Keighley Cougars look set to follow up the signing of Scott Murrell with the capture of former Super League fullback Quentin Laulu-Togaga’e.
League Express understands the Samoan international is to leave fellow League 1 side Newcastle Thunder and head to Cougar Park.
The 35-year-old has been a proven try-scorer throughout his career, with 231 tries in 297 games for Sheffield Eagles, Toronto Wolfpack, Halifax, Castleford Tigers and Newcastle.
The Cougars will hope that he can continue to offer that attacking threat as they aim for promotion to the Championship.
Meanwhile coach Rhys Lovegrove believes it was inevitable that the season would be wiped out, given the part-time nature of the game at Championship and League 1 level.
“The time the decision was taking was the hardest thing to get our heads around,” said Lovegrove.
“We understood that Super League was a different demographic to us, and the decision seemed fairly logical to us.
“When we have players that work in schools, or have partners who are nurses, it was fairly obvious to us that part-time players would not have been able to put themselves at risk from an external job.
“I can’t imagine how the conversation would go if some of our players had to go up to their boss and tell them they couldn’t go in for a couple of weeks because they’d played a game of rugby at the weekend and someone on the other team has tested positive for Covid-19.
“In a full time environment you can create that sort of bubble and stay within it, but for part-time players that was always going to be much harder.
“For me, the writing was always on the wall from very, very early on.”
ROCHDALE HORNETS Chairman Andy Mazey is delighted to see that others across the game are seeing what he is hoping to achieve at the club.
Mazey wanted to bring a sense of positivity back to Spotland when he took over in December and, for him, the fact that a number of players are keen to come back to the club, or join the Hornets for the first time, is testament to what he’s doing.
A busy week has seen Rochdale almost complete their squad, with Leeds Rhinos’ Academy product Josh Jordan-Roberts making the move to the club. He has been joined by Zac Baker, who returns to the Hornets after a year playing for Mullumbimby Giants in Australia.
Another fans favourite returning to Spotland is Jo Taira, who initially left the club at the end of 2018 to join Batley Bulldogs.
“It’s been a busy couple of weeks and we’ve had some success with some of the targets Matt (Calland) was looking to bring in,” said Mazey.
“You don’t normally expect to get all your targets, but we’ve got the ones we wanted.
“We announced three big ones last week and Jo in particular is huge for us. He’s a fans’ favourite and strengthens the link the club has with Fijian players.
“We lost Jo when we started on a downward curve and the club was seen as a negative place to be. That’s when players stay away.
“But things here are very positive now and players want to be around that.
“Along with Jo, Gavin Bennion and Rob Fairclough are also stepping down from the Championship to join us because they want to be part of the project here.
“It’s not usually easy to ask players to step down a division, as it’s sometimes seen as a backward step. But it’s a mark of our ambition that these guys are ready to do that with us.
“I had my vision of what I wanted to achieve when I joined. You can create a vision and have a plan, but that doesn’t mean others are going to buy into it.
“But the board and supporters bought in to my vision straight away. Now that we’re moving forward, players are seeing it and wanting to be involved, so that is really pleasing for me to see.”
DONCASTER look set to add some utility value to their squad with the signing of Ben Johnston from York.
League Express believes a deal has been struck for the Ireland international, who can play at fullback, stand-off and scrum-half.
Having played twice in Super League for Castleford Tigers at the start of his career, the 28-year-old has picked up vast Championship experience with York and Dewsbury, before spending six seasons at Halifax.
As reported last week, the club is also close to signing Dave Scott from Batley. Doncaster chief executive Carl Hall believes two factors in the game could aid the recruitment process from clubs across the league.
“We still don’t know what the central distribution will be, or how much season-ticket money or sponsorship for next year we can factor in,” said Hall.
“Any cuts we have to make or anything we have to pay back out will have to come out of the player budget, so there’s not much we can do yet until we know about all that.
“But with no reserves next year there will be some players kicking about looking for an opportunity. And if some of those players are hoping to make one of the World Cup squads, that opens up some opportunities for us as well.”
BARROW RAIDERS coach Paul Crarey is hoping to be able to sign a new contract sooner rather than later after having secured the signing of Shaun Lunt earlier this month.
Crarey is currently in the sixth year of his second spell with the club, having re-joined the Raiders ahead of the 2015 season. He was previously in charge between 2005 and 2007.
“I am out of contract this year, so it’s a question of whether they want to keep me on,” admitted Crarey.
“There was an opportunity for me to go to a Super League club as an assistant. I was asked to throw my hat in the ring for that, but I turned that chance down in order to stay here.
“I am very happy at Barrow and I really enjoy it.
“We’ve got a great board and I have a great relationship with the Chairman (Steve Neale), so hopefully they will want to keep me and we can take it from there.”
WORKINGTON TOWN coach Chris Thorman may still be on furlough, but that doesn’t mean he’s not playing an important part in building a squad for 2020.
The club has yet to formally announce any new recruits or retentions for next season, but Thorman has said work has started on getting the strongest possible squad in place for another promotion push in 2021.
“I feel like I have been twiddling my thumbs for months now,” said Thorman.
“But the last few weeks have all been about preparing for 2021 and starting with some recruitment and retention.
“I have still got to be careful what I actually do while I’m on furlough, but there has been some preparation behind the scenes.
“I am not allowed to go down to the ground as a furloughed staff member, but I can have conversations with the guys and so can the board members.
“As long as the board looks after the official side of getting paperwork drawn up, things can progress.
“But that’s generally how it would work anyway, so it’s not too different to normal.”
NORTH WALES CRUSADERS coach Anthony Murray has been true to his word and has made some of his current players the first names in his 2021 squad list.
Murray has stated publicly since the cancellation of this season that his main priority was to keep as many as possible of this year’s squad on board and that has started with new deals for Dave Eccleston, Gav Rodden and Jordy Gibson.
Eccleston joined Crusaders from Oldham ahead of 2019 and has since made 25 appearances for the club.
Rodden and Gibson joined the club ahead of the ill-fated 2020 season after stepping up from the local amateur game.
“Dave is a quiet person, but he certainly makes up for it on the field as he’s got a really good work ethic,” said Murray.
“The impact Dave makes with his carries, as well as the amount of times he comes in to do more work, makes a big difference for us.
“He’s not the biggest, but he’s a brave player and an absolute workhorse for us.
“Gav was a relatively unknown player in the amateur game who we’ve given an opportunity to.
“He started the 2020 season very well, showed exactly what he was capable of and has attracted interest from elsewhere.
“He wants to develop with us and knows the Crusaders is a good place to play Rugby League. We’re delighted that Gav has decided to sign a new deal and he will be with us for the 2021 season.
“As for Jordy, when you’ve got a halfback stepping up from the amateur game at 27, they’re going to be battle hardened. He would have been used to taking knocks and had played plenty of representative Rugby League as well.
“It was great to see him get an opportunity and you could see what he was capable of straightaway.
“He’s really committed to the sport and I’m delighted he’s decided to stay with us for 2021.”
LONDON SKOLARS coach Jermaine Coleman has already met the club’s directors to get the ball rolling on retention and recruitment for next season.
“Now we know what’s happening this year, the next step for us is to get as many of this year’s squad back on board for next year,” said Coleman.
“Then that will give us a bit more time this year to look around and see what areas we maybe need to pick up in.
“We didn’t get to see much of some of the guys we had signed for this year, so hopefully with more time to prepare for next season they’ll spend a bit more time down here and start to feel a bit more at home.
“Having this much time to build a squad is a nice situation to be in, but it’s a very strange one too.”
WEST WALES RAIDERS chief executive Peter Tiffin has promised some big player announcements in the coming weeks as the club begins its preparations for 2021.
“We are recruiting heavily for next year because we want to improve on the first couple of games of this year,” said Tiffin.
“We’re in a really good position off the pitch, so now it’s time to step up on it.
“Andrew Thorne (chairman) and I don’t usually get involved in the recruitment process in this way, but because of our links not just in Rugby League but many other sports and businesses, we’ve managed to recruit a couple of very big names.
“I think those signings will shock a few people and should help with the recruitment process and encourage others to get involved with what we’re doing.”
HUNSLET coach Gary Thornton has said that talks are well underway with Leeds City Council, to ensure that the club can safely return to training ahead of next season.
The John Charles Centre for Sport, which houses the South Leeds Stadium and the club’s training facilities, is council owned and operated, meaning it is also accessible to the general public.
Government guidelines say that clubs can only train in facilities available just to them, leaving Hunslet needing to make alternative arrangements.
“The facility itself has reopened,” explained Thornton.
“The board is doing a fantastic job and it’s constantly in touch with the council.
“One of the issues is about us having a fenced-off area that no one else has public access to. We don’t have anywhere now that we can use, but that no one else can get into.
“We are going to work with the Council on that issue though.
“We’re working hard to get back to training safely. We have risk registers in place and all the necessary documentation with the RFL in place, so it’s just a case of making it happen now.
“We also have to align all that with the Council’s risk analysis and make sure they can come together to satisfy the RFL’s Return to Training policy.”
COVENTRY BEARS forward Ryan Langton believes the game stopped at an unfortunate time for his team, who he says were just getting into their stride after two league games and another in the Challenge Cup.
They may not have picked up any wins in those games, but there were many positive signs to come out of their performances.
“We were just starting to get somewhere,” said Langton.
“We took a bit of a beating at Barrow, but we were really happy with how we went in the other two games, so it was a great shame the game ended when it did.
“There had been a lot of changes ahead of this year, with new coaches and new players. We’d been getting to know each other and learning about each other’s strengths and weaknesses and how we could adapt to each other.
“But as far as I am aware we’ve pretty much kept hold of everyone for next year, so there is a lot to build on.”
NEWCASTLE THUNDER were celebrating academic success last week through their partnership with Tyne Met College.
A dual-focus education programmes sees students combine their studies with a comprehensive rugby training programme based entirely in the professional setting of Kingston Park Stadium.
The students all studied a Level 3 BTEC Extended Diploma in Performance & Excellence (Rugby) and all graduated from the course with Distinctions, opening up a huge number of university courses both in sport and otherwise. 64 per cent of those achieved the highest possible grade of Distinction Star (D* D* D*).
Michael Heap, Thunder’s Academy Manager, said: “Everybody involved with the programme can be very proud of this year’s results.
“All the students and staff have faced significant challenges this year and to achieve the results that they have shows just how committed everybody is to the course and how great an opportunity the course can provide.
“We are very proud of the programme that we run here and the opportunities that we provide, both on and off the field, for the young people involved in our programme.
“Students are graduating from the course now as accomplished rugby players with strong academic qualifications and a vast life experience, which all stands them in good stead for their future.”
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