FEATHERSTONE ROVERS coach James Webster says his side will be raring to go by the start of next season – and ready to mount another promotion bid.
The Yorkshire side suffered the disappointment of defeat in the Million Pound Game for the second time in three years against Toulouse in France.
League Leaders’ Shield winners Toulouse were 34-12 winners at their Stade Ernest Wallon home, which will now stage Super League action in 2022.
It was only a third defeat in 28 matches in all competitions this year for Featherstone, who were 1985 Cup winners against York at Wembley in July.
“The challenge for next year will be trying for promotion again,” said Webster, who succeeded fellow Australian Ryan Carr at the helm two years ago.
“It will be a strong competition again – (relegated) Leigh will be strong – but I feel we will be up there competing.”
Webster will again work with a part-time squad (Toulouse and London Broncos were full-time this year), and added: “We are what we are and maximise what we do.
“(Chairman) Mark Campbell always puts his blood, sweat and tears into Featherstone. We’ve always been competitive.
“The club has always been about the community and the supporters. They back us through thick and thin, and I’m sure they will come down next year.”
Webster said Toulouse were the better side in the big match, adding: “I thought they were outstanding in the first 20 minutes. They sucked so much energy out of us.
“We had hoped to come back into the game and there were some big moments in the second half but Toulouse countered us.
“While we had some good opportunities, we couldn’t compete with their physical dominance, but I’m ultra-proud because we were really courageous in lots of things we did.
“Toulouse have shown they are the best team. (Coach) Sylvain Houles has done an excellent job. I wish them all the best next year.”
WIDNES VIKINGS will have both Will Tilleke and Aaron Brown among their pack options next season after the homegrown prop agreed a one-year contract extension in the wake of the signing of the Sheffield backrow.
Tilleke, 21, was a mainstay this time around as the Vikings finished eighth, with coach Simon Finnigan seeking more consistency from a reshaped side in 2022.
The Halton Farnworth Hornets product who came through the Widnes development system was named the club’s Young Player of the Year.
“Growing up, all I wanted to do was play for Widnes, so to have the opportunity is a privilege,” he said.
Brown, 29, has been with Sheffield since a switch from Dewsbury in 2019.
He was a product of the Leeds Academy system, and the Rhinos’ Under 20 Player of the Year in 2012 before scoring 46 tries in 143 games for Dewsbury between 2013 and 2018.
Brown marked his first season at Sheffield with a hat-trick of tries in the 36-18 1895 Cup final Wembley win over the club he is now joining.
“I’m really pleased to be signing for Widnes. It’s a massive club with a big history. The fans are second to none and I can’t wait to get out there in front of them,” he said.
“I think with the team we’ve got, we should be competing near the top and making the play-offs.
“Finny (Finnigan) is putting something good together and it’s going to be an exciting season. I’m looking forward to getting started and meeting all the boys.”
Widnes have recruited a string of new forwards, with Brown following Oldham trio Liam Bent, Tyler Dupree and Dec Gregory, Dewsbury’s Matty Fleming, London Broncos’ Matty Fozard, Bradford’s Levy Nzoungou and Newcastle’s Sam Wilde to the DCBL Stadium.
And Kenny Baker, Owen Farnworth, Shane Grady, Adam Lawton, Matty Smith and now Tilleke have been retained.
YORK CITY KNIGHTS coach James Ford says new arrivals Liam Harris, the Halifax halfback, and London Broncos hooker Sam Davis and centre Jacob Ogden will add pace and dynamism to his growing squad.
It will be a third spell at the City Knights for 24-year-old Harris, who had impressive stints on dual registration from Hull KR in 2017 and on loan from Hull in 2019, when Ford’s side finished third in the Championship.
After a disappointing ninth-placed finish this year, Ford, who has also recruited experienced Leigh playmaker Jamie Ellis, wants to reignite his side’s challenge, and believes Harris, who helped Halifax finish third, can be a key man.
“He is an intelligent young man who has yet to play to his full potential,” he said. “He’ll bring a good level of game management, a strong kicking game and a threat with his pace and distribution.”
Harris said: “I enjoyed playing at York previously. I probably wouldn’t have signed if James Ford wasn’t the coach. He brings the best out of his players.
“I roomed with Jamie (Ellis) in Tenerife on a pre-season camp with Hull KR. He’s really experienced, I know how good he can be so I’m really looking forward to learning more from him.”
Davis, 22, who like Harris has penned a one-year deal, will compete with Will Jubb for the starting hooker’s spot.
The Academy product made three Super League appearances for the Broncos in 2019 and played eight times this year before injury ended his season early.
“He is tenacious and will provide energy and effort in abundance,” said Ford. “He’ll add a huge amount of competitive spirit and dynamism to our middle unit.”
Jamaica international Ogden, 23, also came through the Broncos development ranks for a first-team bow in 2017. He played twice in Super League.
“He is a very strong and athletic player who has a good level of drive to continue progressing his game,” explained Ford.
BATLEY BULLDOGS signing Oli Burton could come up against twin brother Joe once again after penning his one-year deal with the Bulldogs, who have also recruited London Broncos halfback James Meadows.
While halfback or fullback Meadows, 22, has been at the Broncos since 2018, the 19-year-old Burton brothers were together in the Leeds development system before Joe joined Bradford a year ago.
The versatile back agreed an Odsal contract extension to cover 2022 back in May, when Oli was still on the Rhinos roster.
Now the hooker will compete with long-serving Alistair Leak and Ben Kaye for a Batley berth after impressing on loan this year.
Oli made four appearances for Craig Lingard’s side, who made the play-off semi-finals before going down to Toulouse in France.
His stint took in the July visit to Bradford, when Joe played on the wing for the Bulls and scored a try in their 30-16 win.
“Oli is a really talented young player with a fantastic attitude and bags of enthusiasm. We’re thrilled to have him,” said Lingard, the Championship Coach of the Year.
The player himself explained: “I had a great time on loan at Batley and I’m really happy to be joining. I’m excited to get going and kick on.”
The twins are the sons of former Halifax, Dewsbury and Hunslet player Danny Burton, who also won the National Conference League with Oulton Raiders.
That’s where the twins, who both featured in the England Academy performance squad, and their elder sister Abi, who represented Great Britain in the union sevens tournament at this year’s Tokyo Olympics, got their first taste of rugby.
Both Oli and Joe also played Kippax Welfare, winning a number of trophies.
Oli became Batley’s second new signing as the club try to build on a highly encouraging campaign this time around.
York winger Perry Whiteley, who played under Lingard at Keighley, was the first.
LONDON BRONCOS continued their squad building by recruiting former players Lewis Bienek and Iliess Macani as well as Coventry halfback Dan Coates and Workington’s Ireland international hooker Dec O’Donnell on two-year deals.
They have also agreed that length of contract extension with homegrown halfback Rian Horsman.
Ireland international prop Bienek, 23, versatile back Macani, 27, ex-Newcastle player Coates, 22, former Wigan and Leigh man O’Donnell, 23, and Academy product Horsman, 20, join skipper Will Lovell as confirmed members of new coach Jermaine Coleman’s player pool.
And that’s provided fans with a pick-me-up after the departure of five more players – backrow Sadiq Adebiyi to Wakefield, hooker Sam Davis and centre Jacob Ogden to York, secondrow Jacob Jones to Leigh and halfback or fullback James Meadows to Batley.
Both Bienek, born in the South-East London borough of Sidcup, and Macani, from Tottenham, started out at the Broncos having come through the club’s development system.
Bienek left for Hull in 2018 (he had a loan spell back at the club that year) and has spent this season at Castleford.
Macani moved to Bradford in 2017, then played for Sheffield and London Skolars, where Coleman was at the helm.
“Lewis is an exciting talent. Unfortunately it hasn’t quite worked out for him at Hull and Cas, however he is still a very special player,” said Coleman.
“It was clear he wanted to come back to his roots and be a part of what we are trying to create. He will have a huge impact for us and is desperate to see the club be successful.
“Iliess has one of the best attitudes of any player I have had the pleasure of working with. His desire to push himself to the maximum and get those around him playing to their best levels is what makes him such a great character in any group.
Horsman comes from Brentwood in Essex, and Coleman continued: “Rian has a great skill set and has the fantastic leadership qualities all top halves have. I can’t wait to work with him and see him progress.”
Horsman said: “This year was a learning curve for me. Now I know what to expect I know I can improve further and hopefully play week in, week out.”
HALIFAX PANTHERS coach Simon Grix says further new signings will follow Hull KR halfback Joe Keyes and versatile back Lachlan Walmsley to The Shay as the Panthers bid to improve on this year’s third-placed finish and play-off semi-final spot.
Ireland international Keyes, 26, who has spent the last two seasons at Rovers after moving from Bradford, is one of a string of players Halifax have been linked with.
Keyes, who started out at London Broncos, had Championship experience this year via loan spells at York and back at Bradford.
He has signed a two-year contract and Grix explained: “Joe is a quality player with a well-rounded skill set which he has displayed at Championship level.
“Opportunities have been limited at Hull KR despite going well when called upon, so Joe has taken control of his own destiny and decided it is time to move on.”
Australian Walmsley, 23, has been a stand-out performer for Whitehaven this year, having joined from South Newcastle Lions.
The pair join 16 other players under contract at the club.
Ed Barber, Will Calcott, Jacob Fairbank, Matt Garside, Ben Kavanagh, Kevin Larroyer, Zack McComb, Brandon Moore, Elliot Morris, Dan Murray, Connor Robinson, James Saltonstall, Adam Tangata, Ben Tibbs, James Woodburn-Hall and Greg Worthington are still on board.
Meanwhile, Curtis Davies, Connor Davies, Scott Grix, Sion Jones, Liam Harris, who has joined York, Conor McGrath and Nick Rawsthorne are leaving.
“For a number of reasons, we will have a fair amount of change this year, but for me the pros outweigh the cons,” added Grix after his first full season at the helm.
“We have worked hard behind the scenes to get the right people to complement those already on board and create competition across the squad.
“We have made some steps forward this year but the Championship gets better and better, year on year.
“We know we have it all to do and not a great deal of time to get ourselves ready to go again.”
DEWSBURY RAMS have added both experience and youthful potential to their player pool with the acquisition of Scotland backrow Dale Ferguson from Featherstone, Jamaica prop Ross Peltier from Doncaster and former England Community Lions back Ollie Greensmith from Wakefield.
Ferguson, 33, is fresh from featuring in the Million Pound Game for Rovers, who signed him from Huddersfield in 2020. The one-time England Knights international has also played for Wakefield and Bradford.
He had a loan stint at Dewsbury this year and explained: “I thoroughly enjoyed my time at the club. I was unlucky at Featherstone having dealt with a fair few injuries.”
Coach Lee Greenwood, who had already signed forwards Owen Harrison from Hull KR and Harry Kidd from Hunslet, said: “This is a huge signing. It should be a big confidence boost for everyone associated with the Rams that Dale chose us amid plenty of other interest.”
Peltier, 29, played for Keighley and home-city club Bradford before spending two seasons at Doncaster.
Greensmith, 20, was loaned to Doncaster this year, helping them reach the League 1 play-off final. He came through the Wakefield Academy to make one first-team appearance.
“It was a straightforward decision for me after speaking with Lee about the club and his coaching techniques,” he said.
“I think my time at Doncaster helped me develop physically after playing Academy level and gave me the experience of playing in high-pressure games.
“I’m looking forward to the new challenges that come at Championship level.”
Greenwood added: “Ollie is a great prospect and we have done well to get him. I was surprised to hear he wasn’t staying at Wakefield.”
Dewsbury have also agreed contract extensions with hooker Dom Speakman and prop Aaron Hall.
St Helens product Speakman, 27, began a third spell at Dewsbury midway through this year while Hall, 28, moved from Swinton ahead of the season.
NEWCASTLE THUNDER have landed Castleford backrow Alex Foster on a two-year contract – and plan to unveil further new signings at their 2022 season launch evening on Thursday.
The ambitious North-East club will complete their transition to full-time status on November 1 after operating a hybrid system this time around.
Thunder finished eleventh to consolidate second-tier status after being elevated from League 1 through a bidding process to take the place of Leigh, who moved into Super League through the same method.
Former Leeds, Featherstone and London Broncos player Foster, 28, has made more than 80 Super League appearances.
Thirteen players are leaving Newcastle – Bob Beswick, Alex Clegg, Reece Dean, Kieran Gill, Ollie Gowing, Kieran Hudson, Liam McAvoy, Cole Oakley, Calum Turner, Cian Tyrer, Sam Wilde, Matty Wright and Lewis Young.
TOULOUSE OLYMPIQUE are ready for Super League, with promotion a long time in the making, according to Jy Hitchcox.
The former Castleford and Bradford winger helped Olympique realise their dream with a 34-12 win over Featherstone, another of his old clubs, in the Million Pound Game in France.
“Before the match, we had different people speaking to us,” explained the 32-year-old Australian, who started out at Wests Tigers and joined Toulouse, founded back in 1937, last season.
“Our coach (Sylvain Houles), his assistant and the trainer all played for this club ten years ago, and that was when the ball was set in motion to make Super League. It’s not just a fad. It’s been in the making for a long time.
“We had another guy called Raymond who came in to talk to us. He went to the first-ever Toulouse game when he was three years old.
“He’s come to every game he possibly can and spoke about how much he wants to see Toulouse playing in Super League. Things like that meant so much.”
Toulouse have signed Huddersfield hooker James Cunningham.
BRADFORD BULLS winger David Foggin-Johnston, like hooker George Flanagan, is staying with the Bulls for another year.
The 25-year-old scored nine tries this season as the Odsal side earned a play-off place.
Foggin-Johnston joined Bradford after scoring eleven tries for Doncaster in 2016, 16 for York in 2017 and ten for Hunslet in 2018.
He bagged five in his first season with Bradford before the 2020 campaign was curtailed by Covid.
Bradford has become a home to me,” he said. “It’s the longest I have been at a club.
“I had a tough run and Covid took a year off the chance for me to cement my place in the team.
“But I have started to show some consistency, get more games and get over the line a few times, and it has done me a world of good.
Coach John Kear explained: “He went from being on the outer, continued to work hard at training and when he got the opportunity, he put his best foot forward on a consistent basis.”
Flanagan, 35, was in the Bradford Academy and played for Batley, Dewsbury, Featherstone and Hunslet before returning to Odsal, and finally making his Bulls debut, in 2018.
“George is someone who embodies just what it means to play for this club,” said Kear. “He is passionate and works hard to ensure he puts his best foot forward.
“I am certain he has another very productive year in front of him. He is very important to us.”
OLDHAM have a new vice-chairman, with John Roddy stepping up his existing involvement as the main club sponsor.
The 62-year-old who runs Warrington-based firm CDX Security is a former chairman of both Salford and Swinton.
Oldham chairman Chris Hamilton believes that experience will be a big boon as the club readjust to League 1 following their drop from the Championship alongside Swinton.
“I’m delighted to welcome John’s additional support. He’s been a big supporter of the club for the past two years. He’s also been a friend for a number of years,” he said.
“He has experience of working at other clubs and he understands the challenges ahead for a club like Oldham.”
Roddy says he is ready to work with new coach Stuart Littler and assistant Brendan Sheridan to “establish a strategy to enhance performance on the field and to identify pathways to success and eventual promotion back to the Championship.”
Oldham have lost a string of players in the wake of relegation, but have successfully negotiated contract extensions with winger Tommy Brierley, former Wigan Reserve team winger Ben Holcroft, ex-Castleford Academy hooker Brad Jinks and former Oldham St Annes back Joe Hartley.
WHITEHAVEN have snapped up Newcastle props Liam McAvoy and Kieran Hudson.
The Cumbrian club, who reached this year’s play-offs, have been tracking McAvoy, 28, since he started out at neighbours Workington.
He will help replace retiring skipper Marc Shackley at the LEL Arena.
McAvoy, from Cockermouth, topped 70 appearances for Town before moving to Newcastle in 2017. He had a spell in Australia last year before rejoining the Kingston Park club.
“I’ve tried to get Liam here since I came to Whitehaven in 2018,” said coach Jonty Gorley.
“Every team needs a Liam McAvoy because he is what it says on the tin. He does a lot of work, he has a good engine on him, he carries well and has a bit of skill.”
Newcastle Academy graduate Hudson, 21, comes with McAvoy’s recommendation.
“Kieran is a young lad who started playing his rugby on the wing and is now a frontrower. He’s got pace and he’s 6ft 4in and has a bit of weight about him,” added Gorley.
“Liam has told us about him, about what he can do. I’ve seen his clips, and he played against us last season.”
SWINTON LIONS skipper Rhodri Lloyd says he’s determined to lead the club back to winning ways, and that if they don’t top League 1, next season will be a failure.
There were just four victories and a draw from 26 games in all competitions this time around, with a basement finish bringing relegation.
Wales international centre or second row Lloyd, who previously played for Wigan, is set for an eighth season at Swinton after extending his contract.
And the popular 28-year-old, who began his Rugby League career with South Wales Scorpions, said: “I’m looking forward to getting back to winning ways in 2022.
“This year was a setback. Swinton belong in the Championship, and anything less than winning League 1 next year will be a failure.”
Coach Allan Coleman said: “Rhod is our leader in everything we do both on and off the field. Players like him don’t come around very often.”
Swinton have also signed experienced Oldham operator Dan Abram, the 25-year-old former St Helens, Barrow, Whitehaven and Rochdale fullback who can also play winger and halfback.
SHEFFIELD EAGLES have retained fullback Josh Guzdek and hooker James Davey.
Former Hull KR junior Guzdek, 26, has been a consistent performer since signing from Dewsbury in 2019.
“I want to have a better pre-season and hopefully go into the games a little fitter and stronger,” he said.
It will be eight Eagles campaign (in two spells) for Wakefield product Davey, 32, who returned to the steel-city club from Batley three years ago and explained: “I know I’ve not got many years left in my career, and I do want to finish here.”
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