Rochdale Hornets Chairman Andy Mazey believes the club’s new partnership with Super League newcomers Toronto Wolfpack can have a huge impact on the game as a whole, rather than just the two parties involved.
As well as dual-registration, the partnership will also create a pathway for students’ progress in the game, as well as offering opportunities for both clubs to join forces at a community level to assist the growth of the game nationally and internationally.
“It’s a massive deal for us and it’s much wider than the usual dual-registration agreement,” said Mazey.
“Both clubs are based and train at Hopwood Hall College and the coaches Matt Calland and Brian McDermott being old team-mates from Bradford, there are many different synergies between the two clubs and it made sense for us to start working together.
“Throughout pre-season there have been a few joint sessions where we’ve been able to run out against them, giving us both the chance to have meaningful sessions behind closed doors.
“In his job, Matt teaches and coaches at Hopwood Hall, and we have our Category Three Academy based there as well, so potentially this partnership is creating a pathway through the game. Someone could join the Category Three Academy at 16, progress into League 1 with ourselves and the very elite kids have then got the opportunity to progress further with Toronto.
“Toronto have got quite a small squad, but if we can take some players from them and strengthen our squad it will be a great boost to our younger, less experienced squad. But even without that, the players who have come up from the amateur game are now literally rubbing shoulders with stars so they can take a lot even from that.
“Also, with the World Cup coming us as well, we can work with each other to grow the game and get some engagement within the town.
“While Toronto have got the high-profile stars, we have the means of delivery through our foundation. Between us we can make it so Sonny Bill Williams or Jon Wilkin can go into a local school or the community and bring profile to the game.”
NORTH WALES CRUSADERS coach Anthony Murray has said he will try and catch some local amateur action once the new NCL season gets underway as he looks to add further numbers to his squad.
Karl Ashall (double hernia), Joe Ryan (torn pec) and Matt Reid (groin) are all currently out for the Crusaders, leaving Murray with 21 available players, meaning reinforcements would be needed if anyone picks up an injury.
RFL rules this year would allow Murray to dual-register up to ten players from the amateur game, who could feature for them when needed, but remain with their community club when not.
“Matt will be out for another couple of weeks, while Karl and Joe are going to be longer,” said Murray.
“Joe may be back in around a month, but we’re still waiting for Karl to get his results back and then have surgery, so we’re probably going to be without him for another twelve weeks or so.
“It’s not ideal, because we only have a squad of 24 anyway, so this puts us down to 21 already and the season hasn’t even properly kicked off yet.
“I will be actively looking to see if there are a couple more bodies we can get in, but we’ll have to wait and see what becomes available.
“We would definitely look to the amateur dual-registration and with the season kicking off soon that is a good opportunity to get out to a few games and see a few players.
“We’re in no rush though; we still have 21 fit players raring to go.”
DONCASTER coach Richard Horne has said defence was his main focus throughout his pre-season preparations.
Having lost their opening pre-season outing to Sheffield, the South Yorkshire club showed improvements in their win over Wakefield Reserves, before Saturday’s last-minute 20-24 Challenge Cup victory against Thornhill Trojans.
The Dons now get their League campaign underway with a trip to North Wales Crusaders on Sunday.
“We have focused a lot on defence in pre-season, because early in the season that is where games are won and lost,” said Horne.
“At that stage of the year timing and execution isn’t quite there with the ball in hand, so if everyone is defensively good and knows their job, it works well.
“Attacking isn’t an issue for us, because we’ve got some boys, like Rangi Chase and Watson Boas, who can come up with something special. We also have some great strike on the edges in Jason Tali and Sam Smeaton, with Jack Logan out the back as well.
“That is a great threat for us, so we really wanted to focus defensively.
“The game against Sheffield gave us some areas we needed to work on and we did that, then against Wakefield it was a bit of indiscipline that cost us, because it gave them field position. Teams in this division will punish us if we do that again.
“We made too many silly decisions like ball steals and trying to get the ball back without working hard, and we don’t want to be about that. We want to be about working hard and earning the right to attack.”
HUNSLET will remain in the hands of its supporters after proposals to adopt a Hybrid Supporter/Investor ownership model were dropped.
After a period of due diligence by non-executive director Damian Irvine and investor Jason Peterkin, outgoing Chairman Neil Hampshire confirmed that the club would remain fully supporter owned, largely because only a small number of investors had expressed interest.
And, as all were in favour of the club retaining a majority shareholding, the work required to set up a separate Investment Group company to support a Hybrid Supporter/Investor ownership model wasn’t deemed cost effective.
In the time since the move away from fan ownership was first proposed, Hunslet Independent Supporters’ Trust membership has more than quadrupled, with annual membership income increasing from £12,000 to £25,000.
Also the forecast debt to the end of the 2020 season of £30,000 has already been reduced by £27,400, with investors, who will work with the club to assess how and when funds would be provided prepared to underwrite any shortfall.
With Hampshire’s tenure as Chairman now having come to an end, Hall of Famer Kenny Sykes has been appointed to the role.
Sykes played for the club in its incarnations as Hunslet and New Hunslet for around thirteen seasons, from 1971 to 1983, and also became President of the Hunslet Ex-Parkside RL Past Players’ Association last year,
“I’m a supporter and always will be,” said Sykes.
“The club’s been good to me from the very start, as an outsider from York among lads who went to Hunslet schools, and I’ve always tried to give back to Hunslet in return.
“I’ve put a few bob in over the years and I’m happy to take on the position of Chairman and do the handshaking and the greeting that comes with the role.”
NEWCASTLE THUNDER coach Simon Finnigan is delighted with the fitness of his squad ahead of this weekend’s re-arranged Challenge Cup tie at Keighley.
The North East club came out of its pre-season campaign almost completely injury-free, leaving Finnigan with a selection headache for the game, which initially fell foul of the weather yesterday (Sunday).
“I was really pleased with where we were after pre-season,” said Finnigan.
“We got a couple of decent run-outs and came through those game relatively injury free.
“You normally expect to lose a few players in pre-season, but we’ve only lost Rhys Clarke with a broken thumb. He’ll be out for about a month in total, which is unfortunate because he had been going really well.
“In terms of fitness and how we’re playing, I’m also pretty excited by what’s ahead of us, but you never really get a full gauge of where you are until the games start coming.
“We have a good size and a good balance, so for now I can’t see anyone else coming in.”
COVENTRY BEARS have had a much needed injection of experience after signing former Hull KR, Featherstone, Hunslet and Doncaster centre or backrower Liam Welham.
The 31-year-old left Doncaster in 2018 and, due to work and family commitments, stepped back from the professional game and returned to his amateur club Myton Warriors as a player-coach.
But a change in his working schedule has given him the opportunity to commit to the game at this level again and the Bears were quick to snap him up.
“Liam’s experience speaks for itself,” said Bears director of rugby Alan Robinson.
“Bringing a player of his calibre into our environment is really positive on a number of levels. He can not only add a positional threat on the field, but also fits in perfectly with the group, which allows us to reinforce everything we are doing.
“He is also a very strong character and will drive standards, which is exactly what we need to keep doing.”
BARROW RAIDERS have handed another full-time contract to a rising star, who initially joined the club on dual-registration from the amateur game.
Prop Carl McBain, who was previously with Barrow Island, has joined Tom Hopkins (Askam) and Mark Tyson (Egremont) in committing to professional game after impressing coach Paul Crarey during pre-season.
The dual-registration laws between League 1 clubs and the amateur game allows up to ten players to train with, and feature for, League 1 clubs, whilst also remaining with their amateur teams. So the fact that three such players have now signed full terms with the Raiders will give the club the opportunity to cast their eyes over more amateur stars.
“When the season gets going locally we are going to get out there and see if there are others we can bring in,” said Crarey.
“It’s been a great system so far and the guys we have brought in have been outstanding in their approach from week one and have improved massively week on week.
“They have all been keen to get involved, but it’s up to them whether to stay amateur or go pro.
“There is a very healthy rugby scene in the area and it’s great that all the clubs are working together to develop some of these guys.”
LONDON SKOLARS have added two more names to their squad with the re-signing of Malikhi Lloyd-Jones and the signing of Max Clarke, who has been a product of the London Broncos’ Academy since 2015.
“I am really happy that Malikhi has re-signed with the club,” said coach Jermaine Coleman.
“He had a positive start last season, but unfortunately an injury cut his season short. Hopefully, with a good pre-season under his belt, he will be back to full fitness and will be able to have a real impact on our team.
“He is a dynamic player, very direct and I am excited for him to be back fit.
“Max has massive potential. He is a strong player, he is very quick and has good core skills. I think he just needs to find his way in the game and get a bit of self-confidence.
“He is a really exciting player and I think he will add a real threat in our outside backs.”
Meanwhile the club has confirmed its opening home game of the season against North Wales Crusaders will now be played at New River Stadium on Sunday March 1.
The game had been scheduled to take place the previous day at Saracens’ Allianz Park as part of a double header with Toronto Wolfpack also set to face St Helens in Super League.
However significant changes were made to the agreed terms and conditions of the original agreed fixture, meaning the Wolfpack had to switch their game to Warrington.
WEST WALES RAIDERS had a busy time last week confirming eleven members of their 2020 squad.
Morgan Evans, Phil Cowburn, Alan Pope, Emosi Nadaubale, Robert Matamosi, Dan Maiden, Harry Boots, Ryan Shallish, Rowland Kaye and Paddy Jennings, who all featured last year, have re-signed, while Dafydd Phillips, who has played for the club at amateur level, has also joined.
This gives coach Aaron Wood an initial squad of 20 players and he is more than happy with what he has to work with.
“They have all been training with us for a while, but it’s been a long journey getting the contracts signed and the official paperwork done,” said Wood.
“But I am pleased with how the squad is coming together and we’re going to be a team that gets stronger as the year goes on, with some guys still due to come in.
“We have got a really good bunch of boys and they are solid as a group. They maybe missed that tightness last year, but we’re building that and everyone is buying into it.”
WORKINGTON TOWN coach Chris Thorman could soon be adding two new local faces to his squad.
“We have got a couple of lads from local amateur scene – Adam Ramsden and Ryan Wilson – on trial with us at the moment,” said Thorman.
“They play in positions I want to strengthen and I have always made a point of wanting as many Cumbrians as possible in our squad, so we are just having a look at them.”
KEIGHLEY COUGARS coach Rhys Lovegrove has said he will not stop pushing his players forward as the season gets underway.
The West Yorkshire side enjoyed a positive pre-season and, with a strong squad at his disposal, Lovegrove knows they can only get better.
“I am really happy with the squad I have got,” said Lovegrove.
“There is good competition for spots, they have all pushed themselves and collectively they have developed as a squad.
“We always want individual player performances to get better and I will continually give the group the opportunity to keep developing.
“There is going to become a point where I set certain standards that I expect the players to reach. But that will constantly change.
“Every time they put in good performances, I will move the bar.
“Our pre-season games set the minimum standard I expect. I expected more against Newcastle in the Cup on Sunday and that may change again ahead of the opening League 1 game against Hunslet.”