Newcastle Thunder coach Simon Finnigan has backed a potential Christmas return to action.
With the proposed Autumn 125th Anniversary competition now not taking place, the RFL is proposing a redesigned 1895 Cup competition starting on Boxing Day to launch the season around six weeks earlier than the usual February start date.
“Some players might not like the idea of playing on Boxing Day, but on the other hand they won’t have played for so long they’ll probably be desperate to get a game,” said Finnigan.
“There are no ideal scenarios any more, so we just have to manage what we get given and find the positives in it.
“If they bring the 1895 Cup competition forward I think the positives outweigh the negative, especially if we can get some sort of crowd back.
“It’s been a long time since we’ve had crowds at Rugby League, and it’s been even longer since they were at competitive games over Christmas and New Year.
“I am just desperate to get games back, so we have to try and find ways to get back on the field.
“The sooner we can get a competition going again in a way that works well for everyone, then it is a win-win situation. If we upset a couple of people who can’t have as much to drink over that period, then they can find ways to have it after the games, because I’m sure they’d want to play rugby more.”
NORTH WALES CRUSADERS coach Anthony Murray has been left delighted by their fans’ reaction to the cancellation of the 2020 season.
The only competitive game played at the Queensway Stadium this year was a Challenge Cup tie against Hunslet, meaning season-ticket holders were unable to use their passes at all this season.
Despite this, 84 per cent of them have decided to donate that money back to the club, with the remaining 16 per cent transferring their season ticket to next year. Nobody has asked the club for a refund.
For Murray, this shows how vital the fans are to the club.
“I’m absolutely made up with their response and that’s why we call them our 18th man,” said Murray.
“The fans are well and truly behind the club and the team, and everything that goes along with that.
“What they have done is brilliant and it shows how much they want us to succeed and get better each year.
“We want to keep improving as a club and whichever lads step out on to the field, they always give a good account of themselves. They are really appreciative of the fans that follow us home and away and I’m sure the players will be keen to repay that faith once we can get back out there again.”
Elsewhere, Kieran Sherratt has left the club to rejoin Coventry Bears.
BARROW RAIDERS Chairman Steve Neale has confirmed a different outlook when it comes to budgeting for the 2021 season.
Having secured the likes of Shaun Lunt, Adam Walne and Ben Harrison for next season, the club’s retention has also continued with Luke Cresswell, Dan and Shane Toal and Declan Hulme all re-signing in the last week.
Off the field, the club continues to remain active in generating cash flow while the season is on a temporary halt due to the Coronavirus pandemic. Turning the Craven Park pitch into a large beer garden as well as hosting numerous socially-distanced events at the ground has helped to keep the money coming in when other clubs may have struggled.
“Since I have been involved, in terms of setting a budget we have estimated income from the usual sources such as gate receipts, sponsorship, bar and catering sales, RFL distribution and so on, and then calculated our fixed costs expenditure like the mortgage, insurance, utilities and staff wages,” Neale wrote in his North West Evening Mail column.
“There will then be a budget for ground maintenance and whatever remains we can afford to put together a squad.
“For me, this seems a little backward thinking. Perhaps we need to focus on what sort of team we want and where we want that team to end up.
“So, for next year if we hope to achieve promotion then perhaps we need to understand the budget required to achieve this and then set about creating the income.
“Throughout all the frustration of 2020, we have proven to ourselves that we can diversify and create those income streams. Clearly, we need to be realistic; we cannot jump from a club that turns over £800,000 to a club that has Super League income streams of a few million, but I truly believe that £1 million and more is achievable.
“If we can increase income, then we can start to make steady progression as a club on the field, but also improving facilities and infrastructure off the field.”
HUNSLET coach Gary Thornton has said it is vital that all club gets everything right when it comes to a safe return to training. Otherwise, players may be lost to the game temporarily as they look to protect their own health.
“You always lose some players to the game for one reason or another,” said Thornton.
“But this year there could be some players that feel strongly about the health risks that are still around and the thought of the close contact and training with a group of guys from 20 to 25 different households.
“Some might decide that they don’t want to jeopardise the health of themselves or their families.
“I have not had anyone say to me that they want to pack the game in because of all this, but there have been a couple who are a bit uncertain and wanting to make sure the return to training protocol is right and all the health and risk checks are done properly because they have a family that they want to protect.
“We have just got to make sure that we do everything in the right way and that everyone can come back and train in a safe environment.”
ROCHDALE HORNETS Chairman Andy Mazey has said the club’s squad for 2021 is just about complete, but he hasn’t ruled out any further additions that would add to what they already have in place.
“We’ve got the majority of the playing business done early this year, which is great,” said Mazey.
“Matt (Calland – coach) is really happy with where it’s at as we have got everything that he identified that we wanted to do.
“There are still a few more options we’re exploring and we’re talking to a couple more players but there is nothing concrete yet.
“Certainly if we get one of the final pieces we’re looking it at would be the cherry on the cake and would be a bonus for us, as it wasn’t something we had planned. But that option became available and we’re trying to do something about it.
“The numbers side of the squad is done now, but if something came along that would strengthen what we have got and improve us massively, then we’d look at it.”
DONCASTER have completed the signing of experienced back Ben Johnston from York City Knights, in a move first reported by League Express last month.
The 28-year-old Ireland international, who has signed a two-year deal, can play at fullback or in the halves, and joins with extensive Championship experience.
Before his move to York, Johnston made over 100 appearances for Halifax, averaging a try every other game.
“The signing of Ben is a really good one for us,” said Dons chief executive Carl Hall.
“He is a quality player with a lot of Championship experience under his belt.
“As you would have expected with a player of his ability, there was a lot of interest in him, so it was a deal we put plenty of work in to.”
The club have also handed a permanent deal to backrower Danny Bravo, who spent time on loan with the club prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, for the 2021 season.
WORKINGTON TOWN have begun their retention for 2021 by snapping up two local prospects that have impressed coach Chris Thorman over recent months.
Second-rower Caine Barnes, who joined the club permanently after a loan spell from Wigan Warriors, has signed a new three-year deal, while hooker Marcus O’Brien has penned a new two-year contract.
“When it came to the retention of players, Caine was one of the players at the top of the list,” said Thorman.
“He is a local lad that ticks a number of boxes for us; he’s dedicated, talented and easy to coach. He always gives me good buy-in, regardless of the role I ask him to play.
“He has his best years ahead of him and that’s why we offered him a three-year deal. I see Caine playing a significant part in our on- and off-field success.
“Marcus pretty much achieved everything you can in the community game and in his short time with us in 2020 proved what a valuable asset he can be for us in the future.
“Tying him down to a two-year deal was very important to us.
“He is a very good hooker, but can also play in the back row and with his attitude to training, he is only going to improve. I’m looking forward to working with him again and seeing his development over the coming years.”
KEIGHLEY COUGARS prop Spencer Darley has become the latest player to sign a new deal with the club for 2021.
After an injury put paid to his initial loan move from Featherstone Rovers at the start of the 2019 season, the forward, who turns 22 on Friday, returned to Cougar Park shortly after Rhys Lovegrove arrived at the club last June.
He went on to make six appearances for the club in 2019, earning himself a permanent deal with the club, before having this season ended prematurely after suffering a leg injury during February’s Challenge Cup loss to Newcastle.
“Spencer is a really talented young player who is well on his way to establishing himself as a key member of our first team,” said Lovegrove.
“He really impressed me in the pre-season friendlies we played at the start of this year, but due to a combination of both injury and Covid-19, he came up short in being able to establish himself within our matchday seventeen on a weekly basis.
“I’m now really excited about helping Spencer continue to push on in his development both on and off the field, as he is well on his way to becoming an established front rower.”
COVENTRY BEARS have confirmed another four new faces for their 2021 squad.
With the club having already announced which current squad members have re-signed for next year, any further additions will join the club from elsewhere, and that is the case with the club’s new halfbacks and backrowers, who bring with them a wide range of experience.
Incoming halves are England Colleges internationals Jordan Paga and Kian Morgan, who have played for Huddersfield Giants Reserves and Castleford Tigers Reserves respectively. Meanwhile, the pack is strengthened by the return of Kieran Sherratt from North Wales Crusaders and Batley Bulldogs’ Sam Bowring.
“Jordan is a very exciting young prospect,” said head coach Rich Squires.
“He comes from a great development system and will add a different dimension to us this year.
“From the conversations I’ve had with Jordan, he’s showed maturity and eagerness to develop.
“Kian is a player who can play a number of positions but will be looking to cement himself within the team on a regular basis.
“He is an exciting and skilful player and is eager to show what he can do at this level.
“It’s great to welcome Keiran back to the Bears. He is a player with some years now at this level under his belt and the supporters know what he can do for us.
“He provides a little bit of spark when needed and is a big athletic forward who can get us on the front foot.
“Sam is another very good signing for us. He is a Championship forward who will provide valuable experience within our middle unit.
“He’s aggressive and physical in defence and won’t take a backward step. He will bring a lot to our middle unit and his is a signing I’m very excited about.”
OTTAWA ACES have added some dual-code experience to their inaugural squad with the signing of Guy Armitage from London Broncos.
A former England Rugby Union Under-20s international centre, Armitage began his professional career coming through the London Irish Academy before spending time at London Welsh and Wasps. In 2019 he switched to League, joining the Broncos after a short trial.
“Guy will bring a strong physical presence to the team,” said head coach Laurent Frayssinous.
“He can play a number of positions on the edge and will bring speed, power and skills.
“He also speaks fluent French from his childhood spent living in France, which is valuable to embrace the Canadian culture.”
WEST WALES RAIDERS certainly haven’t been sat idle since the season went into lockdown.
Instead, they have been very active in building the club both on and off the field. In stark contrast to previous seasons, the club has already started announcing members of next year’s squad.
The signing of Gavin Henson may have been to one to catch the biggest headlines (see Page 2) but Emosi Nadaubale, Dai Evans and Morgan Evans have also put pen to paper on new deals with the club.
“I don’t want to sound negative, but it was probably a positive for us that this season didn’t go ahead,” said Raiders coach Aaron Wood.
“Where we’d usually have a four-week window before getting into the new season, this has given us six months to sit back and make the club right.
“Where some clubs might have sat back because they didn’t know when the season is coming back, we actually got out of the chair and worked even harder on all the off-field stuff like our media, helping in the community and recruiting for next year.
“We’ve been working 24/7 and the phone has kept ringing. Everything is really positive, everyone is excited and whenever we have a meeting we all finish it really pumped up.
“Hopefully we can transfer that positivity to the field now and match the work we’re doing off the field with how we build on it.”
LONDON SKOLARS coach Jermaine Coleman has admitted the club could be forced to look at alternative arrangements to allow them to get back to training and playing.
New River Stadium and the surrounding facilities, which are council-run, remain closed and the guidelines for a safe return to training require a club’s facilities to have no public access. Both these aspects are likely to affect how and when training can resume.
“The club is very deep in conversation with Haringey Council,” said Coleman.
“But they are also looking at alternative venues should we not be in a position to start again at New River.
“If we couldn’t it would be a massive shame. It’s been the club’s base for a number of years now and we’d love to stay there.
“But it might not happen and a new venue might bring about a change in fortune for us, so we’ll just see how it goes.
“It’s just a case of keeping all our options open for now.”
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