Keighley Cougars finally returned to training on Friday, after facing yet more disruption.
The Cougars are one of three League 1 clubs taking part in this year’s Challenge Cup, which gets underway in March, meaning preparations for their first game in over a year are underway.
However, it was Mother Nature, rather than a global pandemic that prevented them from returning to the field early last week.
“Unfortunately we got snowed out on Tuesday and it felt to me like Christmas Day had been postponed,” said coach Rhys Lovegrove.
“Over the last few months there have been so many obstacles, hurdles and challenges in the way, so once they were finally cleared everyone thought ‘game on’. But it still ground to a hat with a little bit of bad weather.
“That was the worst bit about it. The thing no one really thought about when we were planning a return was the weather.
“It was the right decision though. It was fairly well documented that the pitch wasn’t in great nick last year, so we’ve been conscious this year to look after it.
“We’ve got a groundsman who’s been doing a great job for us. We’ve been talking to him and want to make sure we can play our good brand of rugby when we get back playing rather than running out onto a quagmire
“We also then postponed Thursday’s session to Friday because we didn’t feel we’d get the quality we wanted and we didn’t want the first session back to lack intensity.
“But it was just exciting to see the guys back out there with a ball in their hands again.”
When they do return to action, the Cougars will once again be led on the field by Kyle Kesik, who has retained the captaincy for a second year.
“Kyle doesn’t often speak a lot, but he inspires leadership through actions, and that’s fairly rare,” added Lovegrove.
“I knew we needed some leadership when I brought Kyle in and he stepped straight into that role.
“Bringing in the other senior players like Scott Murrell and QLT this year has enhanced his role as they have allowed him to crack on with that, while all the talk comes from Scott.
“I am excited to see what Kyle can lead the team to this year.”
LONDON SKOLARS are hoping to receive some clarity this week over how and when they can finally return to training.
“We were hoping to start back on Tuesday, but with the new strain down here, we were advised to hold off with our return,” said coach Jermaine Coleman.
“We had things in place to start on Tuesday but goalposts have shifted significantly, so just need to wait for some feedback from the RFL to see where we are.
“Initially as we were just going to be in for one session a week we weren’t going to be required to do any formal testing. But now it seems we will have to put that in place and potentially some other barriers. That’s not something we were planning on doing just yet.
“So it’s all hands on deck making sure that we have everything in place and are following all the new guidelines that affect us.
“Fortunately, the stadium is closed just now so there is no one else using the facility at all. But they are allowing us to use it on the evenings we’ll be in training and when we need to use it, which is good.
“Fingers crossed we can get back in this week.
“We’ll do one session a week for the next month or so and then, as we get into the middle of March, we’ll up that to two a week and start preparing properly.”
WORKINGTON TOWN coach Chris Thorman has taken inspiration from someone close to home when it comes to filling his time during lockdown.
Thorman has been on furlough since the game came to a grinding halt last March, meaning he has had to find new interests to keep himself busy away from the game.
Although, Rugby League hasn’t been completely forgotten.
“There has been a lot of time to find new hobbies,” said Thorman.
“Rugby League has been my life and hobby so I needed to find something else to do.
“I have been reading and doing a lot of exercise has been important, not just for the physical effects, but for the mental impact as well.
“But I have also started to learn Spanish, which is something I have wanted to do for a while. My 10-year-old daughter can speak Spanish way better then me, and Chinese, so she puts me to shame. She plays several musical instruments so I knew I needed to take a leaf out of her book and maybe be a bit more creative. So I have done a few things.
“But mostly I have watched a lot of old Rugby League games, and a lot of the NRL. But I tried watching them as a Rugby League fan would, and enjoying it for what it is and not watching it as a coach, which can be quite critical of the things that are done wrong or right.
“I left home at 15 to go and play Rugby League and I haven’t done anything else since, so this is the longest break I have had from the game since.
“I am looking forward to getting back and I just hope this vaccine does the trick and they get more out than anticipated, because once that’s in circulation then we will be getting back to some normality.”
WEST WALES RAIDERS chief executive Peter Tiffin has paid tribute to the club’s co-owner Aneurin Gravell, who passed away recently after contracting Covid-19.
While most people will know of the work Tiffin and Andrew Thorne did for the club, but Gravell was just as instrumental in its growth.
“Not many will know how much Aneurin was involved, but this is exactly how he wanted it and showed what kind of man he was,” penned Tiffin.
“Aneurin, Andrew and I have been involved since the start, back in the days when the Raiders played at Mynydd Y Garreg, which was the home of Aneurin’s beloved local rugby union team.
“From our first season, we realised there was plenty of talent to grow something big. This vision was shared between all three of us and roles and responsibilities for each owner were set out then.
“Aneurin was more than happy to be involved but was happy to stay behind the scenes and continue to help grow and support the club to where we all wanted it to be.
“The three of us sat down and created a five-year business plan back in 2015, which we achieved within three years. The next progression for the club was always something Aneurin felt passionately about.
“He was a massive part of the Raiders, as was his partner Kath, and she was a big part on our decision to create a women’s side back in 2018. She was very similar to Aneurin and wanted to get more women involved in Rugby League and saw a pathway for the game back in 2018.
“There are a lot of ideas being discussed by Andrew and me to make sure that Aneurin’s name is engraved in the future and history of the club.
“We also want to support Kath and the family as much as possible as they are all a big part of the Raiders family.
“Aneurin will be missed by all at the club. He, Andrew and I started as business partners with the same vision, but became inseparable as really close friends.
NORTH WALES CRUSADERS chief executive Andy Moulsdale has said 2021 can be the year the club can push on and develop on the field.
The club has suffered financial difficulties in the past, but that is behind them now, even with the issues caused by Covid-19, and Moulsdale believes they are in a strong position.
“A few years ago we did go through some tough times, but since then we’ve cut our cloth accordingly and 2020 would have probably been the first year we were back on an even keel,” he explained.
“Now that we are on a level footing, it’s about taking the team forward on the field.
“In 2019 we missed out on the play-offs by one place and we were the only team to beat Whitehaven at Whitehaven, and they ran out champions that year.
“We might have been a bit inconsistent at times, but considering where we’ve been in the past we have always remained competitive on the field.
“But this year, with the players we’ve brought in, we’re going to try to move on and get into those play-off positions.
“That is our aim, but a lot of clubs will say the same because League 1 is going to be the most competitive it has ever been.
“Even with what we’re going through with Covid, we’ve made some really good signings and built a really competitive squad.
“I am really excited for this year.”
DONCASTER may not be returning to action until May but despite the delay, chief executive Carl Hall is just pleased they finally have a date to work towards after not playing for almost eleven months.
“The guys had all come back in good spirits before Christmas, so the halt to training was a big setback for everyone,” said Hall.
“It felt like the drawbridge had come upon us again.
“It even got me down a bit. I thought about all the work we’d done to get them back, only to have to stop again.
“In all the club meetings we had with the RFL, everyone agreed that we wanted to wait until we felt we could start and get through a full season.
“We didn’t want it to be stop-start again.
“Of course, that could still happen, but with the dates we’ve now been given, we do feel we can get going and finish the season if everyone does the right thing.
“All we ever wanted was something to work towards instead of being given too many options. Now that we know when we are starting, it gives everyone something to focus on.
“The uncertainty has been nobody’s fault, but we have some certainty now with the direction we’re going in. So we can plan a real structure and tough pre-season now.”
HUNSLET coach Gary Thornton has confirmed his new pre-season plans, now that the club knows they won’t be back in action until May.
The players did return for pre-season in December when they were planning on a March re-start. But with the club not taking part in the Challenge Cup this year and the start of the season pushed back to May, the squad have yet to return for more sessions.
“We wanted to get back playing as soon as possible so it is disappointing and a bit of a blow not to be in the Cup,” Thornton told the Yorkshire Evening Post.
“The players aren’t in at the moment – the club are taking advantage of the furlough scheme and we don’t want to have an excessive pre-season.
“The current plans are we are back in on March 3, which gives us two months to get ready for the start of the season. We had four weeks (in pre-season) prior to Christmas so we’ve given the guys home programmes to maintain where they got to at the end of December and we will pick up again in March.”
BARROW RAIDERS have handed prop forward Callum Bustin a route back into Rugby League.
The 23-year-old joined rugby union side Yorkshire Carnegie after leaving Bradford Bulls in 2019.
But his time in the other code was heavily disrupted by the pandemic, and now he is looking forward to finally getting back out onto the field.
“I decided to come back to league because union is at a standstill and it is likely to be the back end of this year before I would be playing again there,” Bustin told the North West Evening Mail.
“The ambition of this club was a big part of me wanting to join.
“Everyone involved in the club has that same drive and ambition to get to Super League.
“You want to be playing at a club like that, not one that is just there to play rugby.
“I have played against them in the past and it is always a tough place to come, so I am looking forward to being on the same side this season.”
COVENTRY BEARS have strengthened their dummy-half options with the signing of hooker Ben Pointer.
The 24-year-old grew up playing rugby union in Northampton, but always had an interest in League and was selected for a scholarship with the Midlands regional Rugby League team. From there he was snapped up by London Broncos for their Academy team and went on to feature in the first team.
After enjoying loan spells with London Skolars, Pointer made the move up north to Newcastle Thunder and was set to join Sheffield Eagles in 2019.
He left the South Yorkshire cub by mutual consent before the season got underway and eventually moved to Australia, where he linked up with Newtown Jets.
“Ben has a great amount of experience,” said Bears coach Richard Squires.
“We have a completely new squad and I am looking forward to him bringing his pace and guile from dummy half into the mix.
“He is a really exciting player and adds a lot to our group.”
ROCHDALE HORNETS prop Adam Hesketh is hoping both he and the team can deliver a big year on the field to help the club celebrate its 150th anniversary.
Having joined the club from Thatto Heath ahead of 2020, the 27-year-old played in all four of the Hornets games before the season came to a premature end, and he is now hoping that his run in the team can continue when the season kicks off in May.
“It is a massive year and I feel privileged to be playing for a team as rich in history as Rochdale,” said Hesketh.
“There’s a lot of pride built around the club and those close to the foundations expect great things and I only wish that the squad and I can deliver on the goals set out.
“The first thing on all the lad’s minds is the date for our first match and playing week in week out is an exciting thought.
“There are lots of new faces at the club and it’s a really strong squad this year.
“We have improved all over the park and in every position. There have been some great signings and things are going to be even tougher this year and I certainly don’t take my place in the team for granted.”
Elsewhere, the club has confirmed that the differences in start times for League 1 and the Championship, as well as current restrictions, means the annual pre-season Law Cup game against Oldham will not take place in 2021.
“Due to the current circumstances, Oldham are returning earlier to pre-season than Matt (Calland) and our players,” said Hornets chief executive Steve Kerr.
“We are not permitted to return to stage two full-contact training until beginning of March, which doesn’t give us enough time to prepare for a game mid-March, some seven weeks before we are due to return to action in League 1.
“Our focus is now fully on the League 1 campaign and giving Matt the time to prepare his squad for the challenge ahead.”
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