BARROW RAIDERS coach Paul Crarey is boxing clever as he continues preparations for the new campaign.
Recently faced with a waterlogged training pitch which put his plan for an outdoor session on hold, Crarey had to think quickly.
And the Raiders squad duly swapped soggy turf for a gym as they were put through their paces by Barrow Amateur Boxing Club coach Jeff Moses.
“Jeff and I got back a long way and we have worked together quite a bit in the past,” explained Crarey.
“When I saw the state of the training pitch, I contacted him, and he dropped everything to get us into the gym.
“Jeff did a great job with a lot of local kids who come to the gym and he did a great job with the session he put in for us.”
Moses said: “The rugby lads were great to work with, and they were really competitive, which added to the session.
“We’ve done similar in the past. Paul helps us out with access to a physiotherapist, and it’s all about working together.”
Barrow have built a 27-strong squad for a campaign which begins with a home game against Sheffield on Sunday, January 30.
The most recent addition was experienced former Super League and NRL halfback Jarrod Sammut, signed from London Broncos.
Crarey has also secured another in Josh Wood, who has joined from Wakefield, and chairman Steve Neale said both are key arrivals.
“We sat down with the coaching staff and identified the need for a top-quality halfback and hooker to compete in the Championship,” he said.
“In the shape of Jarrod and Josh, we feel we have delivered, and that pair promise to be true leaders for our team.
“The Championship promises to be ultra-competitive with many clubs pushing the boat out and improving their teams.
“We will need to be focussed every single week if we are to achieve our goals, the first of which is to survive.”
HALIFAX PANTHERS coach Simon Grix admits his time-management skills are being put to the test as the countdown to the new campaign continues.
The Shay chief, who took his team to this year’s play-off semi-finals, has recruited eleven new players.
He is working hard to ensure they are fully integrated by the time the Panthers play Batley away in the first round of the Championship on Sunday, January 30.
And the 36-year-old believes a pre-season home clash with Wakefield, which will form his older brother Scott’s testimonial match on Sunday, January 16, will help in the process.
Simon Grix, who is considering adding one more warm-up game to a schedule which already includes a Boxing Day trip to Bradford, explained: “When you are part-time and have limited opportunities for training, it’s important to get the balance right.
“Realistically, it’s a lot of new lads to integrate, and with some of them transitioning from full to part-time, you have to add that into the equation.
“I don’t think our tactical approach will be a million miles away from what it has been, but there will be some tweaks to take account of the players we now have available.
“It’s important to me that all the players have enough time on the pitch in pre-season to stake a claim for that Batley match.
“We will have something behind closed doors in early January, and it’s possible we could add another warm-up game, but it has to be the right one.”
Scott Grix, 37, who having retired has become Halifax’s strength and conditioning coach, had two spells as a Wakefield player.
He said of his testimonial: “It’s a great opportunity for people to see our new squad against Super league opposition at The Shay in what will be our only home friendly.
“I’m looking forward to the game and a cameo appearance.”
NEWCASTLE THUNDER coach Eamon O’Carroll is reflecting on the boost of a link-up with Wigan but the setback of the loss of recently-signed centre Thomas Minns.
The 27-year-old was among twelve new arrivals at Thunder, who went completely full-time last month.
The ex-Leeds and Hull KR player moved from Featherstone after scoring four tries in ten appearances this year.
But he has found the travelling problematic, and after discussions with club chiefs, has left and joined Wakefield on trial.
“It was clear the situation wasn’t going to allow us to get the best out of each other,” explained O’Carroll.
“In everybody’s best interests, we decided to help Tom move on and find new opportunities. He is working hard to seize one of these.
“I’d like to thank Tom for the impact he had on our group.”
Meanwhile O’Carroll says he’s “massively excited” at the prospect of fielding up-and-coming players from former club Wigan.
With dual registration back after being put on hold due to the effects of Covid, Newcastle have partnered with the Warriors.
The pair had already confirmed a pre-season match at Kingston Park on Sunday, January, January 23, having forged links this year, when prop Mitch Clark and centre Sam Halsall spent time at Newcastle on loan.
They joined a squad which included halfbacks Jake Shorrocks and Josh Woods and prop Nathan Wilde, who were signed from Wigan twelve months ago.
New Zealand Maori international Clark has since made a permanent move to Newcastle, who are now full-time.
Former Ireland international prop O’Carroll, who made 65 appearances for Wigan between 2006 and 2011, said: “We’re massively excited.
“The quality of players that we may be able to bring in is excellent and from our point of view, we can offer the opportunity for them to remain in a full-time environment but to develop with some exposure to a different setting.”
LEIGH CENTURIONS assistant coach Tony Clubb says his mission is not just to help get the club back to Super League, but also put them in a position to stay there.
The Centurions have had three previous cracks at the top flight, and each time lasted just a year.
Leigh were relegated in 2005 and lost to Catalans in the Million Pound Game in 2017, when the Qualifiers were in place.
This year, after being elevated through a bidding process, they finished well adrift at the foot of the table with only two wins from 22 matches.
After being promoted in 2018, London Broncos, where Clubb began his playing career, were similarly unable to avoid an immediate relegation.
“It’s always been hard for a team to go up to Super League and maintain their place, and it’s getting even tougher than ever,” said the recently-appointed 34-year-old, who played under new Leigh coach Adrian Lam at Wigan for three years.
“But I firmly believe in the potential at this club, and with (owner) Derek Beaumont, (head of rugby) Chris Chester and Adrian Lam, who is a great coach, and the loyal supporters we have, we can be successful.
“Obviously getting back to Super League is the immediate goal, but we need to make sure that if we get up, we can stay up, and we’ll all be working to get ourselves into that position.”
Kent-born Clubb, who had eight years playing for London before representing Wigan for the same length of time and played four times for England, cut his coaching teeth with the Warriors’ Under 19 team.
“I worked alongside Sean O’Loughlin, and really enjoyed the experience,” he added in an interview with Leigh Centurions TV.
“I had a great relationship with Adrian at Wigan, and when he invited me over to Leigh for chat with him and Chris Chester and they offered me the assistant coach role, I snapped their hands off.”
SHEFFIELD EAGLES are ready to go into their season-opener at Barrow on Sunday, January 30 without playing any warm-up matches.
Seasoned coach Mark Aston will instead stage a number of internal games between members of his new-look squad.
The Eagles have made 16 signings as they try to improve on a disappointing 2021 campaign.
Aston’s side finished one place above the drop zone with five wins and three draws from 20 games.
They were hindered by a couple of Covid outbreaks within the squad, leading to one postponement and two cancellations, and finished on five straight defeats.
Backs Jason Bass (from York), Matty Chrimes (Hunslet), James Johnson (Huddersfield Academy), Ben Jones-Bishop (York), Bailey Liu (Dewsbury), Ross Oakes (Bradford), Ben Sheils (Leeds Academy), Kris Welham (Featherstone) and Kadeem Williams (Coventry) have come on board.
So have forwards Brandon Douglas (Doncaster), Vila Halafihi (Hunslet), Tyler Hart (Stanningley), Liam Johnson (Doncaster), Liam Kirk (Oldham), Martyn Reilly (Oldham) and Mikey Wood (Hunslet).
“There are no plans to bring in anyone else, and the new squad numbers will be announced soon,” said general manager Liam Claffey.
“Mark’s not a big believer in pre-season matches – he says there is no such thing as a friendly – and he’s happy to go into the Barrow match without facing another side.”
Sheffield will start the season with seven successive away league games as they await the completion of building work at their Olympic Legacy Park base.
The stadium should be ready to stage the Good Friday Championship game against London Broncos on April 15.
Sheffield played at a basic OLP on the site of the old Don Valley Stadium between 2018 and 2020, but due to the building work, spent this year at Doncaster’s Keepmoat Stadium.
“We’re in regular dialogue with Scarborough Group International and GMI Construction, who are working on the project, and we’re confident on the projected timescale,” added Claffey. “The RFL are also in the loop.”
WIDNES VIKINGS will have no excuses if they fail to improve on this year’s eighth-placed finish, admits long-serving halfback Danny Craven.
The 30-year-old, whose testimonial match is against Batley at the DCBL Stadium on Sunday, January 16, says training is going well under coach Simon Finnigan.
Having not arrived as Tim Sheen’s successor until November 2020, Finnigan had little input into signings for the season which finished three months ago.
Widnes, at times badly disrupted by injuries, won nine and drew one of 21 league games, reached the third round of the Challenge Cup and pushed Featherstone close in the semi-finals of the 1895 Cup.
Craven believes they could have done far better, and says a raft of new recruits means they are well placed to make a push for the play-offs.
“There’s no reason why we shouldn’t give it a good go, and if we don’t perform better than this year, there will be no excuses,” he insisted.
“Last pre-season was tough, because Simon had only recently come in, he inherited a squad put together by someone else, and he was limited in what he could do in terms of team sessions because of the Covid protocols around training.
“We got off to a decent start with a couple of wins in the Challenge Cup, but it was a different story in the league.
“In the first match at Newcastle, we built a 14-point lead, but let them back into it late on and ended up drawing.
“I think that set the tone for the rest of the season, because there were too many times when we worked our way into good positions, but didn’t finish the job off.
“We need to be more resilient and just tougher. When we are in front, we have to hold onto the lead, and when behind, we need to dig in and make sure we stay in the contest.”
WORKINGTON TOWN signing Oscar Thomas believes his new coach Chris Thorman can help him get his career back on track ahead of the World Cup.
After the 2020 season, when he was at Swinton, was cut short by the pandemic, the Bolton-based Scotland international who is desperate to make the Bravehearts squad for the 2022 tournament finally landed a deal for 2021 at Whitehaven, making ten appearances.
Now Thomas, who is primarily a back but played several times at hooker this year, has moved up the road in the wake of Town’s promotion from League 1.
And having not linked up with Whitehaven until the eve of the campaign, the former London Broncos player, who came through the Academy to make his debut in Super League in 2014, is hoping a proper pre-season will work wonders.
Thomas, who also had spells at Bradford and Sheffield and has played twelve times for Scotland, said: “For whatever reason, things haven’t really clicked for me over the last few years.
“I enjoyed Whitehaven, and I loved the passion and loyalty of the fans, but I don’t think they saw the best of me.
“This is a change of surroundings and a new challenge, but I know the area and I’m familiar with the travelling.
“I know Chris (Thorman) is big on man-management and the psychological side of things, and he has given me some really useful pointers in what to focus on and when to do it.
“I’m aiming to get back on track. At 27, I feel I’m getting into my prime physically, so if I can get the other stuff sorted out, I can push on.
“Playing in the 2017 World Cup was an amazing experience, and I’d love to be involved next year.”
Versatile forward David Weetman has agreed a two-year contract extension while Town have signed backrow Malik Steele from community club Seaton Rangers on two-year terms.
BATLEY BULLDOGS coach Craig Lingard says he’s more than happy to have added a fourth match to his pre-season schedule.
The Bulldogs have stepped in to provide the opposition for Widnes halfback Danny Craven’s testimonial.
The game is at the Vikings’ DCBL Stadium on Sunday, January 16 and will be Batley’s third run-out ahead of the new campaign.
They host Heavy Woollen neighbours Dewsbury on Boxing Day and visit Bradford on Sunday, January 9, with a trip to Huddersfield on Sunday, January 23 following the Widnes meeting.
Craven, who is preparing for his 13th season at Widnes, has told League Express of his gratitude to Lingard.
And the Fox’s Biscuits Stadium chief responded: “Danny’s a great lad and we’re happy to help him.
“He rang me a while ago asking about the possibility of us going over there, and we were able to find a suitable date.
“It’s good that we can do our bit to support a good person and a good player, and we’re looking forward to the trip.”
BRADFORD BULLS coach John Kear believes his new behind-the-scenes additions have as important a role to play as his on-the-field signings next year.
The Bulls have a new strength and conditioning duo in Kane Daniels and Joel Fulford.
Daniels has worked with Huddersfield, Hull KR and the England youth team while Fulford has been with Wakefield.
Tom Baker, who has experience in football, rugby union, netball and cricket, has joined as head of medical services, and will be assisted by Aaron Scholes, who served for seven years in a previous Bradford stint.
“It was immensely important to bring the four in, as we felt it was an area we needed to improve on as a club,” said Kear. “They’ve improved us already.
“We have a big squad, we have got the first team and Reserves training together.
“That is why we need the medical and conditioning staff and I think they are absolutely first class.
“I expect to see very fit and well-conditioned teams and hopefully we can have a good run with regards to injuries.”
DEWSBURY RAMS halfback Alex Smith is ready to cement his spot in his second season.
The ex-England Universities player, who turned out for Salford Reserves in 2020, has had to be patient.
He picked up on injury while on trial at Dewsbury this time last year, and didn’t regain full fitness until August.
Chances were also limited by the presence of experienced duo Paul Sykes and Liam Finn, meaning Smith had to make to with six starts and two further outings from the bench, scoring two tries.
Now Finn has hung up his boots and joined the Halifax coaching staff, while 40-year-old Sykes will feature less as he adapts to a new player-coaching role at the Rams.
Smith, aged 24, has taken Sykes’ number six squad number, with Matty Beharrell, signed from Doncaster, wearing Finn’s seven.
As well as Sykes, the pair will have competition from Jake Sweeting, who has arrived from Featherstone and will be 19, and Harry Copley, who has moved from community club Dewsbury Celtic and will have the number 25 shirt.
FEATHERSTONE ROVERS recruit Bayley Gill is due to arrive in the UK this week.
While star NRL signing Joey Leilua won’t join up until January given his upcoming professional boxing debut, halfback Gill should be training with Brian McDermott’s squad before Christmas.
The son of former London Broncos forward Peter Gill, he spent this year at Queensland Cup side Mackay Cutters, making six appearances.
“I’m really excited to get over and give it a crack,” he said. “I was born in England when my father played there so this is something I’ve always wanted.”
Powerful former Wests Tigers centre Leilua signed his contract to fight former England and NRL player Chris Heighington before agreeing a reported two-year deal to join Rovers.
The Samoa international will step into the ring in Sydney on Wednesday week, December 22.
His fight is one of the supports for fellow heavyweight and former Australia forward Paul
Gallen’s big clash with Darcy Lussick, the ex-Manly, Parramatta, Toronto and Salford prop who played one game on loan to Featherstone this year.
LONDON BRONCOS arrival Will Ramsey is aiming to follow in the footsteps of some notable fellow Currumbin Eagles halfback products by impressing on his elevation to the second tier.
It was at the Queensland Club, whose senior team play in the Gold Coast Premiership, that Melbourne Storm and New Zealand star Jahrome Hughes and North Queensland Cowboys’ Tom Dearden honed their skills as teenagers.
Ramsey, 22, swapped Currumbin for West Wales Raiders twelve months ago and went on to make 15 appearances, scoring two tries and kicking 28 goals.
The Llanelli side struggled, but the Aussie – who can also play fullback and hooker – impressed, and new Broncos coach Jermaine Coleman, a former halfback with Hunslet, York, Gateshead (now Newcastle), Hemel and London Skolars, made his move.
“Will is such an exciting prospect. He had a good season last year in a team that struggled and caught the eye of plenty of coaches in the UK,” he explained.
“I’m really excited to have him with us and to be able to try and continue to develop him as a player.”
WHITEHAVEN hope the LEL Arena will be noisy on Christmas Day – with chat as opposed to cheering.
The community-minded club are throwing open their doors to provide a free festive lunch for anyone who would otherwise be alone.
The offer is open to people from the town and further afield, with those who wish to attend asked to contact the club by Thursday, December 23.
“We know that Christmas can be a difficult time for people for all sorts of reasons,” said club spokesman Jordan Weir.
“There are all kinds of pressures, heightened by what has been going on over the last couple of years with the pandemic.
“We don’t want anyone to have to be on their own if they don’t want to be, so we decided to offer a Christmas lunch.
“We have the facilities to do that, and we can provide not just a meal, but a chance for people to socialise.
“There will be a full Christmas dinner, starting at around 12.30pm, and we’ll even get the Queen’s Speech on!”
YORK CITY KNIGHTS coach James Ford is seeing signs of the team spirit and togetherness the Knights have been renowned for in his reshaped squad.
Ford has brought in twelve new signings and will have Huddersfield forward Ronan Michael on a season-long loan.
That’s after a disappointing 2021 campaign when York finished ninth, losing eleven of 20 league matches.
“We’ve got a lot of new players, but you can’t easily spot them during training, which is encouraging,” he explained.
“The easing of some of the Covid protocols around training and the club has helped, because we’ve had some socials and eaten together.
“You can see players getting to know each other better and bonds forming across the squad.
“In my time here we’ve been known for togetherness and a never-say-die attitude and it’s something I wanted to work on.”
Ford added: “We’ve not picked up any injuries so far while the lads who have had surgery are progressing well. At this stage, we’re in a good spot.”
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