Bradford coach John Kear says bringing in Dec Patton shows the Bulls still have “some pull” – and the former Super League halfback believes the switch from Salford will help get his career back on track.
The England Knights international has joined alongside York prop Jordan Baldwinson, while skipper and prop Steve Crossley has signed a one-year contract extension to complete a triple boost after the play-off eliminator defeat at Batley.
Patton, who has penned a one-year contract, played more than 100 times for Warrington, helping them win the Challenge Cup in 2019, before falling down the pecking order and joining Salford ahead of this season.
The 26-year-old also played in the 2016 and 2018 Grand Finals and the 2018 Challenge Cup final for Warrington, but has been unable to establish himself at the Red Devils.
“It has been a weird couple of seasons for me not playing much, and I’m excited to get my career back on track and hopefully enjoy my rugby again,” he said.
“From talking to John, he thinks we aren’t far away and can push for the top two next year and closer for promotion. Hopefully I can help with that.”
Kear, who already has halves Danny Brough and Jordan Lilley in his squad, said: “Dec broke onto the scene at Warrington and only a log jam of quality halfbacks prevented him getting a regular place.
“I have always admired his talent, and to get a Super League standard halfback is a real big coup for the club and is a massive statement of intent.
“He was impressed with the facilities and the club’s ambition, so to get him on board shows Bradford still have some pull.
“Dec wants to play Super League, we want to get back into Super League and he will certainly be a key contributor towards that goal.”
Ex-Leeds, Featherstone and Wakefield man Baldwinson, 26, who has had two previous loan spells at the club and has spent the last two seasons at York, has signed a two-year contract.
BATLEY coach Craig Lingard says preparing for his side’s play-off semi-final against table-topping Toulouse, and then getting to France for the big showdown, threw up plenty of logistical posers.
But the former Bulldogs player who has caught the eye with his stewardship of the team this year insists they were issues well worth having.
Lingard was quick to praise long-serving Batley chairman Kevin Nicholas and chief executive Paul Harrison for their input.
And he also hailed Harrison’s opposite number at Toulouse, Cedric Garcia, who was in contact within hours of the last-four line-up being confirmed as Batley, who were fourth in the final table, beat Bradford 23-10 before Halifax, who were third, defeated Whitehaven 24-20.
“There wasn’t any time to waste, because we obviously needed to beat Bradford to remain involved in the play-offs, then wait for the Halifax-Whitehaven outcome to see where we’d be going in the semi-finals,” explained the former Keighley coach.
Due to the issues over travel to France caused by the pandemic, Saturday’s clash at the Stade Ernest Wallon was Toulouse’s first on home turf this season.
Batley were also the last team to visit the venue, which is shared with top rugby union club Stade Toulousain, before Covid curtailed the 2020 campaign, and Lingard continued: “It’s a top-quality stadium.
“Having been there before, we at least knew what to expect, but the situation now is different to how it was then.
“Given the short notice, we ended up with a tight schedule in terms of flights, and it took plenty of liaison with both Cedric at Toulouse and the RFL to set everything up.
“Because there is still the requirement for those not double-vaccinated to isolate for five days on returning, we also needed some players to make special arrangements, which not all were able to do, so that added to the difficulty in planning and preparing.
“But these still aren’t normal times, and at the end of the day, we were just happy to be involved.”
WIDNES have signed winger Ryan Ince for a second time – and confirmed that three of his Oldham teammates are following him to the DCBL Stadium while halfback Joe Lyons has agreed a two-year contract extension.
Versatile forward Liam Bent, prop Tyler Dupree and hooker Dec Gregory, who all stood out alongside Ince despite the Roughyeds dropping out of the division, will also be part of Simon Finnigan’s Vikings squad for 2022.
Widnes have already brought in Bradford prop Levy Nzoungou, Dewsbury hooker Matty Fleming and Newcastle backrow Sam Wilde as they plot an improvement on this year’s eighth-placed finish.
Teenage fullback Daniel Hill has joined St Helens while wingers Deon Cross, Jayden Hatton and Owen Buckley, secondrow Josh Wilde and prop Lee Jewitt are all leaving the club after props Matt Cook and Paul Clough both announced their retirement.
Ince, 25, who came through the Widnes Academy and was at the club until 2019, said: “After leaving, I never ruled out coming back.
“I enjoyed my time there and with it being my hometown club as well as coming through the system, it makes it feel a lot more like home for me.
“The signings already announced have some real skill and I’m sure there will be more to add to them.
“Also, the way the club are going about their business is promising and I’m sure there will be a good culture.
“A lot of people at the club know what I offer but since my first spell I feel I get through a lot more work now and my understanding of the game has improved.”
Former Salford player Bent, 23, has recorded impressive tackling statistics in Oldham colours.
“I’m hoping we can contend for the top spots in the league,” he said.
Leeds product Dupree, 21, was the club’s ten-try top scorer this year while Gregory, 25, is a former Salford Academy player who has also been at Rochdale, North Wales Crusaders and Castleford.
LONDON BRONCOS skipper Will Lovell believes Gideon Boafo provides a template as the club prepare for a future based on home-built foundations.
New coach Jermaine Coleman has been tasked with leading the former Super League club through the transition from full to part-time.
The ex-London Skolars supremo is expected to utilise his development expertise and in-depth knowledge of the Rugby League scene in the capital.
Only four Championship players scored more league tries during the regular season than Boafo, whose 15 included three hat-tricks.
The Broncos sourced the powerful back, now 22, from his local club Croydon Hurricanes and after he shone in the Academy, handed him a senior deal ahead of the 2019 season.
He crossed four times in a pre-season clash with London Skolars, for whom he played twice under Coleman that campaign.
Boafo has come into his own this time around, with fellow Academy products Oli Leyland, Rian Horsman, Rob Oakley, Will Blakemore, Josh Hodson and Jacob Jones also appearing.
And Lovell noted: “We’ve been able to blood a lot of young London talent through our proven player pathway.
“Gideon has developed really well, as have a lot of our younger players against strong opposition.
“Those players have experienced some well-earned game time which they’ve really benefitted from.
“The Championship is a very competitive league packed with experienced former Super League players and rising stars of the future.”
Missing out on the play-offs was a major disappointment for the Broncos, who were playing in Super League as recently as 2019.
“We didn’t achieve the goals that we set out as a group,” added Lovell, himself and Academy product who made his first-team debut in 2012.
“We faced difficulties along the way, but ultimately as players we had to perform better which we weren’t able to do.
“We want to put this season to bed, attack next year and enter with a fresh, positive, mindset.”
HALIFAX are being linked with Super League trio Joe Arundel, Alex Foster and Matty Gee as coach Scott Grix looks towards another promotion challenge in 2022.
There is plenty of talk about which players the Panthers, who finished third to make this season’s play-offs, are targeting.
Versatile Australian back Lachlan Walmsley and French half Louis Jouffret, who were both on duty for Whitehaven in the recent elimination tie at The Shay, which Grix’s side won 24-20 to book a play-off semi-final at Featherstone, are said to be heading to Halifax, although the Cumbrian club have suggested Jouffret will return to France.
Also linked is Wakefield hooker Kyle Wood, with London Broncos half Cory Aston and prop Titus Gwaze and Doncaster forward Brandon Douglas other names being spoken of.
Centre or secondrow Arundel, 30, has confirmed his departure after six years at Wakefield, having previously played for Castleford and Hull.
Referring to the “crazy journey” of his playing career, the former England Knights international added: “It’s not quite over yet”.
Castleford recently confirmed former Leeds and London Broncos forward Foster is leaving after six years.
The 27-year-old, who played in this season’s Challenge Cup final defeat by St Helens at Wembley, had a loan stint at The Shay in 2018.
Secondrow or prop Gee, 26, joined Leigh ahead of this season having played in the top flight for London Broncos in 2019 and Hull KR in 2020.
Halifax recently confirmed one-year contract extensions for backs Zack McComb and Greg Worthington and forwards Will Calcott, Dan Murray and Brandon Moore.
The Panthers endured a difficult start to the season, but hit more consistent form to claim 13 wins in 21 matches ahead of the play-offs.
“I’m proud of what we’ve done,” said Grix. “I feel like this is my first full year with my team and a lot of my decisions.
“It’s gone well. We had a shaky start and there was a lot of doubt. A lot of people had a lot to say and we turned it around.”
DEWSBURY have made Hull KR forward Owen Harrison their fist recruit for 2022 – and agreed year-long contract extensions with loose-forward Jon Magrin, centre Davey Dixon, halfback Alex Smith and forward Jordan Schofield.
Harrison, 22 played five times for the Rams during a loan spell in 2019, his first season at Rovers.
He made 14 appearances for the Robins, but hasn’t featured for them this year, although he did have a spell on loan at Newcastle.
“I can’t wait to get stuck in and get ready for a big year both for me personally and for the team,” said Harrison, who stretches the tape to 6ft 5in.
“Once I had the chance to sit down with (Rams coach) Lee Greenwood and he expressed the vision he saw for myself and also the club, it was an easy decision.
“Dewsbury are a great club and with a good pre-season under our belts I can see us having a very positive year in 2022.
“I had a brief spell at the club when I was 19 and I believe I have matured and become a better player, so I hope I can bring a lot more to the team than I did back then.
“I am looking forward to getting some regular rugby and I want to be playing at my best and hopefully we can get into the top half of the table come the end of the year.”
Greenwood said: “He impressed us during his loan spell and has gone on to play a number of Super League games for Hull KR.
“It has not worked out as he would have wanted it to this year, meaning he has had a bit of thinking to do. This next year is crucial for his career now and he knows that.
“He adds some real size and presence to the pack but is a very skilful player as well. I’m confident he can be a star for us next year.”
Jamaica international Magrin, 26, joined Dewsbury from Bradford last season having also played for Sheffield and London Broncos.
Scotland international Dixon, 24, arrived from Keighley, also in 2020.
NEWCASTLE coach Eamon O’Carroll says his satisfaction at keeping Thunder in the second tier is tempered by frustration at potential wins which got away.
The 34-year-old former Ireland international is ten months into the job and working hard on ensuring the ambitious club’s transition to complete full-time status goes as smoothly as possible.
Newcastle were elevated from League 1 through a bidding process to take the place of Super League-bound Leigh shortly after former Catalans Dragons assistant coach O’Carroll’s appointment at the start of December.
They were selected ahead of fellow applicants Rochdale, Workington, Barrow and Doncaster by an independent panel.
It was the club’s first season at Championship level since 2009, when they were known as Gateshead.
Newcastle introduced a hybrid part-time and full-time system partway through a campaign in which they gained seven wins out of 20 to finish eleventh.
“It’s been a learning curve for us all, and the players who have adapted to the Championship from League 1 deserve huge credit for the way they have coped,” said O’Carroll.
“It’s been enjoyable, but also tough, because the timing of our move up from League 1 meant there was minimal time to prepare and sign players of the level we needed.
“In addition to that, the protocols in place because of Covid made things even trickier. “Of course they were the same for all clubs, but we noticed them especially because it made integrating the new players, both on and off the pitch, harder than it would otherwise have been.
“The move to a hybrid system helped, but it also decreased the overall size of the squad because some players, through their personal circumstances, couldn’t commit the way others were able to.
“If someone had offered me staying in the Championship with games still to go at the start of the season, I’d have snapped their hands off, because this year was always going to be about establishing ourselves.
“But then you look back at certain games which we could have won but didn’t manage to, and it does eat away at you a little bit.”
TOULOUSE will have the full backing of fellow French club Catalans Dragons as they aim to cement promotion to Super League.
Olympique face Featherstone in the Million Pound Game at the Stade Ernest Wallon on Saturday – 24 hours after Catalans seek Grand Final glory at Old Trafford.
Dragons coach Steve McNamara will be watching intently and said: “There is a massive mutual respect for both clubs,” said McNamara. “Myself and (Toulouse coach) Sylvain (Houles) have been messaging each other.
“They look really strong at the minute and hopefully they will continue that way.”
Catalans’ star Australian halfback Josh Drinkwater says success for Toulouse would be a major tonic for French Rugby League.
“Obviously I’m not from France but it would help grow the game here,” he said. “We played them in a pre-season trial and they’ve got a great team. I know a few of the boys as well and I’ll be cheering them on.
“Hopefully they can get promoted to Super League and there will be a nice French derby next year.”
FEATHERSTONE star Craig Hall got the better of Toulouse to land the Championship Player of the Year Award.
Now the former Hull KR back is targeting a follow-up success in France as James Webster’s side prepare for the Million Pound Game on Sunday.
Toulouse skipper Johnathon Ford, Batley’s Tom Gilmore and Hall’s Featherstone teammate James Harrison were the three other nominees for the top player prize.
But Hall, who has also played for Hull, Wakefield, Toronto Wolfpack and Leigh, was the pick as the coaches of the 14 second-tier clubs voted.
The 33-year-old, who scored 274 points over the regular league season from 26 tries and 85 goals, said: “Winning this award is a real honour, especially given the quality of the other players nominated and many others across the division.”
OLDHAM chairman and chief executive Chris Hamilton will kick-off his campaign to get the Roughyeds back into the Championship buoyed by praise from one of Rugby League’s most successful coaches.
Hamilton pulled off a major coup by persuading ex-Leeds chief Brian McDermott to come on board following Matt Diskin’s departure in June.
McDermott, who led the Rhinos to a World Club Challenge, four Super League titles and two Challenge Cups, was unable to lead Oldham away from the danger zone.
Working with Brendan Sheridan, who was Diskin’s assistant, the 51-year-old, who has also coached Harlequins (now London Broncos) and Toronto, was at the helm for ten matches.
But Oldham were only able to pick up only one point, from a draw against Swinton, who have also been relegated.
Hamilton, who with a string of players moving on and others retiring, must oversee a squad rebuild, hasn’t ruled out an extension of the former Great Britain prop’s stay.
Meanwhile McDermott said: “It has been a humbling and an eye-opening experience for me. For sheer determination, desire and effort, these lads have been unbelievable.
“As for Chris Hamilton, I have enjoyed working with him and I would say he is a gem within the game.
“He runs a brilliant ship at Oldham and he gets neither the headlines nor the support he needs and deserves.”
SHEFFIELD forward Frankie Mariano has confirmed his retirement after two seasons at the Eagles.
The 34-year-old Scotland international is among a string of players recently released by the South Yorkshire side.
Mariano began his career at home-city club Hull KR and later played for Wakefield, Castleford, Featherstone and Doncaster.
“The time has come to finally put the ball down,” he announced. “I’ve had an amazing career and enjoyed every minute of it.
“I got the chance to travel and play against some of the world’s best players. I met some great people and made friends for life.
“I had special moments, representing Scotland in a World Cup (in 2017) and Four Nations (2016) and playing at Wembley (for Castleford in the 2014 Challenge Cup final).
“Thank you to all the fans from all the clubs for the support. It’s been a blast.”
Mariano follows Sheffield teammates Matt James, Rob Worrincy and Scott Wheeldon in calling time on his career.
SWINTON have made Bradford back Reece Hamlett and Oldham centre or secondrow Max Roberts their first signings in the wake of relegation to League 1.
Ex-Wigan Scholarship player Hamlett, 20, was signed from Warrington before this season, but has been in and out of the Bulls team.
He had two loan spells at Swinton and has now made the move permanent, explaining: “I felt at home and welcomed there.
“The playing style at Swinton really suits me and I think I’ll find some great form and help them get back up into the Championship where they belong.
Swinton coach Allan Coleman explained: “I’ve known Reece from the age of 13. He is a powerful player and fits into how I want our team to play next year.”
Club chief executive Steve Wild said: “At the back end of the season, Reece added a bit of extra steel and pace to our threequarter line in both attack and defence.”
Roberts, 21, was a junior at Coleman’s old club Leigh Miners Rangers and came through the Wigan development system before joining Oldham for this season.
“He’s a fantastic young prospect with bags of potential,” said the coach. “His work ethic is second to none, and he’s a captain of the future.”
YORK have landed Leigh halfback Jamie Ellis, and agreed a one-year contract extension with hooker Will Jubb.
Ellis, who has also played for St Helens, Hull, Castleford, Huddersfield and Hull KR, had a two-match loan spell at the City Knights this year.
The 31-year-old has penned twelve-month terms and coach James Ford said: I’m absolutely delighted to get this deal sealed.
“He’s a very intelligent player with a great kicking game and his ability to change tempo in shape and structure is excellent,” said coach James Ford.
Ellis said: “I spent that two weeks there and it was a breath of fresh air for me. York are a good club and things look like they are going in the right direction with the stadium and the set-up.”
Jubb, 25, started out at Hull KR and had a dual-registration spell at York before joining them in 2018.
York have also signed winger Joe Brown from Bradford while fullback or halfback Matty Marsh, winger AJ Towse, fullback Myles Harrison and secondrow Toby Warren are confirmed squad members.
WHITEHAVEN have retained halfback Nikau Williams and forward Ryan King for 2022 – but say impressive back Lachlan Walmsley turned down an offer to stay at the club.
Kiwi Williams and Aussie duo King and Walmsley all caught the eye after being signed ahead of this season.
Both versatile former South Newcastle Lions player Walmsley, 22, and French halfback Louis Jouffret, 26, are leaving the LEL Arena and being linked with Halifax.
But Whitehaven, who had both players on duty as they pushed Halifax close before being beaten 24-20 in their play-off eliminator at The Shay, revealed it’s their understanding that Jouffret is returning to France.
Director Ashley Kilpatrick said: “Louis has been brilliant since we brought him over in the middle of the season. He added that extra spark that we needed.
“Lachlan has been a revelation, both on and off the field, completely buying into the ethos of the club.
“We did make Lachlan a very good offer to stay, however clearly it wasn’t enough to keep him here.
“With Louis we have never had the chance to make him an offer as his agent informed us that he was returning to play in France next season.”
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.