Doncaster chief executive Carl Hall has explained why the club has chosen not to take part in the Challenge Cup in 2021.
Given that the knock-out competition gets underway in mid-March, with the League 1 season not following until May, the RFL asked clubs from the third-tier whether they would like to participate.
If all League 1 clubs had wanted to take part, it would have required an additional, preliminary round, meaning an even earlier start to the campaign.
With League 1 clubs still not due to return to Stage 1 training until February, preparation time would be limited, and timing has been the key factor in Doncaster’s decision not be involved in the Cup this year.
“We were going to enter, but the need for a preliminary round made it tough for us,” said Hall.
“As it stands now, we should be back in Phase 1 training around February 3 and we’ll just look towards having a proper and full pre-season.
“It looks like we might be able to move to Phase 2 later in February, but we still felt the Challenge Cup games in March would be too early for us.
“With being part-time and only having two sessions a week, to then be playing a competitive game in early March wouldn’t be right for the players.
“We wanted to show our hand and play to show our supporters that we have done everything right off the field and are ready to go, but it’s just not feasible.
“There is more to consider than just that 80 minutes on the pitch, the biggest being getting a league season played.
“It is disappointing, everyone wants to get back playing, but we also know the importance of doing the right thing.
“As much as we wanted to enter, we have to look after our players. Would they be ready to play in March after a month in training?
“Richard (Horne – coach) didn’t think so, so that was the decision made.”
Elsewhere, Hall has praised the work of club employees Legacy Officer Martin Rowlands and Dons secretary Louise Jankowski, for the role they are playing in the national coronavirus vaccine roll-out.
“They have both been helping out voluntarily at the Thorne vaccine centre on behalf of the club, so that has been a great thing for the club,” added Hall.
“Other Club Doncaster colleagues have been doing it as well, which shows just how keen everyone is to do what they can to help in the current situation.
“I have had someone from the council thanking me for what they have been doing, which is great for the game.”
WORKINGTON TOWN coach Chris Thorman is taking full advantage of new rules regarding trialists, before making any decisions on adding to his squad for 2021.
After scrapping the dual registration system at professional level for 2021, the RFL are allowing clubs to give players extended trials, ahead of the new season.
Once they return to training, Thorman will again be casting his eye over a number of trialists and will be hoping to uncover a new batch of stars.
“We’re at 25 payers signed up, but I also have 15 trialists/dual registration at the moment as well,” said Thorman.
“That’s a bit of a work in progress at the minute, because understandably, with Covid, the RFL don’t want cross-contamination from players going from a community club into a professional environment and back and forth.
“So there have been some tweaks and they have extended the trial period so that our trialists can do the whole of pre-season with us. We can then extend that eventually so they can play games with us as well.
“We need to take a look at them in a game environment and we can go from there.
“The likelihood of being able to play any friendlies is practically nil, so having enough players training together to run two or three teams competitively within the club is a massive bonus for us.
“We found a couple of rough diamonds in our trialists last season. Hanley Dawson was originally on trial and earned himself a deal before the season started.
“He was then the only player in League 1 to win Player of the Month, so by default that probably made him Player of the Year for the league.
“He’s an example of us doing right by the community game, having good links with the community clubs and those players hopefully being good enough to step up to the mark.”
BARROW RAIDERS coach Paul Crarey has stressed the importance of the players being given adequate time to prepare for the new season.
Players will return to training in February with the League season kicking off in May.
Barrow though will be back in action before that as one of three League 1 clubs that will take part in the opening round of the Challenge Cup on March 21.
Crarey’s main concern now is making sure the players get the right amount of preparation time to get themselves into the right condition to play again after a year out.
“We’d had six good sessions up until Christmas so this latest lockdown has knocked us back a bit because we were gearing up to get going again after Christmas,” said Crarey.
“We’d had a clean bill of health at training as well, which adds to the frustration, but this is something everyone has to do because safety is paramount.
“If we take this sort of action now, it hopefully means we get a full season played this year.
“When we did get the lads back in, quite a lot of them had lost a bit of muscle, purely because of what they’d be able to do themselves at home. We did some aerobic testing and they were all pretty good, but with the little bit of contact and wrestle work we were able to do, some of them were blowing a bit in a seven-minute drill that they would normally fly through.
“A graded return to contact, usually then leads into friendlies, but with no one allowed to travel and no crowds, I don’t know where that leads us with them.
“It means that we’ll probably have to go straight back into games, which is going to be tough and new ground for everyone in the game.
“If they haven’t done anything, the minimum would be four weeks to get the lads right.
“We’ll not have done any contact as such for a year and that’s what I worry about.
“So, after so long away from the game we need a graded return to contact so we can manage them up to a point where they are ready to go back into full contact, in what is a brutal game.”
For WEST WALES RAIDERS coach Aaron Wood the weekend of March 21 can’t come quickly enough.
That will be the day that his side finally returns to action after over a year without a game.
The Raiders are one of three League 1 clubs that will take part in the first round of the Challenge Cup.
And Wood will be hoping for a better showing in the competition than he saw last year when the Raiders suffered a 30-8 home defeat to amateur side Underbank.
“Everyone wants to be in the Challenge Cup and I am just really excited to see that the game is coming back,” said Wood.
“I wouldn’t say it adds any pressure on us, it’s just another challenge for us. We’ll be in there with the Championship teams so it will be a good gauge of where we are.
“When we’ve been out of action for so long and with no friendlies this year, everyone will just be really excited to see their teams run out again.
“It will give us a chance to try out some key combinations and hopefully we can get through the first round.
“That’s a big goal for us and with the players we have on board this year, we’re confident we can put in the performance we need to.”
COVENTRY BEARS coach Richard Squires has said that the unavailability of Butts Park Arena played a part in the club’s decision not to take part in this year’s Challenge Cup competition.
As well as players potentially only having just over a month to prepare for the first round on March 21, the Bears would have faced additional issues had they been drawn at home.
“The Cup means a lot to everyone so it wasn’t an easy decision, but it’s one we feel will benefit us in the long run,” said Squires.
“I also didn’t feel comfortable sending my boys into a game against a Championship club when they have had no game experience together. Depending who we got drawn against it could have been a really tough awakening for them and we didn’t want to start the season off with a major negative.
“There is a big money commitment there say if we get drawn against Featherstone at Featherstone, which would also be a daunting way to start the year.
“We also wouldn’t be able to get our usual home venue in time for those games, so if we were drawn at home we’d then need to find a new venue.
“Butts Park is currently facing a few issues because of the current situation so it was a sensible option all around for us to take a step back and focus on the league.
“With it being a 4G pitch at Butts Park there are different things to consider. With it being a synthetic pitch it holds the virus for longer.
“So things are being worked out there in terms of cleaning the pitch and with rugby union still being played there.
“That will all be sorted by the start of the league season, so we will be ok by then.”
NORTH WALES CRUSADERS chief executive Andy Moulsdale has thrown his support behind the decision to put back the start of the new League 1 season.
The club will be cleared to resume pre-season training next month when they will start with socially-distanced, non-contact training outdoors. This will then be followed by the intention of moving to Stage 2, which permits contact training.
The knock-on effect of this delay in training is that the season will now kick off in May, with only three clubs from League 1 taking part in the Challenge Cup.
The Crusaders are one of the seven teams that won’t be involved in the knock-out competition in 2021 and will instead focus on the league.
“In what has been a very difficult ten months for everyone, we believe this gives the best opportunity for the players and staff to return to training when hopefully it is safer to do so,” Moulsdale told the club website.
“It’ll also give us the best chance to allow our fans and sponsors to attend games, reducing the amount we potentially need to play behind-closed-doors.
“As much as we wanted to take part in this year’s Challenge Cup, we felt the timing of the competition wasn’t right for us.
“Having consulted with coaches and medical staff, we decided it would mean returning to contact training too soon.
“The lads have been without serious training as a group for the best part of ten months so it’s important we look after them on their return to training.”
KEIGHLEY COUGARS chairman Mick O’Neill believes 2021 promises to be a big year for the club, as they look to earn promotion to the Championship.
“We have got the international players at the club now to get us out of this division and be in the Championship,” said O’Neill.
“We have signed the captain of Italy, Brenden Santi, and have brought in Papua New Guinea international Wellington Albert, who is a 6’5” and 18 stone player, which is very exciting.
“We made a conscious effort to go out and bring these sorts of players in to take us that next step and we have a great coach in Rhys (Lovegrove).
“He has proved himself so far and needs to keep doing that. He’s still young and relishing the challenge ahead.
“So it’s exciting times for the club right now.”
LONDON SKOLARS coach Jermaine Coleman will be working with another member of his Jamaica National side this year after the club secured the services of Daley Williams on a one year deal.
The winger or centre was last on the books at Swinton Lions in 2019 and has had previous spells with Salford, Batley, Keighley and Hunslet.
With a World Cup on the horizon, Williams will be looking to impress and push for a place in both of Coleman’s squads in 2021.
“Daley brings a lot of experience and knowledge,” said Coleman.
“We are really excited to have him on board.”
As well as Williams, the club has also confirmed that Lamont Bryan, Richard Wilkinson and Leighton Ball have re-signed with the club for a further 12 months, while St Mary’s University Rugby League star Marcus Hockey has signed his first semi-pro contract with the club.
ROCHDALE HORNETS forward Zac Baker has been impressed with what he has seen since returning to the club following a spell down under.
The 28-year-old initially joined the club from Rochdale Mayfield in 2019 and went on to make 13 appearances that season, before leaving to spend a year in Australia with Northern Rivers Regional Rugby League competition side Mullumbimby Giants.
Now back in the UK, Baker will link up with new signings Fuifui Moimoi, Gavin Bennion and Josh Jordan-Roberts in the pack, as well as being reunited with several former teammates.
“It’s been a sharp start to pre-season,” Baker told the club website.
“All the boys are buying into what the coaches want and expect. It’s a really good environment to be around.
“All the boys have been very welcoming, it’s been really easy to settle in and get stuck in because of the vibe around the camp.
“The lockdown is not really ideal for us as we got off to a flying start to pre-season, but I’m sure all the lads will be doing what they can to keep fit after we had an insight to what we were going to be in for the first session back after Christmas.
“I want to cement my place in the team and contribute in as many ways as possible in what’s hoping to be a successful year.”
HUNSLET centre Tom Ashton has done his bit for a local charity by auctioning off his 2019 away shirt and raising £110 for Sue Ryder Wheatfields Hospice.
“The older you get the more shirts you seem to collect,” Ashton said.
“I thought there must be a better way to put them to use and that’s when the idea of raising a bit of money for a special charity that Hunslet is heavily involved with came in to play.
“I listed the shirt on the old faithful Hunslet supporters page on Facebook as an auction format, and for a bit of fun.
“Initially my thought was that if I raised £40 I would be happy, so I’m overwhelmed by the money that’s been raised, and I am delighted it will go to great use at the hospice.”
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