Barrow Raiders have pulled off a major coup by landing former Super League hooker Shaun Lunt, who looks set to finish his career in his native Cumbria after approaching the club himself about a move.
Raiders coach Paul Crarey has been a friend and admirer of 33-year-old Lunt for several years and jumped at the chance to get him on board for a promotion push next season.
The move has been funded by the 1875 Club, the Raiders’ Squadbuilder group.
“Shaun actually got in touch with me and said he wanted to come and finish off his career with someone he could trust,” said Crarey.
“He wants to enjoy the latter stages of his career, so I spoke to the Chairman and it went from there.
“He couldn’t really come in on the existing playing budget, as that will have to go elsewhere, but there was enough money in the 1875 Club pot, so we decided to use that to get him in and I am chuffed that he wants to come and play here.
“Shaun will be a great signing for the club. He’ll give us so much in terms of experience and distribution.
“He’s a natural tryscorer at any level and he’s a great lad that everyone can get on with.
“He’s durable and has a bit of steel about him. He also has a great eye for a gap. Once he gets through he’s still so strong and teams just can’t stop him.
“We’ve had some brilliant senior players here in the last few years, such as Ollie Wilkes, Martin Aspinwall and Liam Harrison that we have seen come and go. They had a great leadership quality and Shaun will now add that to us as well.
“He’s also a proven winner, so that will be vital for our promotion push next year.”
KEIGHLEY COUGARS coach Rhys Lovegrove suspects the next bit of business the club will do will be the internal retention of members of the club’s current squad.
The club brought in their first new recruit for next season last week with the signing of Scott Murrell from Halifax. And Lovegrove has confirmed that talks are already taking place with several current players, who he is sure will be very keen to work alongside the experienced halfback.
After making his name at Hull KR, Murrell moved to Halifax ahead of the 2013 season and quickly became a fans favourite on and off the field.
During his eight years at the Shay the 34-year-old helped Halifax secure a top-four Championship finish on three occasions while also reaching the 2019 Challenge Cup semi-finals.
“We’ve not been able to do too much business while there are some aspects of next season still up in the air,” said Lovegrove.
“We don’t know when we’ll be back in training, what the central funding is going to be, we don’t know whether we’re going to have to test, and, if we do, how much it’s going to cost. So there are many variables that will affect contracts and our overall budget for next year.
“But every club has its low hanging fruit – those players in the squad that are off contract that you know you want to keep.
“We have spoken to a couple of them already and moved early on them because they were easy decisions. The job now is to go through the next group and work out if we need to make a change or if we can keep and develop them from within.
“I also knew there were specific areas I wanted to add to, so I have been able to look at specific players in these positions.
“Scott is an experienced campaigner who will add detail to our play on the field.
“Off the field, he has a very strong and energetic work ethic that will add a lot to the dressing room and develop our culture of success here at the club.
“He will also offer an experienced head in the sheds that will bring through our younger players and aid them with their own personal development.”
HUNSLET coach Gary Thornton has said planning for next season can get fully underway now that his own future has been decided.
Thornton joined the club in May 2017 and started this year with two wins from two in the league to see his side hit the top spot in the league before the season was cancelled because of the Coronavirus pandemic.
But with the club still aiming to win promotion back to the Championship next season, Thornton is already hard at work to try to bring that aim through to fruition.
“The club is very keen now to start planning for 2021, so getting my deal sorted out so that we can start moving forward and planning for next season was very important,” said Thornton.
“They have set their plans out for next year and getting the coach tied down nice and early was important in doing that.
“When you start a season really well and feel really optimistic about what’s in front of you, only to have it curtailed in the way this year has been, there is a feeling that you want to pick up where you left off.
“I was very excited with what we had in place this year and I felt we had a genuine chance of being up there pushing for promotion.
“So to be given the chance to continue with it has been really good and I’m really thankful to the board for the opportunity to continue.
“I’m disappointed with how 2020 has panned out. I thought we’d put a decent squad together, but now we have to kick on and go again next year.
“Hopefully we can keep most of the squad together and have another go next year.
“Now we can look ahead and start the negotiation process with each of the guys to see where we’re at and what we can build for next year.
“We’ll be looking at our own guys first before bringing anyone else in, and if we can get that process started nice and early it will be good for us.”
DONCASTER are closing in on their first recruit for 2021, with Dave Scott set to join the club from Championship club Batley Bulldogs.
League Express understands a deal has been struck for the 27-year-old Scotland international, who was previously at the South Yorkshire club between 2013 and 2015.
The fullback or winger then went on to join the Bulldogs in 2016, and has gone on to score 38 tries in 124 games for them.
Once confirmed, Scott will join the nine players currently on two-year deals with the club, but chief executive Carl Hall has warned that further recruitment could be a slow process, depending on how the supporters react to the cancellation of this season.
Following a fans’ panel meeting earlier this month, the club has announced that all 2020 season tickets will now be deferred to next year, allowing supporters access to all home games once the new season kicks off. However, fans are also entitled to a refund should they prefer it.
“The structure of Club Doncaster has enabled the club to survive the pandemic to date,” said Hall in a newsletter to supporters.
“The income Club Doncaster makes through car boot markets, pitch bookings, conferencing, events and other sources enabled us to get through 2020 with no ticketing income.
“However, for that to happen and to enable us to put a competitive squad together next season, as a collective group we now need to make some decisions about the type of club we want to be moving forward.
“The historic income from Club Doncaster enabled us to survive the last few months, however Club Doncaster’s income also significantly dropped in recent months and the period of time where the country was on lockdown has now caught up to us all.
“All supporters are entitled to a refund but I need to be clear with you, if our refund level is too high then the end result will be catastrophic for our club and it will significantly change who we are. Players and staff will have to move on and the impact on our future recruitment would be so severe it would kill off any chance of us being competitive.”
WORKINGTON TOWN coach Chris Thorman has said the club’s fans will be rewarded for their loyal support when games finally return next year.
As with most clubs, Town’s long-term sustainability was at the heart of the decision not to take part in this autumn’s new RFL Cup competition.
“It’s been testing times recently, but the main thing for us was that our loyal supporters and fan base still have a club to go back to when things are back up and running,” said Thorman.
“With Government help through the furlough scheme and a lot of positive influence from the fans, we’ve been able to do that.
“We wanted Workington Town to come back as the same club that we left in March, and it pretty much is.
“Our two supporters’ clubs have always worked hard and everything they’ve done has always been well supported. The spirit the fans have shown to stay motivated to help support the club in the last few months has been great.
“Yes, they usually put their hands in their pockets for us. But at 3pm on a Sunday they usually get some reward for that by getting to see a game and meeting their favourite players.
“Unfortunately, during these times they have not been getting that reward, but they have still been putting their hands in their pockets for us, so credit to them for that.
“Their reward will be next year, when they have still got a club to come down to and support. That has been the priority in every conversation I have been a part of during all this.
“We had our aspirations for this year, but we also had to survive as a club and we’ve been able to do that.”
NEWCASTLE THUNDER coach Simon Finnigan will aim to keep his squad changes to a minimum ahead of a return to action in 2021.
Thunder recruited heavily ahead of this season as they aimed to make a strong push for promotion following their Grand Final defeat the previous season.
While some faces may change next year, the club’s aspirations certainly won’t.
“We will still have the same ambitions as a club when we return to playing, so we’ll be trying to keep the squad together too as much as we can,” said Finnigan.
“I was really happy with the squad we put together for this year, and where we were going, so I want to try and retain that.
“Yes, we did see that there were some improvements needed, but that was not always in personnel, just little tweaks here and there on the field.
“But another year has passed as well and players who weren’t available to us last year might be now. I also have players out of contract and I’m not naive enough to think every single one will stay and re-sign.
“So we might have to replace some guys and look elsewhere, but that will start in the next couple of weeks.
“We want a crack at getting promoted again so it’s now a job for me, Denis (Betts – director of rugby), and the club to look at how we put that together.”
ROCHDALE HORNETS have continued their retention process for 2021 with another four members of their squad putting pen to paper on new deals.
James, Connaughton, Liam Whalley, Callum Ogden and Ben Calland have all committed themselves to the club for next year, much to the delight of coach Matt Calland.
“James is as tough as they come,” said Calland.
“He’s a no nonsense sort of player and another local lad. He has had awful luck with injury, but now he has recovered he will be looking to make a big impact in 2021.
“Liam is a real strong player.
“He plays well above his weight and is still only in his 20s. He can cover centre and second-row. He runs great lines and hits hard in defence.
“Callum is a great young talent. He has solid distribution and a precise kicking game.
“He is another local lad from the great Rochdale Mayfield club and I am delighted to have him on board for next season.”
“Ben’s attitude has been first class since signing with the club.
“He is very strong with ball in hand and is sound defensively.
“I’m expecting a big season from him in 2021.”
NORTH WALES CRUSADERS coach Anthony Murray has said he will prioritise his current squad members when it comes to building his team for 2021.
“We have started talking to the players and we’re going to try and tie up the majority of our squad for next year,” said Murray.
“I was really pleased with how we were looking in the first few games and they have all shown a great attitude during the last four months when we’ve not been able to train together.
“They have all been buying in to what we asked of them and that is the type of players you want at any club.
“With no Reserves rugby next season there could be opportunities for us with some players that were earmarked for that competition who might be looking to come back into League 1.
“That might be a pool of players to look at, but first and foremost I want to nail down most of our current squad before we look at bringing in anyone else.
“I have already spoken to chief executive Andy Moulsdale about this and I am sure he’ll do all he can to help make that happen.”
COVENTRY BEARS coach Richard Squires will pay special attention next year to changing the mindset of his players and he believes that some of the players the club is targeting for next year will help them do that.
“In our first game this year against Newcastle we pushed them hard throughout most of the game, other than in the first ten minutes,” explained Squires.
“We then had a bit of a blip at Barrow, but we’re trying to get out of that losing mentality.
“A few of the lads have been with the club for a while now and they have seen the changes we’ve been making in that time.
“We’re coming out of games now knowing that we lost to Hunslet by 10 and to Newcastle by 12, and thinking that we lost by 60 or 70 the previous years, so we’re quite happy with that.
“But we need to get into a mentality where we’re thinking that we should have won those closer games.
“The players that we’re hoping to bring in for next year will have more experience. They will add that value to us and help everyone else around them.”
LONDON SKOLARS coach Jermaine Coleman admits that while he likes the idea of the proposed 125th Anniversary Cup this autumn, he fears it may be hard to get it off the ground in such tough economical times.
The capital club has yet to publicly state its intentions when it come to the new tournament, but the more clubs that announce they won’t be taking part, the harder it could become for the Skolars to commit.
“I like the idea in theory, but it might be a bit unrealistic to expect part-time players to travel up and down the country for a competition like this, and for clubs at this level to be able to fund the necessary tests and travel to go along with it,” said Coleman.
“Then there is the expense for the clubs of bringing players back in at this stage of the season, when they’re not really going to get that much back through the gates or sponsorship.
“When you see teams like Newcastle, who have got a bigger budget then the rest of the clubs in this league, saying it’s not for them, it’s unrealistic for clubs like us, Coventry and West Wales to be able to fund that type of process if a club like Newcastle doesn’t think it can.
“It’s a good idea, but I just don’t see how it’s going to come to fruition.”
WEST WALES RAIDERS chief executive Peter Tiffin admits geography played a part in the club deciding not to enter the RFL’s 125th Anniversary Cup later this year.
The club formally announced its decision earlier this month after seeing several other outpost clubs publicly state they would not be participating.
“It was a tough decision for us because we really wanted to play some sort of games this year,” said Tiffin.
“But when you see some of the teams that are closest to us dropping out, it makes it hard for us to be involved.
“All the teams that are left are quite some distance away from us. With the travel, plus with the cost of testing it’s all going to add up. We don’t want to waste money and throw it away when is seems like everyone else is deciding not be involved.”
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