Keighley Cougars haven’t even kicked of the 2021 league season yet, but they are already planning ahead by handing two of their stars contract extensions.
Jack Arnold and Charlie Graham have both extended they stay at the club until the end of 2022.
Arnold returned to action in the pre-season game against Bradford after an enforced 19-month break due to a lengthy suspension at the end of 2019 and the cancellation of last season.
Graham joined the club on trial in December, was awarded a 2021 contract soon after, and was named as the Supporters’ Man of the Match in both the Bradford game and the Challenge Cup tie against London Broncos.
Both players have impressed coach Rhys Lovegrove with their attitude and performances this year so he is delighted to tie them down to the club.
“Since coming to the club in 2019, Jack has really understood the systems and processes I have implemented here,” said Lovegrove.
“Jack is a talented human being who has adapted to the way we play, and it is a reward for his patience when he was sidelined through suspension and then the pandemic.
“He has really improved every season since he came to the club and I am really excited to see what the future holds for Jack.
“Charlie has added quality to not just the side, but the club, both on and off the field.
“He is young, strong, and athletic, but more importantly for me he has a hunger to prove himself and it is safe to say that he has done just that in his two games for the club to date.
“His partnership on the left edge with Robert Matamosi is blossoming and has added a different attacking threat to that of the squads I have assembled to date at the club.
“I feel that we have been the perfect platform for Charlie to prove himself so far. He is showing that his acquisition has been nothing but great for Keighley Cougars as a club and Charlie as a player.”
Elsewhere the club has handed a deal to Keighley-born winger Josh Slingsby after a successful trial during pre-season.
Slingsby progressed through Keighley Albion’s ranks before joining Wakefield Trinity and regularly turned out for both the Academy and Reserves sides in 2019.
With the Covid-19 pandemic halting the game at those levels, the youngster was looking for a chance elsewhere and has now become the latest homegrown talent in Lovegrove’s squad.
“Josh is a very athletic young man who is eager to learn,” added Lovegrove.
“We want to have a core of young local lads in our system at Cougar Park, and the signing of Josh is the latest part of the next group of players that will help us achieve that goal.”
Green still a part of Doncaster
DONCASTER are on the lookout for a new assistant coach, but that doesn‘t mean to say they are waving goodbye to an old favourite.
The club advertised the role on their website, stating that Pete Green was taking a step back due to work commitments.
However, chief executive Carl Hall insists Green, who has enjoyed a long and illustrious spell at the club as both a player and as part of the coaching staff, is still very much part of the club, just in a slightly different way.
“You know what Pete and the Green family are like, they will never leave this club,” said chief executive Carl Hall.
“We’ve know for a while that Pete’s work situation has changed and me and Rich (Horne, coach) have been holding on and holding on to see if it lessens up for him. But it has got to a stage where it hasn’t.
“But he will still be around on match days, doing match day stuff with us, but we just need someone else to come in and help Rich with the sessions during the week with Pete working all over the country.
“He will be down with us when he can and if things change again he can be around again a lot more because he has got a lot to give.
“He’s been around the club for so long so he has a big influence here.
“If he was leaving we’d be making a much bigger deal of this than we are.”
Meanwhile, the club have also released their 2021 squad numbers. They are: 1 Ben Johnston, 2 Josh Rickett, 3 Sam Smeaton, 4 Jason Tali, 5 Sam Doherty, 7 Matty Beharrell, 8 Russ Spiers, 9 Kieran Cross, 10 Brandon Douglas, 11 Danny Bravo, 12 Brad Foster, 13 Jordie Hedges, 14 Harry Carter, 15 Ryan Boyle, 16 Brandan Wilkinson, 17 Ross Peltier, 18 Tom Halliday, 19 Aaron Ollett, 20 Ben Howe, 21 Ryan Dixon, 22 Alex Holdstock, 23 Liam Johnson, 24 Watson Boas, 25 Joe Fella, 26 Ross Whitmore, 27 Aaron York, 28 Misi Taulapapa
Players incoming at Bears
COVENTRY BEARS coach Richard Squires has hinted that there could be a few more new faces arriving at the club before they kick off the new season against Barrow next month.
The move has partly been bought about after the club lost local player Leon Harber through work commitments, while Will Tully is still weighing up if he can continue to pay alongside new employment.
“Leon and Will have both been with the club for a couple of years now and have come out of university and gone into their first full-time roles in very good jobs,” explained Squires.
“They have got the opportunity to get their teeth into a job and make good go of it, so I don’t blame them for having to make a choice.
“Although rugby is a nice little sideline, the guys have all got to look after number one.
“There will always be an opportunity here for them and the door will always be open to them.
“We have got a couple of guys in the pipeline to come in as well, and one of them is on trial with us.
“He has been playing full time rugby union in Ireland with Connaught for the last four years but has moved back home to his mum and dad’s down here.
“He trained a little bit with North Wales a few years ago so he does have a bit of an understanding of the game. He has set his sights on playing for Ireland in the World Cup later this year, so we’ll see how he goes.
“We’re also hoping to have a couple of guys join us from the French Elite league later this month. They’ll be fresh and match fit raring to go coming in off back of a full season out there.”
Town ready for opener, says Dawson
WORKINGTON TOWN star Hanley Dawson is hopeful that this year’s unusual training methods will give his side enough preparation to take on Hunslet in the opening match of the season next month.
For much of pre-season, Covid restrictions have limited the club to what, and how much they can do in sessions. It has also affected the number of pre-season games allowed, with Workington one of a number of League 1 outfits preferring to use 13 v 13 game scenarios in training sessions over facing fellow league opposition.
“Training has been taking some getting used to this year,” admitted Dawson.
“We’ve had to ease our way back into contact through the different phases of training, but Chris has been really good and there are a lot of lads in on trial.
“We are getting 35 to 40 guys in for some sessions so it gives us some real competition to go against each other. We can go 13 v 13 and it’s absolutely rapid, because everyone just wants to get fired into each other as fast as they can.
“Hopefully we can keep that energy up and take it into that Hunslet game, which will be a great test to start the season with.
“Nothing will ever prepare us for game day, but in terms of fitness and the physicality of the sessions, the numbers we have at training will definitely help.
“It will take everyone one or two games to get back up to speed, but we just can’t wait to get back into it.
“Everyone will want to make their mark on the side and prove a point. We’ve all been out the game for more than 12 months, so we just want to dive straight back in.”
LEAGUE 1 ROUND UP
WEST WALES RAIDERS vice captain Joe Burke may have only played one game since the end of 2017, but he already has his sights on extending 2021 for as long as possible.
The 30-year-old took some time out of the game following his appearances for Wales in the 2017 World Cup and only returned to action as the Raiders took on Widnes Vikings in the Challenge Cup last month.
But, he is now eyeing a place in John Kear’s national squad in this year’s World Cup tournament.
“The pinnacle of anyone’s career is the internationals so that has to be the aim,” said Burke.
“There is nothing better than being able to represent your country.
“I have had a taste of it over the years and know what it was like to play in the World Cup, so this year’s tournament is definitely something I’d like to get back involved with.”
ROCHDALE HORNETS have confirmed supporters will be able to watch their first game in well over a year for free, when the club face North Wales Crusaders in a pre-season friendly.
The game will be played at 3pm on Sunday, April 25 at the Crown Oil Arena, and is set to be streamed live and free on Facebook.
“It feels like Christmas Eve with the return of Rugby League to the Crown Oil Arena almost upon us,” said Hornets chairman Andy Mazey.
“We have a good relationship with North Wales and the decision to broadcast this game free was made collaboratively as a gesture and a way of giving something back to our respective supporters and partners who backed us in 2020 and throughout the pandemic to date.
“It’s also a great opportunity for the wider Rugby League community to engage with the sport for free.”
NORTH WALES CRUSADERS coach Anthony Murray expects to see even more from his players in training now that their first games in over a year have been confirmed.
The Wrexham-based side will play two pre-season games with a trip to Hunslet on Sunday, April 18, before travelling to Rochdale a week later.
The Hunslet game will end a wait of 406 days without any competitive action.
“Training has been going really well since we’ve got back in and now there is some light at the end of the tunnel for the lads,” said Murray.
“They know when their first game is so they can focus on that and gear themselves up for the day.
“I have no doubt that intensity levels will go up even more in training now that they know there is a game to look forward to.
“Hunslet and Rochdale will be two tough hit outs for us, but we wanted that because every game we play this year is going to be tough. They are two teams that have always been up there and they will give us a good test.
“It will also give us a good measure of where we are at.”
HUNSLET coach Gary Thornton has praised all the work done behind the scenes to allow the club to return to action later this month.
The club will play two pre-season games at the South Leeds Stadium against North Wales Crusaders on April 18 and Barrow Raiders (April 25)
“We’ve done an awful lot of work with the Stadium to get our return to play policy signed off,” said Thornton.
“We’ve really had two to do – our own and we’ve had to work with Leeds City Council and their risk assessments – to get the stadium ready for us to return to play, particularly for those two games.
“Ian Johnson, our operations manager, has done a fantastic job in working with the RFL and the council to get it all signed off.
“A lot of work has gone on behind the scenes, but my job now is to make sure I prepare the team for those fixtures in the best possible way.”
The club have confirmed that the North Wales fixture will be streamed live, while it is hoped the Barrow game will also be shown in the same way.
Full details will be released at a later date.
BARROW RAIDERS will once again take advantage of an easing of Coronavirus restrictions to increase income at the club.
With the Government roadmap allowing pubs and restaurants to reopen for outdoor hospitality from next Monday (April 12), the club will be relaunching the beer garden initiative that proved popular last summer.
But it will be slightly different this time round.
Whereas last year tables were laid out across the pitch, the playing surface will be protected this time, with changes made around Craven Park to allow locals to enjoy a few drinks with friends.
“We see the April and May period, where we are only allowed outside hospitality, as a great opportunity for us to bring in some much-needed income,” said chairman Steve Neale.
“We’re very ambitious as a board and we want to keep increasing income streams, so we will come up with some more ideas.
“Last year we were forced to diversify and the club benefitted so much from what we were able to do.
“The beer garden brought in a lot for us last year so we’ll be looking to do the same this year by bringing it back.
“But we now have a groundsman who doesn’t want us on the pitch, so we have decided to remodel the stadium and we are putting up a marquee where the terracing was.
“It’s not just about the rugby anymore, it’s about creating income in any way we can.”
LONDON SKOLARS chief executive Colin Browne is hopeful that the club can belatedly celebrate their 25th anniversary throughout this year.
The club were planning on marking the milestone in 2020, having originally been founded in 1995. However, the coronavirus pandemic put paid to any celebrations.
But while nothing is set in stone yet, Browne hopes restrictions lift enough for them to be able to plan some events, with the return of a regular pre-season fixture top of the wish list.
“We have been in touch with Wigan Warriors about the Capital Challenge and we do want to continue that relationship and the event going forward,” said Browne.
“So we fully intend to stage that game again in 2022, having not been able to play it this year.
“But also, depending on the pandemic and the road map, we intend to try and put on some other events throughout the year – not least to celebrate our anniversary.”
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