Hunslet coach Gary Thornton will have some tough decision to make this week on a number of players who have featured in their pre-season fixtures against North Wales Crusaders and Barrow Raiders.
Championship trio Sion Jones (Halifax), Loui McConnell and Jake Sweeting (both Featherstone) have featured in both games on short term loan deals, while Jack Norfolk and Tom Dunford remain on trial with the club.
Loui Singleton was also on trial but has since returned to the community game and now Thornton must decide what the future holds for the other five ahead of the season kicking off against Workington next month.
“The loan deals with Sion, Loui and Jake expire on Monday (today), so the game at the weekend gave us another chance to have a look at them and decide what to do next,” said Thornton.
“We will speak to their parent clubs to decide what to do going forward.
“But it’s a tough one, because we’ve not even started our season yet.
“When we were still in the stage of playing warm up games and with the RFL changing rules now where you can do it on a 14-day loan period, it seemed a perfect opportunity to have a look at them and see if they would fit into our system for later in the season if required.
“I knew all three players anyway and it was too good an opportunity to bring them in, give them some game time and then compare them to what we already have.
“We’ve not even started the league yet and we’ve got a pretty healthy squad so I have got to be fair to the boys that we signed on that are contracted to the club.
“They’ll get first go at the season, but if we’ve picked any injuries up after the Barrow game it’s good to have that comfort blanket of having people in reserve that are ready to step in and are familiar with us if we need them.
“They are still Halifax and Featherstone’s players, so they will get priority on what happens with them, but if they make them available to us again going forward then thats great and we’ll look forward to keeping them on board.
“In terms of the trialists it was only fair that they got some game time so we can see where they are at and they could see what standard the step up from the community game is.
“Barrow was the last opportunity for them to show what they can do and we have to make a decision on them based on what we’ve seen so far.”
Two of WORKINGTON TOWN‘s leading stars have followed in the footsteps of their coach by committing to the club until 2024.
Chris Thorman recently agreed a new deal with the club keeping him at Derwent Park for another four seasons, and now both half back Jamie Doran and forward Stevie Scholey have signed similar deals.
Doran joined the club from Wigan Warriors in 2015 and has since scored 41 tries in 141 games.
Scholey, who was due to be out of contract at the end of this year, also joined the club, and turned professional, in 2015 after joining from Maryport following a successful pre-season trial.
He is a former BARLA Great Britain international, and has made 111 appearances over the last six seasons, crossing for 13 tries.
“Jamie is undoubtedly one of the most talented players at the club and when he applies himself in all of the right areas of his game, he is probably one of the best ball players in the competition,” said a delighted Thorman.
“During my time at the club and particularly since we’ve got back into training in 2021, I’ve seen a massive improvement in all areas of his game, the main one being his effort in pre-season and his attendance at the club to do extras on his days off.
“If he remains consistent in these areas, Jamie is on course to have his best season in a Town shirt.
“We’re also really pleased to have Stevie around the place for the next four years. He’s been nothing but a model of consistency in my time at the club. He’s improved significantly in the last 18 months and will continue to do so in the future. He’s also grown as a leader within the club, who is respected on and off the pitch.”
KEIGHLEY COUGARS coach Rhys Lovegrove has said Saturday’s clash with Coventry proved to be ideal preparation as they prepare to kick off the new season against Doncaster in just under a fortnight’s time.
The Cougars’ last pre-season hit out ended in a 52-4 victory and follows previous games against Bradford Bulls (friendly) and London Broncos in the Challenge Cup.
“Before the game we had just been going through working on a few small bits and pieces every week and trying to improve on those areas we identified after the previous games,” said Lovegrove.
“We got a good look at certain aspects of our game in the first two matches so now it’s a case of comparing notes against those two games and see where we need to improve again and what we are doing well as we prepare for Doncaster.
“I went into the game with my eyes on a few small areas of the game I though we could work on and improve, so it was nice to see those questions answered.
“We wanted to give as many people as many minutes as possible against Coventry, but it was also about making sure that the core group of people around the spine of our team – at nine, seven, six and one – got some continuity together. That was a priority.
“Going into the Coventry friendly there were still a few positions up for grabs for the Doncaster game. There have been little battles going on among certain players in certain positions and I am now left with an idea of who will play against Doncaster.”
DONCASTER coach Richard Horne has said that any further loan signings made by the club for this season will be for the full year, believing the continuity this brings will be important when it comes to their chances of promotion.
In the last two full seasons Doncaster have missed out on promotion at the play-off semi-final stage, with Horne putting this down to amending his squad due to the unavailability later in the year of loan and dual registration players.
The club have already dipped into the loan market, bringing in 20-year-old prop forward Anesu Mudoti on a season-long deal from Super League side Hull KR.
“It all depends on Covid and injuries, but we could go in to the loan market this year,” said Horne.
“But it would be season long deals or it wouldn’t be happening.
“I want lads at the club that are going to be here until the end of the year so that there isn’t too much chopping and changing within the team.
“We’ve missed out in two semi-finals now which is frustrating, but we believe we can get over the line this year and make it past the play offs.
“The last two season probably came down to not having a big enough squad and relying on dual registration a bit too much. So when it came down to the business end, we didn’t have those same players available and only had a small squad.
“We then picked up some injuries and players played with injuries when they shouldn’t have. But they put their hands up and all that meant we just felt short.
“But we have a bigger squad this year, and with the quality we have within that squad, hopefully we can go one step further.”
ROCHDALE HORNETS chairman Andy Mazey is confident the Hornets squad will be fit and raring to go when the league season kicks off against West Wales Raiders on Sunday, May 9.
And he has credited this fitness to conditioner Miles Greenwood and his steady and measured approach to pre-season.
“So far we have got through training ok and the credit for that goes to Miles,” said Mazey.
“Coaches tend to always want to get back in and move as quickly as they can, but Miles has managed that strength an conditioning side of things to make sure the guys haven’t done anything too soon, but have done everything at the right pace.
“Up to now, we’ve only had little bumps and bruises and a few niggles, which you’d expect, but touch wood we’ve had nothing major yet.
“With the way the guys have gone about things, it’s helped them navigate the early pre-season days and get the ready to go when the season finally arrives.”
Elsewhere the Hornets have released their squad numbers ahead of the new season.
1 Sam Freeman, 2 Shaun Ainscough, 3 Ben Calland, 4 Jack Higginson, 5 Dale Bloomfield, 6 Lewis Sheridan, 7 Rob Fairclough, 8 Callum Marriott, 9 Sean Penkywicz, 10 Gavin Bennion, 11 Josh Jordan-Roberts, 12 Jordan Syme, 13 Joe Taira, 14 Declan Sheridan, 15 Danny Yates, 16 Adam Hesketh, 17 Fuifui Moimoi, 18 Luke Fowden, 19 Callum Ogden, 20 Zac Baker, 21 Ben Moores, 22 Jimmy Connaughton, 23 Lee Registe, 24 Ben Forster, 25 Matt Whitehead, 26 Liam Whalley, 27 Dan Nixon, 28 Luke Littlewood, 29 Ryan Forshaw, 30 Lewis Galbraith
BARROW RAIDERS coach Paul Crarey is aware that he may need to recruit more new names as the season progresses as he looks to take the squad back into the Championship this year.
Currently the Raiders squad stands at 27-players, but Crarey knows that any injury issues with senior members of the squad could see the need for strengthening.
However, adding to the squad is not currently on the club’s to do list.
“We’re always looking and we’ll just see what comes our way,” said Crarey.
“To get through the year and do well in this division we might need one or two to come in at some stage as we’re likely to go through our squad this year.
“We haven’t got as big a squad this year as we had last time we were in League 1, and we used 29 players then.
“Steve (Neale – chairman) is the businessman here and he has said there will be some funds available if we need to bring others in.
“But we’ll see how we run first before we decide anything.
“Keeping our senior players fit will be the key to get us through this year and be successful. We have a great group of young players here, but they need the guidance of the senior players out on the pitch.”
NORTH WALES CRUSADERS have rewarded young halfback Brad Calland with a permanent contract after an impressive trial period with the club.
The 20-year-old Widnes Academy graduate had previously spent a month on trial at Bradford Bulls before linking up with the Crusaders and featuring in their opening pre-season game against Hunslet.
“Brad’s done well during his trial with us so we’ve decided to offer him a permanent deal,” said coach Anthony Murray.
“He’s a young lad who has been in some good systems and will provide us with further options in the halves.”
Calland, a forward who primarily features as a back rower, is excited about the year ahead and is confident he can taste success with the club.
“This is a good club and I’m excited for the future,” said Calland.
“I want to be playing every week and make sure I stay in the team.
“We need to strive to be the very best we can. We’ve got a great work ethic in the team and we need to aim to finish as high as we can in the table.”
WEST WALES RAIDERS coach Aaron Wood believes latest signing Callum Mulkeen can play a pivotal role in his relatively young squad this year.
The Ireland international forward returned to the club to start training for the new season last week.
“Callum is an international, so he’s a big signing for us,”said Wood.
“He’s fit and strong, knows Rugby League and he has experience of the game.
“We have quite a young squad this year, so when you add experienced players like Callum he becomes someone who can help everyone out in those moments you really need him.
“He’s really excited to be back down here and he can’t wait to get back into it.”
LONDON SKOLARS coach Jermaine Coleman hopes that as Coronavirus restrictions in the UK continue to ease, the logistic of staging a game also becomes a lot easier.
The Skolars returned to action after a long 13-month wait when they faced West Wales Raiders in a pre-season game on Saturday.
“It’s great to finally be back playing and in some kind of routine, but with all the extras we have to do now it’s a bit of a logistical nightmare to put a game on,” said Coleman.
“The boys either have to come up the evening before or a couple of hours early training to get tested and because we don’t have the biggest facility in the world we’re having to spread ourselves over two or three different changing rooms for the social distancing measures. That makes it quite difficult to deliver team talks when everyone is spread out in different rooms.
“But that’s the situation we’re in right now.
“The situation across the country seems to be getting a bit better now so hopefully with that, these issues will also ease a little and the standards and expectations we face will change as well.
“Hopefully we can get back to some sort of normality and a get a season closer to what we’re used to.”
COVENTRY BEARS may have to play West Wales Raiders behind closed doors at Stebonheath next month, but coach Richard Squires is already excited by the potential benefits the rematch will bring in August.
Fans should be allowed back in the Butts Park Arena by the time the two sides meet there and Squires is already hoping for a big crowd as many rugby union fans in the area get the chance to watch a former favourite in action.
“Being a massive rugby union cohort in Coventry and the West Midlands area, the chance to see Gavin Henson play at Butts Park will be a big draw to a lot of people,” said Squires.
“His move to West Wales has attracted a lot of attention and will hopefully show people here, and elsewhere, that union players can make the transition into League.
“It might take him a bit of time to react, but he has the perfect combination there in the halves with Rangi Chase who has been there and done it all.
“Rangi himself, as a former England international and Man of Steel will also be a big crowd puller here and at a lot of other grounds.”
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.