WORKINGTON TOWN coach Chris Thorman says the anticipation of all three Cumbrian teams being in the same division next season is already building.
After Barrow were promoted to the second tier as League 1 champions, Town went up via a 36-12 win over Doncaster in the play-off final in front of almost 3,000 fans at Derwent Park.
That ended a five-season stint in the third section for Workington.
Meanwhile Whitehaven, promoted to the second tier as League 1 champions in 2019, when Barrow were relegated, raised eyebrows by reaching this year’s play-offs.
With the Championship to be broadcast live on Premier Sports in 2022, even more will be able to watch the battle to see who emerges as the top dog of Cumbrian Rugby League.
“The excitement is definitely building for the Cumbrian derbies in the Championship,” said Thorman, who became coach in May 2019.
“I’ve not been in the area that long, but one thing I realised quite quickly is the significance and importance of the derbies, as well as obviously who comes out on top.
“We only got to play Barrow once this year (the 24-24 draw at Craven Park drew a crowd of 3,146) and we were really disappointed that we didn’t get to face them at home due to Covid.
“Whitehaven were quite rightly in the league above so we never got to play them either.
“We are already licking our lips at the prospect of those games.
“But as well as that, a lot of stuff hinges on the financial wellbeing of clubs, and these games – with the support and income they generate – go a long way towards that, so it really is exciting times right now.
“I’ll take all publicity we can get for the game, especially below Super League, so it is great to think that some of these games, and the Championship in general, will be on TV on a regular basis.”
LEIGH CENTURIONS have stepped up their preparations for a promotion tilt next year by signing four new backs and agreeing a contract extension with Kiwi forward Mark Ioane.
The 30-year-old former Gold Coast Titans and St George Illawarra Dragons prop signed from London Broncos ahead of the truncated 2020 Championship campaign made 15 Super League appearances for the Centurions this year.
Versatile Australian Jy Hitchcox, who helped Toulouse win promotion to Super League this year, teenage Swinton prospect Luis Roberts and Widnes player Jayden Hatton, also a winger, have joined on permanent deals while St Helens fullback or winger Tom Nisbet has agreed a year-long loan.
Leigh had already taken Saints’ England Knights hooker Aaron Smith on the same arrangement.
Hitchcox, 32, has also played for Wests Tigers, Featherstone, Castleford and Bradford.
Roberts, 19, was born in Leigh and made two Super League appearances for Salford in 2020 before scoring ten tries in 18 games for Swinton, who were relegated from the Championship this year.
Head of rugby Chris Chester said: “Luis is a good athlete and a great ball carrier who knows his way to the line.”
Both Hatton and Nisbet, who played once for Leigh on loan this year, are 22 and came through the development system at their respective clubs.
Chester continued: “We are building a squad with a really good blend of young players like Tom and Jayden who will benefit from working alongside the likes of Joe Wardle (signed from Huddersfield) and Joel Tomkins (Catalans).
“Tom was briefly at our club before. I’ve heard some really good things about him. He’s come through a top-class system at Saints.
“Jayden also shows what we are trying to do with our recruitment. We are not just planning for next year but after that when we aim to be in the Super League.
“Jayden wanted to back himself and play in a full-time environment and that’s as a very positive sign.”
FEATHERSTONE ROVERS coach Brian McDermott is looking forward to a reunion with Luke Briscoe and working with Matty Wildie and Dane Chisholm as he aims to guide Rovers into Super League.
However popular halfback Fa’amanu Brown is heading back to Australia.
Leeds winger Briscoe, like Leigh halfback or hooker Wildie, has signed up for a second spell at Rovers, who have agreed a one-year contract extension with halfback Chisholm amid interest from rival clubs.
McDermott, whose appointment as James Webster’s successor was confirmed last week, worked with Briscoe at Leeds, for whom the 27-year-old made a Super League debut in 2014.
He had a successful stint at Featherstone in 2017 and 2018, scoring 43 tries in 44 games, returning to Leeds midway through the second of those seasons after equalling thirties Leeds winger Eric Harris’ all-time Rugby League record of scoring in 17 successive appearances.
This year, he played 25 times for the Rhinos, scoring four tries, and will add to a Rovers squad which already includes prolific try-scorers in Gareth Gale and Craig Hall, who are both contracted until 2023.
“I have worked with Luke previously,” said McDermott. “He has had a strong season at Leeds and has developed well.”
Wildie, 31, started out at Wakefield and also played for Dewsbury before a three-year stint between 2016 and 2018 at Featherstone, from whom he joined Bradford. He has been at Leigh for two years.
Australian-born France international Chisholm, 31, played for Melbourne Storm, Bradford and Sheffield before a switch to Featherstone in 2019.
“Dane is an experienced high-quality performer,” added McDermott. “It’s a really strong statement to be retaining people of this calibre, and I know he had offers from other clubs on the table.”
Chisholm said: “I’m impressed with the appointment of Brian Mac. I’m sure with his experience and the signings we’ve made, we can go one step further in 2022.”
YORK CITY KNIGHTS chairman Jon Flatman has thanked those who contribute to the club’s Squad Builder Fund after the addition of powerhouse forward Pauli Pauli to a player pool which will again include Chris Clarkson, Danny Kirmond and Brendan O’Hagan.
Captain and backrower Clarkson, ex-Wakefield forward Kirmond and Australian halfback O’Hagan have all agreed one-year contract extensions.
Australian Pauli, 27, who is 6ft 4in and 20st, has moved to the City Knights after two seasons at Salford.
The former Parramatta Eels, Newcastle Knights and Wakefield player represented the Combined Nations All Stars against England in June.
He was a Wembley try-scorer in Salford’s 17-16 Challenge Cup final defeat by Leeds last year.
The Squad Builder Fund has also helped secure halfbacks Jamie Ellis from Leigh and Liam Harris from Halifax.
Flatman said: “The fact we are able to bring in people like Pauli is in no small part down to the Squad Builder.
“The difference it makes is vast, as shown by the calibre of player it has helped us recruit, not just in this instance but across our whole squad.”
Coach James Ford said: “I’m keen to help Pauli play at the very top of his game.
“He’s a big, intimidating man who will add another dimension to our team in attack and defence.
“I’ve spoken to a number of people and there was a unanimous opinion he’s a player I’d enjoy coaching.
“He is keen to work hard at his game and that was something that really drew me towards him.”
Having signed Hull prop Masi Matongo as well as Pauli Pauli, York have also snapped up Sheffield winger Olly Butterworth.
The 23-year-old paratrooper is a Great Britain bobsleigh international and former rugby union player who signed a short-term deal with Sheffield in July.
“Olly has a huge amount of potential. He’s an outstanding athlete with a great mentality towards learning,” said Ford.
DEWSBURY RAMS have made it a trio of signings from Featherstone by bringing in forward Jimmy Beckett – after completing a Doncaster double by landing leading League 1 halfback Matty Beharrell.
Prop Beckett, 22, has been at Rovers for three years after leaving Castleford, and Rams coach Lee Greenwood, who had him on loan this year, reckons he could yet play top-flight rugby.
“Jimmy has all the attributes to be a quality frontrower at Championship and potentially Super League level. I’m pleased to get him on board,” said Greenwood, who has lost prop Tom Garratt to Hull KR.
“He wants a big pre-season and to be a regular for us. He impressed us with his attitude and willingness to learn while on loan and I’m sure there’s a lot more to come.”
Beckett said: “Lee gave me an opportunity and now I’ve got the chance to repay him for putting his faith in me.
“For me personally, last season was one of my best. I played a lot of minutes and thought I started to establish myself as a Championship prop.
“I want to become an enforcer within the squad and fill the shoes of players who have left.
“We finished off the season with some really good wins, and if we can build on that we have every chance of pushing for that top six.”
With 179 points from eleven tries, 67 goals and a field-goal, Beharrell was this year’s second top third-tier points-scorer behind Keighley’s Jack Miller (262).
He has joined Doncaster teammate, prop Ross Peltier, at Dewsbury, and Greenwood, who has also recruited Hull KR’s Owen Harrison and Hunslet’s Harry Kidd, added: “I feel we have a good mix of youth and experience in our frontrow positions.”
Jamaica international utility man Keenen Tomlinson and centre Jason Walton have agreed a one-year contract extensions.
Tomlinson moved from Batley in January while Walton joined from Featherstone in 2020.
WIDNES VIKINGS have made Sheffield secondrow Olly Davies their eleventh new signing for 2022.
The move for the St Helens product who joined the Eagles from Swinton in 2018 and turns 26 later this month represents a second Vikings raid on the steel-city club after the acquisition of backrow Aaron Brown.
Davies has made more than 80 appearances for Sheffield and, like Brown, helped them beat Widnes 36-18 in the inaugural 1895 Cup final at Wembley in 2019.
Widnes coach Simon Finnigan has also signed Oldham quartet, forward Liam Bent, prop Tyler Dupree, hooker Dec Gregory and winger Ryan Ince, Dewsbury centre Matty Fleming, London Broncos hooker Matty Fozard, Workington winger Brad Holroyd, Bradford prop Levy Nzoungou and Newcastle backrow Sam Wilde.
“Widnes are a huge club with a fantastic history,” said Davies. “They are putting together an exciting squad for 2022.
“It’s going to be a really competitive Championship but I’m confident that we will be up there with the best sides when the play-offs come around.
“I’ve seen first hand at Wembley the passion the Widnes fans have for the club and I’m excited to be part of things.”
Widnes have also agreed a one-year contract extensions with hooker Lewis Hulme and utility back Lloyd Roby, although halfback Lewis Else has joined League 1 Swinton.
Hulme, 27, came through the Widnes development system before playing for local community club Halton Farnworth Hornets, rejoining the Vikings last year.
He had a run of appearances towards the end of this year’s campaign, when Widnes finished eighth.
“I’m made up to have signed for another year,” said Hulme, whose father Paul and uncle Dave, both ex-Great Britain internationals, are members of the all-time Widnes 17 decided by fans’ votes and unveiled last year.
“It’s something I’ve always wanted given my family’s history with the club.”
Roby, 22, is an Academy product who made his debut in 2017.
BRADFORD BULLS have agreed a two-year contract extension with Billy Jowitt, the versatile 20-year-old prospect with what coach John Kear calls a “fearless attitude”.
And the Bulls have also brought in experienced backrow Sam Scott from York.
Able to play fullback, halfback or hooker, Jowitt was handed a first-team deal a year ago after impressing for the Reserves and made four appearances this season.
“Billy is a great young player with bags of potential and he has a really fearless attitude,” said Kear.
“We are delighted to keep him at the club as we feel he is improving as we invest more and more into his development.
“He has played a few games this year and if he plays a few more next year it will show he is developing as a player and I would be absolutely delighted.”
Jowitt said: “I’m ready to build on this season. I want to become a more regular player and show what I’m about and what I can do on a consistent basis.
“To hear that the fans were impressed and happy with my performances after such a short time is really encouraging and a real boost.”
Scott, 31, was in his second spell at York having also been at Sheffield and Batley, where he played under Kear, who said: “Sam is very uncompromising and offers something different to the players we currently possess in that area.”
Meanwhile Bradford have added Bolu Fagborun, the former Nigeria international who played for Huddersfield, Rochdale, Batley and Sheffield, to their voluntary advisory board in the role of corporate social responsibility director.
Fagborun, 35, is development officer for Bradford community club Birkenshaw Blue Dogs.
“Sport can be used as a vehicle for recovery as we come out of lockdown, and young people try to recover some normality through its social, mental and physical benefits,” he explained.
“I am keen to see the Bulls be a pillar of strength and aspiration for all.”
BARROW RAIDERS chairman Steve Neale has set coach Paul Crarey the “tough” challenge of leading the Raiders to a final position in the top half of the table on their return to the Championship.
Relegated in 2019, the Cumbrian club were promoted as this year’s League 1 champions with 13 wins from 17.
Barrow have retained the bulk of the successful squad while signing forwards Sam Brooks from Swinton, Ellis Gillam from Whitehaven, Danny Langtree from Oldham and Josh Wood from Wakefield.
They are also being linked with Penrith Panthers Reserves and Italy international hooker Anton Iaria.
“We have put a lot of faith in the players who gained promotion but hope that we have also added a sprinkling of real quality to make a big impression,” said Neale.
“Make no mistake it is going to be a tough, competitive division and a real challenge to compete.
“I have set the coaching staff the target of a top-seven finish so that we are well placed should Super League 2 come to fruition. I realise this is a tough ask.”
BATLEY BULLDOGS halfback Tom Gilmore landed a double at the club’s annual awards evening.
The Bulldogs moved for the former Widnes and Halifax player in November after his proposed move to Ottawa Aces fell through.
The 27-year-old had a stand-out season as Craig Lingard’s side made the play-off semi-finals, and won both the player of the year and players’ player of the year prizes.
Winger Johnny Campbell was the coach’s player of the year.
Meanwhile Batley have signed Castleford Academy products Josh Milthorpe and Louis Collinson on one-year deals.
Milthorpe is a versatile player who is expected to compete for the fullback berth and Collinson a powerful loose-forward who captained the young Tigers.
“It’s great for the squad to have these young enthusiastic players joining,” said Lingard.
“And it’s a fantastic opportunity for the lads to show how good they are, to develop and move their game on at the next level.
“Both are very talented and we fully expect them to be challenging for places throughout the year.”
HALIFAX PANTHERS coach Simon Grix believes Cory Aston’s Championship experience and desire to improve make him an ideal addition to the ranks.
The 26-year-old halfback has signed a two-year contract after two years at London Broncos and previous spells at Sheffield, where his father Mark Aston is coach, Leeds, during which he had loan spells at Featherstone and Bradford, and Castleford.
Fax have also completed a sixth signing in experienced Leigh backrower Matty Gee, having also recruited Hull KR halfback Joe Keyes, Whitehaven back Lachlan Walmsley, London Broncos prop Titus Gwaze and Sheffield utility forward Brad Knowles.
“Cory has a lot of experience in the division which will help us,” said Grix.
“He is a game-management type with a good feel for the flow of a match. He has shown ambition and has the hunger to continue to improve.”
Aston, noted for his creativity, organisational skills and all-round kicking game, said: “Halifax are a big club with a big fanbase. Simon has brought in some great additions to what was already a very strong squad.”
LONDON BRONCOS coach Jermaine Coleman believes prop Will Blakemore fits the template for homegrown players who can take the club forward.
Like experienced captain and centre Will Lovell and halfbacks Rian Horsman and Oli Leyland, Blakemore, 23, who had a four-match loan spell at London Skolars under Coleman this year, has signed a two-year contract extension while hooker Rob Oakley has agreed terms for the next twelve months.
The Broncos have also re-signed their own products Lewis Bienek, the prop who has also played for Hull, Castleford and Ireland, and back Iliess Macani, who since leaving, has been at Bradford, Sheffield and London Skolars.
Coleman explained: “Will has had a good breakthrough season. I had the pleasure of working with him this year and like others we have signed, he fits the style of player we have identified.
“He is a good, honest player with bags of energy. He is not the biggest in the position he plays but makes up for that with his commitment and desire and will be a valuable asset to the squad.”
NEWCASTLE THUNDER are set to have their opponents seeing double against next year after keeping hold of the Chapelhow twins Jay and Ted.
Thunder have also signed St Helens hooker Josh Eaves and agreed a one-year contract extension with 20-year-old Academy-produced fullback Alex Donaghy.
Eaves, 24, came through the Saints development system and has had loan spells at Whitehaven, Leigh and Wakefield.
Both Chapelhows, who are 26 and play as props, arrived on Tyneside late last year after their planned move from Widnes to Ottawa Aces fell through.
That boosted Newcastle following their elevation from League 1 through a bidding process, with Jay playing 16 times and Ted 19.
“I’m very pleased we’ve kept Jay and Ted,” said coach Eamon O’Carroll. “They were big players and big characters for us this year and they will continue to be so.
“They are strong ball carriers and have fantastic energy which they use to great effect.”
Newcastle have also confirmed the retention of 30-year-old former Wakefield, Dewsbury, Sheffield and Hull KR forward Kyle Trout.
SHEFFIELD EAGLES will again have centre Connor Bower, halfback Harry Tyson-Wilson and prop Blake Broadbent to call on next season.
Ex-Hull and Doncaster man Bower, 24, who was signed in 2020, has agreed a one-year contract extension, as has former Hull, Doncaster and York playmaker Tyson-Wilson, 24, who joined up a year ago.
Broadbent, the 22-year-old son of former Eagles favourite and Great Britain prop Paul Broadbent who arrived in 2018, has penned terms through to the end of 2023.
“Connor is a great kid and has loads of ability,” said coach Mark Aston. “We haven’t seen the best of him yet.
“Harry is a smart footballer. He has played against some quality opposition this year and has come off the field, most of the time, with credit. I am looking for him to be ‘the man’.
“Blake has played a lot of Championship rugby and shown he can handle it. He is still young. He’s going to get better and that’s why he’s been rewarded with a couple of years.”
WHITEHAVEN coach Jonty Gorley has dipped into the National Conference League to complete his backroom staff.
Heading to the LEL Arena from nearby club Kells are coach Stephen Kirkbride, who will be his right-hand man, and strength and conditioning chief Simon Brannan.
Gorley, whose own background is in the local community game, has stepped up to take the reins having been assistant to Gary Charlton, who has become director of rugby having guided his side to this season’s play-offs.
“I needed somebody with experience and knowledge of the local game,” explained Gorley. “I had a few irons in the fire but I kept coming back to Stephen.
“He did a great job with Kells and everyone I spoke to had nothing but praise for him as a person as well as a coach.
“The same goes for Simon. I’ve seen his work with players at Kells.
“I saw him and thought ‘he’s decent, we could do with someone like him’. I think he’ll lift the lads here by about ten or 20 per cent.”
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