Doncaster chief executive Carl Hall is still hoping for a March start for the new season, despite no firm decisions being made during Friday’s meeting between clubs and the RFL.
It had been hoped a firm start date, and season format could be pencilled in after the meeting, but with the Covid situation still changing almost daily, Hall is happy to bide some time for a bit longer to make sure the correct decision is made in the long run, for both the clubs and the supporters.
“Nothing was decided but we all know where we stand,” said Hall.
“We’ll play some cup games in the early rounds before we start the league and that will hopefully avoid more disruption for season ticket holders.
“The fans at every club have been outstanding throughout this year with their gestures and telling them to keep their season ticket money in the club.
“But we can’t expect them to do that again in 2021.
“As long as they get their value back and get to see a season, then the longer we can prolong the league is the right way to do it to avoid disruption early on.
“We will start when we are told to start, but I think March is still the option I would go for.”
Hall also confirmed that the squad did have a brief return to training this month, but still had an earlier than usual start to their Christmas break.
“We’ve had a few sessions when the guys were in doing some testing so it’s been great to see them,” said Hall.
“We just wanted to get them back together before Christmas and they really enjoyed being back as a group.
“But we’re done for Christmas now and last Tuesday was our final session. We didn’t want to bring them in early this week and then someone catch something and have to miss Christmas due to isolating.
“They can all spend it with their family now.”
KEIGHLEY COUGARS have kept a strong family tradition alive by handing a contract to former Bradford Bulls back Alix Stephenson.
After a successful trial with the club, Stephenson will follow in the footsteps of his Grandad, John, Father, Andy, and Uncle, Phil, in playing for the Cougars.
“Alix has brought a sense of professionalism to the club,” said coach Rhys Lovegrove.
“He has brought this professionalism ever since I first brought him into the club on trial for pre-season and it is a rare quality to find in a player as young as he is.
“Alix has a real thirst to learn and expand his knowledge and ability of the game and has improved in every single session since we began training in November.
“It was an easy decision for me to sign Alix to a permanent deal and have him on board for the 2021 season.”
Meanwhile the club have announced the death of Cougarmania favourite Mark Milner, who passed away last month at the age of 55.
Milner was one of the first signings made by head coach Peter Roe in 1993 and soon became a very popular character within the club.
His long flowing hair and missing front teeth earned Milner the nickname of ‘Wild Thing’ during the heyday of Cougarmania.
LONDON SKOLARS winger or fullback Iliess Macani has said there is a feeling among the club that they want to take the next stage in their progress together after he was one of five members of the squad to re-sign for next season.
Ryan Cane, Dalton Grant, Jerome Yates and Jacob Thomas have also put pen to paper on new deals as the club looks to build on the positive strides they made in 2019, when they spent some time at the top of the league.
“Ahead of the 2020 season we really worked hard on gearing up to try and turn that next corner from what we achieved the year before,” said Macani.
“We wanted to go one better, but we didn’t get the chance to do that. So we will build on that again for next year, and we want do that together.
“We have kept the core of that 2019 squad together again, and with the few players we have added since, we really do believe that this team can push forward and really contend with the top teams in League 1.”
COVENTRY BEARS coach Richard Squires has said many clubs could take advantage of how Covid-19 has affected rugby union this year.
The RFU announced earlier this autumn that the 2020/21 domestic seasons below the Championship were to be cancelled due to the ongoing pandemic.
This has meant the Bears have been contacted by some of those players involved, who are now keen on trying their hand at Rugby League to keep themselves playing.
“We’re trying to break down the barrier of the two codes hating each other around here,” said Squires.
“We want to try to bridge the two together and I have even been doing some coaching at a local union club in the area to bring a bit of a league approach to things.
“We’ve had a couple of lads that have played a decent level of union before, but not league, get in touch with us wanting to get involved and if they can learn the game correctly, they could be some very big athletes that suit the game.
“West Wales Raiders have dipped in the local union scene before and been quite successful at it. I think lots of clubs could benefit from it – even M62 clubs – because if those players get the right coaching to teach them the game it could work really well.
“It’s almost like bringing young kids through or where someone steps up from the NCL, there is a bit of a speed difference, but they know the game. Once you know the game, that knowledge gets you a long way.
“These union boys just need teaching that and we’re hoping we’ve got a few lined up that can come in and get involved with us after Christmas. But that might depend on the amount of people we’re going to be able to have at training, and if we’re allowed trialists or not.”
ROCHDALE HORNETS chairman Andy Mazey has said that there has been no change in the club’s mentality now that their status in League 1 has been confirmed.
The Hornets were one of five clubs that applied for promotion to the Championship for 2021 but lost out to Newcastle Thunder. It means they will now remain focused on winning promotion the normal way with strong performances on the field.
“Even when we were working on the application, our focus never switched from our original goals of having a strong 2021 season,” said Mazey.
“Until anyone told us otherwise, we were always focused on what we wanted to achieve in League 1 2021. The bid was always a case of if we get it, then it’s a bonus and we’d be playing Championship rugby a year ahead of our schedule.
“But we knew if we didn’t get it, it would be business as usual – and that is still our approach.
“We’ve recruited really well and the club has never been as healthy as it is now. The way we’re moving forward has put us in a really strong position to have a good crack at earning promotion next year.
“It is good to draw a line under the process now and know where we stand. We’ve been able to take a breath now and continue to prepare for next year.”
Elsewhere, Adam Carr, who played twice for the club in 2020 afters signing from Thatto Heath Crusaders, has been banned from the game for four years after failing a drugs test.
His sample returned a finding of clenbuterol, an anabolic agent used to gain muscle and burn fat. As a result of this positive test, Carr is now banned until December 8, 2023.
NORTH WALES CRUSADERS coach Anthony Murray has said the signings the club have made this year has but them in the strongest position they have been in for several years.
“Bringing Jono Smith back is our key signing this year,” said Murray.
“He has been off and got a lot of experience under his belt since he left us last time and it’s fantastic for the whole club to get him back.
“It’s a signing that shows our own intentions of what we want to do.
“We’ve also brought in Callum Wood, a young up and coming hooker came highly recommended by Tim Sheens, and Ben Morris, who has lots of experience playing for Wales and still has ambitions for more representative rugby.
“They all give us some real quality options and some strength in depth, which is probably a position we’ve not been in for a number of years.
“The squad is really looking healthy and Andy Moulsdale (chief executive) and I have worked really hard to try and get the right people for the club and I think we’ve managed to do that.
“They all bring that extra bit of experience, but it’s also great that we’ve been able to bring some young kids to the club like Alex Eckley, who was with us previously, and Cam Brown. They’ve been at St Helens for a few years and were both held in high regard there.
“They are both looking to progress and show what they can do.
“So as well as experience, we’ve got guys like that who just want an opportunity to gain experience.”
HUNSLET coach Gary Thornton is looking for one final piece of the jigsaw ahead of a long-awaited return to action next year.
“We’ve got 24 training with us at the moment and I’m reasonably happy with what we’ve got,” said Thornton.
“Not all of them have signed on yet, we’re just having a look at a couple of them with a view to offering them a deal.
“I think we still need to strengthen in the middle unit area though and I am looking at someone there, but nothing has come of that yet.
“Apart from that we’re pretty well covered in all positions, but if someone else came along that we wanted, we’d see what we could do about it.”
BARROW RAIDERS coach Paul Crarey has not ruled out making some additions to his squad for 2021, but he has said these won’t be immediate and will only happen if and when they are required.
The Cumbrian side has already been active in the market this year, with former Super League names Shaun Lunt, Adam Walne and Ben Harrison leading the way.
“We know we have got a squad in place that can compete at the top end of League 1,” said Crarey.
“We’re happy with what we have got, but we have held some money back in case we pick up some injuries during the season.
“That was something we struggled with in the Championship in 2019. We were short on numbers, so when lost a few players it was tough.
“We’ve addressed that this year and there is a pot of money available should we need to bring anyone else in during the year.
“We’re a club that’s shrewd with our money and we will cut our cloth accordingly.”
WEST WALES RAIDERS coach Aaron Wood has said his recruitment drive is not complete yet, despite already having 27 on the books.
“The goal is to have a healthy squad of 30 players so we’re still in the market for signings,” said Wood.
“If can get to that number then we have an extra cushion in place if the virus continues and we do lose a few guys at any point. I think a lot of clubs will be doing the same and running bigger squads in 2021 for that reason.
“We’re still in talks with a couple of big names but whether we get them over the line is down to the board and general manager working their magic.
“We’re also still trying to develop some young kids and have some young Welsh boys on our roster. And who knows, with the current situation they might get more game time than they bargained for.”
WORKINGTON TOWN are looking to make some urgent changes to Derwent Park to allow for a safe and successful return to training.
The club’s board of directors have allocated an initial budget to start turning the old cafe space on the popular side of the ground into a gym and wrestling room, to allow the players to prepare for the new season at their own stadium and in a more Covid-secure environment.
Equipment and extra funds are needed to complete the project that will not only benefit the first-team squad but also local community teams.
To offer your help to the project contact Matthew Johnson by email firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 07894 584828.
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