HUNSLET coach Gary Thornton (pictured) believes the signing of Zach Johnson is the final piece of the puzzle needed to bulk up his pack.
Following the retirement of Micky Haley, Adam Robinson and Mike Emmitt, Hunslet were left decidedly light in the middles, but strong recruitment saw them go into Sunday’s opening pre-season game against Bradford with a full compliment of players in that area.
“Zach has played at Swinton and Dewsbury in the past and has spent the last few years at Thornhill so he’s a player that has some experience,” said Thornton.
“We’re a bit light on experience in that area so he fits the mould nicely. He’s big as well, and again we lack a bit of size up front, so he ticks all the boxes there too.
“I’m sure the young players will benefit from that experience.
“It’s an area we identified that we were light on numbers in, so to bring him in, along with Jack Aldous who we signed recently, we have added a bit of beef and experience to the pack.
“We lost three big and important players in that area, which is going to hit any team, so it was an important part of our rebuilding that we plugged those gaps.
“We kept hold of Zac Braham, which was important for us, and had added Jordan Andrade, Harry Kidd, Harvey Hallas and Jack Ray, so these latest signings make us look like a really solid unit in the middle area of the field.
Thornton has also added to the backs with the signing of 18 year-old former Leeds Academy star Ben Markland, who featured against Hunslet in last season’s Harry Jepson OBE pre-season fixture.
“I was surprised when I heard of Ben’s availability as I know he was highly regarded at Leeds,” added Thornton.
“We have had to fight off a number of clubs chasing his signature, so I am delighted to have signed him.
“He is now ready to step up to League 1 and has been terrific in pre-season.”
KEIGHLEY COUGARS coach Rhys Lovegrove believes his side are finally showing signs of playing the way he envisaged when he took charge in June last year.
Having seen his side in opposed training action against Batley (twice), Dewsbury and Stanningley this pre-season, Lovegrove will get to see them in competitive action against the Rams on Sunday.
“Defensively on Sunday I want to see the tempo we have discussed and trained to all pre-season,” said Lovegrove.
“We have some fairly strict processes that we abide to and train to, so it would be nice to see them coming through on the pitch as well.
“We’ve have four opposed sessions so far this pre-season and I have started to see glimpses of what I’d describe as us.
“I feel people can now watch a game of Rugby League without knowing who’s playing, but know which team was Keighley, if I was to describe our stye of play. I did that with my brother after the Dewsbury session. The teams were wearing bibs rather than kits and I sent the video and told him that we’re the team that play expansively with a high-tempo style of defence.
“Straight away he could tell we were the ones in the green bibs
“I want to see all that reinforced on Sunday and see all the small details that go into making that performance up.
“This is the way I wanted us to play when I took over, but it’s taken some time to get the boys confident in playing this expansive style. For years they have been told to hold the ball and complete their sets. That is still important, but I want us to play a different attacking style now and these pre-season games will hopefully show the proof in the pudding.”
NEWCASTLE THUNDER coach Simon Finnigan is not surprised his players have returned to training in top condition, despite the many temptations of the festive season.
“We gave them all some time off over Christmas and New Year because they really deserved it,” said Finnigan.
“But they have all come back in exactly how we expected them to, which is excellent.
“It’s a credit to them because they had 12 days off and it’s sometimes easy to eat to much and have a few too many drinks. But they’ve all come back in great condition, which is really pleasing.
“They know how hard they have worked throughout November and December, so they knew they could enjoy Christmas, but not ruin what they had already put in place. I knew they wouldn’t do that and now thoughts are turning to the pre-season games.
“From a coaching side not much changes now because we’re still pretty set on what we want to do and what we want to get out of the players.
“But for the players, there is finally something coming up at the end of the week that they want to do and that’s playing in a game.
“Pre-season is not the best when there is a lot of running and fitness work so weeks can sometimes drag out for the players, but now they are getting a reward at the end of the week when they can do what the love doing.”
Thunder’s first pre-season game sees them traveling to Whitehaven this Sunday.
“This is an excellent game for us to start with,” added Finnigan.
“Whitehaven set the benchmark in League 1 last year and it’s a great way to see where we are at and what we need to work on before the start of the season.”
WORKINGTON TOWN coach Chris Thorman has admitted he has had to adapt his coaching style to get the most out of his part-time squad.
“Too many consecutive days off is never good and I didn’t want to undo all the hard work we’ve done, so we were in for a couple of days between Christmas and New Year,” said Thorman.
“But now that we are back in properly we’re building up to our pre-season games.
“When I was coaching in a full-time environment, we’d switch focus at this stage purely on the games that are coming up and things distinctly changed.
“But I have changed my methodology when it comes to pre-season with a part time team.
“We’ve done a lot more team-based work than I have ever done with any other team and done it earlier than normal. It’s a bit of an experiment really and maybe a bit of a risk, but we’ve still done everything we’ve needed to do in terms of our physical preparation and gym work.
“I have just thrown a bit more at them on the field so it will be interesting to see how they respond to that.
“At Huddersfield we could get three sessions done in one day sometimes, but now we do what we do in three or four sessions across the week.
“It’s been a change from my point of view, but the players have just trained regardless.”
NORTH WALES CRUSADERS coach Anthony Murray has confirmed that the club will once again not be taking part in the 1895 Cup in 2020.
The club didn’t participate in last year’s inaugural contest alongside Coventry and London Skolars, and have followed in the Bears footsteps in announcing they will once again sit it out.
“Andy Mousdale (general manager) asked me about it and my general feeling was not to bother with it,” admitted Murray.
“It’s not really a big priority of ours at the moment. We’re firmly fixed at breaking into the play-offs.
“Playing mid-week fixtures isn’t great, but there is also a massive cost element to playing in it as well so it’s not really worth it for us.
“I’d love to see a return of the old iPro Cup for just League 1 clubs, with the final being played at Blackpool’s Summer Bash. That would give us something else to play for, but with the Championship clubs in the 1895 Cup as well – we need to be realistic and pick our battles.”
Murray also confirmed Karl Ashall is unlikely to feature in any of the pre-season games and could miss the start of the season as he awaits surgery on a double hernia.
“We’s managed to drag himself through the whole all of pre-season, but he’s still waiting for the operation,” added Murray.
“Once it’s done I’m hoping he’ll be a quick healer and be ready to go within about six weeks.”
WEST WALES RAIDERS have announced the first four members of their 2020 squad, with three of them being familiar names for followers of Welsh Rugby League.
The club’s longest serving player Archie Snook has committed his future to the club, while experienced half back Danny Price, who has played for Coventry Bears and North Wales Crusaders, has returned from a stint in Australia to link up with new coach Aaron Wood.
Ex-Welsh international prop Christoper Davies, who has featured for both the Crusaders and South Wales Scorpions, has also made the move after recently having a short spell away from the game.
“It’s great to have Archie on board again,” said Wood.
“He wears his heart on his sleeve, and he is a no nonsense hard working forward.
“It’s not often in sport these days to see a true clubman who plays for the love of the club rather than chasing the extra pounds a game.
“At 20 Archie is certainly developing into the kind of player future generations can follow.
“Danny and Chris are great signings for us.
“Danny is a versatile player who plays both halfback and full back, he has the ability to finish tries with the smallest of spaces with his abundance of speed.
“Chris has a lot of experience especially with his time in the Welsh camp and with the Crusaders.
“I’m hoping he will guide our young forwards around the park and also add the extra aggression that we need as a squad.”
Also joining the club is New Zealand-born back Bailey Liu, who has spent the last few years with the CQ Capras in Australia.
“Bailey is a young versatile player who has shown that he is strong in both attack and defence,” added Wood.
“He will strengthen our squad and I will be looking for him to add his leadership and professionalism to us for the upcoming season.
“Signing someone of Baileys calibre shows the potential the club has and how serious we are in developing the game in Wales.”
ROCHDALE HORNETS have signed another player from the amateur ranks in Adam Hesketh, who joins from Thatto Heath.
He is the third player fro the leading NCL side to sign after Andy Lea and Adam Carr.
“Adam is another one from Thatto Heath who is a very tough, uncompromising player,” said coach Matt Calland.
“He has played internationally as an amateur and is looking to test himself at a higher level.”
The Hornets have also signed three players with connections to their partner Hopwood Hall college.
Sean Mulcahy, Ryan Bradbury and Liam Whalley all moved to the club last week and went straight into contention for Sunday’s opening pre-season game against Widnes Vikings.
“Ryan is a strong running second rower, and can also cover the centres,” Calland added.
“He was at Leeds academy and Hopwood Hall rugby academy as a youngster and is very dangerous with ball in hand and hits hard in defence.
“Sean is a former Hopwood Hall rugby academy player. He is very aggressive and is an awkward sort of player. He is training really well and has a lot to learn but is developing into a handy player.
“Liam is another from Hopwood Hall rugby academy and is a very dynamic player. He works really hard and punches well above his weight.”
COVENTRY BEARS director of rugby Alan Robinson will give a number of local trialists the chance to earn a deal, when the club’s pre-season games get underway against London Broncos on Friday.
“The lads have all come back in after the break looking pretty good so we’re gearing up for Friday’s return to the Butts Park Arena,” said Robinson.
“We’re looking at a few trialists at the minute.
“There is a guy called Darius Hamilton, an Army Rugby Union player who has just returned from Iraq. He looks like a really promising prop.
“We are also looking at Aaron Ryan, an Irish Student International who has been playing at Coventry University, and Jay Neath, a former Warrington Wolves Academy player who is local to us.
“We’d like them all to continue their development with us so we’ll take a look at them on Friday.
“We’ll play a lot of our younger guys on Friday and then have a stronger team out against Keighley on January 19.”
Meanwhile the club have signed a new three-year deal to play at the Butts Park Arena.
BARROW RAIDERS players were not given much chance to enjoy the festive season after being given no time-off from training.
Whilst some teams had the whole festive season off, others had their players in for a session between Christmas and New Year, but the Raiders trained as normal throughout to ensure they went into Sunday’s opening pre-season clash with Oldham in the best possible shape.
“We trained right over Christmas and New Year without a break and numbers were good,” said coach Paul Crarey.
“Getting some quality time as a group has been really good for us.
“We’ve had 10 amateur lads come into train with the group and we’ve changed the squad with a few new professionals as well so we needed time for them all to gel together before we played Oldham.
“They have come together really well and are looking strong. It’s a good group, who are looking settled.
“We started pre-season late last year and we had players coming in late so it was difficult to get going. We decided to come in early and build slowly this year and get ourselves ready for the opening games.
“We’re seeing the benefits of that now.”
Next up for Barrow is the visit of North Wales Crusaders on Sunday, but they will once again be without Nathan Mossop, who is recovering from a recent shoulder surgery.
But Crarey is confident he’ll be fit to return in time for the opening League game against Doncaster on March 1.
DONCASTER chief executive Carl Hall has praised coach Richard Horne’s determination to put right a particular wrong from last year.
Smart recruitment from Horne has seen Ross Peltier, Harry Carter, Aaron Ollett and Graeme Horne join the pack and give the club much more strength in the forwards.
“Richard has done really well with the players he’s brought in,” said Hall.
“We’ve got a great forward pack and the strength in depth in there is second to none with a good blend of young and experienced middles.
“The middle unit was probably where we struggled in the bigger games last season, but now we’ve looked to fix that and brought some fresh blood in.”
LONDON SKOLARS’ first two matches of the season will be shown live on the OuRLeague App.
Both the trip to Workington Town on February 16 and the tie against North Wales Crusaders at Allianz Park on February 29 will be streamed live to members of the App and are the first two of five League 1 games to feature.