Rochdale Hornets chairman Andy Mazey has voiced his frustration that the club has once again been forced to suspend training amid the coronavirus pandemic.
As the country was forced back into a national lockdown last week, the RFL advised clubs across the Championship and League 1 to pause their pre-season training programmes for two weeks.
Whilst disappointed with the move, Mazey believes the initial start date in March would still attainable if it is just a two-week gap. But if a delay in training goes on longer than that, there will be knock-on effects that will run to much later in the year.
“I am disappointed because my understanding has always been that we are an elite sport so we should have been allowed to continue,” said Mazey.
“We have spent a hell of a lot of money and jumped through a lot of hoops to make sure that we could return to training and the ensure the risk was as low as it possibly could be. We made sure everything was safe and had sign-off from the RFL, so it is disappointing that we’ve been stopped from training.
“We always knew Covid was in play and we’d planned for that and we were working around that.
“I fully understand the position and what’s happening with the virus, but the training we’ve been doing has been very low risk, no contact, with full PPE in place.
“I appreciate it’s just a pause for now of two weeks, but that’s two weeks that could fundamentally undo a whole pre-season. And there are no guarantees that we’re going to restart after that two weeks.
“We’ve been told there will be a clubs meeting to discuss the situation and talk about plans from here, but that’s not happened as of yet and there are a lot of worried people around. I can’t tell my coach or players what’s happening.
“I understand we need a review of the situation and the measures in place in light of the latest lockdown, but that could have been done as we continued to train.
“If that two weeks turns into four, how long can we keep going until it jeopardises the season?
“We already know that with the World Cup coming up the season can’t overrun, but it also means the season can’t be pushed back. I worry that if we’re not careful, we will put ourselves in a position like last year where we wait and wait until you get to the point where we can’t turn it around.
“If it is limited to two weeks we can make everything work, but if it’s any more than that, it could cause all sorts of issues.”
COVENTRY BEARS coach Richard Squires is confident that the club will be able to return to training later this week after the RFL advised clubs to pause their preparations for a fortnight following the latest national lockdown.
“We were being cautious with what we were doing and were only in on a Saturday morning to try and limit the contact time,” said Squires.
“But from my understanding, these two weeks is just a bit of a review period for clubs to be able to sit down and look at what was working and what wasn’t working. Hopefully, if all the right protocols are in place we’ll be back in on January 16 fingers crossed.
“I am quietly confident with the messages that are coming out that we will be back after the two weeks.
“The RFL have been quite clear that we are an elite sport and I think they are getting as many protocols in place as they can early on so that it prevents anything affecting the game happening later in the year.
“We need to do whatever we can to get a season played this year so I’d rather them do this now and get a season out of 2021.”
BARROW RAIDERS coach Paul Crarey has said the disruption of pre-season has heightened his desire to add one final member to his squad for this year.
As well as the current two-week pause to training, clubs are still limited to how much full contact they can do in a session. Add to that the difficulties there will be with organising pre-season matches, and preparations for this year are far from normal.
“We don’t know where the latest developments will leave us with friendlies, so we might have to go into that first Cup game with no pre-season games behind us,” said Crarey.
“Not having played for a year, or having the full pre-season we’d usually have means the players will be feeling it when they finally get back playing.
“I believe the new rules that were brought in for Super League will be used again, so with no scrums, the game is going to be quicker and that’s where we’re going to lose players.
“With the game being quicker the bigger blokes in the middle are going to have to do more work and repeat sets so we might just pick up some injuries.
“We’ve looked at that and thought that if we can get another quality middle player in to go with what we’ve got, then across the board we’re pretty strong.
“There is still room for one in our squad for another forward and there is money available for that, but we are just going to take our time with that.
“We just want some insurance for if we do get injuries. That’s what affected us most when we were last in the Championship and we learnt our lessons from that.”
WORKINGTON TOWN media officer Gary McKeating has said the club is likely to keep their virtual fan engagement going even when supporters are permitted back at Derwent Park.
Town were the first club to launch regular webinars and interactive fan forums when the nation first went to lockdown back in March, and since then special guests on the shows have included Rugby League greats like Barrie McDermott, Jamie Jones-Buchanan and James Graham, as well as their own players, coaches and officials.
With other clubs across the game now launching similar initiatives, McKeating believes this sort of interaction is the way forward.
“Very early on in all this, the board wanted to do something that would allow us to keep in touch with the fans,” said McKeating.
“It was such a strange time for everyone and keeping in contact is very important.
“We decided very early on that it wasn’t just about the cub surviving, but also the survival of a community that loves Rugby League. Suddenly the connections that held us all together were blown apart and doing these webchats was our way to try and regain those connections.
“It was all very well received.
“Even when we can get back to face to face we’ll probably keep some elements of the interactivity going as we can reach different audiences at different times.
“I’d like to think that we were a bit of a front runner with this, and it’s great that other clubs have started to do similar things.”
HUNSLET coach Gary Thornton has said it is down to his players once again to keep themselves in good shape whilst training is temporarily halted.
“The latest lockdown rules and the pausing of rugby below Super League will undoubtedly impact our pre-season planning,” said Thornton.
“But we have to remain positive and do what we can to ensure it has a minimum effect on our long-term goals.
“The boys will be given home programmes to maintain and improve their fitness levels until we get the go-ahead to resume, and they have a personal responsibility to do so.
“We have a very dedicated and professional group, so I’m confident that they will buy into that, and we can crack on from where we left off for Christmas when we get the green light to resume.”
KEIGHLEY COUGARS should find out later this month if their bid to benefit from part of the Government Towns Fund has been successful.
The town of Keighley can draw upon up to £25 million from the Government to invest back into the local community and local projects.
The Cougars are one of 36 projects that have applied for some of this grant, and if successful they will use the additional funds to upgrade their main stand facilities to benefit not just the club, but the town as a whole.
“There are a lot of other projects in for it, but we have applied for funds to completely update our old stand,” explained chairman Mick O’Neill.
“It’s really old, it’s falling down, we keep repainting it and redoing it, but it really needs replacing.
“We’ve not applied for the whole £25 million, just a share of it and we will add to that ourselves. We should hopefully find out in the next few weeks if we’ve been successful.
“If we can get a new stand, we can make the ground more available to more people. I’d like to get a boxing ring in there for the local Asian community who like that sport. We could also update the classrooms we’ve got so we can work with local schools and get kids down here.
“We also have no facilities for women to get showered and changed at the ground to be able to run a ladies club from the ground, so that is something we want to change and we also have nowhere for our disabled supporters to go without them sitting in the open and getting absolutely drenched.
“We’ve tried putting them in other areas of the ground but there is nowhere else for them to go and be able to see the game so that’s one big priority too. But even if we don’t get the grant we’ll do something for them to allow them to see the game in comfort because I do feel for them.
“There are all sorts of things like that we’d like to do if we get the grant and these changes could put Keighley back on the map. If we get this new stand we can move forward and then push to get out of this league.
“We’ve worked hard to get the right players to the club, so if we can get a new stand it would be the icing on the cake.”
WEST WALES RAIDERS forward Morgan Evans has more than one reason to want the game to return as soon as possible.
Not only has he not played for almost a year since the coronavirus pandemic put an early end to 2020, but he is also eyeing up more international caps for Wales.
“The thought of the World Cup is always lingering,” said Evans.
“I really want to make the Wales squad and be involved in that tournament, so to maximise my chances of doing that I need to be out on the field and show what I can do.
“So I am quite desperate to get back out there now and it is vital for me that the game comes back soon.
“After looking ahead to the tournament for so long it would be devastating if I had to miss out simply because I hadn’t played enough to be considered.
“With Covid, it’s been hard to get into the right mindset of structuring training and aiming towards something when you can’t train and play. So I am desperate to get back and get some structure back into training and get out on the field and perform.”
DONCASTER chief executive Carl Hall believes their recruitment strategy for the coming season could prove to be crucial once the competition is allowed to restart.
The Dons have added experience to their squad with the signing of Samoan international Misi Taulapapa, forward Liam Johnson and back Ben Johnston. They have also added some younger blood in Ross Whitmore, Josef Fella and Aaron York, who are all looking to develop their career to the next level.
With only Rangi Chase and Brad England confirmed to have left the club, Doncaster will go into the new season with a bigger squad than 12 months ago, but with minimal changes in key roles.
“A big turnover of players wasn’t something we wanted to do,” said Hall.
“We have a lot of players here who have been together for the past two years and that continuity is going to be key for us.
“League 1 is going to be a really good competition this year. There is some top quality throughout all teams, so it’s going to be one of those competitions where if you don’t turn up on the day you’ll get beaten by anyone.
“The Championship is going to be the same too so it’s all looking positive for when we can get started.
“Every game is going to be one that everyone wants to watch, so both comps will hopefully deliver some real spectacles.”
NORTH WALES CRUSADERS have extended the contract of prop forward Jack Cottington, who has already set his sights on a successful season with the club, whenever that will get underway.
The 22-year-old joined the Wrexham-based club ahead of 2020 and featured from the bench in all four of the games the Crusaders played before the season was cut short because of the coronavirus pandemic.
After playing academy rugby at Super League clubs St Helens, Warrington Wolves and Salford Red Devils, Cottington had spells in the semi-professional ranks with both Whitehaven and Rochdale Hornets before joining the Crusaders.
“I’m buzzing to be staying here,” said Cottington.
“I didn’t want to go anywhere else. It’s a real family club and like a breath of fresh air. There are a lot of things that the club and coaches do for us players that people don’t notice.
“2020 was an awful year for everyone and, hopefully, we’ll be able to bring a smile to people’s faces next season.
“After how we were looking in training and those first couple of matches in 2020, it’s a shame the season came to an end when it did, but we need to focus on 2021 and aim to make those play-offs.
“We’ve missed out on them over the last couple of years, but that’s got to be our aim. I don’t think anybody’s going to underestimate us as we’ve shown exactly what we’re capable of.”
Crusaders head coach Anthony Murray added: “We’re really pleased with how our squad is coming together for 2021 and it’s great to have Jack on board for another year.
“Like a lot of our new signings ahead of 2020, we didn’t get much chance to see them in action, but Jack featured heavily in the early part of the season and gave us some impact off the bench.
“He’s a young lad who has been in some good systems and has some experience playing at this level now.”
LONDON SKOLARS have continued to strengthen their squad for this year, with three more players putting pen to paper on new deals.
Neil Thorman and Omari Caro will remain at the club for another 12 months and the experience they will add will be invaluable to Jermaine Coleman’s squad.
Thorman featured in both of Skolars’ games in 2020, but Caro didn’t, meaning he will have been out of action for almost 18 months if and when the season returns on schedule in March.
Meanwhile winger Abevia McDonald, who has progressed through the Skolars’ ranks in recent years will also remain at the club, and will have his eyes on breaking into the first team.
McDonald has also played in the Jamaican domestic league, so will also be eyeing up a spot in Coleman’s Reggae Boys’ World Cup squad at the end of the year.
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