BATLEY chairman Kevin Nicholas hopes the conversion to 100 per cent LED lighting as part of a push to make the club “the most eco-friendly in Rugby League” will spark extra signings in future pre-seasons.
The progressive Bulldogs have set a target of raising £2,700, helped by a series of prize draws, to go towards the work at their Fox’s Biscuits Stadium base.
“The environment is the topic of the moment, and we are trying to do our bit,” explained Nicholas. “We already have our mast and solar panels, and have also brought in reusable cups.
“The change to LED is expensive, but it’s cheaper to run. Of course money is everything, and hopefully what we save on electricity bills in the long term can be used on signings.”
Former players Luke Blake and Joe Chandler are back with the club.
Ex-Wakefield and Dewsbury hooker Blake, 32, last featured in 2016 and former Leeds, Oldham, Halifax, Dewsbury and Keighley prop Chandler, 33, in 2018, when he also had a loan spell at Hunslet.
“They have both been training with us, and are good players and good blokes who know the club and what we are about,” explained coach Craig Lingard.
“With quite a few younger players here, we were looking to add a bit of experience, and they are a great fit.
“I looked at bringing them in this time last year, but for one reason or another, nothing materialised.
“We actually had Joe in the squad one time this year when we were very light on options.
“And when Luke rung me about coming back on board, the deal was decided in a matter of minutes.
“He’s the sort who gives everything he’s involved in total commitment, and like Joe, he’ll be going all out for get a place in the side week in, week out.”
Batley will visit Bradford for a pre-season match on Sunday, January 9 (3pm).
DEWSBURY coach Lee Greenwood says that while Paul Sykes is likely to play fewer games next year, he will remain just as influential a figure at the Tetley’s Stadium.
The 40-year-old former international halfback, who played 18 times this year, has agreed a twelve-month contract extension which includes a move into coaching alongside Greenwood, Nathan Graham and Adam Mitchell.
Popular Sykes has been with his hometown club since 2016 and made 128 appearances for them, with 23 tries, 341 goals and eight field-goals.
With his halfback partner Liam Finn leaving to join the coaching team at Halifax, the Rams have recruited three new pivots in Matty Beharrell from Doncaster, young prospect Harry Copley from Dewsbury Celtic and Jake Sweeting from Featherstone.
And Greenwood believes the ex-Super League player (Sykes represented Bradford, London Broncos and Wakefield before joining Featherstone in 2015) will play a major role in aiding their development.
“Paul could definitely have gone elsewhere to carry on playing every week, but he loves it at the club and he didn’t want to leave, so we are excited to offer him this opportunity,” he said.
“He will take up an important role now, passing his wisdom to our new halfbacks and the rest of the young guys that we have brought on board.
“He will still be registered as a player and if he is needed to help on the pitch, supporters can expect to see him have a run-out.
“Knowing him like I do, he will definitely miss playing week to week, but after enduring so many pre-seasons, I think he will enjoy the chance to put the lads through their paces in the freezing cold.”
Sykes said: “I still feel I have a lot to offer as a player for sure, and hopefully as a coach too. I want us to play well and compete week in, week out and hopefully I can pass on some of my knowledge.”
FEATHERSTONE chairman Mark Campbell has labelled Joey Leilua as “one of the most significant signings in the club’s history”.
The arrival of the highly-experienced twice Dally M centre of the year after two seasons with Wests Tigers comes hot on the heels of the acquisition of his fellow Samoa international, forward Jesse Sene-Lefao, from Castleford.
Leilua, 29, has also played for Sydney Roosters, Newcastle Knights and Canberra Raiders and has featured in two Grand Finals.
His switch to Rovers represents a bid to revive his career after a controversial exit from Wests, where he fell out of favour with coach Michael Maguire.
Leilua took a parting shot as his switch to the Championship was announced, claiming he was moved out because he was willing to “speak up when something is wrong – and there were plenty of things going wrong at that club”.
He had been due to face former England and NRL player Chris Heighington in a boxing match on Friday week, December 10.
But the show was called off when Manly Sea Eagles player Josh Aloiai, who was due to take on ex-Australia forward Paul Gallen, tested Covid positive.
Campbell said: “Joey is a fantastic acquisition. This is one of the most significant signings in our history, for the Championship and for Rugby League in this country.
“He’s in his prime and has been recognised as one of the best in the game with his Dally M awards. His 225 NRL appearances underline that.
“This is the level (of new signings) at which this club is operating and there will be plenty more to come.”
Featherstone coach Brian McDermott added: “This is another clear demonstration of this club’s unwavering ambition and focus on gaining promotion to Super League.
“Joey brings a level of experience and raw ability that is unrivalled in the Championship.
“He’ll add some serious size, strength and focussed aggression which will help this side go up to another level.”
LEIGH coach Adrian Lam says he’s no under no illusions about the challenges he faces in the Championship – but says he’s excited by the task he’s taken on.
The former Wigan chief has staged a series of pre-season sessions and is working with his new club’s head of rugby Chris Chester, a former playing colleague, to add to the squad.
The Centurions, seeking an immediate return to Super League, kick-off the 2022 Championship schedule with a home game against Whitehaven in less than nine weeks.
Lam, who took Wigan to the 2020 Grand Final, accepts Leigh are a little “on the back foot” in terms of signings, but told League Express he is confident of putting out a competitive side against the Cumbrians.
There’s been a big turnover of players in the wake of relegation, and of the ten who made more than 15 appearances this year, only halfback Joe Mellor and Kiwi prop Mark Ioane remain.
Joining the club are backs Caleb Aekins (from Canberra Raiders), Keanan Brand (Warrington), Ed Chamberlain and Ata Hingano (both Salford), Jayden Hatton (Widnes), Jy Hitchcox (Toulouse) and Luis Roberts (Swinton) and forwards Chris Green (Wakefield), Jacob Jones (London Broncos) and Joe Wardle (Huddersfield), while St Helens hooker Aaron Smith has switched on a season-long loan.
“We’re a little behind some of our rivals, but we’re making progress,” added Lam, who is also assistant coach of Australia.
“One of the things that convinced me about the ambition here is that when I first started speaking to Chris (Chester), I mentioned a few names I thought would be good, and that was acted upon.
“There is real passion and ambition, we want to build a side that can get to Super League and this time stay there, and that challenge excites me.
“I know it’s going to be tough, and I know I am under pressure to deliver, but I’m comfortable with that.”
NEWCASTLE coach Eamon O’Carroll hopes Josh Woods will be a long-serving skipper after handing the former Wigan halfback the armband.
The 23-year-old replaces Ireland forward Bob Beswick, who has retired, and will have Tonga packman Ukuma Ta’ai as vice-captain.
Woods joined Thunder eleven months ago ago and made 18 appearances, scoring three tries and kicking 53 goals, this year.
He deputised when Beswick was unavailable, and O’Carroll said: “Bob was brilliant for us last year, he had a really unique way of getting the best out of the group in a calm manner which helped us massively.
“With him leaving, it was important to put the right person in his place and I know Woodsy is that.
“Josh leads by example and for such a young player he has really high standards and has been brilliant around the place in terms of driving forward what we’re trying to do.
“He had the opportunity to captain the side a couple of times, and when he speaks, the room listens and there’s a response.
“He’s a well-liked member of the group, he has been in some good environments and he feels like the club is his now.
“He wants to be here for a long time and I think it was important when we were picking the new captain that it is someone who we feel is going to be part of the club for a long time.”
Ta’ai spent eight years at Huddersfield, and O’Carroll added: “Ukuma is like having an extra coach on the field. I can’t do justice to how good he is for the club, not just the team.
“He drives the culture here and is like the father of the group and in sessions when he speaks, he has everyone’s attention and commands respect.
“And I know he is also going to be really good in helping Woodsy in his leadership role.”
WORKINGTON coach Chris Thorman says keeping hold of Carl Forber as he prepares for Town’s return to the Championship was a “no-brainer”.
The goal-kicking halfback, who landed 76 to go with six tries as the Cumbrians went up through the play-offs to end a five-year stay in the third tier, will be 37 in March.
But the former St Helens player, Workington’s all-time record points-scorer with 2,027 who is in his second spell with the club, shows no signs of slowing down, and Thorman is more than happy to have him on board.
“Carl’s scoring feats need no introduction, but it’s his selfless behaviours, durability and his ability to be an extension of me on the playing field that made it an absolute no-brainer to retain him,” he explained.
“We always said if his body felt good, then he’d go round again. I know he’s really looking forward to challenging himself in the Championship again.”
Former first joined Workington from Leigh in 2007, staying until 2009, when he switched to Blackpool Panthers.
After a spell at Oldham, he returned to Derwent Park in 2012, and seven years later, surpassed Iain MacCorquodale’s 40-year-old club record points total of 1,800, set between 1972 and 1980. This year, he reached 300 games for the club.
Workington have agreed two-year contract extensions with hooker Matty Henson as well as prop Jake Lightowler, who were both mainstays of the pack this year.
Thorman brought both players in twelve months ago, Henson, 27, one of a number of recruits from the local amateur game, in his case Egremont Rangers, and ex-England Universities international Lightowler, 21, from Newcastle.
“Matty had a great debut season and I expect him to be even better in 2022,” added Thorman.
“Although he’s only been involved in the professional game for twelve months, he has a good head on his shoulders.”
YORK recruit Ronan Michael says a taste of the LNER Stadium and a personal recommendation from Huddersfield teammate Aidan McGowan made him realise a season-long switch to the Knights could kickstart his career.
While the 21-year-old prop has played more times for Ireland (five) than the Giants (once), his Rugby League CV includes a spell at Canberra Raiders and, this year, four games for Whitehaven and eleven for Swinton.
During two Lions loan stints, he twice turned out at York – in the semi-finals of the 1895 Cup in June, when he crossed for a try in a 36-22 defeat, and in the league in July, as the Knights won 46-10.
Now York coach James Ford, who had Huddersfield halfback McGowan on loan this year, has borrowed Michael for the duration of the 2022 campaign, with the two set to link up in January.
“He’s hardworking, tough player and keen to add to his game,” he explained.
Michael said: “When I played at York with Swinton, the atmosphere was outstanding. Their fans don’t stop chanting for the 80 minutes.
“The facilities, as well, are outstanding and York are a very good side. As Fordy has said to me, we’re looking to push even further this year and try to make it all the way.
“In addition to that, Aidan (McGowan) doesn’t stop talking about his time at at York, he absolutely loved it there, so when I got the opportunity to come, I wanted to take it.”
Michael’s spell at Canberra came in 2020 as part of a player-development project between the Raiders and the Giants.
“Huddersfield said they thought it would be great for my progress if I spent the 2020 season in Australia, but unfortunately, it ended early due to the pandemic,” he said.
“It was still a massive opportunity and an eye-opener to what the game is like on the other side of the world.”
BARROW chairman Steve Neale says continuing to grow crowds is the key to growing the club.
With the help of a series of initiatives, the Raiders averaged 2,002 for the eight home games spectators were able to attend as they won promotion from League 1 this year.
That was up by more than 360 on the pre-pandemic figure of 2019, when Barrow were relegated from the Championship.
With Whitehaven and Workington among the Raiders’ 13 second-tier rivals next year, two derby days are eagerly awaited.
“Our number-one objective is to continue to increase crowds,” said ambitious Neale.
“We had a number of offers and priced ourselves extremely competitively this year, so our focus isn’t simply to milk as much as possible through gate receipts.
“Having as many supporters as possible come through the gate has many side benefits in terms of increased secondary spending like at the bars, catering and merchandise.
“It is also so much easier to attract sponsors when they know that their business will be getting recognition from a much-wider audience.”
BRADFORD have turned back the clock with a new-look kit inspired by that worn when the club won their first Super League title in 1997.
Robbie Hunter-Paul, one of the stars of Matthew Elliot’s champion side, was on hand to help launch the new design.
“Dreams were made in that shirt. Let’s start to dream again,” tweeted the former New Zealand international, who made more than 240 appearances for the club.
Bulls coach John Kear, who was in charge of Sheffield Eagles in 1997, has made a string of signings as he plots a promotion push in what is shaping up to be a highly competitive division.
One of them, versatile back Eliot Hall, is in line to face his old club Batley in a pre-season game at Odsal on Sunday, January 9 (3pm).
It’s a repeat of this year’s play-off eliminator at the Fox’s Biscuits Stadium, which the Bulldogs won 23-10 with the help of a Hall try.
Bradford will also host Halifax in a Boxing Day clash (12.30pm).
HALIFAX duo Lachlan Walmsley and Louis Jouffret have been busy since moving to West Yorkshire after helping Whitehaven to the play-offs.
Australian Walmsley was at fullback and Frenchman Jouffret at halfback when the Cumbrians went down 24-20 against the Panthers in a play-off eliminator in September.
The pair joined their new Halifax teammates on a weekend team bonding trip to East Yorkshire and have also taken lead roles in a video to promote season-ticket sales based on the celebrated nineties British comedy-drama film Trainspotting.
It’s one of a number of imaginative offerings by the Panthers’ promotional team as the club aim to boost attendances in the back of their run to this year’s play-off semi-finals.
“Halifax have some really great fans and I can’t wait to start playing at The Shay,” said Jouffret, who scored six tries in eleven appearances for Haven following his switch from Avignon in June.
It was a second spell at Haven for the 26-year-old, who has also played for Toulouse, Batley and Featherstone.
LONDON BRONCOS owner-chairman David Hughes has underlined his commitment to the club in the wake of the switch from full to part-time status and the move to AFC Wimbledon’s Cherry Red Records (Plough Lane) Stadium.
“I have always supported this Club financially and will continue to do so,” he said.
“But with the cut in central funding for 2022 at around 80 percent and a previous twelve months where we saw attendances and fixtures decimated by Covid, I felt that now was the sensible time to action a plan that will protect the long-term future of London Broncos.”
Hughes, who has put ex-London Skolars coach Jermaine Coleman in charge of the team, added: “There have been wholesale changes in terms of staff and players, we are making the move to Wimbledon and we have started the process of restructuring our youth set-up and community-club links.
“To get back to Super League, and rekindle some of those memories we all have, there will need to be a period of rebuilding and laying strong foundations.”
SHEFFIELD coach Mark Aston says the recommendation of former Eagles player Gavin Brown was central to his decision to sign teenage forward Tyler Hart from Stanningley.
Former halfback Brown has links with the community club, based between Bradford and Leeds, and suggested Aston take a look at the 19-year-old, who studies at Sheffield Hallam University.
“We always have respect for people who have played for the Eagles,” said Aston.
“Gavin Brown called me up and said ‘Mark, you must take this kid on’.
“Gavin was very instrumental in setting up the club’s Academy and Scholarship so he knows what I look for in a player.
“He thinks Tyler has got massive amounts of potential and he also thinks he’ll play first-team rugby in the next twelve months.
“He is a big, strong backrower who is uncompromising and has a bit of steel about him.”
Hart said: “Gavin has seen me play from a young age and he has obviously had a word with Mark, who looked at some clips of games I’ve played in.”
WHITEHAVEN coach Jonty Gorley is far from fazed by the prospect of an opening-day trip to Leigh.
The rivals kick-off the new Championship campaign on Saturday, January 29.
Haven are fresh from finishing sixth and making the play-offs under Gary Charlton, to whom was Gorley was assistant before moving up when the former became director of rugby.
All but Haven’s overseas signings are back training, and the new team chief reported: “I’ve spoken to everyone either in person or on Zoom and laid out what I expect.
“I’m happy with the squad we’ve put together, and happy with the results of the various tests we’ve run since returning.
“I think everyone here is well capable of playing at Championship level, so it’s down to them to show over the course of the next couple of months that they are worth a place in the team at Leigh.
“It’s a tough opener, of course, but it’s also a great early test for us and a chance to see where we are.”
WIDNES recruit Aaron Brown is ready to continue his early rising as he bids to help deliver a play-off challenge.
The lively loose-forward works as a postman, which means a regular 6.30am start and a full round before training sessions.
It’s a first move across the Pennines for the 29-year-old, who started out at Dewsbury, then had three years at Sheffield.
His 18 tries in 60 Eagles appearances included a hat-trick in 38-18 1895 Cup final win over Widnes at Wembley in 2019.
The Sheffield side featured Brown’s fellow backrow Olly Davies, who has also joined Widnes, who finished eighth this year.
“I’m enjoying it at the club and enjoying training under (coach) Simon Finnigan. It’s tough, but it’s good to get back into the grind,” said Brown.
“We’ve got a good squad here, we should definitely be aiming for the play-offs and hopefully I can play my part.
“I see myself as a bit of an old-style, ball-playing loose-forward with a running game.”
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