KEIGHLEY COUGARS coach Rhys Lovegrove is hopeful a return to fitness of key players can kick start their promotion push.
Quentin Laulu-Togaga’e made his return from injury the previous week, while Scott Murrell was expected to feature after recovering from the hamstring injury that ruled him out against Workington and Mo Agoro has been cleared to return following his injury against Doncaster in Round 1.
Robert Matamosi was also in contention for the first time since the Challenge Cup defeat to London Broncos. Ben Stead (hip), Billy Gaylor (shoulder) and Wellington Albert (ankle) all began their rehab last week.
The West Yorkshire club went into Sunday’s clash with West Wales Raiders having won two of their opening five games, which Lovegrove knows needs to be improved on if they are to keep in the race at the top.
“There was a bit of a buzz around training last week because it is great to have some key players back available,” said Lovegrove.
“It’s probably been the first time since the first 35 seconds against Barrow that we’ve had our full spine available, so we’re excited to see how that can go.
“We know there are still a lot of improvements to be made in the next few weeks before we can really start getting the results we want to be getting and it is going to take a couple of weeks to get everyone back up to where need to be after so long without playing.
“We knew we had a very tough start and we knew that meant that we had to play well and keep our personnel fit. Unfortunately we did neither of those, which was disappointing.
“But we have got an opportunity now to get people back fit and playing and we’ve got some games now where we can put a performance in and get some points on the board.”
Unfortunately though Lovegrove will still have players unavailable for Sunday’s trip to Coventry after their first positive Covid test on Friday.
One player tested positive, and five others plus a member of coaching staff were identified as close contacts in training, requiring all to self-isolate.
ROCHDALE HORNETS have acted quickly to plug some of the gaps left by a number of injuries by signing former Halifax and Batley forward Paul Brearley.
The 6’7″ Rochdale-based back-rower was due to join Toronto Wolfpack ahead of this season, but when that fell through he returned to Halifax, before taking time out of the game due to work commitments. But a strong relationship with coach Matt Calland has seen him agree to join the club for the rest of this season.
Chairman Andy Mazey has hinted more new faces could arrive at the club in the coming days as up to 12 players were unavailable to Calland ahead of Saturday’s visit to Barrow Raiders.
Rob Fairclough (leg), Jack Higginson (shoulder), Ben Calland (thumb), Shaun Ainscough (arm), Sam Freeman (hamstring), Gavin Bennion (hamstring) and Ryan Forshaw (suspended) all missed the trip, while Joe Taira (Covid)
Declan Sheridan, Adam Hesketh, Jimmy Connaughton and Dale Bloomfield were major doubts in the build up.
“Never in all my time involved in the sport have I seen an injury situation and adversity quite like we are encountering at Rochdale right now,” said Mazey.
“Clearly some of the results and performances haven’t been great or to the level that Matt, or any of us, would expect and nobody is making any excuses, but clearly we are doing it tough right now. What doesn’t kill us only makes us stronger though and our luck will change at some point so we must stick together, roll our sleeves up and keep working hard.
“I’m working closely with Matt at the moment and we are burning the midnight oil on recruitment which is evidenced by the news of Paul Brearley coming onboard. Thanks to his relationship with Matt we’ve been able to do a deal which is a much needed boost right now.
“He will not only help in the short term but will hopefully be an important player as we head towards the business end of the season I’m sure. He won’t be the only new face coming through the door either as we strive not only to combat this current injury crisis but also strive to add quality and experience to the squad.”
HUNSLET have added strength to their pack with the signing of Mikey Wood from Newcastle Thunder.
The highly-rated, 25-year-old forward was recently released by Thunder due to work and travel commitments and Hunslet acted quickly to snap him and give coach Gary Thornton more options in the forwards.
“This is a fantastic signing for us,” said Thornton.
“Mikey is still a young man but already has lots of experience with Huddersfield Giants, Bradford Bulls and Newcastle Thunder at Championship level, and I’m delighted we have been able to add a player of his quality to our squad.
“He’s a big athletic middle unit player who can play long minutes. He carries strong and will get us on the front foot, and defends tough in that key area of the field. On the back of Zach Braham’s return, it adds strength in depth to our pack, which has a real quality feel to it now.
“I have to say a massive thanks to our chairman Kenny Sykes and the board for backing this signing. This is another huge boost for us as we look to climb up the table.”
Thornton was further boosted ahead of the weekend’s trip to London Skolars by the return to fitness of Duane Straugheir (back), Vila Halafihi (hand), Simon Brown, Niall Walker and Will Cooke (all leg).
However scrum-half Dom Brambani was unavailable with a calf strain, while George Senior and Anthony Bowman, have been recalled from their loan spells by Batley Bulldogs.
WEST WALES RAIDERS coach Aaron Wood cannot wait to welcome fans back to Stebonheath Park to witness the action first hand.
That could be as soon as this Saturday when North Wales Crusaders make the trip south. Restrictions are lifting across Wales, but the Crusaders were forced to play behind closed doors again on Sunday due to rising cases, so everyone will be keeping their fingers crossed that this doesn’t happen again this week.
“It’s been frustrating, the fans want to be back and we want them back,” said Wood.
“We might be allowed a crowd back for the Welsh derby so that will be a special day and it’ll be great to see the Welsh community come out to support that game.
“It would be a fitting game for the fans to return for and it will be something magical that weekend.
“The bar at our ground has been full every game day with fans having a few beers, trying to listen in and trying to peak their heads over the fence, but we want them back in the ground properly.
“We want to hear that roar when we run out, the applause when do something good and the booing – all the positives and negatives of having a crowd there is awesome.
“Fans can win you games and they can give you a burst of energy. Our fans are loud and proud and we want them back in to really push us on.”
WORKINGTON TOWN have agreed a deal with Newcastle Thunder to make Rhys Clarke’s loan with them a permanent move.
Clarke initially linked up with Chris Thorman’s team on a one-month loan deal in May, and has featured in every game since.
The 29-year-old has played over 140 times for Newcastle in two different stints, but a lack of game time since Thunder’s elevation to the Championship has prompted the move away.
“It has been a hard decision to make, but at my age now I just want to play every week and I am grateful the opportunity has come along with Workington,” said Clarke.
Meanwhile Thorman also confirmed it could still be a number of weeks before Elliott Miller is ready to return from a long term back and shoulder injury.
“It’s just a day by day thing with Elliot,” Thorman told the Times and Star.
“He wasn’t able to run for a over a year, that alone tells me he needs at least two months preparation.
“He’s only been back training a couple of weeks.”
BARROW RAIDERS have handed a professional contract to Academy product Charlie Emslie, who has recently been with the club on dual registration terms from Millom.
The utility player, who is most at home in the back row, featured in some of Barrow’s pre-season games, but has yet to make a first team appearance. However the 20-year-old is now looking forward to the challenge of forcing his way into Paul Crarey’s squad and playing his part in achieving the clubs future aims.
“It is a great feeling, signing with Barrow,” Emslie, who has signed a two-year deal, told the North West Evening Mail.
“I have played a few friendlies, but I have been in their system since I was 16, so now I have finally got there.
“I did not think twice about it when I was offered to sign this time. I think they have been trying to get me to do it for a while, but I did not feel ready until now.
“When I played in games before I did not feel I was at that level where I would be getting regular game time, but now I think I am ready to compete for a place.”
LONDON SKOLARS coach Jermaine Coleman has said there are no immediate plans to return to the field, despite a number of injuries throughout the squad.
The 38-year-old made three appearance for the Skolars in 2019 when injuries left the club short on numbers. It has been a similar story in previous years, but it is one the coach is hoping to avoid repeating again this year.
“At the moment were struggling with halfbacks and we tend to keep needing to play a different half back every other week,” said Coleman.
“So at the minute it is proving harder for me to keep the boots off than it would be to pull them on again.
“In an ideal world I will not have to do that this year, but it will be a needs must call.
NORTH WALES CRUSADERS were left frustrated last week when the Welsh government and local authorities informed them that their game against Doncaster on Sunday was to be played behind closed doors, despite earlier indications that supporters would be allowed to return for the first time in nearly 16 months.
Tickets had already gone on sale for the clash before the decision was made due to an increase in cases of the Delta Covid-19 variant in the local area.
The club will how have to wait for further developments before knowing if fans will finally be able to make their return when they next run out at Stadiwm ZipWorld against Keighley Cougars on Sunday, July 4.
“Within a couple of hours of tickets going on sale for the Doncaster game, we’d nearly sold out the entire allocation,” said chief executive Andy Moulsdale.
“We share our fans’ frustrations whole heartedly and hope that we can find a resolution to this in time for our next home game. We’ll be doing everything in our power to try and make this happen.
“We can only apologise for any inconvenience caused, but we have to listen to the Welsh government and local authorities to make sure the fans remain safe and healthy.”
Meanwhile the club have appointed Richard Greenwood OBE as their first ever president.
Greenwood, the father of England Rugby Union World Cup winner Will, was previously on the Wales Rugby League board and has been a constant advocate for the sport in Wales.
COVENTRY BEARS face a crucial run of games in the next month, and the importance of that is not lost on coach Richard Squires.
Having hosted Workington at Butts Park Arena on Sunday, the Bears now have three more successive home games against Keighley, Doncaster and Hunslet.
If the Bears can repeat the performance they put in against Rochdale, Squires knows how vital wins could be at this stage of the season.
“With four home games back to back we need to try and string a few competent performances together and get some results,” said Squires.
“A lot of teams won’t like coming down here this year, especially if they have spoken to other coaches and know about the way we play down here on the 4G pitch.
“I have already spoken to Rhys Lovegrove at Keighley and I know some of their older boys like QLT, Jake Webster and Scott Murrell aren’t looking forward to coming down because the 4G pitch makes for a really quick game.
“We play really well on our pitch and it suits our stye of game. We have to take advantage of that and look to pick up points now rather than having to do later in the year when we’ll have a run of games away from home.”
DONCASTER forward Ross Peltier believes the club’s recent form confirms they have got what it takes to push for promotion this year.
The South Yorkshire club went into Sunday’s clash at North wales Crusaders on the back of a four-game winning run.
“When we lost to Keighley in the first game people were a bit disappointed,” said Peltier.
“But we’ve really turned it round since then.
“Then I think going up to Workington and getting the result we did shocked a lot of people and they are now starting to realise that we’re a club who are going to be right up there in the mix come the end of the year.
“We’re taking it one game at a time but confidence is high and we’re ready for the rest of the year.
“If you look at players we have in the squad and people around it, we know we can do it this year. When I came in the club wanted to go one step further than previously and get past the plays-off and into the Championship.
“The likes of myself, Sam Smeaton, Ben Johnston, Liam Johnson and Misi Taulapapa coming in have all added some experience to quite young squad. We have hit that perfect balance of youth and experience and between us, we all know what it takes to go up.”
Meanwhile, Peltier will no longer be standing as the Green Party’s candidate in the upcoming Batley and Spen by-election after his candidacy was revoked when a number of tweets posted a decade ago involving homophobic and sexist comments re-emerged.
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