Newcastle Thunder coach Simon Finnigan has backed the RFL’s decision to abandon the reserve-grade competition for the remainder of the season.
The decision has been made in the light of the heavy schedule clubs will face once the sport returns to the field. With a backlog of fixtures to play, squad depth is set to be tested across all levels of the game, with youngsters likely to be given more first-team opportunities.
Newcastle are the only team in League 1 to run a team in the competition.
The Reserves will return next season, but for Finnigan this should only happen if the game as a whole could continue to support it.
“It was the right decision to bring the reserves back this season, but it’s equally the right decision to cancel it now,” said Finnigan.
“Common sense is that it would be hard to run a reserves league with everything else that is going on.
“When we do get back up and running, realistically all clubs are going to have to make some changes, so a league that has only just started up again has to be sacrificed. But it’s the right call.
“I hope the reserves as a concept will not be derailed by this cancellation, and the RFL will look at everything before deciding what to do next.
“If it turns out to be the smarter decision to leave it for another year or two before bringing it back, in order to get the whole game stable again, then that’s a discussion that will have to be had.
“But for now it’s hard to look at what might happen next season, while we’re just looking at getting this season up and running again.”
IN TERMS of missed matches, Doncaster loose forward Jordie Hedges looks on course to make one of the quickest recoveries from an ACL injury on record.
Having injured his knee against Oldham in last year’s play-off defeat, Hedges was forced to sit out of the final eliminator against Newcastle. He also missed the four League and Cup games Doncaster played before the lockdown, but the 24-year-old could be ready to return when the season starts up again.
Even if he needs a bit more training time than his team-mates before he can run out again, he will almost certainly miss fewer than ten games with an injury that usually leaves players out for at least nine months.
“It’s certainly been different speaking to the physio and doing some rehab over FaceTime rather than face to face,” said Hedges.
“But he’s been as helpful as he can be and I have done all that I can. I am definitely getting there now.
“If anything, this enforced break is going to work in my favour. I was originally meant to be out for nine months, but now I am only going to miss a handful of games.
“I am probably only a couple of months off playing now. I am back running and have just started changing direction.
“So all being well, once we can get back to training I’ll be ready to get back into contact work. Even if I still need a couple of weeks then to get the knee fully right, it’s still a positive that I won’t have missed as many games as I should have.”
Getting back on the field isn’t the only thing Hedges has to look forward to as he focuses on life after lockdown.
“I miss rugby, so I want things to return to normal as soon as possible,” he added.
“But me and my girlfriend are also expecting a baby in August, so being able to focus on that as well has been good for us in these tough times.”
KEIGHLEY COUGARS are continuing to throw their support behind the work of the NHS and other key workers.
On the back of the recent announcement that they would be donating 5,000 face masks, with more in production, to key frontline providers, the club has unveiled a new charity shirt for 2020.
Once the game returns, the Cougars will wear the shirt during their first fixture when they will host a ‘Thank You Day’ for NHS staff and other frontline workers.
“When we do get the game back this year, it will be down to all these people putting themselves on the frontline for others,” said club director Ryan O’Neill.
“As well as wearing the shirt in our first home game, there’ll be lots of other things happening on the day. We’ll be making a real splash as a way of thanking all these key workers, who have really stood up in these terrible times and put everyone else ahead of themselves.
“We have a lot of supporters and people in the local community who work within the NHS, but we also have a lot who work in supermarkets, as delivery drivers, in food warehouse distribution, so this is all about them.
“We had two charity shirts last year, so it was a natural fit to do that again and we’ve had a really good response from the fans.
“Everybody is wanting to do their bit to support and say thanks to the NHS and the key workers. So if we can do that by coming up with something the fans will be proud to wear and that can also help these key workers, then it’s great.”
The shirts are priced at £35 each, with the all profits raised from the shirt sales to be donated to the local NHS trust and other frontline worker groups.
Readers can purchase the shirts now at cougarmaniatickets.co.uk/nhsshirt, and all pre-orders will be dispatched from May 30.
ROCHDALE HORNETS coach Matt Calland is making sure his players don’t lose their competitive edge by pitting them against each other.
The players have been keeping up with their training as much as they can without access to their usual training facilities and have been recording their progress through the ‘Strava’ app. This has then been fed through to Calland and the club conditioner Miles Greenwood.
But now the App is also used to challenge the players to not just be the best that they can be, but to also try and be the best at the club.
“Because we don’t know when we’ll be playing again and because some players don’t have access to weights at home, it is quite difficult to give them programmes to follow,” said Calland.
“We just have to keep them ticking over and keep them motivated. So now we have started setting them some challenges and trying to keep things fun.
“Rugby League players are competitive by nature and we need to keep morale in the squad high, as well as keeping the players mentally stimulated.
“They had a 5k Challenge to do last week. They used Starva to track their results and they were going up against each other, with a little prize for the top three with the best times.
“They could have as many goes at it as they wanted to try and make that top three and we were seeing some really good times coming in, which was great.
“This week we’re giving them a cycling challenge and the week after that it will be a fun challenge for them.
“Hopefully by then we might have a guideline as to where we’re at and what will happen next.”
WORKINGTON TOWN Chairman Les Smallwood has said he has seen a couple of years of hard work pay off with the way fans and the local community have thrown their support behind the club in these challenging times.
Both the Travellers Rest Supporters Club and the Derwent Park Supporters Club are currently raising funds for the club, while the fans are also getting behind new innovations from the club to keep interaction going.
“For the last 18 months to two years we have been working really hard to make the club a real part of the of the local community,” said Smallwood.
“The two supporters clubs have been doing great work to keep some money coming into the club, and everything that we’re trying to do to keep interaction with the fans, they are getting behind 100 percent.
“The local community has been really supportive as well and that’s hopefully come off the back of the hard work we’ve put in and how we’ve been engaging with them.
“It’s fantastic that we have such loyal fans. And I’m sure if we played a game on the moon, they’d find a way of coming to watch.”
BARROW RAIDERS Chairman Steve Neale has admitted he is currently number crunching to ensure his players and staff get the best possible deal if the club needs to furlough them during the current coronavirus pandemic.
Everyone employed by the club currently remains on full pay, but Neale and his fellow board members are closely monitoring the situation as it still remains unclear when their income stream may return.
“One of the Government schemes came up trumps late last week with the payment of the coronavirus grant from the Council,” Neale wrote in his North West Evening mail column.
“This was a very timely payment as we continue to fully pay all our staff with very little income coming the other way.
“The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme went live last Monday, but it is not a straight-forward process for us with our staff a mixture of those with fixed contracts and others receiving variable pay.
“For those that were with us last year, we have been busy working out whether the equivalent monthly 2019 pay is a better deal or the average earnings.
“We then have the problem of putting in a pro-rata claim as the furlough period doesn’t necessarily cover the whole of a month.
“At times it feels that both Keith Holt and I have been set a home-schooling mathematical challenge, but we are getting there.”
HUNSLET Chairman Ken Sykes has said that everyone involved at the club is staying realistic as to when, or even if, the game will return this season.
In a statement released last week, Sykes and his board of directors said: “There is no doubt that these are unique and trying times for everyone and there is no past experience we can learn from.
“A constant question on the various RL Forums is “Will the season be abandoned?” The real answer is that no one knows. The RFL are working incredibly hard to get things up and running again and we, and other clubs, are supporting them in the best way we can.
“However, we cannot rule out the possibility that we will not play again this season. That is not a comment from a position of knowledge, but more a pragmatic realism given what we are seeing and hearing daily from a variety of Government sources.
“They are already openly discussing a phased return to normality and no doubt “events” (the heading under which sport appears to sit) will be towards the back of that approach.
“We are not looking to set any hares running here, but we feel it is important to manage expectations.”
COVENTRY BEARS centre or backrow forward Liam Welham has said that, despite the travelling involved, joining the club was the perfect move for him.
After five seasons with Doncaster, Welham was close to joining Keighley Cougars early last season, but a misunderstanding over the terms saw the move fall through after just one day.
Instead he switched to the amateur game and joined his local side Myton Warriors as player-coach, before being handed a route back into the semi-professional game with the Bears.
“My wife is a nurse and works different shifts, so with the children I was struggling to commit to training,” said Welham.
“So I put myself into semi-retirement and started helping at Myton.
“But I am friends with Richard Squires, who is the head coach at Coventry, and he gave me a ring to see if I wanted to join.
“They said they could be very lenient with my training if I did have to miss some sessions when my partner was working nights.
“I thought that as long as everyone else at the club was okay with that, then I would go down and play for them.
“So it’s worked out well for me.”
NORTH WALES CRUSADERS winger Rob Massam believes the club’s young squad will be willing and able to hit the ground running once they get the go-ahead to return to training.
Prior to the lockdown the Crusaders were targeting a play-off spot this year and, for Massam, that aim will not have changed after months without any action.
“When we do get the go-ahead to bring the game back, everyone will be a little bit de-conditioned, but at least every club will be in the same boat,” said Massam.
“So that could make it a fair playing field, because no one will have an advantage over anyone else.
“One really good thing about us this year is that we have a really young and enthusiastic squad.
“Everyone really wants to play at their best and we have quite a few guys who are just starting out in their careers. They’ll be just as hungry to get started.
“We were just starting to get into a run of strong performances, so it was a bit frustrating that the season came to a halt when it did.
“I don’t think our attitude to do well will change, and if anything that enthusiasm will be stronger after this delay.”
LONDON SKOLARS coach Jermaine Coleman has said he can see himself struggling for numbers in some games when the season does eventually return.
With only a small squad at his disposal this season, Coleman could now face the prospect of making them play more than one game in some weeks, with further issues arising because of pre-planned holidays.
“However it goes, the season restarts could be interesting for the part-time players,” said Coleman.
“I’d think the majority of coaches do similar to what I do. I get the schedule at the start of the year, plan for the year and tell the players when they can go away and when they can get a j
“When we were trying to rearrange the first game of the season against Workington it was proving difficult, because as soon we were asking the players when we could do it, we were finding a whole host of problems with people having already booked holidays on those weekends we were due to have off.
“To suddenly be faced with having our planned weekends off filled with games is going to affect all the teams and it will determine what squads they have available.”
WEST WALES RAIDERS coach Aaron Wood has said his new French signings are ready to join the club once travel restrictions are lifted and the club is given the go-ahead to get the season back underway.
While the club is keeping their identities under wraps until they can be officially announced, Wood has made no secret of the fact they were ready to join once the domestic season in France had finished.
With that season now cancelled, the un-named players are now able to join the Raiders as the earliest possible opportunity.
“The guys have pretty much signed on,” said Wood.
“We’re just waiting now for details of when the travel restrictions will ease and when our season will start up again before we can finalise things and get them over.
“I’m in regular contact with them, so it’s just a case now of getting the green light to go ahead.
“Our guys have been training by themselves, but it’s different for these guys from France, because they’ve just come to the end of their season.
“They’ll have a couple of weeks to rest their bodies and then be given a programme by us. But they are coming from very good systems over there where, if they work hard, they get the results. So they’ll keep themselves fit and will get over here ready to go.”