NEWCASTLE THUNDER general manager Jordan Robinson has said the club will await further details about the situation with the Challenge Cup before doing the maths to see if they can still participate.
In their final game before lockdown, Thunder beat Championship side Dewsbury Rams 38-30 to progress to the sixth round of the competition, where they were due to host Super League’s Toronto Wolfpack.
But with the Canadian side pulling out of the rest of the season, Newcastle could find themselves being offered a bye straight to the quarter-finals, which are now scheduled for the weekend of September 19.
Participation in that round comes with its own financial rewards, but Robinson has said no decisions will be made without thorough research.
“With Toronto pulling out we’re technically through to the quarter-finals for the first time since we played St Helens at the same stage in 2009,” said Robinson.
“If we do play in that game in September, we’re then bringing the players off furlough and having to pay for testing in September, October and November if we then go on to play in the new competition.
“At this stage it will be a lot of money, but we’re hoping those costs may come down as time goes on.
“We would get some prize money for reaching the quarter-finals, but before we decide anything we need a decision from the RFL about what’s happening with the Challenge Cup and then the 125th Anniversary competition, then we can get the abacus out and we can see what we can do money wise and see if the board is willing to participate.
“But time is ticking on, so we’ll need to make a decision pretty soon.”
Robinson also spoke of his disappointment that the season would not be resuming, putting their hopes for promotion on the back-burner for 12 months.
“We were really keen on playing out the season, and with the Government legislation changing all the time things were starting to look more positive.
“And with the news that crowds will be able to get back into stadiums, we had hoped we’d be back to see out the rest of the season.
“Even if we didn’t start again until October, if we condensed the season down so we all played each other once, we could have got the season finished in two months.”
BARROW RAIDERS coach Paul Crarey has spoken of his disappointment that the League 1 campaign has now been cancelled.
He believes a shorter season could still have been possible with more willingness to compromise.
“I think we could have come back, played each other once and still got a meaningful season played,” said Crarey.
“With lockdown now easing and things starting to get back to normal we could have played.
“We would have been happy to play everyone once and then see two go up and two come down, but we’ve pulled the pin too early.
“I know there are some clubs happy with the decision, but we’re Rugby League, so why aren’t we playing? There were ways we could have done it with testing and games behind closed doors.
“The situation is changing every week in this country and we could have just played one or two weeks behind closed doors before crowds could then come in. At Championship and League 1 crowds could easily be socially distanced.
“I know some clubs didn’t want to come back if it involved games behind closed doors, so we’re victims of ourselves at times.
“By saying that, we’ve made the decision for them, whereas we could have had one or two without crowds and got the game going again.
“We could also have used some of the money the RFL got from the Government for testing, so it was at no cost to the clubs and get games going ahead if that was the issue.
“We were willing to do what was needed to keep everyone safe to play again, and I am sure the other clubs with ambition would have felt the same.
“We have missed a trick and the consequences of not playing is going to be massive on clubs. We’ll see the effects of that next season, or at the end of this year when we start to re-sign players, work on budgets and when clubs have to pay season-ticket holders and sponsors back for this year.
“We should have tried a little bit harder to get it going.
“I just feel very disappointed for the club, the fans and everyone associated with Rugby League that this decision has been made.”
ROCHDALE HORNETS are continuing their preparations for next season with three more key players committing their futures to the club.
Both Sheridan brothers – Lewis and Declan – are the latest players to put pen to paper, after quickly becoming fans favourites since their arrival at Spotland.
Lewis returned to the club from Rochdale Mayfield mid-way through 2019, having previously featured for the Hornets in 2014. He was joined by Declan, who was also at Mayfield, in pre-season
Both players played in all four games for the club before the season was cancelled, with Lewis scoring three tries.
Their signings follow that of Jordan Syme, who also agreed a new deal last week.
With numerous players now already in place for 2021, it’s a stark contrast to last year, when much of the recruitment was not completed until Andy Mazey and the new board arrived at the club in December.
It is a major difference that coach Matt Calland is delighted to see.
“Andy has made a massive difference to this club,” said Calland, who arrived at the club mid-way through 2019 under the former fan-led board.
“We talk on the phone every day about players and different ideas. He’s been a breath of fresh air.
“I came in at a really tough time. We were in the middle of a losing run and we weren’t able to turn that around, which ended in relegation.
“But then Andy came in and the player roster has completely changed. There are not many players still here that we had when I arrived and things were looking really good for us again until the virus hit.
“We were in a pretty bad situation until Andy came along, but there is a completely different feel around the club now.”
Meanwhile Jamie Tracey has been released from his contract by the club and will now return to Thatto Heath.
COVENTRY BEARS coach Richard Squires has said next autumn’s World Cup could play a helping role in his recruitment for 2021.
With the League 1 season now officially cancelled, thoughts can turn to preparations for 2021 and Squires has already had contact from several players looking to put themselves in the shop window ahead of the major tournament, which kicks off in Newcastle next October.
“With a World Cup game coming here and Coventry being the city of culture in 2021 there is a lot happening next year so I have some plans in place to build on that,” said Squires.
“With everything that’s going to be happening, and the fact that we have established ourselves in terms of where we want to go as a club, hopefully it can attract players of a certain calibre to the club.
“I have been in touch with a few players that aren’t currently in League 1 that could be potential signings for us for next year. If we can get them it will be massive for us, especially with the World Cup coming up. They are players on the fringes of the Championship, but will be wanting to play rugby every week in order to push for a World Cup spot.
“People are starting to know what we’re all about now and there will be some players who will take a little bit less money for games every week, if that’s going to get them to the World Cup.”
HUNSLET coach Gary Thornton has said that the retention and recruitment process for 2021 will be vastly different to usual, given that he has only seen his current squad in action in a handful of games.
Before the sport went into lockdown, Hunslet had played just five matches, three in the Challenge Cup and two in the league.
“When you have to base these decisions on just a few games it adds an extra difficulty,” said Thornton.
“I do already have a fair idea of who I’d like to keep for next year. I have already told the board that I want to keep as much of this squad together as possible because we had assembled a really good group.
“I was really pleased with the way they were gelling together as a team, so it’s important we keep as many of those as we can.
“Whether we can or not will remain to be seen, but we will do as much as we can to do it.
“A lot will depend what financial restraints we’ll be working to. If the costs of testing still have to come into it next year, it will have a big impact on what budget we have available for playing staff.”
NORTH WALES CRUSADERS coach Anthony Murray has said decisions on retaining his current squad members will come down to attitudes, as well as what he saw in the club’s limited matches ahead of lockdown.
“In terms of contract talks we have to assess the players we have in a different way this year,” said Murray.
“The attitude they have shown in lockdown does go a long way in that.
“Everyone has shown a great attitude through the pandemic, so I have been really pleased with them all.
“They have all bought into doing what we have asked of them and I would like to keep the majority, if not all, of my squad for next year.
“But no doubt we’ll meet some challenges in doing that, as what has happened this year will still affect us going into next year.”
LONDON SKOLARS coach Jermaine Coleman has admitted he is glad little has changed in his working life during the Coronavirus pandemic, as it has made the lack of Rugby League much easier to deal with.
Away from the game Coleman is assistant vice-principal and a member of the senior leadership team at Greig City Academy in the capital, and the challenges he has faced in that role have kept him busy as the country has adjusted to a new normal.
With the school holidays now in full swing and confirmation the season will not be returning in 2020, Coleman will now have a bit more time on his hands to start thinking about his squad for next season.
“While there has been no games I had a bit of a break from the game as a whole until I had finished at school,” admits Coleman.
“Now that I have finished, I can spend a bit more time and put a bit more energy into our plans for next season.
“As well as strange times for Rugby League, it has been strange times to be a teacher. But I have still been in three or four times a week since we went into lockdown.
“It was different with fewer kids in and we had to deal with different things on a daily basis. But because I have still been in and things have been ticking over, it’s almost felt like business as usual.
“It has definitely helped me personally though, that both those aspects of my life haven’t been so dramatically different. If I’d had both taken away from me it would have been hard to cope with.”
DONCASTER chief executive Carl Hall may have been left disappointed last week following the decision to cancel the rest of this season, but he has had reason to smile recently after seeing his role as vice-president of the RFL extended for a further six months.
His time in the role was meant to expire earlier this month when broadcaster Clare Balding took over the position of president from former soccer star Tony Adams.
However, a vote was passed to allow Hall to keep his role until December.
“It has been an absolute honour to hold this role and work alongside Tony,” said Hall.
“But now I am looking forward to working with and getting to know Clare. She certainly loves the game
“With the current Covid crisis, I probably haven’t done as much in the role as I’d have liked to, so when I was asked if I wanted to extend my stay in the role, I didn’t hesitate to say I wanted to continue. It had to be voted on, and thankfully I have been given another six months in the role.”
KEIGHLEY COUGARS assistant coach Dean Muir has once again praised the attitude shown by his squad in the last four months, with two players in particular stepping up to make training in lockdown a more fun experience.
“The guys have all been doing well in terms of keeping fit and staying sharp, so if we could have go back into training we could have jumped to it quite quickly,” said Muir.
“They have been keeping in touch with the strength and conditioner and we’ve also been lucky in that we have guys like Mo Agoro and Ben Stead who are both personal trainers.
“As a playing group they have all been looking after each other and helping each other with what they have to do.
“Mo and Ben have stepped up a bit in the last few months to keep things fresh and fun for the rest of the guys.
“Keeping it fun and interesting is the key, especially when we have been training in bubbles and outdoors.”
WEST WALES RAIDERS chief executive Peter Tiffin still hasn’t forgotten about the local amateur clubs who are desperate for the game to return.
At the start of lockdown the Raiders offered each of the five local community clubs up to £500 each to help them through this difficult time.
While the Raiders now know that their season won’t be returning, the amateurs could still get some game time in the coming months. If they do, the professional club will be there for moral support.
“I am in regular contact with a couple of the amateur clubs, and they are really grateful for the £500 we gave them at the start of lockdown,” said Tiffin.
“We are trying to help them, because it is difficult for them as clubs. They rely heavily on crowds and people going back to the clubhouse and spending money.
“But if they can’t play games they’re getting nothing, so it’s difficult for them.”
WORKINGTON TOWN have said they will take time before making any firm decisions following the cancellation of the League 1 season.
They could still see some action this year by taking part in the invitational competition this autumn to mark the sport’s 125th anniversary. But no decision has yet been made on that by the club.
A short statement on the club’s website read: “We understand there will be a number of questions following this news and we thank everyone for their patience throughout this unprecedented time.
“The Town board will meet urgently to consider and communicate with everyone in due course.”