OLDHAM have made Stuart Littler their new coach – and the former Swinton chief says he’s committed to “building something big and good” at the club.
The appointment, on a two-year contract, came ten weeks after the 42-year-old, who is also the Ireland coach, left the Lions.
Both Oldham, who parted company with Matt Diskin in June and brought in Brian McDermott as coaching consultant, and Swinton were relegated.
Brendan Sheridan, who worked alongside both Diskin and McDermott, will be former Salford and Leigh player Littler’s assistant.
“I’m excited by the challenge at Oldham,” said Littler, who joined Swinton as a player in 2015, later becoming assistant coach before taking the reins in July 2017, when John Duffy moved to Featherstone.
“We are in a transitional period for both Rugby League in general and Oldham in particular, but all the clubs are in the same boat and we’ve just got to get on with it.
“A few of the players have retired or moved on, but we are already talking about re-signing players and identifying new ones we want to bring in.
Oldham chairman Chris Hamilton said: “We needed someone who was up for the challenge and in Stuart we have that man.
“He’s a coach who has extensive knowledge of both League 1 and the Championship. He’s also experienced at international level with Ireland, while he has worked outside rugby in the community and he currently works in various roles at a high school in Leigh.
“He’s a good fit – just what we were looking for – and we are looking forward to working with him.
“Plans for next season have been going on behind the scenes, despite all the uncertainty, but now we have a head coach and his assistant in place we can start in earnest.”
Littler added: “I’m totally committed to anything I take on. This is a blank canvas and an opportunity to start from scratch and build up to something big and good over the next three or four years.”
HALIFAX PANTHERS coach Simon Grix says the Panthers deserved to be the “best of the rest” in the second tier, and that finishing third and reaching the play-off semi-finals has provided a solid platform to build from.
Grix’s side went down 42-10 at Featherstone, who finished second, and the Shay team chief accepted: “We had a bit to deal with in terms of unavailability, then we lost Greg Worthington early on, but those are the cards we were dealt.
“We didn’t handle the first half well, and that contributed to a margin of defeat which was disappointing, but we worked hard to put a few things right, and we kept going until the 80th minute, which was pleasing.
“I’ve no complaints about losing, because Featherstone deserved to win, and they and Toulouse have clearly been the strongest two sides. But to be the best of the rest is encouraging, and gives us something to build on.
“Every club wants to make progress year on year, and we are no different. If we can make progress on finishing third, that’s great.”
Halifax beat Whitehaven in their play-off eliminator after chalking up 13 victories from 21 games during the regular season, when they enjoyed a nine-match winning run after coming in for criticism following a patchy start which included three straight defeats.
“There were a few rough performances,” reflected Grix, 36, who had two spells at the club as a player (around a ten-year stint at Warrington) and succeeded Richard Marshall as coach during the 2019 season.
“There were some things going on which affected the side, and there were a few ill-informed comments which affected the players.
“We stayed in that hole for longer than we perhaps should have, but we bounced back, and we should take a lot of pride from that.
“Now the challenge is to move forward, and having debriefed this season, we’re already well into our preparations for next year.”
BATLEY BULLDOGS coach Craig Lingard signed Perry Whiteley for a second time, making the York winger his first new arrival for next season, then agreed a deal with Leeds hooker Oli Burton after having the 19-year-old on loan this year.
Back in 2018, when he was in charge at Keighley, the Bulldogs team chief brought the Dewsbury-born 28-year-old to the Cougars from Sheffield.
Having made 19 player retentions, Lingard expects to add around half a dozen fresh faces after a bright campaign in which the Bulldogs finished fourth, then beat Bradford to set up a play-off semi-final at Toulouse, who won 51-12.
Whiteley, 28, who can also play centre, came through the Huddersfield development system, then he had a stint in Australia, turning out in the old Country Rugby League in New South Wales, before playing for Workington and Sheffield.
After bagging eight tries in twelve games for Keighley, he joined York during the 2018 season, scoring three in two as the Knights gained promotion from League 1.
Whiteley crossed eight times in 20 games for York in 2019 and this season, has played nine times, scoring seven tries.
He also had a spell on loan at Featherstone, against whom he played for the Knights in the 1895 Cup final at Wembley, crossing in their 41-34 defeat.
Whiteley has joined a squad already including existing players Jack Blagbrough, James Brown, Kieran Buchanan, Johnny Campbell, Toby Everett, Nyle Flynn, Tom Gilmore, Adam Gledhill, Luke Hooley, Greg Johnson, Ben Kaye, Alistair Leak, Tom Lillycrop, Dane Manning, Dale Morton, George Senior, Lucas Walshaw, Michael Ward and Ben White.
Fifteen of them featured in France, with the other two on duty being Elliot Hall, the former London Skolars, Coventry and Workington back has joined Bradford, and Jodie Broughton, the 33-year-old former Leeds, Salford, Huddersfield, Catalans Dragons and Halifax winger who has suggested he will retire.
Halfback White made his 150th career appearance against Toulouse.
There have been 31 for Batley, ten for Barrow, twelve for Halifax, 84 for Swinton, one for Leeds and twelve for Gloucestershire All Golds.
BRADFORD BULLS coach John Kear has again dipped into Super League to beef up his squad by signing powerful prop Samy Kibula from Warrington.
And the Odsal boss has also landed exciting back Elliot Hall from one of his old clubs Batley.
The arrival of 22-year-old Wigan product Kibula on a one-year deal follows that of halfback Dec Patton from Salford.
Kear has also recruited ex-Leeds and Wakefield prop Jordan Baldwinson from York as he plots an improvement on this season.
Bradford, desperate to regain the Super League status lost in 2014, finished fifth and were beaten a Batley side including Hall in their play-off eliminator.
Democratic Republic of Congo-born Kibula, who is 6ft 4in tall, enjoyed Academy Grand Final success with Wigan in both 2017 and 2018.
He made one first-ream appearance while also having spells at Swinton, London Skolars and Dewsbury on loan or dual registration.
Kibula joined Warrington in 2020, and played twice before agreeing a season-long deal at Newcastle this year, only to rupture an Achilles tendon in training, ruling him out of the entire campaign.
“He was highly thought of at Wigan and Warrington. We’ll look to maximise his size and ability in an impactful way,” said Kear.
Hall, 24, who has agreed a two-year contract, scored eleven tries for Batley this year after signing from Workington, for whom he scored six tries in five games before the early end to the 2020 campaign.
Before that, he played for London Skolars and Coventry, having taken up Rugby League while at Loughborough University and played for England Students.
“His try return per appearance at Batley has been phenomenal, and he will certainly add some pace to our backline,” explained Kear.
Bulls backrower Brad Gallagher, who played six times this season, has been released from a contract which ran until next year in order to pursue alternative playing opportunities.
SHEFFIELD EAGLES coach Mark Aston says there’s plenty more to come from Joel and Izaac Farrell after the brothers agreed contract extensions, alongside experienced halfback Anthony Thackeray and backrower Evan Hodgson.
The experienced Eagles chief wants to see halfback Izaac, 23, playing alongside secondrow Joel, 27, for Jamaica at next year’s World Cup.
Joel, who has agreed terms to 2023, has already made six international appearances, and Aston has challenged Izaac, whose extension runs until next year, to produce bright performances for Sheffield and force his way into the Reggae Warriors line-up.
The former Huddersfield player joined from Rochdale ahead of last season, and Aston explained: “When you look at where he’s come from and how he has applied himself, we’ve seen glimpses from him and now we need consistency.
“There is no doubt he can kick a ball, that he can beat defenders, but he needs to learn when to pass and when to take the defence on.
“He’ll build that into his game and when he does, he’ll become consistent and when he’s consistent, he’ll be a threat.
“He has done really well to get his mojo and confidence back. Now he must really focus on going to the next level.
“I’ve challenged him to lose a bit more weight and have a bit more agility about him.
“He’s at a relatively young age where he can improve and get better, which is massive for us.”
Joel had three years with Dewsbury and two at Batley before switching to Sheffield.
He was an 1895 Cup winner in 2019, and after a disappointing twelfth-placed finish this season, is aiming to contribute to an improvement as the club return to the steel city following a year playing out of Doncaster due to building work at their Olympic Legacy Park ground.
“He’s feisty and makes the opposition worry about him,” said Aston. “He gets after sides, which we need, and he’s not massively old, so has his best years in front of him.”
WIDNES VIKINGS have taken another step towards completing next season’s squad by agreeing a one-year contract extension with winger Ollie Brookes, and signing Sheffield forward Aaron Brown for 2022.
The 20-year-old Wigan-born Brookes broke into the side this time around after coming through the Vikings development system.
He made six appearances, scoring his first senior try against Halifax in the 25-6 home win in August.
He then bagged a double in last month’s 62-4 victory over Oldham at the DCBL Stadium.
“I feel like it’s a home for me here, so I’m glad to be staying for at least another year,” said the ex-Shevington Sharks junior.
“I want to play as many games as I can next season. I feel like I gave myself good credit in the last couple of games I played, so I want to start well and hopefully keep that going without any injuries.”
Meanwhile, fullback Jack Owens and stand-off Danny Craven have taken up new roles within the club to join the full-time staff.
The pair had already agreed contract extensions of three and two years respectively.
The aim is for them to help develop the club while preparing for life beyond their playing careers.
Owens will work in a business administration role, liaising with existing, and developing new, club partners.
“After signing my new deal earlier this year, it’s great to be able to extend my role and help out in an area in which I believe I can add a lot of value,” said the 27-year-old, who is in bis second spell at his hometown club having also played for St Helens and Leigh.
Craven, 29, will work with the Widnes media team, and explained: “Having been here for almost twelve years now, it’s nice for the club to believe I have the potential and capabilities to fulfil a full-time position.”
LONDON BRONCOS coach Jermaine Coleman says he’s already made significant progress on assembling a new-look part-time squad for 2022, with skipper Will Lovell leading the way by signing a two-year contract extension.
The 39-year-old switched capital clubs after seven years in charge at London Skolars after the Broncos last month announced they were abandoning full-time status.
That followed a disappointing campaign during which coach Danny Ward departed and Tom Tsang took interim control, but was unable to clinch a play-off place.
The Broncos are set to lose a string of players, with winger Abbas Miski (to Wigan), hooker Matt Fozard (to Widnes) and prop Greg Richards (to Hull KR) confirmed departures.
Coleman will make full use of the club’s established Academy system, while he has also been delving into both the UK and overseas markets, with the aim of tying down the most talented players for more than a year.
“Making signings on multi-year deals will stop the problem the Broncos have had in recent seasons where our best talent was being picked off before the season’s end,” he explained.
“To make this work, we need the right mix of experienced players and hungry young players, but there are several other factors to consider such as attitude, willingness to buy into our culture, and commitment to helping the club move forward off the field too.
“The first job was to get key players from the current squad retained and I have been able to do that with several of them, which I am really pleased about.
“These players will be a key part of what we do next year, so getting them on board early means they can now enjoy another month off with peace of mind for both of us.
“We have also managed to secure some really exciting young players from around the UK, players I have watched for some time, and they will hopefully grab this opportunity to join a big Championship club and thrive in the environment we are going to create.
“We have a number of targets who are playing, or have played Super League recently that will hopefully give us additional options in the positions we needed to strengthen.
“And there are players from Australia who have agreed terms, however the visa process is a complicated one, therefore we are waiting with fingers crossed to see if those players can join us in November for pre-season.”
TOULOUSE OLYMPIQUE coach Sylvain Houles says an international against England will be a fitting finish to an exciting year for the sport in France.
The old rivals meet for the first time in three years at Catalan Dragons’ Stade Gilbert Brutus in Perpignan on Saturday week, October 23.
That precedes a World Cup clash between the pair when the delayed tournament takes place next year.
Catalans and Toulouse topped their respective tables before reaching the Super League Grand Final and Million Pound Game respectively.
The clubs might be 130 miles apart, but they have close links, and have staged joint training sessions.
“It’s a new era for the game here, and we have both contributed,” said former France international Houles, 40, who has coached Toulouse since 2012.
“The two clubs work really closely together, and of course our dream has long been to play Catalans in Super League.
“With (Sydney Roosters coach) Trent Robinson working within the France national team system and talk of the 2025 World Cup being here, we want to build a strong pool of players from this country.”
FEATHERSTONE ROVERS coach James Webster labelled the Million Pound Game clash with Toulouse in France as the biggest in the Yorkshire club’s history.
Rovers, who last played in the top flight in 1995, lost out 24-6 to Toronto Wolfpack in Canada the previous time the MPG took place two years ago.
They also missed out on a Super League berth in 1998, going down 24-22 to neighbours Wakefield in the then Division One Grand Final at Huddersfield.
But Webster believes the current Rugby League landscape means the match at the Stade Ernest Wallon had more significance than any previous outing in the club’s rich history.
“I don’t want to downgrade 1983 or 1967 and 1973 (the three Challenge Cup final wins), but Featherstone have been knocking on the door for so long,” he said.
The RFL have been in touch with the female Halifax supporter who says she was subjected to sexist abuse during the play-off semi-final at Featherstone.
WHITEHAVEN have signed North Wales Crusaders winger Dave Eccleston on a two-year contract – after a spying mission to arch-rivals Workington!
“We’d had Dave recommended to us by (secondrow) Liam Cooper,” explained director and football committee member Ashley Kilpatrick of the 25-year-old St Helens product who has also played for Oldham and joined North Wales in 2019.
“Liam played with Dave at Saints and spoke highly of him and about how well he carries from the back and how strong his defence is.
“I went to watch him for North Wales at Workington, where he played in the centre, which isn’t his normal position.
“I was very impressed and reported back to the coaching team, who continued to monitor him.
“When we met Dave, what came across was his enthusiasm for the game. Another big thing was his attitude.
“He is a great lad and we feel he will fit right in with the squad and what we are doing as a club both on and off the field.”
Coach Jonty Gorley added: “He’s come through the Saints production line, so you know you’re getting a well-rounded player with the right attributes.”
SWINTON LIONS have made a second signing from fellow relegated club Oldham, with lively hooker Matty Wilkinson joining centre or secondrow Max Roberts in moving to the Lions.
The 25-year-old joined the Roughyeds from Salford midway through the 2017 season, having had spells on loan to North Wales Crusaders and on dual registration at Halifax.
Like Roberts, Wilkinson is a product of Swinton coach Allan Coleman’s former club Leigh Miners Rangers, and also played rugby union for Leigh before signing for Salford at 17.
“Matty is another I coached to representative honours in the community game,” said Coleman, who is also the England Lions director of rugby.
“He is a very exciting player, and will prove good for us as an additional number nine. His pace and reading of the game will be massive for us.”
Wilkinson said: “I’m looking forward to playing for Allan again. I really enjoyed my time with him at Leigh Miners Rangers, and Allan also coached me at Lancashire amateur level.
“It looks like Swinton are building something exciting for next year. They are a good club with great facilities and also play an attractive style of rugby.
“After a bit of a frustrating year personally, I’m looking forward to achieving something positive.”
Swinton, who have agreed one-year contract extensions with skipper Rhodri Lloyd and Lewis Hatton, had previously landed Bradford’s former Warrington back Reece Hamlett.
NEWCASTLE THUNDER coach Eamon O’Carroll is looking forward to working with his players day in, day out in pre-season as Thunder prepare to go full-time.
November 1 is the red-letter day for the 34-year-old ex-Ireland forward, who left a full-time environment at Catalans Dragons, where he was assistant to Steve McNamara, to move the North-East in December.
“The biggest shock was the lack of time with the squad,” explained O’Carroll, whose side finished eleventh.
“We were training two times a week, working with players who were coming to sessions from full-time jobs and some of whom were travelling more than two hours to get there.
“Having so little time together meant you had to prioritise what was most important in trying to make the team better.
“In a full-time environment, you get to cover most things but in part time you can’t, you have to choose.
“Holding my hands up, I probably got that wrong at some points this year, but that experience puts us into a great position going full-time.”
DEWSBURY RAMS coach Lee Greenwood says there’s plenty more to come from Chris Annakin after the forward signed a two-year contract extension at his hometown club.
After loan stints in 2017, 2018 and 2019, the 30-year-old former Super League player moved to the Rams from Wakefield in a permanent deal in 2020.
Annakin played 77 times in nine seasons at Trinity and also had loan stints at Workington, Featherstone and London Broncos.
Greenwood said: “We are really pleased that Chris will be staying with us for the next two seasons. He loves the club and we love having him here. He is a real asset to the squad.
“Chris struggled with some work issues this year which led to a disrupted training schedule, which was unfortunate. It’s fair to say we didn’t see the best of him.
“But he is determined to put this year behind him and do what he does best in leading our team from the front on the field next year.”
Dewsbury have signed Hunslet prop Harry Kidd having previously landed Hull KR forward Owen Harrison and agreed one-year contract extensions with loose-forward Jon Magrin, centre Davey Dixon, halfback Alex Smith and forward Jordan Schofield.
YORK CITY KNIGHTS have agreed a one-year contract extension with prop Jack Teanby, who said staying at the club was a “no-brainer”.
His fellow forward Marcus Stock is also staying no board for 2022.
Teanby, 25, arrived from Dewsbury as the Knights prepared for second-tier rugby following promotion from League 1 in 2018.
He has made 51 appearances for James Ford’s side, and was recently called into the Scotland squad for their clash with Jamaica at Featherstone on Sunday week, October 24.
“Jack is a key re-signing for us,” said Ford. “He makes good metres in possession, he has developed a passing game and he works hard defensively.
“The key characteristic that draws me to him, though, is his drive to improve. I’ve really enjoyed coaching him.”
Teanby said: “It was a no-brainer. As soon as the offer came, it was a guaranteed yes from me.
“I’ve really enjoyed my time at York, the lads and the fans are great and, by having another year under Fordy, hopefully I can progress and become a better player.”
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