Keighley Cougars have added a two new faces to their squad for next season, with the signing of highly experienced fullback Quentin Laulu-Togaga’e from Newcastle Thunder and Fijian winger Robert Matamosi from West Wales Raiders.
Laulu-Togagae’s move was first reported in League Express last week, but was confirmed by the club on Friday.
Since arriving on these shores with the Sheffield Eagles in 2011, the Samoan international has made his name as a prolific try-scorer, registering 231 tries in 297 appearances for five different clubs.
Coach Rhys Lovegrove hopes that strike record will continue at Cougar Park.
“I’m really excited to have a player of Q’s standard coming into our system and adding us a different but dynamic attacking threat out of the back line,” said Lovegrove.
“He will also add to our brand of rugby and the style I am looking to implement in the squad; he will also buy into the environment and culture that I’m building, both on and off the field.
“Quentin arriving is also another addition of a senior player to the group that will hopefully help lead and bring through the young core we have at the club and take them to the next level, similar to the way I mentioned when we signed Scott Murrell.”
Matamosi, who moves to Cougar Park on a one-year deal, joined the Welsh club from the British Army side late last year. He will now link back up with Dalton Desmond-Walker, who was also at the Raiders last year before joining Keighley in the winter.
In his short time in League 1, Matamosi has earned many admirers in the game but it is the Cougars who have secured his signature.
“I’m delighted to beat off stiff competition from the level above to secure Robert’s signature for next season,” said Lovegrove.
“Not only has Robert got the talent, but more importantly he has the drive and ambition to become the best Rugby League player he can be, both and off the field.
“I like to think outside the box with my recruitment process and there are talented players at expansion clubs that some of the traditional heartland clubs tend to not pay attention to.
“In the action we saw before lockdown, Dalton proved that and I’m hoping Robert will do the same once we return to action in 2021.”
WORKINGTON TOWN coach Chris Thorman was fully supportive of young hooker Dec O’Donnell’s decision to leave the club and join Ottawa Aces for 2021.
O’Donnell was one of Thorman’s first signings at Derwent Park in May 2019 and has earned many plaudits as he scored nine tries in 16 games that season. Off-season surgery on a knee injury prevented him from featuring for Town in 2020 before the season was curtailed.
Thorman himself made the decision to play his rugby in another country back in 2004, when he joined NRL side Parramatta Eels aged just 23 years-old. So he is well placed to know what O’Donnell will get from the move.
“We are sad to see him go, but Dec has openly said there wouldn’t have been any other League 1 club he would have left us for other than Ottawa,” said Thorman.
“He’s been offered a full time contract there and he will be playing in a full-time environment, so I fully understand why he wants to do that.
“He is also he’s a young man that wants to explore and get some life experience. This opportunity will certainly give him that.
“I am very close to Dec and I hope this is a successful move for him.
“When I was talking to him about it, I took my coach’s hat off and said that if I were him I’d probably sign for them too.
“I offered him advice as a friend and, as much as I wanted him to stay, I understand completely why he wants to do this.
“He can only develop more as a player with this move and I expect him to be a success in that team.”
HUNSLET will once again be led on the field next year by Duane Straugheir, after the captain agreed a new one-year deal at the South Leeds Stadium.
The 30-year-old led Hunslet to victories in all three pre-season games, both league games and two Coral Challenge Cup games before the Coronavirus pandemic put paid to any further action.
And it was the club’s reaction to the Covid-19 crisis that saw Straugheir turn down interest from elsewhere to remain with the club.
“The way the board has gone about its business during the lockdown has been a factor in my opting to remain at Hunslet,” he said.
“It’s been a difficult time for all clubs this year, but everything Hunslet has done has been outstanding.
“I was impressed that they went out of their way to ensure that every member of the squad, whether contracted or on a pay-to-play basis, was looked after.
“As I see it, we all owe something to this club which, even though there haven’t been any matches, has gone above and beyond to support the players.
“I’ve been paid every month, on time and without having to remind anyone. We’ve all been training hard of course, but even so it feels, in a way, as though we’re being paid for nothing.
“So the least I could do was give it another year. Gary Thornton is a superb coach, I love this club, and there was no way I was going anywhere else.”
Also sticking with Hunslet is last season’s Player of the Year Vila Halafihi, who has also agreed a new one-year deal at the club.
“It’s about unfinished business,” added Halafihi, who can play in multiple positions for the club.
“We’d started really well, Gary had put a very strong squad together, and we were starting to show what we could achieve.
“But it all came to a halt, and we’ll just have to pick up where we left off.
I don’t really mind where I play. But on balance I suppose I prefer playing at hooker, where I have the opportunity to control things more, but the main thing is that I play well enough to earn a place in the side, and that we earn promotion in 2021.”
BARROW RAIDERS coach Paul Crarey is hoping that the majority of his players will stick together next year as they aim to earn promotion back to the Championship.
The only confirmed new face joining the club for 2021 is former Super League champion Shaun Lunt. But Crarey believes the Raiders will have enough quality in their ranks to push new club Ottawa and the rest of the league all the way once the game resumes at this level.
“We had a good enough squad this year to be pushing at the right end of the table,” said Crarey.
“We set out our stall when we went to Doncaster, where it is always tough, and won. That showed our intent for the year.
“We have got quite a few players on two-year deals, but some aren’t, so hopefully we can retain most of them.
“We have been loyal to them as a club through the current crisis and Steve (Neale – Chairman) has paid them 100 per cent of their wages every month and has kept them informed every step of the way. Steve is a great believer in treating everyone fairly, which he has done, and hopefully they’ll show the same loyalty to the club.
“If they do, we won’t need to add many more new players. This is a good squad that has been together for a few years now and Shaun will add to it.
“There are some great players across the league and Ottawa will be an unknown quantity next year. They will be a quality side with the financial clout they have behind them, so it is going to be a tough season.
“But what we’ve got here is a great team spirit and good environment to play in, which will stand us in good stead.”
NEWCASTLE THUNDER coach Simon Finnigan has said that recruitment elsewhere across the league will not force him into making big changes to his squad in order to compete.
With Shaun Lunt joining Barrow, Keighley snapping up Scott Murrell and Ottawa Aces joining the league with a lot of experience in their ranks, the push for promotion will certainly be a tough one next season. But Finnigan is confident that his current squad, with just a few changes, can be as competitive as any other club’s.
“We’ve started to speak to the squad and we are trying to offer them deals, but it’s still early days, so nothing has been confirmed yet,” said Finnigan.
“Some clubs have done a fair bit of business already and have made some great signings.
We’ve also got Ottawa coming in. As a full-time team they will be clear favourites and they have been recruiting heavily.
“But I am not too fussed about looking around at what others are doing, because what we’re doing won’t change.
“We’ve already have got some ideas of where we might need to strengthen if we can. Otherwise we’ll be running with a similar squad to this year, which I think will still be up there challenging.
COVENTRY BEARS coach Richard Squires has said there will be some big changes to his squad ahead of 2021, after a shift in the club’s modus operandi.
Lots of new faces look set to arrive at Butts Park Arena ahead of the new campaign as the Bears looks to play their part in a league that is shaping up to be one of the most competitive yet.
“I’m there or thereabouts with the squad now,” said Squires.
“There are one or two still to get over the line, but apart from that we’re pretty much done and we’ll start announcing those names over the next couple of weeks.
“There is a chunk of this year’s squad that we have kept, but we’ve also had a bit of a clearout and have released 15 players.
“This year we’d gone with a bit of a development squad where took on some extra players and sent them out to play at local amateur teams to develop their game and get some open-age experience. Most of the players we’ve released fell into that group.
“But this year we have recruited so that everyone in the squad is more than capable of playing in League 1 every week.
“Those that have been released understood where we’re coming from and knew we couldn’t offer them that opportunity. But we are encouraging them to keep playing and they might get that chance with us again in few years’ time.
“When you look at who other teams have been signing, the competition is going to be ridiculously tough next year, so we’ve had to go in similar direction to some of them.
“A lot of the guys we have coming in are known names to people at this level and many will also be playing in the World Cup, so they are good names for us.”
ROCHDALE HORNETS Chairman Andy Mazey has said the club will be at a big advantage going into next season now that they have almost completed their 2021 squad.
Last week Dale Bloomfield became the latest player to commit to the club for next season, and with only a handful more deals to complete, coach Matt Calland looks set to have a full squad in place for the start of pre-season.
“We’ve still got a few more announcements to make, but we’re just about there with the squad now,” said Mazey.
“We’re getting up to the mid 20s now and Matt wants a squad of around 25, so we’re pretty much there.
“It’s a great position to be in at this stage of the year, because when we came in late last year Matt was in limbo and we were starting pre-season without having the squad in place.
“But this year we hope to start pre-season in November with everyone in from day one, which means we’ll start the new season in a completely different position to this year.”
DONCASTER chief executive Carl Hall has said the early signs are promising when it comes to retaining the majority of the squad from this season.
“The players deserve a big pat on the back because most of them are wanting to stay loyal to the club for next year,” said Hall.
“Ideally we’d like to keep everyone, but our budget has had to be cut significantly due to how this season has gone.
“They understand the situation we’re in and that we’ve had to put a hold on our guaranteed money for now, but quite a few players from within are group have already said they’d still be very keen to stay on with the appearance and win money.
“We’re talking to the guys and making progress and so far the negotiations haven’t been too hard.
“We will probably lose one or two, but hopefully a lot of them will be here again next year.
“They know that if we can look after them, we will do.”
NORTH WALES CRUSADERS have seen Chris Barratt and Brad Billsborough become the latest players to be added to coach Anthony Murray’s squad for the 2021 campaign.
“From what I’d seen of Chris in pre-season and the early stages of the 2020 season, he was a really good professional,” said Murray.
“He trained hard, is technically very good, really bought into the Crusaders’ spirit and the way we do things here.
“We lost a lot of our leaders after the 2019 season, so it was good to bring somebody in with Chris’ leadership experience.
“I’m really pleased Chris has decided to stop with us and I’m genuinely excited to see how he develops with us in the future.
“Brad came to us with some really good references and you can tell he’s come through some decent systems.
“He’s a good trainer, he’s committed and he’s a great lad to have around the place.
“He’s definitely one for the future and will hopefully be someone we can keep at the club for a number of years to come.”
LONDON SKOLARS coach Jermaine Coleman has said the club’s aims for 2021 will not be too much different to those from this year – the season that never was.
“You tend to set your aims for the year closer to when you’ve finalised your squad so there is a bit of time yet,” said Coleman.
“But things might change slightly for us, because the player pool we can pick from will be a bit bigger than it was.
“The reserves being knocked on the head will filter down to League 1, so there will be some different players available there. Plus we’ll be looking to build on our relationship with the Broncos as well, as they may have to do things differently too.
“We had always said this year was going to be a redevelopment phase for us because of the changes we’d had at the top with Hector McNeil and Terry Brown moving on. It will be similar again this year.”
WEST WALES RAIDERS chief executive Peter Tiffin believes the cancelled 2020 season could prove to be great preparation for next season.
Following the departure of former coach Kim Williams, his replacement Aaron Wood didn’t arrive in Llanelli until late December, disrupting the club’s preparations for the ill-fated 2020 season.
But with plenty of time to get everything in place ahead of 2021, Tiffin is predicting a much smoother ride for the Raiders.
“It was difficult last year with the change of coach, and it meant we were really behind going into pre-season,” said Tiffin.
“So perhaps it’s a blessing that we’re not having a season this year, as it is allowing us to get started earlier for next year.
“We usually start back mid-November, but with the way it’s gone this year we could come in earlier, have a longer pre-season, play a lot more friendlies than usual and be really well prepared for 2021.”
OTTAWA ACES have continued to build their squad for next season with the signing of Warrington Wolves youngster Ellis Robson and Dec O’Donnell from Workington Town.
There are now ten confirmed names for the Canadian team’s debut season in League 1 in 2021.
The squad as it stands currently is (current club in brackets): Louis Jouffret (Batley Bulldogs), Tom Gilmore (Halifax), Matty Fozard (London Broncos), James Chapelhow, Ted Chapelhow, Sam Wilde, Pat Moran (all Widnes Vikings), Gavin Marguerite (Catalans Dragons), Ellis Robson (Warrington Wolves), Dec O’Donnell (Workington Town).
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