Barrow Raiders coach Paul Crarey has welcomed the confirmation that a place in the Championship will be on offer to his side this season.
The RFL confirmed last week that promotion and relegation between the Championship and League 1 will continue despite the continued uncertainty caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.
League 1, which kick’s off in May, will see the team that finishes top of the table earn automatic promotion, while those finishing second to sixth will play in a five-team play-off series culminating in a Promotion Play-Off Final.
“It’s definitely a boost to finally know what’s going to be happening,” said Crarey.
“There would have been a bit of a damp squib on the season if promotion hadn’t been available.
“We’ve put a lot of effort in last year to go back up and carried that into this year. We’ve signed well, got a great balanced squad so if we can stay healthy that bodes well for us to have a strong season.
“It means this is going to be a really meaningful season with something at the end of it, and that’s important for the fans and the sponsors as well.
“We’ve done really well off the field to attract big crowds and we’re also doing well on it.
“League 1 is a great quality league so we’re looking forward to the season ahead.
“We just can’t wait to get back now. For the fans, sponsors and the game as a whole, we need to get back so that the game can prosper, because it has been hit hard in the past year.”
LONDON SKOLARS coach Jermaine Coleman has said winger or centre Iliess Macani has been invaluable to him during pre-season.
The 27-year-old, who also works as a personal trainer, has taken on a player-coach role this season and Coleman is already seeing the impact he is having on the whole squad.
“Iliess has been fantastic in the off-season in terms of getting some of the boys in shape and sending them programmes and exercises to do at home,” said Coleman.
“They’ve probably all come back into training in better condition this year than in previous years.
“He’s been getting involved with everything and as well as helping the players with their gym programmes, I’ve also had a lot of conversations with him about what the training sessions are going to be like. He’s helped with how much load we put on them, with how much speed, conditioning and skill sessions there are.
“I have been using his knowledge and experience, not just from a PT background, but from the time he spent playing full time rugby, for that.
“As with every coach, this is a completely different scenario for me this year, going from no rugby at all to having to feed the players back in to it. So having Iliess helping out has been great.
“It’s really important he adds his thoughts into what we’re doing rather than me, like the players, getting over enthusiastic, going hell for leather and get them running 5k runs in every session, when we need to build it back up.
“His input is invaluable. It’s nice to have someone on same wavelength as me, who is not only helping with the planning, but then also going to the training session and doing it.
“He is a freak in terms of how fit he is and he’s always winning everything we do. It means there is someone out there leading from the front and he is having as much of an impact on the culture of what’s going on around the club off the field, just as he has on it.”
ROCHDALE HORNETS coach Matt Calland has spoken about the importance of the club’s links with local community club Rochdale Mayfield.
Calland has a long-running personal connection to the amateur club, which he has used over the past couple of years to hand a number of their rising stars the chance to develop their career in the semi-professional game.
“I have a very strong connection with Mayfield, as I have played for them for the last 10 to 15 years or so,” said Calland.
“We have had some great players like Matty Ashton, Jack Ashworth and Matty Lees come through the club and make it into Super League.
“They are one of the strongest amateur teams around so it’s a great that we have a link with them.
“In the past there has not been a pathway or a link for the local lads to follow and we want the next lot of kids coming through that to start their careers off with Rochdale Hornets. Then, if they can go on to better things, that’s all good.
“They have a great set up at Mayfield, with teams right from the U6s all way through to first team. We now have six or seven players from there playing in our first team and that’s never happened before.
“The Hornets have never had that many local lads in the first team and that’s credit to the coaching and standards Mayfield has set.”
HUNSLET new signing Joe McClean has two very clear aims now that his move to the South Leeds Stadium has been completed.
League Express reported three weeks ago that the club were in discussions with the former Gloucestershire All Golds and West Wales Raiders forward, and a deal has now been signed.
The 31 year-old will commute to West Yorkshire from his home in Cheltenham, but believes the extra miles could prove to be worth it.
“It’s a long way to training and back, and for matches – when they resume – but it’ll made a lot easier by the spirit in the camp at the South Leeds Stadium,” said McClean.
“The players, the coaches, the back room staff and the board have all been very welcoming. I really get the feeling that this is a club that is going places.
“Harry Kidd was a big reason behind me being attracted to Hunslet in the first place. We’re very close from our time at the All Golds and he spoke very highly of the club, and of the ambitions everyone has here.
“If I’ve got a couple of seasons left in me then I want to be at an outfit where I’ll have a chance to win something. I don’t want to spend my time at a club that may be closer to my home in Cheltenham but which doesn’t perhaps have quite the same potential.
“My personal contribution is that I can get teams on the front foot and give the backs a platform from which they can operate.
“My first goal is to book a berth in the side and, from there, play well enough to help us win League 1 or at least gain promotion.
“At the same time I plan to catch the eyes of the Scottish selectors ahead of this autumn’s World Cup.”
McClean’s acquisition is timely, given that prop Jack Aldous is no longer available this season because of work.
KEIGHLEY COUGARS coach Rhys Lovegrove has praised his players dedication to sticking to Covid-19 restrictions as the club continues to report a clean bill of health at training.
The players have been back in pre-season preparations for over a month now with each session starting with players and staff being tested.
They continually register zero positive tests, much to the delight of their coach.
“Thankfully we’ve not had any Covid issues to contend with yet – touch wood,” said Lovegrove.
“We have got a really good group here and they are all being very careful in what they do in their personal lives.
“We realise that they do have personal lives and jobs away from the club, so there is that added variable and risk. But they have been really good so far and we haven’t had any positives, so long may that continue.”
Elsewhere, prop Jack Arnold could be included in the squad for Saturday’s pre-season friendly against Bradford Bulls after the RFL confirmed he will receive an amnesty from the remainder of the ban he picked up against Hunslet in August 2019.
Arnold was charged, and found guilty, of two separate gouging offences in that game and landed a six-game ban for each. That ruled him out for the remainder of the 2019 season and the handful of games the club played in short-lived 2020 campaign.
He still had time to serve of the ban, but that has now been wiped out, allowing him to play again immediately.
WORKINGTON TOWN coach Chris Thorman has said the next couple of months of pre-season will decide the immediate future of a number of players currently on trial with the club.
With all the Covid protocols currently in place, Thorman is likely to forego pre-season fixtures against other clubs, instead keeping preparations in-house to give all players training with the club and equal opportunity to earn a place in this year’s squad.
“I have got a squad of 40 players training at the minute,” said Thorman.
“That includes 15 triallists, so it means we can have as many behind closed doors games as we like amongst ourselves in a training environment.
“If those triallist want to seize their opportunity and earn a place here, then they will have to do it in training against the players that have already got contracts
“To me, that’s great motivation for them to get the best out of themselves.
“I am happy with progress we’re making in training but this next month or so could be key for a number of players and I will probably find out a lot more about who is going to be worthy of a contract at Workington Town.”
DONCASTER chief executive Carl Hall has said the club hopes to give supporters a feast of Rugby League action, once they are allowed to return to the ground.
As well as the Dons, Championship side Sheffield Eagles will also play their home matches at the Keepmoat Stadium in 2021, with Hall hoping the schedules can be worked out to allow both teams to host others on the same day throughout the season.
“Hopefully the majority of our home games will be double headers with Sheffield Eagles,” admitted Hall.
“Sheffield have had their own situation to deal with with their pitch and I really wanted to bring them to the Keepmoat, because it means that people can get to watch some more Rugby League.
“We’ve all missed it so if we can play our game, and then sit back, relax and watch Sheffield play in the Championship, and we can get supporters in to watch both it would be great.
“We’ve not had a game in so long, so surely getting two games in a day can only be a good thing?”
COVENTRY BEARS director of rugby Alan Robinson believes the streaming of all behind closed doors games can offer his club the perfect opportunity to show themselves off to a whole new audience.
As it stands, League 1 club may only have to play two games without any supporters in the ground, which for Coventry will be the home tie against Barrow Raiders and their trip to West Wales Raiders.
“The last real opinion a lot of people will have of Coventry Bears was the back end of 2019, when we had a pretty poor second half of the season,” said Robinson.
“We have got to live with that, but now we want to prove people wrong.
“Live streaming of the first couple of games could be huge for us in being able doing that.
“The stadium looks great and hopefully the weather will be decent and the games will be good events.
“We want to showcase what we can offer and streaming is a great opportunity to do that, because those people who wouldn’t normally get the chance to see Coventry play, will be able to and will be able to see what we can do.
“We may even still stream games when we get crowds back in so that other fans can watch us too.
“There is a brand new 4G pitch at the Butts Park Arena this year so we will be focusing on playing good rugby and a fast game. It’ll be interesting to see how we go.
“I am really confident an excited about getting back out there on a brand new pitch with a brand new team.”
NORTH WALES CRUSADERS coach Anthony Murray is expecting a tough game every time his side take to the field in 2021.
“There are no easy fixtures in this league anymore. Every game will be a really tough one,” said Murray.
“When you look at the other teams and you look at the squads they have, this looks set to be the most challenging League 1 season ever. It’s going to be very competitive, as lots of teams, including us, have recruited very well so it will be an evenly contested competition.
“There are still some big names in there, Barrow have recruited really well and Doncaster, Workington and Keighley are always up there. The list goes on of who have made clear their intentions to get out of League 1.
“We want to achieve our goals so fingers crossed we won’t be too far away ourselves.”
WEST WALES RAIDERS coach Aaron Wood believes the opening few weeks of the league season could see some surprise results as all clubs look to find their feet after so long out of action.
The Raiders face expected high-flyers Rochdale, Doncaster and Barrow within the opening five rounds of the season, but Wood isn’t allowing himself to be daunted by a potentially tough start.
“Everyone we play is going to be tough, as everyone wants to see success,” said Wood.
“Yes, it is a tough run to start with, but we have to ask ourselves if would we rather play them now or when they’re firing up six week into the season? We’ve got to play them anyway, so we may as well get them out of the way early on.
“A lot of teams might not be firing on all cylinders straight away and we really are heading into the unknown. Everyone across the league is doing their best to get their guys right for the first few weeks, but no one knows how they are going to perform after so long out and what effect the lay off will have had.
“So those first six games will be tough for all teams as they look to get things right on the field.
“It will certainly be interesting and I think there could be some shocks. Teams that people think shouldn’t win, may well win.
“Everyone is just excited to see their team back and hopefully every team gels quickly.”
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