Barrow Raiders coach Paul Crarey knows the fans will have a significant role to play when they return to Craven Park this weekend.
The Cumbrian side host North Wales Crusaders on Sunday with spectators in the ground for the first time since March 2020, and Crarey knows this will add even more spice to an already intriguing clash.
“We have progressed with each game that we’ve played,” said Crarey.
“But as with any team in any division at the moment, there is a period where we lose control of the game. Whether that’s because of the rule changes or there being no fans I don’t know.
“It’s very strange to play without supporters behind you. We have a good fan base at Barrow, with 1,000-plus every week and we’re going from strength to strength, so I can’t wait until the Barrow chant goes up again.
“That’s what will give home teams consistency. When the home fans see their team dropping off a bit, they’ll really get behind the team and lift them back up.
“I know that when we’re going through a sticky patch, the roar goes up from the stands and it puts everyone back on their toes and you realise that you’re playing in front of a crowd and you have to do your best for them. That’s when the crowd come into their own.
“At Barrow the fans are right of top of the pitch, you’re more or less touching them as you run down the sidelines, so when the cheers go up the hairs on the back of your neck stand up.
“It’s been a long time and I can’t wait to have them back.
“North Wales have Karl Ashall, Jono Smith and Brad Brennan, who have all played for Barrow in the past so that will add a bit of spice and they have strike all across the field, so it will be a great game.”
LONDON SKOLARS coach Jermaine Coleman has reunited with his brother Jy-mel again after agreeing a short-term loan deal for the half-back with Hunslet.
Jermaine was in need of cover in the halves after Mike Bishay, who had only just returned from surgery, broke his wrist in the defeat at Workington.
Skolars are now without up to nine experienced first-team players through injury, and Jermaine believes this latest foray into the loan market is the perfect solution for all parties.
“We have had rotten luck with injuries and Jy-mel has not yet had a chance at Hunslet,” said Jermaine.
“Gary (Thornton – Hunslet coach) thankfully understands Jy-mel’s ambition to represent Jamaica this year and has kindly allowed him to get some much needed game time, and with our situation we were happy to take him back for an initial two weeks.
“He brings great experience and a good understanding of the game. He will add some control and direction to our team that we have missed due to injuries.
“Unfortunately all our injuries have hit very quickly and very early. But hopefully that means that come June we’ll get five or six fresh players back who can really give the squad a lift.
“We’ll just be hoping that we have put ourselves in a good enough position that after five or six games we’re still in a position in the top half of the table that we can then build on.”
KEIGHLEY COUGARS coach Rhys Lovegrove admits it is starting to feel like they have never been away.
The season is now three rounds old, and that run of regular game time, plus the return of fans, is starting to see some sense of normality re-emerging.
It’s getting to that point,” said Lovegrove.
“Having back-to-back footie back is great. Having that quick turnaround from a game and being able to get the players back on the field is really exciting.
“The biggest thing for the players now is just having that repetition again. They haven’t played much Rugby League in the last 18 months, because even last season we had a few games rained off at the start of the year.
“Their ability to come back in and play continuous rugby again has been outstanding. For a big bunch of my group, this run of consecutive games will be the longest they have played in succession since 2019.
“With the fans back as well it starts to feel more like a normal product and that’s very exciting.”
Lovegrove went into Sunday’s game against Rochdale nursing three key injuries sustained in the defeat to Barrow Raiders.
Quentin Laulu-Togaga’e (leg), Dan Parker and Zach Braham (both hamstring), were sidelined, with Ben Stead, Spencer Darley and Bobby Darbyshire coming in to the squad.
COVENTRY BEARS coach Richard Squires has not ruled out dipping into the loan market agin this year, but has said it will only happen when it is absolutely necessary.
Squires has brought in Bradley Ho from Bradford and AJ Towse from York on season-long loan deals, with both players already starting to make a mark on the side.
“We’ll potentially look at the loans market again and we have had a few options,” said Squires.
“We had to bring AJ in because we’ve lost Hayden Freeman with a wrist injury, and Niall Sydney has done his ACL. We’d eliminated all options there and we looked at a few possibilities. But AJ was the best option for us that fitted the culture of the club and we can bring his development on. It’s the same with Brad, we’d lacked a bit of punch over the last few years and I really liked the look of Brad. He can’t leave Bradford because that’s where he needs to be for his long-term development. He’s really starting to find form with us and it won’t be long before he makes his debut for Bradford, and we’ll have played a part in getting him there.
“We brought those boys in because we really needed them, but we do have strength in depth now so if we do bring anyone else in now it’ll be to cover injuries or because someone has come on the market that we feel we can work with long-term.
“We won’t do the minimum two weeks or a month, we’re not going to be working on a rotation basis. If we get anyone it will be a bit of a project for us and a way to help their main club develop them as a player.”
DONCASTER coach Richard Horne knows his side can not afford to have too many bad days at the office if they are to stay in contention for promotion this year.
The Dons bounced back from an opening day defeat at Keighley to beat Rochdale before hosting West Wales Raiders in front of fans on Sunday.
Horne’s men are just one of a number of clubs expected to be fighting for a place in the Championship, and with competition coming from across the league, there may be no room for errors for some clubs in 2021.
“Keighley have spent big money and have probably done what Newcastle did last year with the players they have brought in,” said Horne.
“Barrow are always going to be a big, powerful team who play really direct, Rochdale have recruited really well and Hunslet are always in or around there with us. So there are a lot of teams challenging.
“North Wales are a really big, progressing team too and it will be interesting to see how they go again this year.
“It is really wide open for anyone to win the competition, so we have to be at our best every week.”
Elsewhere the club have agreed to allow Kieran Cross to leave the club.
“We’re disappointed to lose Crossy but we respect his position and have agreed to release him from his contract,” said chief executive Carl Hall.
“He made a significant contribution while at the club and we wish him all the best for his future.”
NORTH WALES CRUSADERS have benefited from Batley Bulldogs’ strong start to the Championship campaign by bringing in half back Joe Sanderson on a season-long loan.
The 24-year-old previously spent three seasons in League 1 with Hunslet, scoring over 500 points for the South Leeds club, and had planned to move to Australia in 2020.
With the Coronavirus pandemic putting an end to that, Sanderson joined Batley for the start of this season but has since found his opportunities limited at the Fox’s Biscuits Stadium.
“Batley have been going really well and it’s been tough to get in,” said Sanderson.
“I’m looking forward to getting some game time and I’m really grateful to North Wales for the opportunity. I’m aiming to grab it with both hands.
“Crusaders are a really good side and I’m hoping to add something, push for a spot in the team and help them get some wins.
“One of my strengths is controlling games and I can hopefully do my bit on the back of all the work the forwards do.”
Head coach Anthony Murray added: “He’s been fighting for a spot at a Championship club and has plenty of experience in League 1 so it’s a really positive deal for us.
“We’ve got some good, young halfbacks at the club already, but Joe will add a bit more experience and add further competition for places.”
HUNSLET have received positive news on fullback Jimmy Watson.
The 29-year-old is currently sidelined with an unusual knee injury which required surgery. But the club have since found out he may not miss as much action as first feared.
He will however temporarily be joined in the treatment room by prop Sion Jones and threequarter Matt Chrimes, who sustained injuries in the win over North Wales Crusaders, while on-loan forward Anthony Bowman has also been ruled out before making a single appearance for the club.
“The doctor was very pleased with how Jimmy’s progressing,” said coach Gary Thornton.
“The injury is healing pretty well and he may not be out for as long as first feared, which was six-to-eight weeks. He may, being slightly optimistic, be back in a month or so – it’s a very positive development.
“Matt and Sion have grade one and grade two sprained ankles, while Anthony suffered a fractured wrist in training on Tuesday night, ironically in a collision with another of our loan men from Batley, Wayne Reittie.
“I feel for Anthony, who is aiming to make his mark on the Ireland squad ahead of the World Cup.”
ROCHDALE HORNETS chairman Andy Mazey has said the recent return to action is a suitable payback for all all the hard work everyone connected to the playing side at the club put in during the 14 months the game was in lockdown.
During that time, the players were required to keep themselves fit and ready to play, despite not knowing when their next game would be. They finally returned to the field against West Wales Raiders earlier this month – 420 days since their last competitive action.
“Being back playing is definitely reward for the players for their loyalty and dedication over the past year and a bit,” said Mazey.
“But that also extends to all the staff – coaches, physios, support staff, medical staff and volunteer. There has been a real loyalty to the club from everyone.
“Patience has been a key word over the last 14 months. The guys at tis level aren’t paid massive amounts of money so it would have been very easy for people to just walk away from the sport.
“But they didn’t and we are really thankful for that loyalty. It’s been great to see it from everyone.”
WORKINGTON TOWN was left counting the cost of the recent victory over London Skolars, with Jake Moore facing a spell on the sidelines.
But thankfully for coach Chris Thorman it is nothing too long term and he has other options in the forwards to offer suitable cover.
“Jake had to have gas and air on the sidelines and he went to hospital,” Thorman told the Times and Star.
“His shoulder had popped out which they managed to get back in and his AC joint was sore.
“Hopefully he will be back in a couple of weeks and we are just pleased it wasn’t anything more.
“We do have a handful of injuries that we need to manage, but the good thing is we now have a squad with strength in depth.”
WEST WALES RAIDERS coach Aaron Wood has warned people to expect his side to get better and better as the season progresses.
Wood has build almost an entirely new squad for this season, so he is expecting them to take some time to fully gel, but still expects them to perform to their best every week.
“There is still a lot to work on,” said Wood, who despite defeats to Rochdale Hornets and Coventry Bears in the opening two rounds, was buoyed by aspects of his side’s performances.
“We’ve showed glimpses of what we’re about but there are still some areas that have let us down but there are always things you can’t replicate in training and need to see it in action to pick up on.
“Especially in this league when we’re not full time so don’t get that much time together. It means we’ve got to try and cram everything into a two-hour session every couple of days.
“But we’re ticking off the boxes week in, week out, which is the main thing. So as long as we can get into the next couple of games with all the boxes ticked we’ll be doing alright.
“We’re obviously trying to win games along the way, but we need to get our team right first before we can start winning games.
“Training has been going really well so we’re happy with where we are right now.
“If we can put our best foot forward in games we’ll be in the mix against a lot of teams.”
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