Barrow Raiders coach Paul Crarey knows his side’s unbeaten start to the season could prove vital as the year goes on.
The side went into Sunday’s home clash with Doncaster on the back of seven wins and a draw so far this year and are currently in pole position for promotion back to the Championship.
“Getting wins under your belt is always a massive thing,” said Crarey.
“Especially if you later go on to hit a bad patch and lose a couple of players.
“The last time we got promoted we only lost four games all year – one in the Challenge Cup to Leeds, two to Toronto and Whitehaven way. We still didn’t win the league that year so we know that if we start losing four or five games we’ll end up in the play-offs.
“We know we won’t go unbeaten all year, especially with the personnel Workington, Doncaster, Keighley and Rochdale have so it is great that we’ve had a good start.
“No one can take those wins away from us, and we’ll just continue to work hard and take it week by week and preparing well as a group.
“The lads have bought in to what we’re doing and now we’re ready to push on moving forward.”
Crarey also confirmed that ex-Hull KR forward Ryan Shaw is back in training following a knee injury sustained earlier in the year.
“Ryan is not far from coming back now,” said Crarey.
“He started off like a house on fire against Oldham and scored a 90 metre try against them. We know what he can do and we just want players to be playing.
“Even when he’s was injured he was at every single training session and has done everything we have asked of him in preparation to get back, so he deserves to be back as soon as he can.”
LONDON SKOLARS coach Jermaine Coleman has said it was almost inevitable that teams would pick up more injuries than normal this year.
The capital club have been one of the worst hit clubs in recent week’s with Coleman regularly losing two or three players to injury each week.
“Our injury situation feels like it’s getting worse every week,” said Coleman, who has pulled his own boots back on to play.
“My decision to go with a smaller squad this year has maybe backfired a little bit, but a lot of other clubs are struggling too. I get asked a lot if I want to play again, and I always say I don’t want to unless it’s a necessity, so when I have put my boots back on it shows what situation we are in.
“Unfortunately it has come as an effect of having so long off last year. In previous League 1 seasons we’ve sometimes only played two or three games a month and have a week off here or two weeks off there. But now we’re coming in from not playing in over 14 months and then playing every week.
“It was almost inevitable that bodies are going to break a little bit quicker because they are not used to that combat and fatigue every week.
“It’s great to have the game back, but the time the players had off was maybe not fully taken into consideration. Not only are they playing every week, but they work all day, so if they get a knock and are then on their feet all day, there is no chance to rest it and recover.
“I spoke with a physio recently and he said across the league there has been an increase in injuries of 30 to 40 per cent this year.
“It’s not rocket science to see that there is a link there between the length of time players had off and intensity they have gone back in at.”
WORKINGTON TOWN coach Chris Thorman has said he has been drilling the importance of string defending into his squad.
The Cumbrian side went into Sunday’s clash with West Wales Raiders with the second best defensive record in the league with just 158 points conceded across eight games – only Barrow have a tighter defence than that.
“The players are buying into defensive side of game now,” said Thorman.
“Most buy in to offensive side, but when comes to doing the nitty gritty tough stuff consistently, defence is the most important element of the game. It’s been a slow process getting them to understand that, but they’re getting there now.
“I like to think of myself as fairly balanced, but it’s a fact that have to focus on defence and in this country especially, we don’t do that.
“Anyone who watched me as a player will know I like to attack and not necessarily defend, but as a coach my attitude is it that you need to defend as a team and do things consistently, together and absolutely understand your role. I don’t leave too many grey areas there. If I make it as black and white as possible there is less chance for error or a communication break down.
“They know that they earn the right to play with the ball and that they earn that by controlling the ball and defending properly.”
KEIGHLEY COUGARS have handed a new two-year contract to Jack Miller, meaning the half back will remain at the club until the end of the 2023 season.
The 26-year-old arrived at the club from Doncaster ahead of the 2019 season, and has been an ever present since.
Despite the off-field difficulties faced by the club in his debut year, Miller was a star on the pitch, finishing 2019 as the club’s leading try scorer.
“I’ve obviously been here since the dark days and when you’ve gone through all that you become emotionally attached to the club,” said Miller.
“It has become a home away from home really full of great people and to leave would have been difficult.
“I want to carry on moving forward with the club and achieve our goal of promotion to the Championship.
“I’m here for a long time, not just a good time.”
Prior to Sunday’s trip to North Wales Crusaders, Miller has scored 21 tries and 58 goals in 34 appearances and chairman Mick O’Neill MBE couldn’t be happier to keep the star man on board.
“It is absolutely brilliant that Jack will be staying with the Cougars until 2023,” he said.
“As a club we are going places and we want to reach these places with Jack continuing to play his part as a key member of the squad as he is one of the pin up boys of the Cougars at this current moment in time.”
ROCHDALE HORNETS chairman Andy Mazey has said the benefit of their partnership with Hopwood Hall college can easily be seen in recent team line ups.
Injuries at the club meant that Ben Forster and Dan Nixon – two of the Academy players that work with coach Matt Calland at the college – made their debuts in the recent trip to Workington. They backed up strong performances in Cumbria by retaining their place in the team the following week against North Wales Crusaders.
“They are both 18-year-old and really do show the benefits of what we have in place here at Rochdale,” said Mazey.
“We have a great player pathway available with an Academy that is already so well established. Just look at some of the names that have come through from there like Matty Ashton, Jack Ashworth, Kyle Eastmond and Jordan Tuner. They have all come through that Hopwood College side, so it proves how valuable that pathway is.
“Ben and Dan have got massive futures in the game and we will be signing them on pro-contracts because they are ready to step up to the first team already.
“It shows that we’re investing in youth and backing the academy.”
WEST WALES RAIDERS coach Aaron Wood has said the club are looking into the option of bringing some players across from France, but admits it’s not been as easy as it might have been in the past.
Wood coached at Toulouse before joining the Raiders so does have links and contacts out there, and with the season in France now over, so players may be interested in a move to the UK.
“We are looking, but it is more difficult after Brexit,” said Wood.
“When it comes to the visa part of things, there is all sorts we have to look at and certain rules we have to follow. But we are looking in to things to see if we can get anyone in from there.”
COVENTRY BEARS coach Richard Squires is hoping the game in the Midlands can benefit from Kevin Sinfield’s cross-code move to Leicester Tigers.
Sinfield will end his long association with Leeds Rhinos at the end of the season, but Squires doesn’t think he will be leaving the game behind completely.
“I really do hope we can benefit from Kevin’s move to midlands,” said Squires.
“He does so much for the sport and I think, depending on where he’s based and his time, he’ll still be keen to offer his expertise in the area and look to grow rugby as a whole – league and union – with development work. Leicester is not that far from Coventry so hopefully we can tap into that.
“Losing Kevin is a massive loss to sport and shows what we have to compete with.”
HUNSLET coach Gary Thornton was happy to send Harry Kidd to Coventry.
The popular prop was named in the squad for the trip to the West Midlands after proving his recovery from an arm injury picked up against Keighley in May.
Former Halifax player Kidd was arguably Hunslet’s best-performing forward before his fitness setback.
The Yorkshire side were aiming to build on a run of four successive wins culminating in a 38-12 success at West Wales Raiders.
Thornton was hampered by unavailability and injuries before and during the during the match, in which his side held a 26-0 half-time lead.
“We had only 15 fit players in the second half,” said Thornton. “One of those, prop Jordan Andrade, who I’d wanted to have plenty of game time, played the full 40 minutes, which will have done him a lot of good.
“It was understandable in the circumstances that we couldn’t continue scoring at the same rate as we had in the first half, especially as we’d had to reshuffle following the loss of a winger (Niall Walker, who took a knock to the head), which necessitated forwards moving into the backs.”
Thornton is hoping Kidd’s fellow prop Zach Braham will return from a rib injury for Sunday’s home clash with North Wales Crusaders.
Also in the treatment room alongside Walker are fullback or winger Kiedan Hartley (hamstring), centre Tom Ashton (back) and halfback Jy-mel Coleman (groin).
NORTH WALES CRUSADERS chief executive Andy Moulsdale wants fans to carry on coming to Colwyn Bay.
The club ended a 497-day wait to play a home game in front of spectators when Keighley visited Stadiwm ZipWorld, to where the club relocated from Wrexham ahead of this season.
With different Covid restrictions in Wales, Crusaders had to wait longer than English-based clubs to open their doors, at the moment to a maximum of 500.
“All the players and coaching staff were really excited to play in front of fans at Stadiwm ZipWorld, where the facilities are first-class,” said Moulsdale. “We’re looking forward to further home games.”
Next to visit are South Wales Raiders on August 1, before which are trips to Hunslet on Sunday and Doncaster on July 25.
Crusaders went into the Keighley clash with coach Anthony Murray calling for his players to take the positives from a battling display at Rochdale, where the home side won 38-28.
“We played well and matched them, but we need to be a bit more clinical on last-tackle plays,” he said.
“We didn’t always end our sets well enough, gave away from seven-tackle restarts and they punished us.
“And when we get into good positions, we need to finish better.”
DONCASTER‘S Ben Johnston says Richard Horne’s side should have no worries about playing matches on the road while their own Keepmoat Stadium is out of bounds due to pitch maintenance work.
The South Yorkshire side last trod home turf on June 6, beating London Skolars 46-12, and don’t have another match there until Sunday, July 25, when North Wales Crusaders visit.
But they went into their big game at fellow promotion hopefuls Barrow on the back of away victories over North Wales Crusaders, Hunslet and Coventry, making it seven wins on the spin.
Ireland international Johnston, the 29-year-old former Castleford, York and Halifax fullback or stand-off, said: “We’re going into games full of confidence and with no fear.
“We need to stick to what we’re good at, our processes, and there’s no reason we can’t get the results we want.
A visit to London Skolars next up, on Friday, July 16, will complete a run of five straight away matches before two at home (North Wales then Hunslet).
And Johnston added: “If we can pick up these good results on the road it always helps, hopefully we’ll get back home in good stead.
“The momentum you build when you’re winning breeds confidence.”
The above content is also available in the regular weekly edition of League Express, on newsstands every Monday in the UK and as a digital download. Click here for more details.