North Wales Crusaders have finally been able to see Tyme Dow-Nikau in action – 15-months after he initially signed with the club.
Coach Anthony Murray signed the centre last February and he arrived from Australia just days before the country went into full national lockdown amid the coronavirus pandemic.
As League 1 did not resume last year, Dow-Nikau never got the chance to play for Crusaders, and after basing himself with family friends in York, he signed for the City Knights ahead of this season.
But with the Crusaders losing Earl Hurst for the season, Nikau has returned to Wales on loan from James Ford’s side and Murray is excited to finally see him play.
“Earl has done his achilles and had surgery on Friday,” explained Murray.
“Ben Morris and Matt Reid are also injured so we were struggling in the centres.
“Tyme has come back to us on loan and has slotted in to cover that, so hopefully he can get a run of games with us.
“He has gained a lot of experience over in Australia and has been part of a very good York squad in the Championship during the off-season and start of the 2021 campaign.
“It’s been a long time coming to see him in a North Wales shirt and I’m really grateful to York for letting him come back to us and giving us chance to see what we actually signed him for last year.
“Losing Earl is a big blow. He was looking really strong and powerful on that left edge, so it’s unfortunate to lose him. He trained really hard all through Covid and all this year, so to pick up this injury is a big blow fo him on a personal front as well as for the club.”
The returning Dow-Nikau added: “It’s good to be back and hopefully I can add to what Muzza and the boys have already done this season.
“It’ll be good for me to get a run of games under my belt and help the club pick up some wins.
“I’ve still followed the club since I left and I’m looking forward to ripping in and doing a job for the team.
“It’ll be good to finally play in front of the Crusaders fans and I’m sure they’ve really missed the games during the pandemic.”
WORKINGTON TOWN coach Chris Thorman was delighted to welcome fans back to Derwent Park against Doncaster on Sunday, but admits empty stadiums have taught him new things about his squad.
Town picked up wins against Hunslet, London Skolars and North Wales Crusaders in behind closed doors games, with the quiet atmosphere allowing Thorman to experience a new aspect of the game.
“There is no atmosphere when the fans aren’t there and it’s a different spectacle all together,” said Thorman.
“When the fans are there doing what they do best – getting behind their team and creating an atmosphere – the players feed off that.
“Playing behind closed doors is definitely different but I probably learned a bit more about our players because it was so quiet in the ground.
“As a coach, you know who the communicators are off the field, and you know who the communicators are in training, but in a game situation it’s a different story completely.
“With no fans in, I could hear who my talkers on the field are. Sometimes when things went wrong, I got a different perspective on it when I could actually hear whats being said amongst the players.”
KEIGHLEY COUGARS coach Rhys Lovegrove expects the standard of League 1 to go up even further now that supporters are back in the grounds.
The Cougars welcomed 700 fans back into Cougar Park for the recent close defeat to Rochdale Hornets and Lovegrove believes a crowd turns a game in to a occasion.
“Having a crowd behind you does make a huge difference,” said Lovegrove.
“Players especially are creatures of habit and they don’t tend to like change too much. They have played in front of a crowd for pretty much all of their careers and it’s such a visible and verbal aspect to their gameday experience. Having that removed does have a huge effect on them and almost makes a game feel more like training.
“Training’s great, but they are there to get better, not play footie. They’re not there to give that last 10 or 20 percent you do in a game and games are not about playing against your mates.
“Having that crowd behind you really helps the game mindset and game day experience.
“Now that they are back, I do think performances will now go up across the league. I’m also expecting the games to go up in quality because of the experience of having crowds there getting behind their teams and players being a bit more excited by that.”
HUNSLET coach Gary Thornton believes his side will soon be able to put in regular 80-minute performances.
In the recent game against Barrow Raiders, the visitors scored three times in the last 15 minutes to take the game away from Hunslet.
But for Thornton, the more his team play, the better they will be at holding on to games.
“The players have been suffering from fatigue in the closing stages of games, by comparison with their opponents, and there’s a reason for that,” said Thornton.
“Our pre-season preparations have been limited, partly because of limited access to the council-owned South Leeds Stadium during the Covid-19 pandemic, while most other teams own their own grounds and haven’t had that problem.
“We could hold only one training session a week initially, through the high cost of adhering to Covid-19 protocols, and we’ve unavoidably been behind schedule in our preparations.
“Last year, when we’d started well and were finishing strongly in games, we’d enjoyed 42 sessions pre-season. This year we had twelve, which says everything. We’re undercooked, until we get a few games under our belts, it’s a simple fact.”
That defeat also had an impact on the squad with Duane Straugheir (back), Vila Halafihi (wrist), Simon Brown (knee) and Kiedan Hartley all picking up injuries, forcing Thornton to once again go into the loan market.
Young Warrington Wolves halfback Dave Gibbons Jnr, the son of the former Hawks player of the same name, joined the club ahead of Sunday’s fixture against Keighley, as did Halifax duo Curtis Davies and Ben Tibbs.
“Dave is a member of Warrington’s Super League squad and we’ve been lucky to be able to get him,” said Thornton.
“We’re also fortunate to have been able to draft in Curtis and Ben.”
BARROW RAIDERS are once again making their games accessible to the younger generation of fans by handing out free season tickets to local school children.
The club launched a similar initiative last year, but only benefitted from one home game before the season was brought to an early halt amid the coronavirus pandemic.
That match, a 50-6 win over Coventry Bears, attracted a crowd of over 1,200 and while crowds may remain limited for a while longer, chairman Steve Neale is set on getting as many people into Craven Park as they can.
Supporters were also granted free entry to Sunday’s clash with North Wales Crusaders if they turned up before 1pm to enjoy numerous pre-match festivities.
“We are determined to grow our crowds,” said Neale.
“We’ve distributed roughly 17,000 season tickets to every child in south Cumbria through our foundation team and their fantastic work.
“We want kids playing Rugby League, they are our fans of tomorrow. I want this ground bouncing with a great atmosphere. I remember as a kid Barrow got 5,000 in attendance and that atmosphere is almost addictive.
“A ground that is packed will hopefully make fans want to return and become attractive to those who possibly don’t watch the sport.
“It’s a close ground and a good place to be. We want to create this buzz, this atmosphere and we are wanting these people to return in the future.”
WEST WALES RAIDERS coach Aaron Wood insists he will not rush any injured player back into action before they are ready.
Star signing Gavin Henson has not played a league game yet this season, but did feature in the Challenge Cup defeat to Widnes Vikings.
He his since been sidelined with a calf injury, with Wood saying he will only make his League 1 debut once he is 100 percent fit and ready to do so.
“There is no point pushing people too early,” said Wood.
“The players have to feel 100 percent before I’ll play them.
“We are still so early in season and there is a long way to go yet, so I can’t have people playing when they are not fully fit.
“On several occasions this year we are playing away on a Sunday and then turning round for a home game on Saturday so we have to manage our players accordingly.
“Our bus rides aren’t short trips, they’re four, five, or six hour journeys so we have got to make sure that everyone is mentally and physically fit.
“We’re not going to push anyone back until we need to, so we’ll take it training session by training session and get everyone right.”
COVENTRY BEARS coach Richard Squires has said there is a different feeling around training now that there is match action to enjoy at the end of the week.
“It’s good to be back, it makes the weeks at work go much quicker when we have a game to look forward to,” said Squires.
“It’s a lot easier for the lads when they can see their training is building towards a game. It’s especially better for those that travel.
“It’s tough throughout pre-season when they are travelling down and there is nothing at the end of it. Whereas, now there is a game at the end of the week and it feels much more of a luxury to travel down.
“It only feels like it was a few weeks ago that we were talking about having an eight-week pre-season and then the next thing we know we’re into the league games.
“It’s come around really quickly but we are all loving being back on the field and it’s good for everybody.”
ROCHDALE HORNETS chairman Andy Mazey is delighted to see fans finally return to games across the country, even if he has to wait another four weeks to welcome their own supporters back to the Crown Oil Arena.
The pitch at the stadium is currently undergoing some maintenance work, meaning the Hornets now don’t have a home game until the visit of North Wales Crusaders on Sunday, June 27.
“It’s been great to be back playing, but it’s not been the same without the fans,” said Mazey.
“Ultimately this is a spectator sport and whatever club I’ve been involved with, I have always said the fans are the biggest stakeholders. They are the backbone of every club so I can’t wait to see our fans back in the ground.
“When you talk about loyalty and patience, the fans have shown a tremendous amount of loyalty to the club in terms of the amount of donations from people not wanting season ticket money back.
“I am really grateful the fans have all stuck with us and I can’t wait to see them back.”
LONDON SKOLARS might have a bit of time to wait yet, but coach Jermaine Coleman is already looking forward to welcoming fans back to New River Stadium next month.
The Skolars, who are in the middle of a four-game away run, were last at home against North Wales Crusaders on the opening day, and return to their own stadium to face Hunslet on Saturday, June 12.
“It will definitely be nice to have the fans back in at our games,” said Coleman.
“We were asked at the start of the season to move a couple of games around early on, which we agreed to with the thought process at the time that by the time we finally get to play some home games, fans would be allowed back in.
“That has proved to be the case and we will have a run of games over the summer with our own fans behind us.
“It’s going to be great for them. I have spoken to a couple of them and they are just excited about getting back to watching the game live.”
DONCASTER played in front of their own fans at the Keepmoat Stadium for the first time in 14 months when they faced West Wales Raiders recently.
And the difference those supporters made on the day was not lost on scrum half Matty Beharrell.
“We were excited to play in front of them again,” he said.
“We were all waiting for them to get back – that’s why we play the game, to put on a show.
“It’s another stepping stone on the way back to normality, it was great backing and in the end we were able to put on a good performance for them.”
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