FEATHERSTONE ROVERS coach James Webster says returning Papua New Guinean international Wellington Albert (pictured) will add an extra dimension to his 2020 pack.
Albert featured twelve times for Rovers last season after joining from Leeds, and has now agreed to rejoin the club on loan from the Rhinos.
Webster said: “As a club we’re excited to have him back after the good job he did at the back end of last year.
“He was over in PNG for the Test matches and played really well, especially in the victory over Great Britain.
“He’s big and strong with a good offload, and he can move pretty quick as well.
“He’s a bit awkward and unconventional to defend against, and he will add a bit of steel to us in the middle.”
On the prospect of further signings, Webster added: “I can’t see there being too much movement in the market now until the New Year.
“Super League clubs might release players to help with their salary caps before they have to declare their squads, so there might be some more at the last minute and somebody might become available.”
Close-season signing Dean Parata had some positive news on his ankle injury, when the surgeon decided to carry out a clear-out rather than full operation.
Webster said: “We’re still waiting for the surgeon’s notes, but after speaking to them before Dean went in, he said it would be four to six weeks recovery if he didn’t need the big op.
“That will take him somewhere near to the start of the season for coming back.
“We’ve got probably ten blokes who haven’t trained yet, but they should start to come back in now ahead of the new season.”
WIDNES VIKINGS coach Tim Sheens says that his high-profile signing Matty Smith has made a promising start to life at the Championship club.
The club unveiled super League Grand Final winner Smith last week following his release by Catalans Dragons.
He has trained twice with Sheens’ squad but was not involved with a ‘bodies-in-front’ training run against Salford on Saturday.
The Vikings coach said: “He’s settled right in.
“We’ll manage his programme for the next couple of weeks, because he’s only had two sessions with us and we’re at the end of our sixth week.
“He’s also got to get used to the 4G field.
“But he’s fitted in really well with the group and you’d think he’d been there for the whole six weeks.
“A lot of the players know him and he knows them, and I think he’ll be a good signing for us.
“It gives us a depth at halfback that I wanted with Danny Craven and Joe Lyons, who both have some versatility and can play in other positions.”
Last week the club also confirmed Jack Owens as its captain for 2020 after a vote by the Vikings’ players.
Sheens said: “First of all he’s got the acceptance of the players, because they voted for him, and the coaching and admin staffs supported it.
“He’s one of those players who grew up and played all his footy through the Widnes systems, and he was in our leadership group that was formed at the start of pre-season.
“We’ve got a good bunch of people there for the younger players to draw from.
“I’ve told him that I’m not looking for him to play traffic cop, and what I mean by that is I see him leading by example, rather than telling people how to play and what to do.
“That’s my role – he will have a come-follow-me style of captaincy.”
Meanwhile Sheens has confirmed his 2020 squad numbers, with Smith handed the number 17 shirt and Owens moved to number one.
Widnes Vikings 2020 squad numbers: 1 Jack Owens, 2 Jack Johnson, 3 Jake Spedding, 4 Lloyd Roby, 5 Deon Cross, 6 Danny Craven, 7 Joe Lyons, 8 Jay Chapelhow, 9 Logan Tomkins, 10 Ted Chapelhow, 11 Shane Grady, 12 Sam Wilde, 13 MacGraff Leuluai, 14 Pat Moran, 15 Kenny Baker, 16 Owen Farnworth, 17 Matty Smith, 18 Owen Buckley, 19 Connor Dwyer, 21 Jayden Hatton, 22 Liam Cooper, 23 Lewis Else, 24 Calum O’Neill, 25 Joe Edge
BRADFORD BULLS’ recent signing Sam Barlow will be one of four debutants in John Kear’s side when they face Castleford Tigers on Boxing Day.
Barlow has impressed the Bulls coach in training, despite not having played for four years due to a suspension imposed for assaulting a UKAD anti-doping official.
He is set to come off the bench against the Tigers in a strong Bulls line-up that will also include first appearances for close-season captures Anthony England, Greg Johnson and Adam Rooks.
Kear said: “Sam has been very, very good in training.
“I’ve been absolutely delighted with what he’s brought to the party so far and I’m looking forward to seeing what he brings on the field.
“We’ll turn out a strong squad – w. We haven’t got that many options because we haven’t got that many players yet.
“Hopefully we’ll learn some things about ourselves and our preparation, and take some positives out of it that mean we can look forward to the other pre-season games and round one with confidence.”
Kear is without three players for the Tigers’ clash through injury.
Conner Farrell is out until the end of March following a close-season knee operation, while Evan Hodgson has a patella issue.
Youngster Vytas Vaznys was expected to come in for one of those, but he broke a thumb during a wrestling session and is now sidelined for six weeks.
But young backrower Brad Gallagher will feature after having made one first-team appearance last season.
Kear added: “Vytas is a bit upset at missing out, but it’s part of pre-season and his chance will come again.”
LONDON BRONCOS coach Danny Ward acknowledges it will be difficult for his side to re-establish itself as a permanent Super League club, although he is relishing the challenge.
Ward’s side was relegated with a record 20 points this year, and then he saw his team picked apart by rival top-flight clubs.
They will rebuild in the Championship in 2020 and have made some impressive signings, but Ward says the current system makes it tough for any team going up to survive.
“It’s so hard for teams that get promoted,” Ward said.
“I saw last year with the teams that got dragged into it, speaking to the coaches there, and it was impossible for them to plan and retain players too because they didn’t know where they were at.
“I’m not sure what the answer is, bar licensing again or having a guaranteed year for any team that goes up before they can be relegated.
“It will always be a problem with one up and one down.”
Ward also admits it was difficult to watch the likes of skipper Jay Pitts and homegrown fullback Alex Walker join Wakefield, with several others heading for pastures new.
“It’s tough and hard, and I know it’s part of the game,” Ward explained.
“I had a good relationship with those boys and I was happy for them to continue in Super League – guys like Pittsy, Al Walker and the lads that have gone to Salford.
“I’m happy they’re carrying on plying their trade in Super League.
“But it’s tough as a coach, because you want to build a squad around those lads.
“If we’d known we’d be in Super League the year after we could have retained some of them earlier in the season.
“We were never going to be a club that goes up and throws cash at it straight away; it had to be a slow progression.
“We saw the progress they made in just one season in Super League, but that’s the way the sport is with promotion and relegation and we could have that argument all day.
“It is what it is, you lose people and move on.”
Ward also believes that the players he has retained will benefit from their season at the top table.
He added: “I like to think we’ll be better for it.
“The majority of the squad here experienced Super League and proved they could handle the step up.
“They’ll be better for those experiences, and the lads we’ve got in have got Super League experience too.”
BATLEY BULLDOGS will field a host of new signings in their Boxing Day clash with Dewsbury Rams, but Super League recruit Shaun Lunt will not be among them.
The former Hull KR, Huddersfield and Leeds man has asked instead to play in the final two pre-season games, with coach Craig Lingard set to rotate his squad over the four matches.
But former Rams duo Lucas Walshaw and Dale Morton will both feature against their old club, and Ben White, Luke Hooley and Jack Blagbrough are also set to feature.
Lingard explained: “We want everybody to play two games out of the four friendlies.
“Shaun asked if he could play in the final two against Huddersfield and Hull, because he likes to play consecutive matches and feels two tough games against Super League opposition will best get him ready for round one.
“Boxing Day is always a bit of a strange one for coaches, because it comes slap bang in the middle of pre-season and there’s a lot of stuff we still haven’t worked on.
“It has the potential to be a bit scrappy because of that and we’re relying on players’ ability.
“We’ve also had a new coach, new systems and new players come in, so it will take us a bit of time.
“But I’m certainly looking forward to it and it will be a really good test to see where we’re at.
“There’s definitely the desire there to get a win – Boxing Day against Dewsbury means a lot to players, supporters and the coaching staff and I’ve played in a few myself.”
HALIFAX coach Simon Grix wants his side to be “fit and competitive” for the start of the season after sluggish starts to previous campaigns.
Fax have been notoriously slow starters at times in recent seasons, but Grix, who was a member of those squads as a player, is keen for that to change.
He said: “I’ve been in the playing ranks the last few years and it’s not been by design for us to start steady.
“It’s a fact; nobody is brilliant in round one, but it has taken us a bit longer to hit our straps
“There are a lot of variables in there, but we’ve put a focus on getting as fit as we can for round one to put ourselves in a position where we won’t be beaten on tiredness.
“I think we could have been guilty of that once or twice in previous years early on in the season.
“We just want to give ourselves a competitive chance and that’s what I’m after.
“We will get better as the season goes on, but I want to be competitive and fit straight away.
“Look at York last year – they had a wave of positivity from the start.
“They started well and it’s really important; it put them in a really good spot for the rest of the season.”
Grix last week confirmed his squad numbers for the new season, with new signings Jodie Broughton, Tom Gilmore, Keegan Hirst and Matt Garside all handed shirts in the first 13.
Halifax RLFC 2020 Squad: 1 Scott Grix, 2 Shaun Robinson, 3 Steve Tyrer, 4 James Woodburn-Hall, 5 Jodie Broughton, 6 Scott Murrell, 7 Tom Gilmore, 8 Elliot Morris, 9 Brandon Moore, 10 Keegan Hirst, 11 Matt Garside, 12 Ed Barber, 13 Jacob Fairbank, 14 Keal Carlile, 15 Paul Brearley, 16 Connor Davies, 17 Ben Kavanagh, 18 James Saltonstall, 19 Conor McGrath, 20 Curtis Davies, 21 Reece Chapman-Smith, 22 Will Calcott, 24 Sion Jones, 25 Oliver Waite, 26 Fraser Stroud, 29 Daniel Fleming, 31 Kevin Larroyer.
WHITEHAVEN coach Gary Charlton says that making the Recreation Ground a fortress again is integral to their Championship survival hopes.
Charlton wants to make the club’s home a difficult place for travelling teams as Haven look to stay up in 2020.
He explained: “Our home form will dictate where we finish.
“Hopefully we can try and make it somewhere that teams don’t want to come, which has been the case in the past.
“I’m happy with the way the lads are training and looking after themselves, and hopefully we can transfer that onto the field.
“We want to get off to a good start. We play the likes of Swinton and Oldham early on, and we have to be realistic and say they are the games we need to try and get results out of.
“It’s going to be tough, but we’re all looking forward to it.
“I don’t think our fitness will be an issue; our challenge will be being consistent against good teams every week.”
Haven remain hopeful of signing an international overseas halfback but are waiting on visa confirmation before making an announcement.
LEIGH CENTURIONS have confirmed their squad numbers for the 2020 season.
The numbers were released last week on Leigh Centurions TV, and see new signings Ryan Ince, Jarrod Sammut, Nathan Mason, Mark Ioane, Ben Hellewell and Danny Addy were all handed starting shirts.
Hellewell’s touted move to the back row is seemingly confirmed by him taking the number 11 shirt, while star recruit Jarrod Sammut will wear seven.
Leigh Centurions 2020 squad numbers: 1 Gregg McNally, 2 Ryan Ince, 3 Iain Thornley, 5 Adam Higson, 6 Ben Reynolds, 7 Jarrod Sammut, 8 Nathan Mason, 9 Liam Hood, 10 Mark Ioane, 11 Ben Hellewell, 12 Andy Thornley, 13 Danny Addy, 14 Matty Wildie, 15 Jordan Thompson, 16 Sam Brooks, 17 Josh Woods, 18 Tom Spencer, 19 Martyn Ridyard, 20 Liam Forsyth, 21 Nick Glohe, 22 Craig Mullen, 23 Callum Field, 24 Brad Holroyd
TOULOUSE OLYMPIQUE president Bernard Sarrazin has backed Sylvain Houles and his staff to guide the club to their Super League target.
Performance manager Adam Innes, analyst Christophe Toustou and backroom staff members Jonathon Green and former player Greg White will again assist Houles.
Sarrazain said: “We are very happy to be able to still rely on these extremely competent people.
“They are completely complementary and rely on a close relationship to push the team towards our common goal – Super League.”
SHEFFIELD EAGLES have confirmed the final pre-season game they were looking for.
Mark Aston’s side will travel to Keighley Cougars on Sunday January 26, with a 2pm kick-off, after having already agreed to play local rivals Doncaster at the Keepmoat Stadium seven days earlier.
Eagles general manager Liam Claffey said: “We’re delighted to be heading back to Cougar Park as the final piece in our pre-season jigsaw ahead of the 2020 season.
“The upcoming campaign will be tough. There has been some fantastic recruitment right across the division, so it will help Mark and his team prepare as we look to make our way into the top 5 play-offs and defend the 1895 Cup.”
The Eagles have named their 2020 squad numbers, with the returning Rob Worrincy ad Scott Wheeldon handed the number two and eight shirts respectively.
Utility Corey Makelim replaces the retired Patch Walker in the six shirt while new signing Izaac Farrell has the number 24.
Robbie Ward, Frankie Mariano and Zack McComb who have all recently joined the club will wear numbers 16, 17 and 19 respectively.
The number three shirt has currently been left open.
Sheffield Eagles 2020 squad numbers: 1 Josh Guzdek, 2 Rob Worrincy, 4 James Glover, 5 Ryan Millar, 6 Corey Makelim, 7 Anthony Thackeray, 8 Scott Wheeldon, 9 James Davey, 10 Matt James, 11 Bradley Knowles, 12 Joel Farrell, 13 Aaron Brown, 14 Greg Burns, 15 Oliver Davies, 16 Robbie Ward, 17 Frankie Mariano, 18 Connor Bower, 19 Zack McComb, 20 Blake Broadbent, 21 Paddy Burns, 22 Rory Dixon, 23 Lewis Taylor, 24 Izaac Farrell
SWINTON LIONS’ 2020 campaign will be boosted by a link with North Manchester’s first Cryotherapy wellness centre.
The club has partnered with The CryoLab in a move that will see the company feature prominently on the club’s shirts next year.
Operations director Steve Wild said: “We are delighted to welcome The CryoLab team into the Swinton Lions family, and we look forward to a mutually beneficial association.
“Indeed our head coach Stuart Littler and head physiotherapist Lyndsey Watkins recently paid a visit to The CryoLab and came away intrigued and impressed by the services on offer.”
YORK CITY KNIGHTS’ close season signing Jimmy Keinhorst is set to miss the club’s pre-season schedule through injury.
The German international and Super League Grand Final winner has joined the Knights on a season-long loan from Hull Kingston Rovers.
But he is currently sidelined with a shoulder problem and is unable to train fully.
Knights coach James Ford has estimates that he is “three or four weeks” away from a return.
OLDHAM Chairman Chris Hamilton says the search for squad additions continues, but that nothing is likely to materialise soon.
The Roughyeds are looking at both the loan and permanent markets at present as Matt Diskin aims to bolster his 20-man squad.
Hamilton said: “We’re chasing up a couple of options but nothing is imminent at the moment.”
One positive for Diskin is that every player is currently fully fit, while the club remains open to the prospect of a third pre-season game on the weekend of Sunday January 19.
DEWSBURY RAMS coach Lee Greenwood will make a decision on fullback Joe Martin and prop Jon Magrin’s Boxing Day availability today (Monday).
Martin has suffered minor ankle ligament damage and is likely to miss out.
New signing Magrin has struggled with both a toe complaint and illness, but could still feature, although Greenwood has stressed he won’t take any unnecessary risks.
Jason Walton and Chris Annakin, who are both recovering from surgery, were already ruled out of the traditional clash.