Keighley Cougars coach Rhys Lovegrove believes the promotion of Newcastle Thunder to the Championship could make League 1 an even more compelling competition this year.
That, coupled with the decision by Ottawa Aces to defer their entry to the league, will see League 1 become a 10-team competition with two of the more fancied teams now out of contention.
But Lovegrove isn’t taking anything for granted and knows he will still have a fight on his hands if the Cougars are to challenge for promotion.
“As a fan of the game, I am really happy for Newcastle on their promotion to the Championship,” said Lovegrove.
“They have done some exciting stuff, have a great foundation and brilliant facilities, so they will add to the Championship.
“But it also means its another team out of our league so we are down to 10 teams now and it will be an interesting competition.
“It has created a very strong league now, and has opened the door for a lot of teams to think it could now be their year to make a push for promotion.
“Anything can happen this year and this will certainly be a strong league and I am really excited to see how all the teams shape up.
“I genuinely believe this will be one of the most exciting leagues in the country, and the extra bit of experience we have brought into the club could be vital for us.
“With Ottawa and Newcastle not involved now, a lot of teams can sit up and think big. There are some outstanding squads across the league, but I’m hoping that the senior players we have in our squad now will just allow us to calm down and run our own race.
“We will just take it one week at a time, enjoy the experience and see where we are at end of the season.”
Meanwhile, the club confirmed their squad numbers over the festive period, these are: 1 Quentin Laulu-Togaga’e, 2 Mo Agoro, 3 Jake Webster, 4 Taylor Prell, 5 Robert Matamosi, 6 Retired in memory of Danny Jones, 7 Jack Miller, 8 Jack Coventry, 9 Kyle Kesik, 10 Dalton Desmond-Walker, 11 Jason Muranka, 12 Dan Parker, 13 Aaron Levy, 14 Ryan Wright, 15 Scott Murrell, 16 Wellington Albert, 17 Dan Hawksworth, 18 Spencer Darley, 19 Billy Gaylor, 20 Brenden Santi, 21 Alfie Seeley, 22 Alix Stephenson, 23 Matthew Bailey, 24 Kieran Moran, 25 Ben Stead, 26 Bobby Darbyshire, 27 Jack Arnold, 28 Josh Lynam, 29 Zach Braham, 30 Morgan Robinson
BARROW RAIDERS coach Paul Crarey has once again stressed the importance of working hard away from the club to his players.
Players across the league have been doing whatever personal fitness work they can at home since the game went into lockdown in March, and will now have to do the same since training was once again paused in light of the continuing pandemic.
It is hoped that League 1 clubs can start a phased return to training in February, but Crarey knows what the players do between now and then could have a big impact as the season progresses.
“We have said to the guys that the fittest teams usually have the better seasons so it is up to them, away from the club, to get their house in order,” said Crarey.
“They know that the fittest team, and the players who look after themselves away from the club, will have the most success. If one of the unfancied teams have the fittest players this year, then they’ll be really competitive.
“They all generally came back in good nick. They have done a lot of aerobic work since March through running and such like because everyone was always looking ahead to a return to train and start date, which has never come.
“They haven’t done a lot of gym work because they have mostly been closed and many don’t have their own weights at home. So for a lot of them, their body shape has changed and we need to get a bit of strength back into them.
“Our conditioner Paddy is very good. He has got all lads on Strava and they all have body weights and conditioning sessions to do every week and they all know what they all need to do. We can see that they are doing that, but we still need to get them ready for what is a brutal game, and our players will do their best to make sure they are.
“But it is down to them because as coaches we can only guide them and when they’re not at the club we don’t see what they’re doing apart from monitoring them on Strava.
“There is no escape for our guys because we want to be ready to go again when we do get the green light to resume.”
WEST WALES RAIDERS prop Morgan Evans knows he will have a different role to play in the squad this year.
In previous seasons the 28-year-old has been considered as one of the senior, more experienced players in the squad, and has been someone others have often looked up to.
But with the signings of Gavin Henson and Rangi Chase, they will take on some of the senior leadership roles in the squad and Evans believes that having a little less pressure on his shoulders will have a positive impact on his own form.
“There is an exciting feel around the club this year,” said Evans.
“Kim (Williams – previous coach) worked really well with the squad that we had, but there is a lot more excitement around the club now about what we could achieve and the players are just chomping at the bit now to get involved.
“We genuinely have got a chance to really perform this season, and have got some really good signings in. The younger players in the squad and myself are really looking forward to playing with some guys who have been there and done it and are coming in to share that experience.
“Gav will have a lot of learning to do in terms of Rugby League, but his core skills will be unbelievable and Rangi is an out and out inspiration for a lot of the guys.
“I will still have a role to play in the forwards, but it will be a different one for me this year. With guys like Joe Burke coming back too, it’ll be quite nice to share the workload out a bit more this year.
“It makes it slightly easier for me with a bit less pressure on. It means I might just be able to concentrate on my own game a little bit more and not worry too much about other people’s to a degree.
“Hopefully that will show in my performances throughout the year.”
WORKINGTON TOWN coach Chris Thorman can still see some light at the end of the tunnel, despite the latest delay they face to get back into action.
Training remains suspended for League 1 clubs, with plans in place to allow a return to basic, isolated sessions next month.
That means the season will also be pushed back from its initial March start date, but Thorman is still looking ahead to 2021 with optimism.
“It did feel a bit like we were back to square one, but I was involved in meetings with the RFL last week and they have plotted out a return to training so we have our eye on starting stage one training in February,” said Thorman.
“It does feel different this time though to when we first went into lockdown, because there is a plan there to get us back.
“We’ve been given a light at the end of the tunnel a few times now, but it’s an ever changing landscape and the RFL have had to make some decisions on the fly a few times.
“They are doing their best and we have to lead what they are putting in place.
“There is a clear pathway, and it is going to be staggered. I appreciate it is going to be difficult for everyone, but if 2020 taught us anything it was to be patient, and we just need to be a little bit more patient for a bit longer.
“But I am confident that if we do follow the protocols the RFL have stated then we will be ok.”
HUNSLET chairman Kenny Sykes has backed the decision to delay the start of the season from its original March kick-off date.
“We are fully behind the RFL’s decision to push back the start of the 2021 season,” said Sykes.
“These are unprecedented times and this decision not only helps protect player health and welfare but also, with the continued roll out of the vaccine and impact of lockdown in controlling the virus, gives us the best chance of getting back to playing in front of our loyal fans.
“I can assure our supporters that head coach Gary Thornton and the squad are absolutely chomping at the bit to get back playing. The RFL is continuing to work on the fixture list, including the Coral Challenge Cup draw, and we look forward to sharing further details with our fans as soon as we can.
“There may yet be a need to hold some of our games behind closed doors but we hope that if that’s necessary we can livestream those games on the OurLeague app. In that instance home League games will be made available free to season ticket holders. In the meantime, stay safe and watch this space for further announcements.”
DONCASTER may be back playing a waiting game to return to training again, but chief executive Carl Hall has said the signs were looking good in the few sessions the club got together before Christmas.
“Getting them all in for a couple of sessions before Christmas was more about having a get together and getting them back into it, and you could tell they were pleased to be back,” said Hall.
“One day they were out on the open field with the ball in their hands and doing a bit of beep testing, and then on another they did a more general session, while meeting the protocols and working in groups of six at at time
“The strength and conditioning coaches were happy with the results that came back, and physically they were in good shape, so it was all looking good.”
Andy Ball will finally get the chance to make his debut for NORTH WALES CRUSADERS in 2021 after agreeing a new deal with the club.
The second rower joined the club in the early stages of 2020, having previously played for amateur club Leigh East since he was eight-years-old.
Ball was unable to feature in any of the Crusaders’ four games before the pandemic brought last season to an early close.
“I’m itching to get a game as I’ve not played in over a year,” said Ball.
“I’m expecting League 1 to be a lot faster and tougher than amateur, but I’ll hopefully have a good pre-season behind me and be up to speed.
“I’ve been doing all the virtual sessions with the lads and I feel a lot fitter than I have been over the last couple of seasons.
“Some of the sessions have been killers and there’s no doubt fitness is key at this level. Our fitness will stand us in good stead once the season starts.
“Everyone’s going to be in the same boat with the Covid-19 pandemic and I can’t wait to get going.
“We started the 2020 season well before it was cut short and the play-offs have to be our aim in 2021.”
LONDON SKOLARS winger or fullback Iliess Macani believes this year’s League 1 competition will see an increase in intensity for two main reasons.
“We have internationals in our side such as Dalton Grant and Omari Caro who want to be involved with the World Cup at the end of the year so they are definitely going to be pushing themselves to make those squads,” said Macani.
“There are players across the league that are pushing for the same, so it’s going to be a better competition.
“Also, after a year without the game, there is a lot of pent up energy waiting to be released so it is going to lead to an interesting and intense season.”
Elsewhere, Skolars have added a further four names to their squad for the coming season, two of which are new faces at New River.
Incoming are Greek international Adam Vrahnos and full-back Errol Carter.
Vrahnos has previously played Rochdale Mayfield and Sydney University, while Carter has previous League 1 experience with Coventry Bears and has also represented Turkey at international level.
Judd Greenhalgh and Malikhi Lloyd-Jones have also signed new deals with the club.
COVENTRY BEARS coach Richard Squires has said he was pleased with how training was progressing before it was temporarily paused by the RFL.
“We had been going really well,” said Squires.
“We had started to look really good and were coming together really well. We were also starting to strike up some of our key partnerships and they were looking quite dangerous, which was great to see.
“Dave Scott also took some time trying to balance how he acts as player/coach – working out how much did he actually train, how much did he sit back and watch. He was trying to get that fine balance right and we feel like we had got that right in the final session.
“That final session at the start of January was probably the best one we’d had and were moving forward. So it’s a shame we had to stop but we should be ok when we can return.”
ROCHDALE HORNETS strength and conditioning coach Miles Greenwood is hopeful the squad will return to training in good shape.
The RFL have indicated that League 1 clubs can start a phased return to training in February, but in the meantime, the players will again be expected to do what they can from home.
“The lads are doing some home programmes and are staying active,” said Greenwood.
“I’ve sent out a few messages to a couple of individuals in regards to diet because what we don’t want to do is start from scratch when we come back. We still want to be in a fit shape and have something to build on.
“We are very limited to what we can do. Not many lads have home gyms, so the lads are doing what they can do. Some running sessions and making a focus on dieting so when they do come back those who have the tendency to come back a little overweight might be in a bit better shape.”
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