that, but I am already looking forward to next year as we will get the chance to right a few wrongs.”
Coach Greenwood said: “We made the difficult decision two years ago to let other more experienced players in his position go, in order for him to come into his own, and I believe he has done just that.
“In my opinion he is now one of the best wingers in the Championship.”
Dewsbury, who are said to be interested in Sheffield Eagles halfback Izaac Farrell, host Oldham on Sunday.
SHEFFIELD EAGLES captain Matt James has called time on his career.
The 34-year-old ex-Wales international forward will retire after Sunday’s final game of the season at his former club Featherstone Rovers.
James has also played for Bradford Bulls, Harlequins, Barrow Raiders and home-city club Wakefield Trinity.
He joined Sheffield in 2016 and has topped 100 appearances for the club. It would have been more had it not been for a severe leg injury sustained during the 2019 Summer Bash meeting with Barrow.
“It’s a strange one really as I started the season coming back from a long injury and raring to go,” said James, who follows Eagles winger Rob Worrincy in announcing his retirement.
“But I have been thinking that it’s taking a lot longer to recover, in general, from matches and I have had to use pain relief for every single game and big parts of the week to get through training.”
Sheffield are reportedly eyeing a move to bring London Broncos halfback Cory Aston, the 26-year-old son of their coach Mark Aston, back for a third spell at the club.
NEWCASTLE THUNDER prospect Jake Anderson says he’s eager to build on his first taste of Championship action as the ambitious club, who are being linked with a move for Salford Red Devils forward Pauli Pauli, aim to kick on in the second tier next year.
The prop who featured for Lancashire against Yorkshire in the recent Academy Origin clash is one of three homegrown products to be handed a debut by Thunder coach Eamon O’Carroll this year.
Anderson says O’Carroll, director of rugby Denis Betts and senior players such as Tonga international forward Ukuma Ta’ai and seasoned hooker Bob Beswick have provided invaluable help.
“It’s obviously a step up from Academy rugby in terms of physicality and speed, but I’ve really enjoyed the games I’ve played, and I want to progress further next year,” he said.
“Denis and Eamon have been brilliant, they’re always around to provide support as well as coaching, and Ukuma and Bob have really helped me, both during matches and training.
“They’re always willing too spend that extra 15 minutes with me after the sessions finish, and those little bits of advice have made a big difference.”
Newcastle finish their first Championship campaign since 2009 with a home clash against table-toppers Toulouse Olympique on Saturday.
YORK CITY KNIGHTS centre Ryan Atkins has revealed he will join forward Danny Washbrook in retiring at the end of the season – and has given coach James Ford a big thumbs up.
The 35-year-old former England international, who had two spells at Wakefield Trinity either side of spending ten seasons at Warrington Wolves, recently made his 400th career appearance.
Atkins, who began at Bradford Bulls, joined York ahead of this season and said: “Playing for James Ford has been brilliant, he’s up there with the best coaches I’ve been around.
“I was contemplating going around again but the time is right.”
The equally-experienced Washbrook, 35, played for Hull, in two spells, and Wakefield before signing for York last season.
Ford, whose side’s hopes of challenging for a play-off place have failed to materialise, recently suggested more members of his squad could follow Atkins, Washbrook and prop James Green, who had already his retirement.
York close their campaign with a home clash against London Broncos on Sunday.
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