DONCASTER coach Richard Horne has said it is now even more vital to bring in some extra bodies given the RFL’s decision on Covid-related cancellation of games.
The governing body have set out their intentions for changing how they deal with cases of clubs being unable to fulfil fixtures due to the disease.
It is likely the league will revert back to being determined on points won, rather than the points percentage that has been in operation since the sport resumed in mid-2020.
Previously clubs were able to postpone matches if they had seven or more players unavailable due to having Covid or being forced to isolate. But in order to encourage clubs to fulfil fixtures when possible, the RFL intend to rule league matches not fulfilled due to Covid as forfeited, awarding a 48-0 win to the opposition, in contrast to the 24-0 scoreline used previously.
“We are looking to hopefully bring two or three more signings in before the season starts,” said Horne.
“We lost a lot of our pack at the end of last season with Brandon Douglas, Liam Johnson, Brad Foster – that was some of our starting pack, so we are looking to recruit in that area.
“But again with Covid on the rise we’re going to need a big squad to get through that. Especially with the RFL saying if we can‘t fulfil a fixture it will have to be forfeited. So we’re going to have to have a squad that means we can field a team every week.
“Other clubs might be looking for more signings too because of this, but it will be hard with Reserves coming back as well. Super League teams will have to fulfil those games as well so there won’t be as many young players around that we can pick up.
“The player pool has shrunk so much. We’ve been looking for a month or two now for the right players to come in and it’s been hard.”
MIDLANDS HURRICANES made a raft of new signings last week ahead of their debut game against York City Knights on Friday.
Former Sheffield Eagles centre or back rower Jordan Bull has joined the recently rebranded club, as have West Hull hooker or loose forward Tom Blakey and former Coventry Bears junior James Phillips. Harry Kaufman and Brad Sheridan from last year’s squad have also re-signed.
Of the new signings, head coach Richard Squires is particularly pleased to get Phillips on board but knows it may be a few years yet before they see the best from him.
“James is a very talented individual who I’ve worked closely with for the last three years,” said Squires.
“We have taken the chance to sign him, catch him nice and early and keep him within Rugby League rather than see him going into the rugby union development programme.
“We may not see the fruits of him for another couple of years but he has a lot of potential.
“James will learn a lot from the group we have and key members of the squad are already taking him under their wing and he’s impressing week in week out.”
Following on from the Hurricanes‘ debut on Friday, they have lined up a second pre-season game against Bradford Bulls at Odsal Stadium on Saturday, February 12, but Squires is also hoping for a chance to showcase themselves on home soil before the league season gets underway.
“Bradford play on the Monday night as well so we’ll be playing against mainly reserve players, and any players that won‘t be involved against Leigh,” added Squires.
“But it will still be a good game for us to have and it will be a great opportunity for players to test themselves against Championship opposition and put themselves in the spotlight
“We’ll then look to launch ourselves with a home friendly in March – that’ll be the last tick box to set us off into the league campaign and give us our first game day experience on the new pitch.”
NORTH WALES CRUSADERS coach Anthony Murray believes team manager Simon Reynolds’ new role could prove a big bonus for the club.
Reynolds has been appointed as head coach of the North Wales Origin side and will take on that role alongside his commitments with the Crusaders.
“It’s a big boost for Simon and the club, for him to get that role,” said Murray.
“It is also really nice that able to keep that link within the club and it is something good to be attached to.
“Simon will also be able to keep an eye on a couple of players that might, further down the line, be players that can come and have a run out for us.
“It is great for him and great for the club and the prospect of having locally-based players come and join us in the future.”
Elsewhere Murray has added to his squad with the signing of former St Helens Academy star Owen Blackwood.
The youngster, who normally operates as a winger, will experience his first taste of senior rugby league with Crusaders in 2022 and joins a number of other players at the club who’ve come through the same system at Saints and gone on to ply their trade in the semi-professional ranks.
SWINTON LIONS coach Allan Coleman has said triallist Harry Darby will get a chance to show what he can do when they travel to Salford Red Devils on Sunday.
The hooker is currently training with the club with Coleman potentially looking to offer him a deal for the year ahead – but only if the timing is right for the player as well as the club.
“Harry is a lad I’ve coached at Leigh Miners Rangers and England under 20 and he’s training brilliantly with us,” said Coleman.
“Unfortunately for him, he’s probably in competition for places in the area I’m strongest in within the squad.
“I am very good friends with his family so they know I want the best for him and if that proves to be that he trains with us for a bit but goes back to his community club that’s what we’ll do. But if it’s best that he signs for us we’ll go down that route.
“It’s unclear yet what we’ll do, but he’ll play against Salford and we’ll take it from there.
“The main thing is though, that we do the very best by him.”
CORNWALL have signed their third player – their second of Cornish decent – as they prepare for their debut campaign in League 1.
Hooker Sam Gilder, 22, was raised in the Cornish village of Mevagissey and having initially played rugby union later switched to play the 13-a-side code alongside fellow new recruit Henry Symons at the University of Gloucestershire.
As well as the university side, Gilder has also represented the South West of England and featured in the Universities Rugby League Origin series.
“Sam is a player that has impressed playing University rugby league after only taking up the game when his further education began,” said coach Neil Kelly.
“To have someone local in Cornwall with a rugby league background, who has potential within the professional game, was something that I was keen to make the most of.
“His signing also reaffirms the club’s ethos of giving Cornish players an opportunity to develop in a game which prior to Cornwall RLFC’s inception, would have passed them by.”
LONDON SKOLARS coach Joe Mbu is delighted with how his squad is shaping up ahead of the new season.
The club’s latest signing is former South London Silverbacks prop Kojo Korang, and he joins Doug Chirnside, Anthony Cox, Liam O’Callaghan, Connor Flanagan and Alex Derry among the new faces to arrive at the club this year.
And while Mbu knows he won‘t fully see what these players will add to the squad until they are in a game situation, the early signs are good for the coach.
“I am happy with how squad is coming together,” said Mbu.
“Kojo is a powerful forward who possesses a sound set of core skills. His knowledge of the game will be invaluable to the group.
“We’re taking small steps in forming a big squad for the season but until we see them out on the field it will hard to fully see what they all have to offer. But in terms of character and conduct, everyone is doing themselves proud.
“Everyone is pushing each other hard and everyone is hungry to improve and do well. The commitment from the boys is unquestionable.”
Martyn Ridyard has been handed the first club captaincy role of his career by OLDHAM coach Stuart Littler.
The 35-year-old, who has had an illustrious career with Leigh Centurions across two spells, as well as spending time at Huddersfield Giants, Featherstone Rovers and Swinton Lions, has previously held vice-captaincy and membership of leadership groups roles, but 2022 will be the year he leads a side out in a permanent role.
“I’m at the stage of my career now when I should be leading by example anyway. Nevertheless, it’s good to have the job and I’m excited by it. I just hope I can do the job justice,” said Ridyard.
“I certainly have the right environment thanks to the superb job done by Stu and Brendan during pre-season. We have no cliques, no egos. We are a group and we are as one, and that’s especially creditable for the job done by Stu and Brendan (Sheridan – assistant coach), given that most of the lads are at the club for the first time.
“When I first turned up for training, I didn’t know a single player and I wasn’t on my own. It wasn’t entirely a bad thing because it put everyone on their toes, but the main thing that has turned us all into good mates has been the way Stu and Brendan have gone about things.”
Prop Luke Nelmes, one of only seven members of the 2021 squad still at the club has been named vice-captain, while two further members of the squad will make up a four-man leadership group.
HUNSLET coach Alan Kilshaw is delighted with what he has seen from his squad in pre-season so far.
“We’ve been building strong foundations in the gym, focusing on core and stability work while, on the field, there’s been plenty of Rugby League core skills based work,” said Kilshaw.
“We finished the first phase of pre-season training with a hit out between ourselves, to gauge just where the group was at and how effective the work we had been doing in a game scenario, and under fatigue, had been. I was very pleased with the outcome, in fact the exercise was very beneficial.
“We have set some standards and have had some really good discussions around playing philosophy and the club’s culture.
“We need to make sure we find the correct balance as we need to prepare the group to play some forthcoming games while not forgetting that our overriding priority is the Betfred League 1 season, which starts at the end of March.”
ROCHDALE HORNETS chairman Andy Mazey has said preparations for the new season have ramped up now that the players have returned following the festive period.
With no pre-season games confirmed just yet, the Hornets will likely be hoping for a strong showing in the Challenge Cup to get themselves game ready for the start of the league season in March.
The Hornets get their Challenge Cup run underway when Midlands Hurricanes visit the Crown Oil Arena on Sunday, January 30, at 1pm, in a game that will be streamed live on BBC Sport and iPlayer.
“They have all had a decent Christmas break, but they’re back in now and have stepped up the intensity and pace of their preparations,” said Mazey.
“It is all systems go now and Matt (Calland – head coach) can’t wait to get going now.
“We have still got to work around any Covid issues, but I’d like to think that everyone will be in a good place come March and the start of our season.
“We looked at numerous options for pre-season games, but it was tricky with our season not starting until late March. So we decided that the Challenge Cup would make a meaningful pre-season programme for us and a nice precursor for the season.
“Midlands Hurricanes will be a tough game for us and I’m sure it will prove beneficial to go up against someone from our own league to start the year with.”
KEIGHLEY COUGARS are ready to step up their preparations for the new season according to coach Rhys Lovegrove.
The squad were back in for training in December, but with their first game now less than a month away, Lovegrove is looking for a bit more from his players as the build up to facing Hunslet in the Challenge Cup gathers pace.
“Things have been going really well and training has been really enjoyable so far,” said Lovegrove.
“December was about building the foundations, making sure the players had the minimum level of requirements and looking at how we play.
“The first week back in January saw us push that envelope a little to make them understand how they can use those tools to play within our systems.
“But now we can look at shifting through the gears and the next couple of weeks will be about making sure they know what they are doing and starting to do some collision work due to the fact we have the Hunslet game coming up.”
WEST WALES RAIDERS chief executive Peter Tiffin has reiterated his intention to see the club play a major part in growing the game in Wales.
The club may have had another disappointing season in 2021 in terms of results, but Tiffin could see some positives and knows the Raiders can play an important role in the game off the field as well.
“As the season concluded the results may not have been what most were expecting from the Raiders in 2021 but the improvements were second to none seeing a massive improvement in majority of the score lines and the performances shocking a lot of people,” said Tiffin in a statement on the club website.
“We, as a club, decided after last season to re-evaluate our goals and amend our plans to continue to try and grow rugby league in Wales and our brand within the sport.
“One of our main focuses for 2022 is to work much closer with Wales Rugby League, we feel as a club we haven’t been involved with the community and international game in Wales since before 2019.
“Looking in at all the work the community clubs in Wales have been trying to achieve is very positive and there is a lot of interest within every aspect of the game, as juniors, seniors, ladies, wheelchair and masters all showing how engaging rugby league is.”
The Raiders have added to their squad with the signing of former Coventry Bears half-back Callum Merrett.
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