Workington Town hooker Dec O’Donnell is ready to repay the faith the club have shown in him by stepping into the role Sean Penkywicz has left behind.
O’Donnell was one of the first signings Chris Thorman made when he arrived at the club, snapping him up on loan from Leigh Centurions before making the move more permanent as the season came to a close.
“I am hoping, now that I have had a full pre-season with the club, that I can really step up and progress again,” said O’Donnell.
“I am really enjoying my time at the club and they gave me a really good shot at things up there. I feel like I owe them a pretty big season now for giving me that chance.
“Hopefully my time here can all stand me in good stead for the rest of my career, but for now I have a job to do here and I can’t wait to get stuck in.
“Penky took me right under his wing last year and he helped me out a lot. I learnt a lot about different parts of my game, because his knowledge of the game is vast.
“Having him up there made things a whole lot easier for me to develop my game.
“But he’s gone now and Chris (Thorman) sees me playing a big part of this season. Daunting is maybe not the right word, but I always accept any challenge. We have other great hookers here in Marcus O’Brien and Blain Marwood. So I have my work cut out against them, but I am hoping to nail that starting hooker spot and kick on.”
NORTH WALES CRUSADERS coach Anthony Murray has said an improved squad depth this year could prove the big difference as the Wrexham-based side look to progress to securing a place in the play-offs.
The Crusaders finished just three points out of the top six last year, and Murray hopes his recruitment so far this year will prove enough to go one better this season.
“Going off the performance against Barrow it looks like we’ve brought some great lads in this year,” said Murray.
“We have a very different team this year. It’s younger and I feel like I have got more players in there that are a bit more versatile and can play in a number of different positions.
“I wouldn’t say we’re any stronger as a squad this year, but we have definitely got more options around the whole squad.
“We’re not finished yet with our recruitment, as we’re still looking to bring a couple of guys in, but hopefully if we pick up some injures towards the end of the year, we have the options and versatility in the squad to cope.”
ROCHDALE HORNETS co-owner Andy Mazey has said 2019 needs to be put behind everyone, with the focus solely on moving the club forward this year.
Last year was a tumultuous one on and off the field, but Mazey has said what’s done is done and the future is looking bright for the Hornets.
“2019 has gone now and we have to look forward,” said Mazey.
“A lot of the stuff we have put out and a lot of what I have talked about is a new era. It’s a clean, fresh start for the club and it’s a completely new dawn as far as we’re concerned.
“There was a lot of division in the club and a lot of problems behind the scenes, so we have tried to draw a line under all of that now and pull everyone together.
“There seems to be a real buy into what we are trying to do and the unanimous vote (in favour of the takeover) shows that.
“There has been a lot of positivity around the club in the last couple of weeks, but we have to manage expectations and keep everyone grounded. It will be a tough league this year and we have been late with our recruiting, so we don’t want to over-promise anything.
“We just want to go about our business and then build it up over the next few years.”
Meanwhile Sunday’s planned pre-season game against Oldham was called off after recent bad weather led to concerns over the pitch.
NEWCASTLE THUNDER coach Simon Finnigan has said there is much room for improvement, despite seeing his side run out 40-16 winners over last season’s League 1 Champions Whitehaven in their opening pre-season game.
“We can’t read too much into the result against the team that set a benchmark last season, because it didn’t really tell the whole story,” said Finnigan.
“Whitehaven were missing a few players and we had five or six missing, so you couldn’t really gauge things properly.
“It was a good result, but we weren’t that impressive and I wasn’t entirely happy with our performance, especially defensively.
“We were a bit off, but we have another month to go before the season starts and another pre-season game, so there is time to work on things and sharpen up.
“The most impressive part of the game for me was that we had eight or nine players out there that have come through our Academy, which is great for the club. A few of them will probably be there in round one as well, so they weren’t just there to make up the numbers, there is some genuine talent coming through.”
WEST WALES RAIDERS coach Aaron Wood was hopeful of learning a lot more about his players as they headed off for a day’s Army camp at the weekend.
“I knew it would test a lot of people both physically and mentally,” said Wood.
“It was a chance to group the guys together and see who the tougher ones, mentally, are and see who we need to push harder, or not push at all.
“It was also about having fun at the end of the day and getting to know the guys.
“Some of the new recruits hadn’t been in before we went and, with work, some of the other guys hadn’t been at every session, so this was a chance to get everyone together in one place on one day.
“It wasn’t all about Rugby League. It was also about learning about their family life, their wives, girlfriends and kids and building a team.”
COVENTRY BEARS director of rugby Alan Robinson is expected to make some final decisions on his squad this week, after having another look at the majority of his players in Sunday’s pre-season game at Keighley.
“Sunday was the chance for some of our triallists to have a final run out before we make decisions on them,” said Robinson.
“It was a big opportunity for them to show if they have the potential in them to push on.
“All the guys on the fringe of the squad got a chance to impress as well, so I’ll have got a fair idea of how my starting 17 will look.
“We also have dual-registration agreement with Dewsbury Rams, so we may look at that this week to see where me might look to them to add to a couple of areas.”
HUNSLET coach Gary Thornton has been buoyed by two positive pre-season performances against Championship opposition.
Late scores against both Bradford Bulls and Batley Bulldog have secured tight wins, and Thornton is delighted to see his side holding on to games, which they often didn’t manage to do last year.
“There’s still a lot of work to be done but I have to be pleased with how things are going,” said Thornton.
“We’d very probably have lost both those games last season, when we all too often allowed good leads to slip away. But our game management is now so much better, and that’s down to our new halfbacks Dom Brambani and Danny Rowse.
“They don’t take the wrong options and they’re very good at guiding our forwards through a match.
“There’s so much energy, and a much-improved attitude, about the side.”
One negative for the club though is that director of rugby Darren Williams will leave his role at the end of the month.
KEIGHLEY COUGARS fullback Ritchie Hawkyard has explained the family led reasons that made him decide to turn his back on his retirement plans and return to the club.
“Mick (O’Neill, Chairman) has been pestering me to come back and he’s a hard man to say no to,” Hawkyard told the Keighley News.
“I’d made up my mind, but he asked if I could just do one more year and he sold me the club again.
“But the main reason was for my family. My missus said to just go back for one more year.
“We were looking at budgeting for the house and having the kids at school. My missus is not working full-time at the moment either, so there were money reasons.
“You just want to give the kids a better, active life. So they can go to after school clubs, go dancing and go swimming.
“Really, it was not beneficial to retire and it wasn’t fair on them. I’d have had to do some side jobs if I’d not gone back, so I might as well enjoy work and play rugby.”
BARROW RAIDERS head coach Paul Crarey is predicting a big year for halfback Ryan Johnston
The 22-year-old made twelve appearances last year with Jamie Dallimore, Lewis Charnock, Ben White and Jake Carter often getting the nod ahead of him. But some promising performances against Oldham and North Wales Crusaders have impressed Crarey.
“It takes two of three seasons to find your feet, to feel as though you belong, to play the sort of rugby you feel comfortable with and be ready for it,” Crarey told the North West Evening Mail.
“People want it straight away and it will never happen straight away when you sign. Luke Cresswell, for example, took a year or so to settle down.
“Ryan has had a little longer, but he’s in a different position. He’s in a halfback position, so he’s starting to find his feet.”