BARROW RAIDERS are running the rule over a quartet of local amateur players as coach Paul Crarey cranks up preparations for a first Championship campaign since 2019.
Barrow Island duo Sam Jones, a winger or centre, and Danny Wright, a prop or loose-forward, and Ulverston’s Saunders brothers, hooker Connor and prop Liam, are all training with the Raiders and could feature in the club’s pre-season programme, which will include a home clash with Newcastle on Sunday, January 16.
Last season’s League 1 champions will open their second-tier schedule at home to Sheffield on Sunday, January 30.
“The four have just joined us under the dual-registration process,” explained chairman Steve Neale. “They are still with their amateur clubs also.
“They will get their opportunities in pre-season matches and may stay dual registered or be signed.”
Barrow have 20 other players on the books after confirming halfbacks Jamie Dallimore and Ryan Johnston will remain for next year.
Dallimore, was among the nominees for the League 1 player of the year award after notching five tries in twelve matches.
That attracted interest from elsewhere, but the 33-year-old, signed from North Wales Crusaders in 2016 having previously been at Oldham, explained: “I didn’t want to play anywhere else.
“We are a strong squad and everyone will be fighting for a spot. It’s a good mix of young and old and it should be a good year.”
Johnston, 23, who played for local amateur club Dalton and the Furness Raiders Academy side before signing in 2018, scored five tries in 14 outings this year.
“Barrow is where I feel at home. It was a no-brainer,” he said.
“It was just about finding the right deal for myself, my family and the club.
“I’ve been part of the journey for the past four years and I’ve got nothing but tunnel vision to help take the club as far as it can go.”
BATLEY BULLDOGS coach Craig Lingard is happy to factor a meeting with neighbours Dewsbury into his pre-season plans.
Having been put into cold storage last year as Covid continued to prevent spectators attending matches, the popular Boxing Day derby challenge is set to return, the Bulldogs being likely hosts.
And with Batley’s Championship campaign getting underway at home to Halifax on Sunday, January 30, Lingard says the timing of the popular clash with the Rams, which has clear commercial benefits for both Heavy Woollen clubs, is good.
“It works well for us. I like to have a six-week block before the first game, and with us having two play-off matches, I think the period of rest between the Toulouse match (on Saturday, October 2) and the start of training is about right.
“Sometimes a Boxing Day game can be a bit out of synch, but this year, it’s okay and and I’m sure the lads will be ready for a hit-out.
“Pre-season can be a slog, and while you have to have enough time to get through what you need to, too much of it and people can lose a bit of interest.”
Batley have also confirmed a pre-season clash with Super League Huddersfield at the John Smith’s Stadium on Sunday, January 23.
Having signed London Broncos centre Josh Hodson and halfback James Meadows, York winger Perry Whiteley, Leeds hooker Oli Burton and Castleford Academy graduates Josh Milthorpe (a fullback) and Louis Collinson (a loose-forward), Lingard hasn’t ruled out further recruits, but says he’d be happy to go with the squad as it stands.
“We got a lot of retentions done early, which was helpful,” added the former Batley player, who has lost versatile back Elliot Hall to Bradford and wingers Jodie Broughton (retiring) and Wayne Reittie (to Hunslet).
“And at this stage, there are fewer signings than usual, so the gelling process will hopefully be fairly straightforward.”
DEWSBURY RAMS have set up a pre-season Super League double by clinching a home clash with Huddersfield for popular forward Michael Knowles’ testimonial.
The match will take place at the Tetley’s Stadium on Saturday, January 15, with Hull KR visiting on Friday, January 21.
The Rams, who have revived their dual-registration agreement with Rovers, are all also set to visit neighbours Batley in a Boxing Day challenge match.
Knowles, 34, joined Dewsbury from Featherstone in 2017 having previously played for Castleford, Gateshead (now Newcastle), Barrow and Sheffield.
After 18 appearances this year, he recently agreed a contract extension for 2022.
“This is a great game for us and Knozza,” said Dewsbury coach Lee Greenwood, a former Giants player.
“Huddersfield are our neighbours and (coach) Ian Watson says they will bring a first-choice squad.
“There are not many friendlies for supporters to get excited about, but playing our local rivals Batley on Boxing Day and then having two home games against quality Super League opposition will make for the best set of pre-season fixtures this club have had in a long time.”
Dewsbury and Hull KR were linked the last time dual registration was in operation in 2020.
The Rams will be able to call on some Rovers squad members during the Championship campaign while some of their own players will get the chance to play for the Super League club’s Reserve side.
“I’m really pleased that we are partnering with Hull KR again,” added Greenwood. They are one of the most progressive clubs in the game.
“For our players who were able to turn out for Rovers Reserves in 2020, it was a great experience.
“Similarly, we will be able to call on players from their first-team squad if it suits all parties.”
Dewsbury have agreed a one-year contract extension with Paul Sykes which will include a coaching role for the 40-year-old halfback and signed Castleford utility back Brad Graham.
LONDON BRONCOS prop Olsi Krasniqi has announced his retirement due to repeated concussions – and says he wants other players to learn from his experiences.
The 29-year-old Albanian was in his second spell at the club having also represented Salford and Toronto Wolfpack, with loan stints at London Skolars, North Wales Crusaders and Bradford.
Krasniqi, who made three appearances this year, said on Instagram: “The time has come to finally announce my retirement.
“Unfortunately, throughout my career I’ve sustained a number of concussions and during the first (league) game of the 2021 season, suffered a severe one that took me months to recover from.
“The rehab didn’t go as well as I would have hoped. Many of the symptoms have lingered for quite a while, so the decision was made to stop.
“Being a professional athlete has been a massive part of my identity for the past twelve years. It was a difficult situation to come to terms with, but for my health it is the right one.
“Even though injuries are part and parcel of the sport we participate in, I never envisaged that I’d have to stop playing because of a brain injury.
“I love this game and have loved the journey, but the consequences of a lot of bad practices preached within the sport and admittedly many of my own mistakes have all brought me to the position I am in. That is a story I’ll go into another day.
“Moving forward I will be doing everything I can to help educate. I will pass on my experiences not only to current players but also to the kids who are just beginning their journey and also to their families so they fully understand concussions and hopefully become more proactive in their own treatment and recovery.
“Albeit with some mixed emotions, I leave the game with so many fond memories. I gained experiences that have shaped me into the man I am today.”
NEWCASTLE THUNDER have handed first-team contracts to three Academy graduates, one of whom made his mark in the Championship this year.
Centre Isaac Nokes, who has just turned 20, made three starts and two appearances from the bench.
He and fellow Academy products, winger Evan Lawther and backrow Nathan Clemmitt, have penned full-time deals.
“I was pretty happy to get the chance to play this year and then to be asked to move into the first team,” said Nokes.
“I wasn’t really sure what to expect from a full-time environment, but it’s been a really smooth transition and the set of lads has made it special as well.
“I want to get more games next season. There is plenty of competition but hopefully a proper pre-season can help me challenge to be involved.
Coach Eamon O’Carroll said: “Isaac is hopefully going to be a big part of the club in the years to come and I’m delighted to have him.
“He is a well-liked member of the squad and played really well for us when we asked him to and in all honesty, was unlucky not to be involved more.
“There is plenty of development for him still but from what he has shown up to now, he has all he needs to do that.
“I’m looking forward to seeing him make the most of the opportunities that being part of a full-time squad will offer and I expect him to kick on further next year.”
Newcastle have a 24-strong squad for their second successive season of second-tier rugby after eleven in a row in League 1.
The full list is Jake Anderson, Connor Bailey, Gideon Boafo, Jay Chapelhow, Ted Chapelhow, Mitch Clark, Nathan Clemmitt, Alex Donaghy, Brad Day, Jesse Dee, Josh Eaves, Alex Foster, Brad Gallagher, Sam Hallas, Jack Johnson, Evan Lawther, Tom Minns, Pat Moran, Craig Mullen, Isaac Nokes, Jake Shorrocks, Ukuma Ta’ai, Nathan Wilde and Josh Woods.
SHEFFIELD EAGLES coach Mark Aston has said hello to Jamaica winger Ben Jones-Bishop while waving goodbye to the Burns brothers, Greg and Paddy.
Jones-Bishop, who played in Super League for Leeds, where he came through the Academy, Salford and Wakefield before joining York, has signed a one-year deal.
The arrival of the 33-year-old former Sheffield student, who played three times for England Knights earlier in his career, helps fill the gap left by Rob Worrincy, who has retired, and Ryan Millar, who has joined Bradford.
At the Eagles, he will join forces with fellow Jamaica players Izaac Farrell, Joel Farrell and Kadeem Williams, the centre of secondrow who recently moved from Coventry.
“One of the big reasons I am at the club is a bit of familiarity,” explained Jones-Bishop.
Sheffield coach Mark Aston said: “Ben’s CV speaks for itself. He’s a champion in everything he does and a brilliant acquisition.
“We had some tough competition, so I’m thrilled he’s an Eagle.”
The Burns’ are homegrown players who emerged from local community club Hillsborough Hawks.
Hooker Greg, 26, made his debut in 2015 and prop Paddy, 23, in 2018 (elder brother Jono, now 29, played for Hemel Stags between 2016 and 2018).
While Greg was unable to agree a contract for 2022, Paddy is taking time out of the game after suffering two concussions this year.
“It’s never easy saying farewell to players, especially those we have nurtured and known for such a long time,” added Aston.
“They are a testament to Sheffield Eagles and Rugby League within the city.
“Injuries and players moving on are part and parcel of our game.
“We must ensure player welfare remains at the forefront at all times, and Paddy is right to take sometime away.
“Greg will hopefully start a new chapter in the sport and our best wishes go to both of them – great individuals who have done the club and family proud.”
WHITEHAVEN rugby union convert Guy Graham has the Rugby League World Cup in his sights after joining fellow frontrower Jake Bradley in signing a contract extension for 2022.
While Bradley was the club’s youngest-ever debutant at 16 years, 335 days when he faced Hemel Stags, and scored a try from the wing, in a 30-6 home win in March 2018, former Hawick and Newcastle Falcons player Graham was signed in April.
The 23-year-old ex-Scotland Under 20 union international went on to make 13 appearances as Whitehaven forced their way into the play-offs.
Graham was called up by Scotland for last month’s clash with Jamaica, although he didn’t make the matchday 17.
His father George is a former Scotland union international prop and Premiership title winner with Newcastle who had a spell in league with Carlisle, when he played alongside former Whitehaven coach and now director of rugby Gary Charlton.
Guy Graham’s elder brother Gary, 29, is a Scotland union international (he featured against England and Wales in this year’s Six Nations) who plays as a flanker for Newcastle.
“When Guy came to us, he had never played Rugby League, but in the first few games, you could see he had something about him defensively,” explained Whitehaven coach Jonty Gorley. “He has got a really good front-on technique that can cut people in two.
“With a pre-season under his belt, I think he will really come on in leaps and bounds.”
Bradley, 20, who came through the ranks at community club Hensingham, featured 14 times this year.
“I’m happy Jake has signed to stay with us next season,” said Gorley.
“He’s turning out to be a good young frontrower. His carries are strong and he’s got good footwork for a big lad.”
Whitehaven have also confirmed two-year contract extensions for Scotland international hooker Callum Phillips and their former Barrow and Workington prop Andrew Dawson.
BRADFORD BULLS have handed former England Academy performance squad member Jamie Pye the chance to earn an Odsal deal through a three-month trial, and snapped up 18-year-old Castleford halfback Charlie Harris on a one-year contract.
Prop Pye was an Academy Grand Final winner with St Helens and also represented Lancashire at that level.
“His last season was ruined by injury and there was the Covid factor before, so it has been a couple of years where he hasn’t donned boots in anger,” said Bulls coach John Kear.
“Before that he played for Lancashire Academy as well as St Helens so he has been in some good environments.
“For Lancashire, he played against Tom Holroyd, who is now playing regularly at Leeds, and put a marker down, so based upon that, we have brought him in.
“We will have a good look at him in pre-season and trial him in some of the games, and there are also Reserve matches.”
The Bulls will host neighbours Halifax in a pre-season match on Boxing Day (12.30pm).
HALIFAX PANTHERS coach Simon Grix says his side’s Championship opener at Batley on Sunday, January 30 will provide a useful gauge of how his new-look squad have gelled.
After last season’s third-placed finish and run to the play-off semi-finals, the Panthers have made eleven new signings and also taken Scotland international fullback Alex Walker on trial following his departure from Wakefield.
The 26-year-old finished the season on loan at Featherstone, his nine appearances (with seven tries) including two against Halifax, in the league and then play-offs.
Batley also made the play-off semi-finals, and Grix said: “A trip there is always difficult. We had some great contests this year, and I expect the same in January.
“It’s not far from home, making it easier for our fans to support us.
“The Championship gets stronger year on year, and we’ve had lots of changes, so there’s a bit to do to get on the same page, but we saw this year that it’s a marathon not a sprint.”
FEATHERSTONE ROVERS have signed former Samoa international forward Jesse Sene-Lefao from neighbours Castleford.
The 31-year-old former Manly Sea Eagles and Cronulla Sharks player has been at the Tigers since 2017.
Confirmation of a long-rumoured move comes after Sene-Lefao, a New Zealand national, secured indefinite leave to remain in the UK.
“I’m so grateful to be here, it’s so special in so many ways,” he said.
“I’ve been talking to fans and doing my research to understand the significance of the club within the local community, a good community be be around.”
Rovers coach Brian McDermott said: “I’m extremely pleased with this signing which absolutely demonstrates the club’s ambition to progress to the next level.
“Jesse is a proven top-class player and we will need his leadership, experience and quality as we look forward to an extremely challenging 2022.”
Rovers will host Wakefield in a pre-season game on Sunday, January 23 and have confirmed McDermott’s old club Leeds will visit the previous weekend, with the details to be confirmed.
LEIGH CENTURIONS have landed Tonga halfback or hooker Ata Hingano and Keanan Brand, the utility back they had on loan from Warrington this year, but lost dual-code England international forward Joel Tomkins, who having agreed a contract for 2022, has announced his retirement.
Hingano, 24, who helped Tonga to the World Cup semi-finals four years ago, has moved from Salford, for whom he made five appearances after joining from Mackay Cutters in June.
He came through the ranks at Auckland Warriors and later played for Canberra Raiders.
“With experience of playing in the NRL, Ata gives us quality in the spine of the squad,” said Leigh head of rugby Chris Chester, who has unveiled Adrian Lam as head coach.
Former Wigan and Hull KR player Tomkins featured from the bench in Catalans Dragons’ Grand Final defeat by St Helens last month.
“I thank Leigh for their understanding of my situation,” said the 34-year-old, who played rugby union for Saracens.
“Professional rugby has been a priority in my life for 17 years, but it feels right to retire.”
WIDNES VIKINGS back Joe Edge wants to tie down a regular spot and help his hometown side make a genuine Championship challenge.
The versatile 21-year-old made seven starts and five further appearances from the bench this year, scoring two tries, as Simon Finnigan’s inconsistent side finished eighth.
Edge, who represented England at both Under 15 and 16 level, joined the Vikings after a spell in Warrington’s development system and made his debut in the 28-22 home win over Batley during the 2019 Championship campaign, when he featured three times in all, kicking four goals.
That was followed by two tries in six outings in 2020.
“I’m made up to have signed for another year. It means a lot to be playing for my hometown team and I can’t wait for next season,” he said.
“My aims are to have a good pre-season and earn a place in the starting 13.”
Widnes, who have made eleven new signings, will kick-off their Championship campaign with a trip to London Broncos on Sunday, January 30.
WORKINGTON TOWN coach Chris Thorman is more than happy to have secured the services of fellow Geordie Rhys Clarke for a further season, while also keeping hold of star goal-kicking halfback Carl Forber and agreeing a two-year contract extension with forward Jake Lightowler.
Backrower Clarke, 30, arrived in May, initially on loan from Newcastle before a permanent switch was agreed the following month.
He made 17 appearances, scoring two tries, featuring in the League 1 play-off final win over Doncaster.
‘I’ve always said if we’re going to be successful, we need a core of Cumbrians, and we have that,” said Thorman.
“But a sprinkling of good people from elsewhere is essential. Nothing beats a Geordie, and we have a belter in Rhys.
“I love the mix and balance in our squad and there’s more to come.”
Town have also agreed a one-year contract extension with Clarke’s former Newcastle teammate Joe Brown, the Jamaica international back who scored a try in the 36-12 home victory over Doncaster which sealed elevation to the Championship.
YORK CITY KNIGHTS recruit Jack Logan is enjoying his reunion with childhood friend Masi Matongo.
The pair are among twelve new signings made by coach James Ford as he plots an improvement on this year’s ninth-placed finish.
Centre Logan, 26, and prop Matongo, 25, were at school together and then played alongside each other at Hull, where they came through the Academy to make the first team.
“We haven’t seen each other for a while and obviously we’re back together again now. It will be really good to get back going with him,” said Logan, who having left Hull for Doncaster in 2020, started this year at Batley before a move to Leigh in August.
Now he is heading back into the part-time ranks and explained: “The main part was taking that step back away from Super League. I’ve sort of scratched that itch for now.
“If you look in the Championship at the clubs who can really offer you a good part-time deal, York has to be up there if not the actual best.”
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.