Rochdale Hornets have begun their recruitment for next season by confirming the first five players who have committed to Matt Calland’s squad.
Prop Gavin Bennion and halfback Rob Fairclough have made the move to Spotland from Swinton Lions. While current hooker Sean Penkywicz, forward Callum Marriott and winger Shaun Ainscough have also all penned new deals for next season.
For Penkywicz, who has put a potential retirement on hold for another year, getting key deals done early is an indicator of how the club is now being run under Andy Mazey and the new board.
“Callum is one of the best forwards in the league and Shaun has been there and done it all,” said 38 year-old Penkywicz.
“He still kills it when he plays, so to have those two on board already is brilliant.
“We’re not necessarily going to get to see the job through this year, so there is a sense that we want to do it together next year. Plus there is a great rapport at the club this year, so that has been a major factor in the re-signings we’ve already made.
“It’s good for the fans as well. Last year they didn’t know who the club was signing or really what was happening. But this year we have a few on board early, so it bodes well for them. They’ve not had this for the last couple of years, so starting early can only benefit the club all round.
“I wasn’t here last year to know what it was like then. But as soon as Andy has come in, it’s a great place to be. Everything you need is available and everything is done professionally, so it’s all you want from a club.
“I’m coming to the end of my career and I’m not sure we’ll get playing again this year, and this isn’t how I wanted it to end. So it’s quite easy to decide to stay on and go again next year.
“I’ve played for many years, but you’re always going to remember your last one. This year has never really got going, so I’ve not made many memories to remember.”
NEWCASTLE THUNDER coach Simon Finnigan has said that the club may not be able to continue in the Challenge Cup this year, unless a decision is made soon about the remainder of the League 1 season.
Thunder had already racked up wins over Keighley Cougars, Siddal and Dewsbury Rams to make the sixth round of the competition, where they were due to face Super League’s Toronto Wolfpack at Kingston Park.
But if they don’t know whether they will have further games to prepare for, it may prove impossible to bring the players off furlough for just one match.
“It’s not something we’ve spoken much about yet, as we’re still waiting for clarity about the league season,” said Finnigan.
“But I would imagine that if that decision hasn’t been made, or it has been decided that the season won’t get up and running, then the Challenge Cup, for us, wouldn’t be viable.
“If a decision hasn’t been made about when our season will restart, it still might not be viable. It’s not as easy as just saying we’ll come back in, train and play in the Cup game, if we might then have another month to six weeks off before they put a date on our season.
“With all the guidelines that need to be followed for a return to training, and with everything involved in bringing the players off furlough, it is not easy to jump in and out of it all, or to jump into it and then stay in it for a prolonged period without playing.
“If we have a date for the season to start, then it’s a different matter, but without that it would be really difficult to commit to a Cup game.
“We were looking forward to seeing Toronto up at our place and getting a game against a Super League side, so it would be a shame to have to go out in these circumstances.”
HUNSLET coach Gary Thornton has clubs can take some positives from the Government’s latest easing of lockdown rules that are now allowing small crowds to watch outdoor sports whilst maintaining social distancing.
While the finer details of this are still not clear, Thornton believes Championship and League 1 clubs could start preparing to play in front of supporters again soon.
“I can understand why the RFL keep delaying a decision, because the government are now relaxing things and things keep changing,” said Thornton.
“I think it’s clear now that Championship and League 1 won’t be playing behind closed doors, so the decision will now be based on the Government’s plan to allow fans into stadiums. So a lot now depends on whether that will be allowed to happen in the near future or not.
“As with all these lockdown relaxations, the guidance on the latest changes isn’t 100 per cent clear. We are not certain yet what they refer to, so we need some clarification. But I think we can assume that crowds might be allowed in the near future.
“A decision on our season will also depend on what we’d be playing for in front of the fans.
“If there is no promotion to play for I am not sure they are meaningful games and I don’t know if clubs have the budget to play what are effectively glorified friendlies.
“We’d want an ultimate outcome to the season and that would be promotion to the Championship.”
NORTH WALES CRUSADERS halfback Jordan Gibson has his own theory as to why his coach Anthony Murray is so successful in fining hidden gems in the amateur leagues that then go on to star in League 1 and above.
Gibson was one of Murray’s amateur signings ahead of this season and has seen first hand how far the coach is willing to go for all his players.
“As well as being a great coach, Muzz (Murray) is a very good person around the lads,” said Gibson, who also believes Murray can mastermind a positive season for the Crusaders if the game returns this year.
“We all know that if we have any problems we can go to him. If there is anything we want to work on in our game he’ll turn up to training early and stay behind afterwards to help us. He’s always there for you.
“A few years ago he gave Kenny Baker his chance at this level and now he’s playing with Widnes, so that just proves how good he is at developing those players.
“We had a good pre-season and the things Muzz has put in place will put us in good stead.
“We only just missed out against Hunslet in the Cup and then won comfortably at London, so the lockdown probably came at a bad time for us. But when get the go-ahead we can get back into it.
“The club only just missed out on the play-offs last year, so the aim is to make them this year.
“Muzz has spoken to us all about the little things that we need to do to achieve that and lockdown has given us all time to think about our individual game and where we need to improve.
“So hopefully when we all get back together we can really push on.”
WORKINGTON TOWN coach Chris Thorman has discovered one thing about himself during lockdown, and that is that he needs a hobby.
“I am at my wits end right now,” admitted Thorman.
“I was talking to my next door neighbour, and he knows who I am and what I do, and he could sense I was a bit frustrated.
“It made me realise that for the last 20 years of my life, Rugby League has been my hobby as well as my job.
“When I got time off I would go to a game, watch a game or I would socialise and interact with people that are like me – other coaches or players.
“It’s not until you don’t have it that you realise how much it consumes you.
“I have read a number of success books and leadership books over the years and they always suggest you shouldn’t be 100 per cent engrossed in your work. I used to dismiss that, but I have realised over the last three or four months that it is absolutely right.
“Reading is not a hobby and working out is not a hobby. I need something with a bit more substance.”
COVENTRY BEARS director of rugby Alan Robinson knows he faces a tough challenge when it comes to starting the recruitment and retention process for 2021.
“This year was an unusual one for us anyway, with having a change in our coaching staff, but the current situation is going to make things difficult when it comes to preparing for next year too,” said Robinson.
“There is so much to consider, but how can we even budget for next season when we don’t know what’s happening with so many different aspects.
“One thing we don’t know about yet is if the Super League reserve grade is going to be coming back next season. If not, with Tom Tsang going there (to London Broncos) when he left us, that might give us a new opportunity when it comes to recruitment.
“But we’ve got to err on the side of caution and try to do everything in the most sustainable way we can. But I also want us to be competitive so we will have to think outside the box and just be sensible.”
WEST WALES RAIDERS chief executive Peter Tiffin is delighted to see that his players are willing to dedicate themselves to the club again for 2021.
Like every other club the Raiders have been left in limbo as they await a decision on the reminder of the current season. But the current lockdown doesn’t seem to affecting the players’ desire to remain with the Llanelli-based club.
“Our general manager Richard Stebbing had a players meeting online with all the guys recently and updated them all on what’s going on,” said Tiffin.
“They are all aware of the situation and are all keen to stay on next year. The have even been asking Aaron (Wood – coach) what is expected of them to be able to re-sign for 2021, which is great to see.
“Aaron has grown a great squad and they all want to be a part of this club. They are not just here to improve their own game and get a step up the ladder.
“It’s great that they want to be here long term to really be part of what we do.”
BARROW RAIDERS Chairman Steve Neale has said it never entered his head to sack head coach Paul Crarey last season after a poor run of form and a lengthy injury list resulted in relegation to League 1.
The Raiders picked up just five league wins last season, but Crarey’s relationship with the club is about far more than results, which is why he’ll remain at the club for as long as he wants, according to Neale.
“Obviously, we went on a losing run last year and I think other chairmen would have sacked him, but that would be failing to understand what that guy gives to the club,” Neale said when he appeared on Sky Sports’ Golden Point podcast last week.
“It is a results-based business, but you’ve got to look at the bigger picture. This man is just Barrow Rugby League through and through.
“He’s interested in the whole development of the town, working with all the community clubs, coaching the coaches of the community clubs and bringing players through.
“What Paul gives us is so much more than a first-team coach; he’s developing the whole town and I think you need to appreciate the amount of dedication and work that he gives to the club.
“I almost see him as an Alex Ferguson figure. There is a rebuilding job to do and he will give us the continuity for years to come, for as long as he wants the job.”
KEIGHLEY COUGARS second rower Josh Lynam will be able to complete his Testimonial celebrations after having them cut short because of the Coronavirus pandemic.
The 27-year-old joined the club as a youngster and worked his way through the ranks to make his first-team debut against Batley Bulldogs in 2013.
He was granted a 12-month testimonial last year to mark his time with the club and was quick to start organising events.
One was a charity match last September, when a number of the club’s legends came together to support both Lynam and Phil Stephenson. Half of the money raised on the day was donated to the Motor Neurone Disease Association, which was a condition that Stephenson succumbed to just days after the game was played.
Lynam also enjoyed a testimonial match during pre-season, which ended in a 68-10 win over Coventry Bears.
The testimonial was due to run until June, but in recent months a number of events have had to be cancelled because of the Coronavirus pandemic, prompting the RFL to grant him an extension, which will allow him to enjoy his final few months of events once play is able to resume.
DONCASTER chief executive Carl Hall has said the club has already started putting plans in place to ensure that next autumn’s World Cup has a big presence in the town.
Doncaster will be the team base for the Samoa men’s team, while the Keepmoat Stadium will host three men’s group games.
“The excitement is definitely starting to build and we’re very excited to play host to Samoa,” said Hall.
“I have already touched based with Freddie Tuilagi, who is involved with the side, and I know for a fact that the Samoa players will embrace Doncaster and engage in the schools programmes we’re looking at doing
“We’re already in communication with the local schools about all the World Cup stuff and we’ve got around 39 primary and eight or nine secondary schools expressing an interest in all the related work we’re planning.”
LONDON SKOLARS have publicly shown their support for the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement by releasing a statement on their website.
“The directors, players and staff of London Skolars stand together with all victims in fights against any and all injustice, prejudice, discrimination and racism,” it says.
“Every one of us has a role to play in creating a more equal society.
“As a club, we are committed to be to part of the solution and we will continue to learn and plan our next steps. We have always welcomed everyone, irrespective of race, creed or background.
“Enough is enough. We stand together knowing there is much more to be done.”