Keighley Cougars coach Rhys Lovegrove has said the Challenge Cup tie against London Broncos will form a crucial part of the club’s pre-season preparations.
The West Yorkshire club finally returns to action next month in the knock-out competition, before the league campaign gets underway in May.
“We’re going to roll with pre-season going from now right through to the league starting in May,” explained Lovegrove.
“The only difference is that there could be a couple of Challenge Cup games in the middle of it.
“We’re just going to look after ourselves, take it week by week and work on the things we feel we need to work on. Them, when they come around we’ll play at a weekend.
“We still know there is a lot of content to do and a lot of things we need to achieve between now and week one in May because ultimately it’s going to be an incredibly tough league this year. It’s going to be really exciting, there are some great teams and there has been some great recruitment gone on.
“It’s going to be a very challenging competition and we’re really excited to be a part of it.
“So if we can put our best foot forward, hopefully, we can be a competitive team
“We’ll keep getting what we need to do done, ticking the boxes and working on our development, then see where we are in May.”
Before the Cup game though, the Cougars will face a pre-season clash with Bradford Bulls, which Lovegrove believes will be the perfect preparation for their first competitive match in over a year.
The match will take place at the Tetley’s Stadium on Saturday, March 13 at 2pm and will be live-streamed on the OurLeague platform.
“There has been so much uncertainty it’s been difficult to get something arranged,” added Lovegrove.
“We’re currently restricted to just one friendly and we’ve had a short time to arrange games. Not everyone is allowed friendlies yet so that has reduced the options as well.
“It’s been an interesting dynamic, but I am delighted to have got this arranged against a quality team like Bradford.
“It’s going to be great preparation for the cup game.
“John (Kear) is a brilliant coach and coaches his teams to be very good at the fundamentals of Rugby League.
Add to that the fact they are Bradford Bulls, they have a great squad and a great history.
“Throw in the fact that it’s a bit of a derby as well and it should be a great spectacle that the fans can enjoy watching.
“Hopefully we can get a smooth run-up to that match and it lives up to our expectations.”
HUNSLET could be set to give former Gloucestershire All Golds and West Wales Raiders forward Joe McClean a route back into the game.
The 31-year-old Scotland international last turned out for the Raiders in August 2019 but is eager to find a club for 2021 and make a push to feature for the Bravehearts in this Autumn’s World Cup.
“Joe did some sessions with us in December and has been in touch with us since,” said head coach Gary Thornton.
“There is the problem that he lives in Cheltenham so I’ll need to speak to him in more detail when we start back in March. We have to work out whether the travel he’ll need to do will fit in around his job.
“I have always been impressed with Joe whenever we’ve played against him, and at Gloucester, he was the stand out player.
“He’s been in the Scotland squad before and it’s his ambition to play in the World Cup and if he joins us it will give him more of an opportunity to do that.”
COVENTRY BEARS coach Richard Squires admits he fears that a lack of usual pre-season games could have a detrimental effect on the semi-professional game as a whole.
The Bears had hoped to get as many as three pre-season games arranged before their season kicks off in May, but current Coronavirus restrictions may prevent that.
While Squires hopes something can be arranged before May, he knows that a lack of this usual aspect of preparations will be evident when the season kicks off.
“We can hopefully get a couple of games planned for the end of March and April, but I don’t think we’ll be able to get any against Championship clubs now,” said Squires.
“A lot of our preparation might now have to be in house games, but other League 1 clubs might be on the lookout for a game and I’d think everyone will be very keen to get in as many pre-season games as possible if things change and we can get them arranged.
“If we can’t get any pre-season games sorted, it then puts us in the predicament of ‘how do you select your first team without playing a game?’.
“How could we select a team for that opening game when not everyone has had a chance to prove themselves.
“If other teams are in the same situation, that’s going to show at the start of the season.
“We’re in the last year of a TV deal, They’ve given us the choice of Championship and League 1 going out and finding our own deal and all eyes are going to be on the game after so long off, but the quality fo the first three or four rounds could be quite amateurish as they’re being quite rusty after so long out.
“Some squads in this league haven’t even met up yet, so eight weeks, if you’re only with them once or twice a week is a relatively short space of time to fit a full pre-season in.
“There is a lot of potential in League 1, but I don’t think we’ll see that until at least a month in.”
DONCASTER half-back Watson Boas will be keeping himself fit and ready for the new season by turning out for QRL side PNG Hunters until he is allowed to return to the UK.
Current Coronavirus travel restrictions mean Boas is unable to return to South Yorkshire and prepare for the new League 1 season, so a deal has been struck between the two clubs to allow the 26-year-old to train and play with the Hunters until April.
“We felt it was in Watson’s best interests to get some rugby under his belt while it is available to him prior to his return to the Dons,” said chief executive Carl Hall.
“It allows him to train and play hard and get himself ready for our season starting in May, and we look forward to welcoming him back into our group.
“I’d like to thank the Hunters and, in particular, Matt Church, who I have kept in regular contact with in the past couple of months, the relationship between the two clubs is a very strong one which can only be a positive for us.”
BARROW RAIDERS may have been drawn against Championship side Oldham in the first round of the Challenge Cup, but coach Paul Crarey admits he didn’t really mind who they were paired with, as long as it meant his side could get back into action after over a year away.
“They boys are all itching to get back,” said Crarey.
“We’re excited to get going again. The lads are very enthusiastic and there is a big buzz around the place with the squad we’ve assembled for this year.
“No matter who we got we’d just be happy to be back playing. Even away from home, just getting on the bus and having an away day will be great.
“With a short turnaround in pre-season, I don’t think anyone will be as prepared for that game as they’d like to be. But will we win the Challenge Cup? Probably not.
“But we can go out there and give a good account of ourselves and have a good blow out and then hopefully get a couple of pre-season games in before the league season starts.
“You always want to get that first game under your belt, and you always feel very sore after it.
“So if we can get that done in March, and then build on it, we will be ready for what will be a tough campaign.”
ROCHDALE HORNETS chairman Andy Mazey has said the future is looking bright now that the players have returned to training and the fixtures for the coming season have been released.
The Hornets have not played since March 15, 2020, and will return to action against West Wales Raiders on Sunday, May 9.
“With the situations we’ve had to face, there has always been that element of doubt,” said Mazey.
“But the fact we’re back in training and the fixtures are out, things are definitely moving forward and it’s given everyone that boost.
“We’re still at stage one in training so it’s socially distanced, but it’s just great to be back. It’s a light at the end of the tunnel.
“We always knew December and January would be hard, but we’re in February now and looking ahead to Spring. You’d like to think that by May, or close to it, that crowds will be allowed back as well, so everything is feeling upbeat.
“It’s really good to have the players back in and everything has been positive up until now – apart from the tests – we don’t want them to be positive, and we haven’t had any, which has been great.”
WORKINGTON TOWN coach Chris Thorman believes his club currently plays an important role within the local area as the country looks to get back to some sort of normality amid the Coronavirus pandemic.
“We’re in a fortunate position because as professional sportsmen we can do a lot more than normal people can,” said Thorman.
“We have to be grateful for that and we also have to be squeaky clean as leaders in the community.
“But at the same time, we have to lead everything in terms of the RFL protocols and as a head coach I have to drive that.”
WEST WALES RAIDERS coach Aaron Wood has paid tribute to the work done by the game’s governing body to ensure the lower leagues are in a position to know when their competitions will get back underway.
Although the Raiders return to action in the cup in March, their league campaign won’t get underway until May.
“I am just so excited we’re coming back,” said Wood.
“I am really thankful to the RFL, that they have stuck with getting Championship and League 1 back, so big credit to them for that.
“It’s been hard for them to get everything back up and running and there has been a lot of ups and downs.
“But every club was happy to see it pushed back by a few weeks with player safety in mind.
“We wanted to make sure our players were safe in training and playing. By starting later in the year, it gives time for the Covid situation to improve.
“With a nice summer, good weather, and hopefully supporters allowed, Rugby League can be back at its best.”
LONDON SKOLARS coach Jermaine Coleman has confirmed his squad will have a more local theme this year, as the Covid-19 pandemic has played a part in his recruitment.
The club’s latest new signing is London Broncos Academy and Reserve graduate Christian Gale, who is a member of Sport England’s Talented Athlete Scholarship Scheme.
“We’ve got plenty of people over the line,” said Coleman.
“My thought process is that we can probably run with a slightly smaller squad this year because it’s a slightly smaller season and more compact and more intense. I’d like to think that can see us run with a more settled team.
“The difficult position we’ve been in this year is that it is a lot more difficult for us to recruit from other areas apart from the south.
“It’s much harder to get someone to agree to move down at a time where they might find getting a job difficult.
“We’ll very much be a home-grown squad again this year and we’ll be very tight-knit, together and competitive.”
NORTH WALES CRUSADERS chief executive Andy Moulsdale has not ruled out the club making more signings this year, although it’s not on the top of his to-do list.
“We’re comfortable with the squad we have got, but we’d never say never to bringing one or two more in,” said Moulsdale.
“There are a lot of players still on the market given whats happened elsewhere in the last year, so there is still an opportunity for us to strengthen the squad.
“We’d normally have a dual reg option to work with, but with the current situation that won’t be there this year. So depending on what happens with Covid, we might look at some loan signings further down the line if that’s an option and if we need to.
“But there are still three months to go until the start of our season so we’re in no panic. If the right person comes up, we will strengthen if needs be.”
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