Betfred Championship news round-up

WIDNES VIKINGS stalwart Danny Craven says Batley coach Craig Lingard has done him a big favour by agreeing to bring the Bulldogs to the DCBL Stadium for his testimonial.

The trans-Pennine showdown between two teams who have genuine ambitions of challenging for the play-offs takes place on Sunday, January 16 (3pm).

While it’s the Vikings’ only public pre-season appearance, giving supporters the chance of a first sight of coach Simon Finnigan’s string of new signings in club colours, Batley have games at home to Dewsbury on Boxing Day, at Bradford on Sunday, January 9 and at Huddersfield on Sunday, January 23.

And halfback Craven, who is preparing for his 13th campaign with Widnes, where he came through the Academy, says he’s grateful to Lingard for including the match in his schedule.

“It’s been trickier than you might think to get the game arranged,” the 30-year-old told League Express.

“A lot of clubs have plans in place well in advance, we needed the game to suit us in terms of our pre-season as well as it being my testimonial, and Craig already had three matches sorted out, so might not ideally have wanted another.

“But when I rang him to enquire about the possibility of them coming over, he was only too willing to help me out.

“Batley are a good club who did really well to reach the play-off semi-finals this year, and hopefully it will be an appealing contest for the fans.”

Craven, who in June penned a contract extension through to 2023 which includes a role in the club’s media and marketing department, believes Widnes have what it takes to improve on this year’s eighth-placed finish.

“I think we’ve made some exciting signings who bring additional skill and energy, and will hopefully add to the lads we already have and help us become that bit tougher, more resilient and more consistent,” he explained.


BARROW RAIDERS new boy Jarrod Sammut says he’s ready to give the Championship “a real shake”.

The Raiders have made the former Super League and NRL halfback their sixth new signing as they gear up for the challenge of second-tier rugby after promotion as League 1 champions.

The 34-year-old dual-code Malta international spent this year at London Broncos, his second stint at the capital club, scoring seven tries in 13 appearances.

Sammut, from Sydney, has also played for Penrith Panthers, Welsh club Crusaders, Bradford, Wakefield, Workington, Wigan and Leigh.

“Barrow have had real momentum over the last few seasons,” he said.

“I’d spoken to (player director) Andy Gaffney and (chairman) Steve Neale at length in terms of the club’s strength and potential and obviously expectations.

“Adding that older, more experienced head amongst a group of lads eager to push on from the high of promotion and keep competing with the top teams puts us in good stead heading into the new season.

“Personally, I want to push for the play-offs and give the competition a real shake.”
Coach Paul Crarey said: “Signing Jarrod is a great coup as a team and club.

“Not only does he bring a wealth of experience in the game at the highest level, he will also add even more X-factor to our offensive options.

“Jarrod is still an ambitious professional and a born winner. We look forward to him entertaining our fans and helping us bring the success the club deserves.”

Barrow’s other fresh faces are forwards Sam Brooks (from Swinton), Ellis Gillam (Whitehaven), Anton Iaria (Penrith), Danny Langtree (Oldham) and Josh Wood (Wakefield).

And Neale explained: “We fought off a lot of interest from other clubs but we were determined to land a big name before the start of the season.

“Jarrod is top-end Championship quality and is in great shape. We feel we have a squad that has performed well at a high level.”


BATLEY BULLDOGS coach Craig Lingard says it’s far from grim up North for his new signings Josh Hodson and James Meadows.

The pair have left London Broncos for West Yorkshire – and their new boss says the transition has been smooth so far.

Centre Hodson, 21, hails from Newport in Shropshire and played rugby union before swapping codes, originally with Telford Raiders.

He impressed in the Midlands Hurricanes Academy, based at Loughborough, before joining the Broncos’ development system.

Hodson made his first-team debut last year and in 2021, featured 17 times, scoring four tries.
Halfback Meadows, 22, is from Isleworth, the West London suburb which is home to Sky Sports, and played his junior rugby for nearby Elmbridge Eagles.

Having come through the Broncos Academy, he emerged early in the 2018 Championship promotion season, making eleven appearances, with three tries.

Meadows featured once in Super League, and this year, played 19 times, with two tries, taking his career tally to 37 games and five tries.

Both Hodson and Meadows learned their trade under the guidance of former Broncos coaching duo Danny Ward and Jamie Langley.

And as the Broncos’ move from full to part-time status swung a number of players towards leaving, Lingard had no hesitation about bringing them in.

“Its obviously been a big change for them, not just in terms of location, but also going from full to part-time,” he said.

“They have to get used to different ways of doing things, and club sponsors have been good in providing work opportunities.

“Jimmy is into his studies and has switched to Leeds for that, and I can only praise they pair of them for their attitude and effort.”

Batley have, as expected, confirmed the return of their pre-season Boxing Day derby clash with Dewsbury – the Bulldogs will be hosts on Sunday, December 26 with a noon kick-off – while they will visit Widnes on Sunday, January 16 (3pm) for Vikings halfback Danny Craven’s testimonial.


FEATHERSTONE ROVERS have added experienced forward Kyle Trout and young Australian halfback Bayley Gill to their ranks – and will be keeping their fingers crossed that star signing Joey Leilua comes through his rearranged boxing bout unscathed.

The highly-experienced twice Dally M centre of the year, who has joined from NRL club Wests Tigers, will fight former England and NRL player Chris Heighington in Sydney on Wednesday, December 22, with both making their professional debuts.

The heavyweight contest was initially due to be held on Friday alongside the big showdown in the same division between former Australia forward Paul Gallen and Manly and Samoa prop Josh Aloiai.

But both Aloiai and Leilua, who had been sparring partners in training, had to isolate after testing positive for Covid.

While Leilua versus Heighington is back on, Gallen will now face Darcy Lussick, the ex-Manly, Parramatta, Toronto and Salford prop who played one game on loan to Featherstone this year.
Trout, 30, had dual-registration spells at Featherstone in 2014 and 2015 while with his first club Wakefield.

He later played for Dewsbury (in two spells), Sheffield, Hull KR and Limoux and made eight appearances for Newcastle last year.

Gill is the son of former London Broncos forward Peter Gill and spent this year at Queensland Cup side Mackay Cutters, making six appearances.

Rovers coach Brian McDermott said: “Bayley has a strong pedigree in the Australian game and I’m sure his father Peter, who played plenty of Super League games, has steered his career well thus far.

“Bayley is extremely keen to show his qualities and I’m really pleased to give him this opportunity.”

Gill said: “I’m really excited to get over there and give it a crack. I was born in England when my father played there so it’s something I’ve always wanted to do.

“I’m looking forward to meeting up with the group to play my part in making that extra step towards Super League.”


LEIGH CENTURIONS head of rugby Chris Chester has acted on the advice of new coach Adrian Lam to sign Papua New Guinea threequarter Nene Macdonald while landing another player with NRL experience, prop Tom Amone.

And the Centurions have also brought in Lam’s former Wigan player Tony Clubb as assistant coach.

Macdonald, 27, played for the Kumuls in both the 2013 (under Lam) and 2017 World Cups and spent this year at Queensland Cup champions North Devils after previously playing for Sydney Roosters, Gold Coast, St George Illawarra, North Queensland and Cronulla.

Ex-Australian Schoolboys and Junior Kiwis player Amone, 24, the nephew of former Halifax, Featherstone and dual-code Tonga star Asa Amone, made eight appearances for Wests Tigers this year having previously had two years with the Roosters.

“Adrian has worked with Nene before and recommended him. He’s a big lad, 6ft 4in, and a great athlete. He’s got great leg speed and will bring strike on the edge,” explained Chester.

“I looked at signing Tom twelve months ago when I was at Wakefield, but there wasn’t a quota spot available.

“He reminds me of Kelepi Tanginoa at Wakefield, someone who people didn’t know too much about before he came, but they soon found out about.

“Tom is quick and he can play. He’s aggressive in attack and defence and his style will be ideally suited to the game over here. He’s another signing for our fans to get excited about.”

Former England forward Clubb, 34, has just called time on a 16-year career which started at London Broncos (then Harlequins) before a move to Wigan in 2014.

“Working under Lamy will be fantastic. He’s a good coach and a good man. Once he’s coaching, he’s full-on and he will get the best out of the players here,” he explained.

“We know that big things are expected of us and we are looking forward to the challenge.”


LONDON BRONCOS‘ Essex boy Rian Horsman sees a bright future for his beloved team in the old Surrey suburb of Wimbledon.

The 20-year-old from Brentwood was a mascot when the club were called Harlequins and played at The Stoop.

Having come through the Broncos Academy, the halfback made his first-team debut in this year’s Challenge Cup second-round clash with York.

Now he has penned a two-year contract extension as new coach Jermaine Coleman continues to build a squad to play out of Plough Lane Stadium.

AFC Wimbledon’s new home in the Greater London borough of Merton will be the tenth different venue used regularly since the Broncos’ formation as Fulham in 1980.

“It’s a massive year in our history,” said Horsman. “It’s an impressive stadium and I can’t wait to play there.”

Coleman, who has moved from the capital’s other club London Skolars, says keeping hold of Horsman was a priority.

“He has a great skill set and has the fantastic leadership qualities all top halves have. I can’t wait to work with him,” he explained.

Horsman added: “This year I played a fair bit despite some injuries and it was a learning curve in order to find the level needed.

“Now I know what to expect I know I can improve further and hopefully this will be helped by playing week in, week out if I make the team.”

While a string of players have left London in the wake of the club’s much-publicised switch from full to part-time status, the move suits student Horsman, who is on a sport science course at St Mary’s University at Twickenham.

“It has worked out okay for me as I can now give more time to my important final year,” he said.

“To be able to continue playing in the Championship while studying is perfect, so I am really pleased to have signed the new deal.”


WORKINGTON TOWN have signed versatile Scotland international Oscar Thomas from Whitehaven – and could hand him an outing against his old club in the returning Ike Southward Memorial Trophy fixture.

The all-West Cumbria pre-season clash, cancelled this year due to Covid, takes place at Derwent Park on Sunday, January 16 (2pm) and follows Town’s trip to Barrow on Sunday, January 9 (3pm).

Ex-London Broncos, Bradford, Sheffield and Swinton player Thomas, 27, made ten appearances for Whitehaven this year. Many were at hooker, but Thorman see him more as a back.

“With some investment from our coaching department and some buy-in from Oscar on our key principles, he has the ability to be very successful here,” he explained.

Workington have also signed 22-year-old Oldham centre John Hutchings, who spent time in the development systems of both St Helens and Wigan and had a loan spell at Town this year.
But hooker or halfback Blain Marwood is to return to the community game after two and a half years at Workington during which he made 15 appearances, scoring nine tries.

The 23-year-old son of club legend Dean Marwood was signed from Barrow Island in May 2019.

He signed a two-year contract extension 14 months ago, but featured only four times this year, all from the bench.

Fullback Gabe Fell, 26, has also departed due to increased work and family commitments.
Meanwhile, Workington have added a touch of Town heritage to the alternative kit for their first Championship campaign since 2016.

The predominantly white shirt has a chest band and sleeve panels of green and red, the colours worn when the club were formed 77 years ago this month.

By the time Gus Risman’s side won the title 70 years ago, beating Warrington in the Championship Final at Maine Road, Manchester, Workington were wearing their now trademark white and blue shirts.

The club last month announced a two-year deal with kit manufacturers Ellgren.


BRADFORD BULLS will have a trio of Leeds loanees on board at the start of the season.

Hooker Corey Johnson, loose-forward Jarrod O’Connor and secondrow Muizz Mustapha will head to Odsal as part of a new partnership between the West Yorkshire neighbours.

Johnson, 21, played once for the Rhinos and seven times on loan to York this year while ex-Widnes junior O’Connor, the 20-year-old son of former Great Britain international Terry O’Connor, made twelve Leeds appearances.

Mustapha, 21, featured eleven times on loan to Hull KR and was involved in both their play-off ties.

Bradford will also face Leeds at Odsal on Sunday, January 23 (3pm) in their final pre-season match after hosting Halifax and Batley.

The Leeds link, driven by Bulls chairman Nigel Wood and Leeds chief executive Gary Hetherington, is a three-year project which aims to promote Rugby League and netball along with a series of diversity, equality and sustainability programmes.

It’s a follow-on from the Sky Try project, launched to increase involvement in the community game.


DEWSBURY RAMS chairman Mark Sawyer says he’s looking forward to meeting fans at the club’s season-launch night at the Tetley’s Stadium on Friday (7.30pm).

Coach Lee Greenwood and squad members will be present while the Rams will also reveal their new change kit.

The red, amber and black hooped home shirt, which pays homage to the club’s title-winning campaign of 1972/73, has already been unveiled.

“This event is an important part of our calendar,” said Sawyer.

“The night allows us to officially unveil our clothing range for the 2022 season and we can give supporters their first opportunity to purchase merchandise.

“It is a great chance for everyone at the club to connect and will be a great get together after a really positive fans’ forum last month.

“Supporters will also get the chance to see our new squad in person.”
Dewsbury and Batley have confirmed the return of their pre-season Boxing Day clash, which will be at the Fox’s Biscuits Stadium on Sunday, December 26 (noon). Receipts will be shared.


HALIFAX PANTHERS coach Simon Grix says this year’s third-placed finish and run to the play-off semi-finals has helped him bring in some “good players and good people”.

But he warned that by putting themselves firmly on the Championship radar, the Panthers will have to work harder than ever to build on their achievement.

Grix has retained the bulk of this year’s squad and reached double figures in new recruits, many of whom are set to feature when Halifax face neighbours Bradford in a pre-season clash at Odsal on Boxing Day (12.30pm).

“When you’re finishing in the bottom third, it’s difficult to sell your club with any sort of conviction,” he said.

“If you’re closer to the top end, you’re a bit more of an attractive proposition to better players.

“We’ve done well, we’ve got some good players and good people who have got a lot to prove.

“But we’re not necessarily the underdog anymore, so have to take a different tack to how to approach the season.”


NEWCASTLE THUNDER have added a plum home meeting with Wigan to their pre-season schedule.

Matty Peet’s men will visit Kingston Park on Sunday, January 23 (3pm), resurrecting Thunder’s pattern of hosting a Super League side.

Leeds visited in 2020, but Covid curtailed the possibility of a visit from a top-flight team this year.

Admission will be included in season-ticket membership packages purchased prior to December 31. Match-only tickets will be £10 and £5 for under 16s.

Newcastle, now full-time, head to their new Championship rivals Barrow for their first pre-season clash on Sunday, January 16 (3pm).

Coach Eamonn O’Carroll, like director of rugby Denis Betts, a former Wigan player, said: “We’re delighted to have added this home game to our pre-season plans. It will be a good opportunity for a final hit-out and for our fans to see us before the season.

“As usual in these sorts of games, there will be a chance to play extended squads and get a good look at everyone in a match environment.”


SHEFFIELD EAGLES are confident the new Community Stadium at their redeveloped Olympic Legacy Park base will be ready to stage the Good Friday Championship game against London Broncos on April 15 (3pm).

The Eagles were due to host Workington in round five on Sunday, March 6, but because of what the club describe as “minor” construction delays, the match will now take place at Derwent Park (2pm), with Town now visiting South Yorkshire in round 20 on Sunday, July 24 (3pm).

Sheffield, who played at a basic OLP on the site of the old Don Valley Stadium between 2018 and 2020 but due to ongoing building work, spent this year at Doncaster’s Keepmoat Stadium, will now start the season with seven successive away league games.

Sheffield general manager Liam Claffey explained: “While this is regrettable, we have moved swiftly resolve the situation and our thanks go to everyone involved.

“The build is progressing brilliantly and despite this slight delay, hopefully everyone can see what a fantastic, permanent home the Community Stadium will provide for the club for years to come.”


WHITEHAVEN coach Jonty Gorley says his side will be going all out to retain the Ike Southward Memorial Trophy.

Haven head to neighbours Workington on Sunday, January 16 (2pm) – and while it’s a first pre-season run-out, Gorley says he’ll be treating it as seriously as a league match.

Former Great Britain and Cumberland winger Southward, who died in 2006, coached both West Cumbrian clubs after playing for Workington as well as Oldham, and Gorley explained: “The trophy means a lot to everyone involved in the game up here.”

While the match was put on ice this year due to Covid, Whitehaven were 24-18 winners in 2020.

“A derby is aways something to look forward to, and both sets of supporters will be up for it,” added Gorley.

“While we finished this year strongly, we didn’t start too well, and we can’t afford a repeat of that, so we want to hit the ground running.

“Workington will be as eager as us, so we’ll get a good indicator of where we’re at.”


YORK CITY KNIGHTS halfback Brendan O’Hagan is desperate to repay the club’s faith after being handed his twelve-month contract extension.

This year was a disappointment for both the Knights, who finished eighth, and the 23-year-old Australian, who arrived from Wests Tigers’ second team but was limited to eight appearances by injury problems.

“I’m really excited to be staying and happy that the club has stuck with me, and I’m really looking forward to a big 2022,” he said.

“The fans are massive for the Knights and they have been for me, as well. You see on social media and at the games how passionate they are.

“It’s been a tough year for me so I can’t wait to get back out there and repay the faith shown in me.

O’Hagan, who will compete with new signing Jamie Ellis (from Leigh) and Liam Harris (Halifax) for a halfback berth, added: “I’m on the same page as the coach (James Ford) and that gives you confidence. Now I’m fine-tuning for a really big campaign.”

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