Workington Town coach Chris Thorman admits his coaching brain is being tested as he prepares to welcome his squad back to training for the first time since last March.
The club decided against getting the players in for any sessions before Christmas, meaning they will be starting from scratch when they return under strict RFL protocols.
And those protocols are leaving Thorman having to find new ways to prepare his squad for the season ahead.
“In Stage 1 we’re not even allowed to pass a ball to each other because that would be sharing equipment,” said Thorman.
“They can’t go in gyms either, which is unfortunate because we have spent the last few months converting areas of the ground to use as gyms and wrestle rooms and it was looking really good. But when we go back, we will still not to be allowed to use those facilities straight away.
“It means me and my staff are having to find alternative ways to train, but it is what it is and we just have to get on with it.
“The main thing for us is not having that physical interaction, so we will instead have to do a lot of unopposed work against poles and cones and things like that.
“Normally opposed work allows you to work on the offensive and defensive aspects of the sport. So it’s now about trying to formulate an attack or defence without one actually being there – it’s certainly going to be interesting.
“There is an element of thinking outside the box when it comes to drills, but at the same time I am big on driving getting the basics right and that’s what I will be pushing when I’m back in front of the boys.
“The guys have been doing a lot of work on their fitness themselves. We insisted they got Strava and we have a club site on there so we can monitor exactly what they have been doing. But there is only so much running you can do.
“At the end of the day this is a team sport, and a team sport with a ball. Being fit is an absolute necessity, but at the same time, the guys are chomping at the bit to do other things as well.
“That will come into it when we can enter Stage 2 of the RFL’s criteria driven process.
“It’s frustrating but there are a lot of people worse off than we are so we have to look at the bigger picture.
“It was a conscious decision from myself, the board and those more educated on Covid, not to get back in before Christmas. By the time we’d have been ready to get them back in, it wouldn’t have been worth coming back in before the break.
“At the same time, we had an eye on what was happening in the world with the pandemic and furlough. We were anticipating there could be some hurdles and bumps in the road along the way, and it proved to be the right decision.”
NORTH WALES CRUSADERS chief executive Andy Moulsdale has said the club will take a cautious approach when the players return to training this month.
Preparations for the new season can being in earnest for clubs, whilst they remain under strict protocols set by the RFL. But for Moulsdale, the team and coaching staff will not be doing too much too quickly ahead of the season kicking off in May.
“We’re keeping this cautious and will start of training once a week from this week,” said Moulsdale.
“It will obviously be socially distanced, but it will allow us to get the guys back together, blow some cobwebs off, and get some miles back in their legs.
“Then in March, we’ll hopefully be in a position where we can start training properly.
“It’s important to have a month first to ease the lads back in because they haven’t trained together for a long time.
“The lads have been keeping fit on Zoom and doing their own stuff, but you can only do so much without actually doing the physicality side of things.
“The last thing we want to do is get them doing too much straight away and picking up injuries left, right and centre.
Elsewhere, the club will benefit financially from the Welsh government’s £17.7million funding package to help sports impacted by the pandemic.
Rugby League has been offered £200,000 from the fund which will be divided out between Crusaders, West Wales Raiders, along with the Welsh domestic clubs and international sides that have lost gate receipts in 2020 due to the lack of matches.
The funding will be based on income generated from gate receipts in 2019.
“We’re still not exactly sure how it’s going to work, but it will be great for us,” added Moulsdale.
“Being a Welsh club, we weren’t entitled to any of the initial money that the Government made available to Rugby League, so this is really encouraging for us.
“It’s certainly welcome news after the events of the last ten or eleven months.”
COVENTRY BEARS coach Richard Squires has confirmed his squad won’t be returning to training this month, despite the RFL allowing them to do so.
After a short break in preparations, League 1 clubs are permitted to start Stage 1 Plus training from this week, which sees socially distanced and individual work outdoors, ahead of a step up to Stage 2 training at a later date.
But for now, Squires has delayed his players’ return to ensure that all necessary protocols are in place to safely train.
“We won’t be back in training until March,” confirmed Squires.
“With the stages the RFL are wanting to bring people back in, and the travel some of our boys have to do mean we have a lot to take into consideration.
“Some of the players hoped we’d be back playing a bit sooner than May, but there are so many different protocols been brought in, which a lot of clubs will struggle with.
“The big one being travel, car-sharing isn’t allowed now, and if it is, it’s one in the front and one in the back, so that’s going to affect a lot of clubs, including us.
“Instead, we’re going to have a Zoom session every Wednesday and we have given the boys a day when they’ll be back. That will give us an eight-week pre-season before the first league game.
“The guys understand why we’re doing it this way. We had some cases of the virus over Christmas so with a couple of guys having had it and having family members that have had it, they have seen the effects of it first hand.
“Alan has been great with the guys throughout the whole process and has been commended by the RFL for saying we’ll not be in Challenge Cup and we won’t return to training until March to give us time to get everything we need in place.”
DONCASTER chief executive Carl Hall has said the club will return to training later this week and use the first few sessions to make sure the correct protocols are all in place.
With the Don’s not taking part in this year’s Challenge Cup competition, they will not return to action until May, but they will resume their preparations with Stage 1 Plus training on Wednesday.
“We have got to start lateral flow testing when we’re back so we have to get our heads around how we do that,” said Hall.
“Now that we can just concentrate on the league, it gives us a chance to see how we go with that new challenge.
“If we plan a session and it takes a bit longer to get through that testing process and we don’t get all the training we want to do done, we won’t have to panic because the season has been deferred again anyway and we have a few more months to prepare.
“We’ll start to do that on Wednesday and see how long it takes, what it entails and start to get a proper structure going.
“After three or four weeks of doing that, the boys will have a system in place and we’ll all know what we’re doing.
“There is still a bit of work to do, but we’ll crack on and do what we have to do and make sure we do it all correctly.”
BARROW RAIDERS look set to return to Stage 1 Plus training this week as they begin their preparations for the new season.
The Raiders had returned to training before Christmas, but this was paused in early January as the country went into a new national lockdown.
“The public health situation seems to be improving slightly, with the number of cases having dropped significantly over the past week,” chairman Steve Neale wrote in his latest North West Evening mail column.
“Hopefully we are over the worst and we have been given the green light to resume our training activities.
“We are just waiting for the arrival of our testing kits and then we can confirm that we will be back.
“This is earlier than most League 1 clubs, given that we have taken our place in the Challenge Cup.
“Hopefully the extra preparation will be to our advantage.”
Meanwhile, the club have also announced their squad numbers for the coming season – they are: 1 Luke Cresswell, 2 Tee Ritson, 3 Declan Hulme, 4 Mark Tyson, 5 Shane Toal, 6 Jamie Dallimore, 7 Ryan Johnston, 8 Ryan Duffy, 9 Nathan Mossop, 10 Carl Forster, 11 Dan Morrow, 12 Jarrad Stack, 13 Jordan Walne, 14 Jake Carter, 15 Dan Toal, 16 Tom Hopkins, 17 Adam Walne, 18 Bradd Crellin, 19 Connor Terrill, 20 Ben Harrison, 21 Adam Ford, 22 Carl McBain, 23 Joe Sharratt, 24 Shaun Lunt, 26 Ryan Shaw
WEST WALES RAIDERS coach Aaron Wood has confirmed he is still looking to add to his squad for 2021.
The Welsh outfit will be one of the first League 1 clubs to return to action after confirmed entry to the Challenge Cup, but Wood is hoping that he’ll have a selection headache to face ahead of that game in March.
“We’re still talking to a couple more players that can come in and strengthen the squad,” said Wood.
“We’ve got a nice little squad at the moment but there are a few key positions I want to fill with a couple of competition spots.
“Having played there myself, I am always looking for more players upfront that will add that extra boost to the squad. And if we could get a utility player in as well that would be handy to add some cover.
“I am confident with what we have at the moment, but we need a bit more depth if we are to get through the whole season.
“Everyone knows Covid might still play a big role within squads, so everyone is likely to be on the lookout for an extra couple of players to cover any of those blows.
“Sometimes the guys that come in as cover end up taking those positions for themselves. So the more competition for places we have the better.”
KEIGHLEY COUGARS will have added strength in the backline this year after the signing of dual-code player Charlie Graham, following his release from Super League side Hull FC.
The 20-year-old came through the youth system at Wharfedale Rugby Union club, where he played in the same open-age side as Cougars head coach Rhys Lovegrove and new teammate Taylor Prell.
Following some impressive performances for Sedbergh School in the 2017 Rosslyn Park 7s tournament, Graham was snapped up by Hull FC, where he has spent three years turning out for the Reserves and Academy sides.
But with the Reserves competition being scrapped this year as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic, Graham was left looking for a fresh opportunity.
“Charlie has been involved in a top organisation for the past three years at Hull FC and that has aided his development as a Rugby League player.
“Not only is he young, he is strong, athletic, but most importantly, he is hungry and wants to prove himself.
“The Cougars are the perfect platform for him to do that and when Charlie became available, I moved quickly to secure his services and I believe he is a great acquisition for the club.
“He is a player that will add quality to the side on the field, and to the club off it too.”
ROCHDALE HORNETS half-back Rob Fairclough is hoping to make his mark on the team after joining the club on a two-year deal over the winter.
Having come through the St Helens Academy, the 23-year-old joined Swinton Lions in a permanent deal in 2019, helping them to their best league position in 27 years in 2019.
As with every player, the Coronavirus pandemic cut short his 2020 season, but he is now hoping to return to his best form once the League 1 season gets underway in May.
“I can’t wait to get back on the field and show everyone what I think I can offer,” Fairclough told the club website.
“I’ve had a good two years without any significant injuries and before the lockdown I felt I was getting back to playing my best rugby. Hopefully, that can be done in a Rochdale shirt this year and for hopefully many more.
“Over this lockdown, I will be making sure I maintain my fitness levels and strength so that when we are allowed to return, my body and mind are raring to go for the season ahead, and hopefully it can be a successful one for the club.”
HUNSLET chairman Kenny Sykes has explained his club’s decision not to take part in they year’s Challenge Cup competition.
“Due to the impact of Covid, and a compressed season, the Challenge Cup format needs to be different in 2021,” said Sykes.
“There is only enough space in the draw to include three League 1 clubs, with Super League and Championship clubs taking priority.
“The understanding was that if more than three clubs were interested then a selection would be made based purely on 2019 league placings, which did not seem unreasonable.
“However, when more than three clubs expressed interest, the RFL then suggested that a preliminary round would be needed to allow all interested clubs to enter – but, importantly, also confirmed that there would be no prize money for the preliminary round.
“After further consideration we did not think it financially viable to agree to that condition; and the gap between the preliminary round match and the start of the League 1 campaign would – if we were to be knocked out – be too long.”
LONDON SKOLARS are continuing to mark their 25th anniversary as a club by looking back on their first home tie in the Challenge Cup back in the 1998/99 competition.
An article on the club website recalls how northern side Thatto Heath were the visitors that day as were the BBC Grandstand cameras as part of their build up to the professional clubs entering in the third round.
They won the game against the much fancied favourites meaning they became the first amateur club from London to win a game in the Challenge Cup in the then 103 year history of the competition.
To read the full article and relive the club’s appearance on Grandstand visit www.skolarsrl.com/2021/01/26/anniversary-series-part-6/
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