North Wales Crusaders chief executive Andy Moulsdale feels his side could find themselves at a disadvantage this season, if they do not get some clarity soon over the return of fans to their games.
Having recently announced a move to Stadiwm ZipWorld in Colwyn Bay for 2021, Moulsdale is eager to see the fans enjoying the game at the new facility, but admits this could still be some way off, despite other clubs in the same league preparing to welcome supporters back next week.
While May 17 has been given as a date for sports clubs in England to allow fans back into stadiums, the Welsh Government are working under their own restrictions, which means more waiting for answers for the club.
“I just can’t wait to get the fans back, and the way the new stadium is set up, it’s pretty easy to be Covid-compliant,” said Moulsdale.
“From the momentum we have had since announcing the move I would love to follow that up with actually having fans in the ground. But for now we just have to keep working with the Welsh Government and Wales Rugby League to try and get the fans back in as soon as possible.
“At present we haven’t even had a date yet as to when we might be able to get them in, which is frustrating really.
“I understand we have to be cautious and I back that, but not knowing what we can plan for is frustrating.
“But also, from a competition integrity point of view, we play in a league where most of the clubs are in England that are going to be able to play in front of a crowd when we can’t. That will be to the detriment of us and West Wales Raiders.
“No matter what size of crowd it is, the fans do make a difference to home advantage in terms of atmosphere, effect on the players and of course the financial aspect.
“I just hope we get some confirmation on this fairly quickly as I don’t think it’s too fair.
“It would be nice to be on a level playing field with the rest of the teams in our league and I do feel sorry for our fans that are not going to be able to do the same as other fans in the league.
“I hope common sense prevails, because I can’t see any sense in our fans being allowed to travel to away game before they can come to one of ours.
“Hopefully it won’t come to that and we can get on the right track sooner rather than later.
“We’re in talks through Wales Rugby League to see if we can go to the Welsh Government and see if we can apply to host some pilot events. We don’t expect these to be in May, but hopefully we can get some fans in for our games in June and July.
“The elections in Wales last week could change things as well, so it’s again just a case of wait and see.”
WORKINGTON TOWN completed a raft of business on the eve of the new season by bringing in Rhys Clarke on loan from Newcastle Thunder and handing professional contracts to six of the trialists that have been with the club over pre-season.
Clarke has signed an initial one-month deal and will offer coach Chris Thorman suitable cover for the suspended Marcus O’Brien and Perry Singleton who picked up one and two match bans respectively following the pre-season game against Barrow.
“With the couple of suspensions we picked up against Barrow and a couple of potential injury doubts, I jumped at the chance of bringing Rhys in,” said Thorman.
“Rhys was part of the York City Knights side that I cut my teeth coaching back in 2013 and we’ve stayed in touch ever since.
“He will compliment the forwards we already have in the squad and I’m looking forward to working with him over the next month.”
Seaton Rangers duo Dominic Smallwood and Jordan O’Leary are among the six lucky youngsters handed a chance by Thorman and are joined by Johnny Goulding (Cockermouth), Adam Jackson (Barrow Island), Zac Olstrom (Ellenborough Rangers) and Lee Postlethwaite (Millom ARLFC).
“After having 16 local trialists take part in pre-season training, I’m really pleased to announce that we have agreed terms with six of them to be part of our first team squad for 2021 and beyond,” added Thorman.
“They have all enhanced the dynamic of the group, they’ve allowed us to have a lot more variety in our training methods and have all become very popular members of the group.
“Most of all it has allowed us to have much more competition for places, which is an absolute necessity as we strive for consistency in every game we are part of.
“Even though they’re all at different stages of their Rugby League careers, they all deserve this opportunity.”
KEIGHLEY COUGARS coach Rhys Lovegrove believes the introduction of new rules for 2021 will see new life breathed into League 1.
In line with Super League and the Championship, League 1, which kicked off at the weekend, will also play with the ‘six again’ rule and no scrums, which has so far proven to speed the game up significantly.
“The new rules will make this division even more exciting,” said Lovegrove.
“Playing the pre-season game with them has been really good so far and the feedback I’ve had from the players has been really exciting.
“I have said for a long time that my only real gripe with League 1 is that it is a different kind of player that is successful in this league compared to the Championship and Super League.
“That’s not how it should be. We want the small, fast exciting players to thrive in League 1 just as much as people like Rob Burrow did in Super League.
“For a few years now League 1 has been quite slow, which has really reduced the likelihood of having those small fast players that have the potential to really direct teams, coming to the fore.
“But these new rules will really make the product different in League 1 and I really hope the referees stay on top of that and make a really fast free-flowing product that allows a lot of points to be scored.
“That’s what the fans are going to want to see on the live stream initially, and then in person when they can finally get back into the grounds.”
LONDON SKOLARS, like so many others, have faced a very different pre-season this year and coach Jermaine Coleman admits this could go one of two ways.
Covid regulations prevented the Skolars from staging their usual pre-season games against Wigan Warriors and London Broncos. Instead they faced fellow League 1 sides West Wales Raiders and Coventry Bears in the final two weeks of pre-season before the season kicked off.
“We wanted to have a competitive game a week before the season kicked off so the Coventry game was planned on that basis,” said Coleman.
“Ideally we would have arranged some training runs against the Broncos too, but due to circumstances we weren’t able to fit that in this year, but we were able to arrange something with West Wales.
“Normally we’d have the Broncos fixture and the Wigan game as our two friendlies and we never tend to play against teams in our own league.
“But this year we have played against players we’ll be coming up against on week to week basis.
“Playing teams at our level probably gave the boys a better understanding of the level we need to be at and helps them in terms of their understanding of where other people are at in the league.
“It is nice for us to play against players at a higher level at Broncos and Wigan, but playing against players at our own level this year may hopefully mean we can jump straight in and hit the ground running.
“It could also have the opposite effect though. Playing teams at a higher level can often pull your own level up, so playing against teams in our own league could make us sit back on our laurels and think, ‘oh yeah we’re quite fit and in a good position’. So we’ll just have to wait and see how that works out after the first couple of weeks of the season.”
HUNSLET coach Gary Thornton has admitted the return to action over the last few weeks has allowed him to get back to focusing on his main role with the club.
The South Leeds club kicked off the league campaign against Workington on Sunday, but have also faced pre-season games against North Wales Crusaders and Barrow Raiders in the last month.
That was their first taste of action since the league was shut down in March 2020.
And while much has been said about the benefits of the players finally being back playing, Thornton is equally as delighted being back coaching his side.
“It has been nice to be able to coach again and not just worrying about Covid,” said Thornton.
“It has been stressful, and there has been a lot hard work done at our club because we are run by volunteers and we’re all doubling up on roles. I’ve had to take on the Covid Officer role, which is stressful in itself.
“Leading right up to that first pre-season game against North Wales, I spent a lot of time making sure that we had all our Covid protocols in place.
“To then be able to just focus on coaching was absolutely fantastic for me. I was there thinking ‘this is what I am here to do.’
“Now that we can start looking at our opposition and putting game plans together, that’s what I get paid to do.
“I’m looking forward to that being the focus of my job again now rather than having to worry too much about Covid protocols.”
Thornton was able to include Sion Jones in his squad again for Workington, after a deal was struck for the prop to stay with the club on a season-long loan from Halifax. Jake Sweeting, who also featured on loan during pre-season was also available again.
COVENTRY BEARS have added some international experience to their ranks with the signing of Greece prop Stefanos Bastas.
The 27-year-old has previous League 1 experience with both Hemel Stags and Doncaster, but has more recently been playing in France’s Elite 1 competition with St Gaudens.
Having been part of the World Cup qualifying campaign, Bastas will be hoping of turning out for his country again in the tournament later this year.
“I am delighted to bring Stefanos to the club,” said director of rugby Alan Robinson.
“He is a player I have been aware of for a while and we have come across before. I have also been aware of the work of George Stilianos and the Greek Federation over the past few years and Stefanos has been a great player and ambassador for Greece, which is something that has added to his character that could not be ignored.
“Stefanos has featured in League 1 for a number of years and has improved himself immensely in that time. I also know the level of Elite 1 in France very well, having played there myself, and there are some very good players in that league and the competition is fiercely competitive.
“I think he will be a great asset for us and adds a lot to our middle unit. I’m really looking forward to seeing him on the field.”
BARROW RAIDERS may now be back in action on the field and looking forward to the return of fans in a couple of weeks time, but that is not going to stop chairman Steve Neale from continuing to look at bringing additional funds into the club.
The Raiders were helped out during the game’s lockdown by turning their Craven Park stadium into a large beer garden for the local community and, after a slight remodel of the ground to avoid using the pitch, this is something that looks set to continue over the summer.
And Neale is keen to take advantage of some major sporting events this summer.
In his weekly column for the North West Evening Mail, Neale wrote: “We made a visit to Newcastle to talk about hiring a big screen for the European Championships (football).
“We saw the type of screen we wanted in action and agreed a deal. It will mean that once again we must remodel the ground, but we are convinced that this will be yet another massive income stream for the club.
“Most major towns and cities have fan zones for the major football tournaments, and we are sure that the public of Barrow have been missing out. We have rented the screen for just over a month with the option to buy at the end.
“Clearly, this gives us further opportunities to take advantage and we can use the screen as an open-air cinema putting on some classic movies for both children and adults and looking further ahead Tyson v Fury would be a fantastic event in front of a large crowd.
“We make no apology for diversifying. I have said numerous times that we cannot grow simply by relying on the traditional income streams through rugby crowds with so few of them in the calendar.
“All these new income streams will be diverted into team and facility improvements and we hope to be trailblazers amongst Rugby League clubs in the fact that we are running a multi-faceted business rather than a simple rugby club.”
WEST WALES RAIDERS two marquee signings, Gavin Henson and Rangi Chase will get people talking positively about the club according to former Great Britain international Leon Pryce.
Speaking on Betfred’s The Last Tackle show, Pryce, who got a taste of life in League 1 as Workington coach in 2018, has said the duo’s arrival at the club is about far more then them getting results on the field.
“For me it doesn’t really matter how they do,” said Pryce.
“The fact is we’re talking about the club now because of those two players.
“Usually all the talk about them would be negative because they had been beaten by 90 points or a record score.
“But now we’re saying that Gavin Henson and Rangi Chase are playing for West Wales – wow – and the focus of your attention is positive rather than negative.”
DONCASTER chief executive Carl Hall believes recent development of club staff helps prove that they are doing thing right off the field, as well as on it.
Physiotherapist Lucy Satur has recently joined the club to replace Aaron Hales, who has joined the Hull FC Academy team, and Hall believes with even more support she could also develop her own career significantly while with the club.
“One thing we can be proud of is that we always appoint good staff,” said Hall.
“We lost one physio, Karl Blenkin, to Castleford Tigers and the one we replaced him with has now gone to Hull FC.
“Lucy was an intern here when Karl was with us and has recently been working with him again at Doncaster Knights.
“She is very lucky that we’ve got a medical department for the whole Club Doncaster, headed up by Jonathan Chatfield, who is head physio at the Rovers (football club), but he’s overseeing the process of getting a structure in place where have a full medical department under the Club Doncaster umbrella
“We’ve got some really good staff now and we want to keep them, and this is one way we can try and cement them into a really professional environment.
“In the past we’ve also had an analyst with us, who is now with Wigan, so we are good at recruiting backroom staff and moving them onto full time roles.
“While it’s meant to be players progressing from League 1 to Super League, we’re helping our staff do that as well – we just need to start doing that with a few players now.”
ROCHDALE HORNETS coach Matt Calland has confirmed Sean Penkywicz will remain as captain of the side, even though his leadership may not always be felt on the field.
With well over 350 first-grade appearances behind him, 38-year-old Penkywicz is the most experienced player in Calland’s squad having played for Halifax, Huddersfield, Leigh, Toronto and Workington.
“I don’t think he’ll play in every game for us at his age, but he always leads from the front, so when he’s on the pitch he will be captain,” said Calland.
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