Keighley Cougars fullback Quentin Laulu-Togaga’e believes the enforced Coronavirus break could actually help players like him extend their careers.
At 36-years-old, Laulu-Togaga’e is in the latter stages of his career but will be going into this season feeling fresh after not playing the game for at least 12-months.
He and the Cougars will finally return to action in a friendly against Bradford Bulls on Saturday, March 13, before travelling to London Broncos for a Challenge Cup clash seven days later.
“It has been a year without playing, but that has been a blessing,” said Laulu-Togaga’e.
“I’m not getting any younger and this break could see older players play on for an extra couple of years than they might have done.
“Talking to a lot of the senior players like Scott Murrell and Jake Webster, not playing for the last year or so has given us that fresh life in our legs. I’m really excited to see Muzza (Murrell) play because he’s in shape now and I’m looking forward to seeing what he can do on the field. I’m sure he can have a big year.
“The older you get, the more important it is to get your body right and I’ve been doing that since we stopped playing. Not having a full pre-season will play a factor in injuries, especially with how physical Rugby League is, but we’re all doing the best job we can.
“We were quite blessed that we got in for training for six weeks before Christmas, so that’s money in the bank for us. We’re in a good position and progressing nicely for the Bradford game.
“I’m just really excited to get back playing some footie in a few weeks and I have got to try and put my best foot forward.”
BARROW RAIDERS coach Paul Crarey has been impressed with what he has seen so far following their return to training earlier this month.
Crarey had brought his squad together for training before Christmas, but an instant return in the new year was halted by the latest Coronavirus lockdown.
They are back now though and preparations are well underway for the Challenge Cup match against Oldham on March 20.
“The club has done really well to get testing in place and running that well and safely,” said Crarey.
“We would usually train three times a week but we’re only in twice just now so we have a lot to get into the sessions. It means we stay later but it’s been going really well.
“Everyone is very enthusiastic and the senior players we have brought in have been outstanding. They lead the way in terms of buying into what we’re doing and encouraging the younger guys.
“The six weeks we did before Christmas went really well and we were all disappointed we couldn’t come straight back in because we were flying.
“But the lads have come back in great shape. We picked up a few niggles in the first week but we were always going to get that when the intensity of what do in training is different from what they have been doing on their own.
“What has impressed me most is that the lads who were struggling in those sessions before Christmas have made a conscious effort to get up to speed for when they came back in, so that was really pleasing.
“We’ve been working on a graded return to contact and doing that, but have to be in full contact for as long as possible before the Oldham game, because it’s a short pre-season before that game and then a long drag to May when the season starts.”
DONCASTER chief executive Carl Hall is relishing the chance to come up against Keighley in the opening round of League 1 and is hoping that the latest Coronavirus updates this week will add even more spice to the game.
The two sides, who are both likely to be pushing for promotion, will go head to head at Cougar Park on Sunday, May 9, well over a year since the Dons were last in action.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson is set to detail the roadmap out of restrictions today (Monday), which will hopefully include details of when crowds can return to live sporting events.
“Keighley have played their hand and shown everyone their intentions for this year with the squad they have assembled and we are excited to go there,” said Hall.
“I was playing last time the current owners had the club and in the days of Cougarmania you always loved going to play there because there was always a great atmosphere.
“They are trying to build that again and we’ll work with them on the promotion fo the game to push it as much as possible.
“It’ll be a tough game to start with, but it will be lovely just to have a game to play again.
“Hopefully, with how things are going at the minute, you’ve got to hope that there is the potential of a crowd being there as well.
“If we can get a couple of thousand in for that game it’s certainly going to be an interesting one.”
HUNSLET coach Gary Thornton has said there is an unusual excitement among that players ahead of the return to pre-season.
Players often dread the hard slog involved with pre-season, but after almost a year out of action, they will actually be looking forward to a return next month as they prepare for their opening match of the season on May 9.
“The sessions we did in December were great – they were like a bunch of lads who had never done a pre-season before. They were so enthusiastic,” said Thornton.
“We had the benefit of using the running track at the South Leeds Stadium and gave them some tough running drills. We were running them quite hard and giving them a lot of work, but even then they were really enthusiastic.
“The fact that it will have been over a year when we’re back in and playing, it is self-motivating them because they want to be back in, training and playing.
“The biggest challenge for me, certainly in those early weeks, will be to hold them back a bit because the last thing we want is to put the health and safety of our players and their families at risk in any way.
“I certainly won’t have to do anything about their enthusiasm levels. They are just desperate to get back out there and be playing again.”
WORKINGTON TOWN have confirmed that they will operate with a new regular kick-off time during the 2021 season, to allow their supporters to enjoy a full afternoon of live and televised sport.
After receiving positive feedback from their supporters’ groups, the club have decided matches at Derwent Par will kick off at 2pm, rather than the traditional time of 3pm.
“Traditionally live Premier League football matches kick off at 12/12:30pm and 4 / 4:30pm, and we feel that it is unwise to try and compete for this viewing audience and be better to try to offer a solution rather than to make people choose one or the other option,” read a statement on the club website.
“This way supporters can watch all their favourite teams, whether it’s a round ball or oval-shaped.
“When we do return to crowds and hosting matchday hospitality we also feel that the continuation of the Sunday Carvery food option is more suited to a more traditional eating time of around 12:45/1pm as opposed to 1:45/2pm which has occurred previously.
“We have the intention to install suitable live TV options within the ground to offer all solutions under one roof and for supporters to be able to watch live sport at Derwent Park in the bars from 12pm on matchdays, followed by the Town match and then by the option of watching live sports post-match back in the bars which would include any live football at 4pm and then any matches on the OuRLeague app at 6pm as was the case last year.
“It’s very important that our players and staff spend time with our support base and, after discussions with Chris (Thorman) and senior squad members, we feel this allows a suitable time window, especially for our travelling club staff.
“In the summer months we also intend to offer further outdoor entertainment options such post match fixtures on Derwent Park as well as pre-match options or possibly outdoor live music options, utilising the open spaces we have as we adapt to meet the challenges presented by the ongoing pandemic.”
WEST WALES RAIDERS coach Aaron Wood has said the attitude among his squad is making his job easy at the moment.
Preparations for the season have stepped up in recent weeks as the Raiders look to return to action with a Challenge Cup tie against Championship side Widnes on Sunday, March 21.
“The lads are just pumped now and excited to finally get going again after so long,” said Wood.
“Training has been going great. We’ve made sure it’s safe for everyone and we’re getting 30 guys at every session, which is the first time the club has had that many ready to rock and roll from the start.
“Everyone is going well and as the Widnes game gets closer, the competition in different positions is really spicing up. The boys are all trying to outdo each other because they know spots are up for grabs. It’s probably also the first time we’ve had that level of competition for spots.
“They are all mates, everyone is working hard, they’re all humble and the cub culture is perfect for what we’re trying to build. No one is out of place so it’s easy to coach when it’s like that.”
ROCHDALE HORNETS chairman Andy Mazey says the club will move straight to Stage 2 training as soon as they get the go ahead to do so from the RFL.
Currently clubs in League 1, apart from those taking part in the Challenge Cup, are on Stage 1 Plus training if they have returned, which permits socially distanced work, outdoors.
Stage 2 allows a return to contact training, and that is something the Hornets are looking forward to.
“Matt (Calland), like most coaches, is keen to step up to stage two training as soon as we can,” said Mazey.
“Our chief executive Steve Kerr is dealing with all protocols involved in getting to that stage, and as soon as we are given the go ahead we will make that step up.
“To give ourselves every possibility of achieving our goals this year, we want to go to Stage 2 as quickly as we can so that we can hit the ground running in May.”
LONDON SKOLARS coach Jermaine Coleman has admitted he faced a lot of different prospects as his team finally returned to training just over a week ago.
“It was a different scenario from a coaches point of view to normal,” said Coleman.
“There were questions between the coaches about how quickly do we push the players, how much do we put on them and how much do we try to keep it as fun as possible because they are out of sync of what they have been doing for much of the last year.
“It was always going to be challenging for us as coaches and them as players to realise where their bodies are at after a year of not playing rugby.
“But all the hard work to get to here will be worth it.
“We have a light at the end of the tunnel now with knowing a start date, and we can plan accordingly. The lads are probably a little more motivated now because of that too.
“If things keep moving forward as they are from a Covid point of view, then we will be back playing on schedule, and fingers crossed we can get some supporters back in the ground in the summer.”
COVENTRY BEARS director of rugby Alan Robinson is quite happy for his side to be seen as one of the underdogs in League 1 again this year.
But he is also confident that they can spring a surprise or two as the season progresses.
“Team like Barrow, Keighley and Rochdale have all been spending big and there is no hiding the fact they are among four or five teams that want to get promoted,” said Robinson.
“We’re certainly not on the forefront of people’s minds because we’re Coventry Bears. We are still seen as a very new club and an expansion club.
“This as a long term project for us. We’re not targeting promotion in a short period of time – that’s not our model – so we just want to go about our business and maybe turn a few heads along the way.
“People will be underestimating us, but we’re very confident we can shock a few people this season.
“My main focus since the back end of 2019, has been to improve the culture of the club and I am really confident we are doing that as well as massively improving with our squad.
“Only time will tell, but we just need to get on the field and show that and everyone at the club is really looking forward to it.”
NORTH WALES CRUSADERS chief executive Andy Moulsdale cannot wait to get the season underway, now that the fixture list has been announced.
The Wrexham-based club will launch the new campaign with a trip to London Skolars, in a repeat of last year’s opening league fixture.
“We always seem to kick off in London,” Moulsdale told local paper The Leader.
“We’ve been there before on the first day and the fact that London play on a Saturday means we’ll be kicking off the League 1 campaign – and hopefully with a good result.
“The fact that the fixtures are out is good. We should have been gearing up to start in a couple of weeks but it was a sensible decision by the league to put our start date back to May.
“We’re looking forward to that first match too. We’ve recruited well and have our strongest squad for more than six years.
“Hopes are high, and we’d like to think we can target a play-off place this season. But all clubs will think the same.”
The above content is also available in the regular weekly edition of League Express, on newsstands every Monday in the UK and as a digital download. Click here for more details.