Workington Town forward Hanley Dawson has said he will be eternally grateful to coach Chris Thorman for giving him a shot in the semi-professional game.
The 24-year-old signed from amateur side Millom ahead of pre-season and put in a string of impressive performances before the Coronavirus pandemic put a halt to the season.
His tries against Newcastle and Doncaster helped earn him Rugby League World’s League 1 Player of the Month award ahead of the lockdown and he is already showing signs of being one of the game’s brightest young stars.
“Going from NCL Division Three last season to League 1 has been a big jump,” says Dawson.
“It’s been a challenge, but I’ve really enjoyed it.
“I did a sports-based degree so I have always enjoyed the training and I knew I’d manage the increased volume of training and professionalism involved in the step up. But in terms of the way the game is played and the speed of it, it took a bit to get used to it.
“I started on trial with Workington and was wondering if I’d get a contract. I was getting a few comments from people advising me not to go there as I’d just be on the bench, but Chris (Thorman) gave me the motivation to go forward.
“I trained hard, stayed injury-free, played every game, did well and was named player of the month, so to have not played since has been tough.
“I knew my fitness would look after itself after dedicating myself to the club three nights a week and putting everything into training. That reaps the rewards.
“But credit has to go to Chris as well. He hasn’t taken anything away from my game. He knows my attributes and he’s put me in positions that has brought the best out of me and benefited the team.
“I’m really grateful for the opportunity Chris has given me.
“When I was younger I always wanted to play at the top level. I went through a spell at Millom when I was wondering if I was always going to be at that level and not make the step up.
“Then Chris came along and I jumped at the chance to join Workington.
“Wherever I eventually end up within the professional game it will be thanks to Chris for giving me that first chance.”
HUNSLET coach Gary Thornton has added his voice to the calls to keep promotion to the Championship as the ultimate aim, if and when the season resumes.
Current plans are for a re-structured season to get back underway in late August.
Thornton believes that any games that do get played should have some value for players and fans alike.
“I am still mindful of how difficult the behind-closed-doors scenario would be for Championship and League 1 clubs. But seeing other sports on the way back does give us a bit of light at the end of the tunnel,” said Thornton.
“Hopefully the guidelines for us will allow us to get the guys in for a couple of weeks of group training before we start playing again and almost have a mini pre-season to get them ready to go.
“They want to get going, get back playing and get up and running again.
“But for me, the main thing is that if they do resume the season they ensure that there is something to play for.
“I can’t see the point in playing games with no meaning to them. If we start up again it has to be in a system that allows promotion and relegation. Without that, I don’t see the point in doing it.
“If there is nothing at the end of it I’m not sure how seriously the fans would take the games and they would virtually become friendlies.
“There has to be a meaningful outcome to these games, so we’ll just have to wait and see what’s decided.”
KEIGHLEY COUGARS fullback Ritchie Hawkyard has had an unusual year so far.
Within months of re-joining the club on a one-year deal, the 34-year-old announced he had decided to retire instead and would not be seeing the deal through. However, just weeks later he made a U-turn on that decision and rejoined the club for pre-season training.
Having missed the opening two games of the season, Hawkyard featured, and scored, in the defeat to Rochdale but then saw the season come to a grinding halt as the coronavirus pandemic took hold.
But for Hawkyard, the extended break in strange times has actually done him good.
“It’s been a strange year so far,” said Hawkyard.
“But it’s probably been the first year I’ve had a decent break.
“That has benefited me more than the younger lads as it has given my body time to heal and freshen up, so I’m feeling a lot better for it.
“Part of the reason I initially thought about retiring was that my body wasn’t up to it and I didn’t feel I could benefit the team the way I was feeling.
“But I came back, and now my body has had even more time to get right. I have still been getting out and keeping fit without taking the impact of the games, which has probably been the best thing for me.
“I’ll see how things go once we’re back in training and back playing, but I feel good at the moment, so could even go for another couple of years.
“We’ll see if that’s still the same as we get to the back end of the season. If I’m aching, then I’ll re-assess it.”
ROCHDALE HORNETS winger Shaun Ainscough has warned that it will take some time for the game to recover the quality that supporters have come to expect.
The game has already been on lockdown for three months, with players limited to whatever training they can do alone in their own homes.
That will have had an effect on fitness levels. And with no contact training having taken place for months, players will be going into a restart with much less preparation behind them.
“We’re all doing our running but very few, if any of us, have any extra gym equipment at home,” said Ainscough.
“So it’s going to be difficult for us to get back into that side of things and build up our strength again.
“Just being able to run isn’t enough for Rugby League, you need that strength, so I bet players across the league cannot wait to get back into the gym.
“Even when you’ve just had two weeks off, you feel it when you get back in. So after this long away it’s going to be a massive shock to the system and it will be tough.
“Normally once you’ve finished a season you have a month to six weeks off and then get back into pre-season training for three months to get back to full fitness.
“But we’ve had much longer than normal off now, so we’re not going to be able to get straight back into it when we get the green light. We’ll need a good couple of months at least to get anywhere close to being back to our best.”
DONCASTER centre Sam Smeaton has said that even though the club has furloughed the squad, competition between the players is as strong as ever.
Every player at the club is continuing his own personal training so that they are ready to get going again when the club is ready to welcome them back ahead of the season resuming.
“The players are furloughed, but our conditioner isn’t and he has kept in contact with us all, giving us guidance rather than telling us what we have to do,” said Smeaton.
“Nothing is set in stone and no one has told us what we have to work on, but there is a points system in place that is working well.
“That is things like a run is worth five points, a gym-style session is ten, stretching 15 that sort of thing. So it’s not a case of us having to do X, Y and Z, it’s about what points we each able earn.
“Then if we want to send our totals into the club on the WhatsApp group then we do. It’s great when you can see what everyone is doing and compare scores, because it creates a bit of competition.
“I’ve been getting really involved in building points up, because I have been furloughed from work as well, so it’s given me something to do every day.
“Our season never really got going, but we had a really good pre-season and it did feel like we could do something special. So the motivation is there to keep up with our own training to keep ourselves in a strong position for when we do get back playing.”
LONDON SKOLARS hooker Neil Thorman admits he is so desperate to get back to playing that he has been inundating several contacts within the game to see if he can get any inside information.
The 36-year-old, whose older brother is Workington coach Chris, has spent his entire life around the game. So not being able to pick up a ball during the current lockdown has been a challenge for him.
“I’m just bored and am ready to get back to training,” said Thorman.
“I’m missing it, and am pestering Chris, I’m pestering Jermaine (Coleman – Skolars coach) to see if they know what’s happening and can give me the heads up. I’m also messaging mates within the RFL to see if they have any intel.
“Believe it or not, I don’t actually have a rugby ball in my house, so I can’t even get one in my hands. I’ve nearly bought one and I’ve tried going down to the club to see if there was anyone around to pass me one to use
“I have just been running at the moment and even ran a marathon, which was the stupidest thing I have ever attempted. I was curious to see if I could it without any training, I did it, but it wasn’t any fun.
“Doing sport without a rugby ball is definitely not as much fun as training or playing.”
BARROW RAIDERS have put their lockdown time to good use, by ensuring that Craven Park is a healthy environment to return to, once games get back underway.
Fixtures in League 1 could resume in late August, potentially behind closed doors initially, but Raiders chairman Steve Neale has said their ground will be ready to host supporters whenever they are allowed to attend.
“We have taken this as an opportunity to do a bit of repair work on the ground,” said Neale.
“We’re also looking to the after-effects of Covid and making sure the ground is clean. We’re talking about upgrading some of the facilities too, so that will be things like putting new boilers in for the hot water.
“It’s going to cost us a bit of money, but it’s a great opportunity to do it now when the players aren’t there training. Usually, we’d have to do these jobs during the winter when it’s all shut down.
“We are very conscious that there will be checks made and cleanliness is going to be at the top of the tick box list. We’ve got to make sure people can wash their hands regularly and have sanitisers available, so we’re just trying to make the ground fit for a return.
“It’s just about making sure we are in a fit environment, that is cleaner and safer, for when we do return.”
NORTH WALES CRUSADERS coach Anthony Murray has confirmed that plans are in place to bring some of his squad back together for training.
In England, lockdown rules now allow groups of six, from different households, to meet up outside whilst maintaining social distancing. Murray is keen to take advantage of that provision in the coming weeks.
“Moving into July and working within the Government guidelines, we’re trying to come up with some sort of plan to start getting some of the guys together and step things up again,” said Murray.
“Based on where the players live, we’ll try and group five players and one coach in one local area and do some conditioning work.
“There is a big social aspect to Rugby League and if one group can get together in a small group one evening, and another group the next evening and so on, you’re starting to get an element of that back.”
NEWCASTLE THUNDER coach Simon Finnigan has said his club is not rushing to restart training in small groups, preferring to wait until there is a clearer idea of when the season will restart before stepping up its preparations.
Current lockdown restrictions allow groups of six to meet up outside, providing social distancing rules are maintained.
Guidance has been sent to all clubs from the RFL about how to safely return to training in small groups, but in doing that formally many clubs will be required to take their players off furlough.
“Bringing players back in is not something we’ve started to plan for yet,” said Finnigan.
“Until we know if and when, and what the resumption might look like, it’s hard to do that.
“We still don’t know what’s going to happen, so to go through the process of bringing them back in small groups is probably not worthwhile until we have more clarity on what might happen moving forward.”
COVENTRY BEARS coach Richard Squires has said there may have to be some enforced changes to deal with in his squad once they get the green light to resume training.
“I’ve spoken to the boys and said there is a plan in place for an August start, but if anything changes and that is brought forward, I need to know that they can jump straight back into it,” explained Squires.
“But some of their personal situations have changed during this.
“With the universities closing, a lot of our students have moved back home and a couple aren’t even in the country because they have gone back to Ireland.
“So we now have the situation of those guys getting back over here safely and being able to sort out flights.
“It means there might have to be a couple of changes, team-wise, that we’re going to have to make due to restrictions that are out of our control.”
WEST WALES RAIDERS coach Aaron Wood admits he is being left to play a waiting game as to when he can start training with members of his squad again.
The RFL last week sent out guidance about a return to training protocol, but the club is living under different lockdown rules to those in England.
“We own our facility and we have had the green light to go back and train there when we’re allowed to, but English law is different to Welsh law,” said Wood.
“Things are a bit more lenient in England than it is here at the moment, so we’re a bit stuck.
“We see rues being changed in England, but we’re a bit behind here with the Welsh government’s rules. As soon as they slacken things a bit we’ll be straight back into it.
“I have told the boys that that could be tomorrow, or in two weeks so they have got to be ready for whenever we get that call.
“But everyone’s chomping at the bit to get back.”