Keighley Cougars coach Rhys Lovegrove has admitted he is having to try and rein some of his players in now that they have returned to training.The Cougars have been in pre-season for two weeks now but Lovegrove is well aware of the dangers of doing too much too soon after an enforced eight-month break from the game.
“Training has been going really well and we have a great group of players at the club,” said Lovegrove, who has also been left impressed with how his players have handled a very different start to pre-season.
“They’ve all come back in in good shape but after so long off it’s been tricky working out how to do things.
“Usually when pre-season starts you rip in straight away, but with Covid restrictions we’ve not been able to do that the same.
“But also for the well-being of the players you have to be careful after they’ve had so much time off. You just need to make sure you look after them, especially when they haven’t played the game or been around that environment for so long.
“They really want to get in and push the envelope a little bit so I have to keep reminding them that we still have a long time before we play again so they just have to take their time, slowly build it back up and just enjoy the process, before getting back in the grind later on.
“It’s a very different pre-season from a coaching point of view as there are a lot more considerations.
“But there are also a lot of questions and unknowns.
“Traditionally when you start pre-season it gives everyone a framework. They know they’re going to be training on certain nights, each one is going be defence or offence, or strength. But coming back into pre-season this year has opened up a whole load of questions from the players.
“It has been an unknown, but they have adapted really well to it and have been very open with their questions. The senior playing group have been great in relaying some of those thoughts and questions so hopefully this is all a positive step in building the culture we want to have at the club.”
Meanwhile, the club have confirmed a new contract for Scotland international Kieran Moran.
“I’m really excited to have Kieran back on board,” added Lovegrove.
“He has worked really hard during lockdown to get himself back into the shape that saw him play at the top levels of the game in terms of both Super League and internationally earlier in his career.
“He brings a very high level of skill, and lots of it, to both the team and the group we have put together here for next year and hopefully he will get the chance to show that when we finally return to playing.”
BARROW RAIDERS chairman Steve Neale still believes the club are in a strong position to become an established Championship club in the coming years, despite missing out on promotion last week.
The Raiders were one of four clubs to lose out to Newcastle Thunder for the chance to be elevated into the game’s second tier head of 2021.
But that setback is not going to derail the club’s hopes for the future.
“We put together a strong bid and put a lot of effort into it, so we are disappointed we didn’t get the nod,” said Neale.
“We felt it was based on solid foundations of what we’re doing, what we’ve achieved and what we potentially could achieve. I know we’re going in the right direction as a club
“Fair play to Newcastle, they have initiated community rugby in the North East and have done some great work up there.
“Analysing what we have done in the last couple of years and looking at what we really can hope to do in the future has been a positive process for us and we’ve come out of that stronger.
“We have a clear aim in mind now and that is to win the league in 2021, win promotion and allow us to continue our good work off the field.
“Financially we’ve never been in a better position, despite Covid and everything else this year, we’re sat with money in the bank. Often you get to the end of the rugby year and are almost looking at borrowing money, but this year that’s not the case.
“If we have another strong financial year next year, which we fully intend to do, then we’ll be in a really good position to have real crack at the Championship in 2022. We’d not just go up there to survive, which is what we’d have probably done if we’d gone up with our current squad.
“Whether we’d gone up via the selection process this year, on by winning it on the field next year, 2022 is the year we’ve targeted to be a really really strong Championship team.”
ROCHDALE HORNETS chairman Andy Mazey is hoping for some definite answers this week as the clubs and the RFL meet once again to layout plans for the 2021 season.
As it stands there is still no start date for the Championship and League 1 clubs for next season, and for Mazey, as soon as they know those details, the club can plan the rest of their pre-season accordingly.
“It would be nice to get a definite outcome from the meeting so we can go into the Christmas break knowing what’s happening,” said Mazey.
“Matt (Calland) is an experienced coach and we have some experienced players in the camp, and they don’t tend to let external influences get to them. So they’ll continue to prepare as normal, regardless of what’s going on.
“But from a club and board perspective, it would be good to understand what the competition and fixtures are going to look like and finally have something mapped out for us.”
One thing the Hornets do know for sure is that they will remain in League 1 next year, after their application to become the Championship’s 14th club was unsuccessful last week.
“We are disappointed, but it doesn’t change anything for us and I wish Newcastle well,” added Mazey.
“Our goals and targets were always about being a strong side in League 1 our big 125th Anniversary year in 2021.
“Being promoted would have been a bonus but now it’s full steam ahead to have a successful year next year.
“Getting back into the Championship was never a short-term aim for us, so if we’d have got it from this process it would have been a year earlier than we’d aimed for, so we’ll go and have a good crack at League 1 next year and if we can mark our anniversary with a really strong and successful season that that would be great.
“But in no way, shape or form would we be silly enough to think promotion next year will be easy. There are some great teams in this league and we will be respectful of that throughout the year.
“We believe we are strong and stand a good chance, but we do know it will be tough.”
DONCASTER chief executive Carl Hall has said the club’s focus now remains on earning promotion through the usual channels, after their bid to become the 14th Championship club for 2021 was unsuccessful.
Newcastle Thunder were given the nod by the RFL to go up ahead of the Dons, Barrow Raiders, Rochdale Hornets and Workington Town.
With thoughts now on a League 1 campaign in 2021, Hall is confident his larger than usual squad can be celebrating promotion this time next year.
“While we are disappointed not to be chosen to be the team promoted to the Championship, we can be proud with the work put into our application as we left no stone unturned,” said Hall.
“Our aim is now to get back training and get the squad ready for a big season in 2021, we believe the players we have assembled will allow us to be successful.
“We don’t normally go with a really big squad and usually look at the loan or dual registration market, but with the way things have gone this year, we’ve got ourselves a squad of 27 players.
“Richard (Horne – coach) is really pleased with what we have, and the numbers we have means we’ll be able to do 13 v 13 at training and, if Covid is still around and we have any issue with that, we have enough players to cover those temporary losses.”
WORKINGTON TOWN are not dwelling on the fact their application to join the Championship was not successful. Instead attention has turned back to having a strong year on the field.
“Congratulations to Newcastle Thunder on their acceptance to the Championship. They’ll be a great addition to the league” said a club statement.
“Thank you to the RFL for giving us the opportunity to apply, and for their continuing support.
“We now look forward to performing strongly in League 1 in 2021, to taking our place as an important part of our community once more and to getting back to playing, enjoying and promoting the greatest sport on earth.”
NEWCASTLE THUNDER favourite Joe Brown will end his career in the Championship after signing a new deal with the club for 2021.
Brown, who is the club’s record appearance holder with 232, will enter 13th and final season at Thunder and will be looking at making it a memorable one.
He will be finishing his career in the Championship, after Newcastle submitted a successful application to the RFL to fill the vacant spot in the competition left by the Championship club that will replace Toronto Wolfpack in Super League.
“Joe is an evergreen club stalwart and he was in the best shape I’d ever seen him in at the start of last year,” said director of rugby Denis Betts.
“He is a hugely experienced player and a great leader and he has never let us down since I’ve been at the club.
“He wants to make the Rugby League World Cup with Jamaica so he is going to be very determined to be at his best for us to make those games.”
Forwards Harry Aldous, Mikey Wood, Evan Simons and Colton Roche have also penned new deals at the club.
HUNSLET coach Gary Thornton is confident of making up for lost time in a Covid-19 dominated pre-season.
Most teams have already returned to pre-season later than normal due to the pandemic, but with sessions in League 1 limited to twice a week, players are getting less time together.
But with the season looking likely to start later than the usual February kick-off, Thornton believes the current restrictions will not have too much of an impact long term.
“In a normal pre-season we’d definitely be in three times a week with the odd weekend making it four in the lead up to Christmas to get that level of conditioning into the guys,” said Thornton.
“That would then drop down to three times a week as we lead up to starting to play.
“So at the moment we’re probably at around 50-60 percent of capacity in terms of volume of training we’re doing. But everyone is in the same boat and those are the rules we need to abide by.
“However, with the season probably starting a bit later, the total amount of time we get with the guys will probably balance itself out.
“Once we get towards actually playing fixtures we’ll have had the guys in for a fair amount of time so it should level out in terms of the number of sessions we’ve had. We’d normally work on three or four sessions a week over a 12 or 13 week period, but because we’ve come in a bit earlier I’m hoping we can catch up.
“When you are only in twice a week you are very limited to what you can do with the players, but with news of a vaccine now, hopefully that can change and we can get them in a bit more often very soon.”
COVENTRY BEARS finally returned to training last weekend much to the delight of coach Richard Squires.
They had initially planned on returning in November, but had to put their plans on hold by a few weeks after consultation with the RFL.
“Getting them in last month would have been more about their mental health and getting them back together as a group in the open air,” said Squires.
“That’s what we’d have been doing up until Christmas.
“So there wasn’t a massive need to get back into training that early and actually train properly. It would have been fitness and a few other things and generally getting the enjoyment back into it for the guys.
“To have been given the go ahead to get them back in has been great.”
NORTH WALES CRUSADERS coach Anthony Murray has said the enforced break from the game has given him and his staff more time to get a strong squad in place for 2021.
He also believes the longer term effects of the pandemic has given his club the chance to give an opportunity to players that may not have been available to them under normal circumstances.
“We have had more time to work on the squad this year and it was always important that we secured the majority of the names we started last pre-season with,” said Murray.
“We have managed to do that, and bring in others.
“With reserves rugby being cancelled now for 2021, there are quite a few players circulating that are looking for an opportunity to play.
These players might not have been available to us if the reserves hadn’t been cancelled.
“There are a lot of Reserve-aged players that are looking for the experience of playing first team rugby at open age level and we can give them that.”
WEST WALES RAIDERS coach Aaron Wood has said some of the new habits picked up during the Coronavirus lay-off will remain in use going into 2021 as he looks to spend more quality training time with the players.
“We’ve had a couple of non-training get togethers with the players now, so when we get back to training we can hopefully hit the ground running,” said Wood.
“But from last year we know that this year we need more time together on the pitch than we have done before, and that is one of our main focusses.
“We’ll still do a lot of our review sessions and things like that on conference calls, so that we don’t waste valuable time in the training session. That will help maximise the time we all have together.”
Meanwhile the club have signed former Ealing Trailfinders and Cardiff Met forward Jordan Saunders for the 2021 season, while fullback Phil Cowburn will remain at the cub for another year.
LONDON SKOLARS forward Eddie Mbaraga believes his side might have something more important than big name signings in their camp when the new season gets underway.
In the club’s last full season in 2019, they surprised many people and spent a spell at the top of the league.
According to Mbaraga there is no reason this can’t be repeated once the game gets back underway in 2021.
“We’re a team that never has too many big name signings or superstars but on our day we can trouble anyone because of our work ethic and willingness to prove that we are a tough team,” he said.
“We’re always up there in terms of fitness and sometimes we’ve maybe lost games because of a lack of experience. But on our day we can push any of the top teams.
“This coming season will be the same. We’ll be full of grit, full of fitness and full of willing to show up against some of the bigger names again like we have done in previous years.
“That eagerness and team bond is just as important as having some big names in the squad.”
Meanwhile, the club have announced the re-signing of back Joshua Spearing.
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