Keighley Cougars coach Rhys Lovegrove was not surprised when Super League came knocking for young fullback Phoenix Laulu-Togaga’e.
The 18-year-old has agreed a deal to join Hull KR with immediate effect, but the Robins will loan him back to the Cougars for the remainder of this season.
Laulu-Togaga’e initially joined the Cougars on trial and made history when he appeared alongside his father Quentin in a pre-season game against Bradford before signing a short term deal with the club.
Having been on the books at Leicester Tigers rugby union club, Lovegrove believes this move is a shot in the arm for the whole game and not just Phoenix.
“Phoenix is a very unique talent,” said Lovegrove.
“He plays a style of rugby that you don’t traditionally get over here – the way he moves, the way he sees the game and the way he uses his footwork. It’s very much along the lines of your Benji Marshall and Tuivasa-Sheck type players. His dad is like that too, which is obviously where he’s picked it up from.
“I can completely understand why someone like Tony Smith, and a number of other clubs, wold make a play for that.
“He’s a talented kid and loves to learn so I am delighted for him to get this move.
“From a Rugby League fan’s perspective I am also really happy that we haven’t lost a talent like that to union.
“He was in the union system but has now chosen to stay in Rugby League. We have pulled him away from the dark side which is really good to see all round.”
Former HULL KR back Ben Cockayne has come out of retirement to return to where it all started for him by joining Doncaster for the rest of the season.
Cockayne started his career at Doncaster in 2005 and scored 17 tries in 22 appearances, before the switching to Hull KR. The 38-year-old played over 200 games in two spells for the Robins, before joining York City Knights in 2018 and eventually announcing his retirement mid-way through 2019.
He has since been coaching the under-16s back at Hull KR, but left that role last month shortly after being fined by the RFL for repeated breaches of the governing body’s social media, safeguarding and Covid-19 policies.
The shock move came just days after Doncaster confirmed that marquee signing Misi Taulapapa faces several weeks on the sidelines after he recently sustained a broken arm in training. Cockayne’s experience and ability to play on the wing is likely to plug the gap left by Taulapapa as the South Yorkshire side continue to push for play-off success.
The Dons, and Cockayne went into this weekend’s clash with Hunslet sitting third in the league, and chief executive Carl Hall knows that with so many clubs feeling confident about pushing for a place in the play-offs, there will be little room for error over the next couple of months.
“From the top five or six in this league, any one of them, on their day, can go up,” said Hall.
“So we have just got to try and get up as high up that ladder as we can and then depend on injuries and luck. Really promotion will simply come down to that play-off final.
“We have already seen this year that anything can happen in this league. We got beaten by Barrow and then Keighley went and walloped Barrow. We beat North Wales and then North Wales beat Keighley – so any team on their day could win it.
“Anyone could take it in the play-offs. If the team down in fifth or sixth hit a bit of form at the right time, they could go all the way so it’s certainly going to be exciting final few months.
“League 1 is the top league in the country at the minute and it’s really competitive as results are showing. It will be a great finish to the year – people will be nervous and others will be on the edge of their seats.”
Meanwhile the club have also confirmed that Ollie Greensmith, who was on loan earlier in the season, has returned to the club until the end of the year.
COVENTRY BEARS coach Richard Squires has said he was left with no choice to to bring in some loan players as an injury crisis takes hold at the club.
The Bears have often been reluctant to use short-term loans, preferring to favour players who will be at the club for a lengthy spell of time. But with up to nine first team players currently missing, it was a case of needs must for Squires as he brought in Kieran Hudson from Newcastle Thunder for the North Wales game. That was added to by Connor Terrill arriving from Barrow Raiders ahead of Sunday’s trip to Keighley.
“It’s a tough situation at the minute and in the space of a couple of weeks we’ve picked up around 15 injuries,” explained Squires.
“Liam Welham has played with four broken ribs in the last couple of weeks and Dave Scott has been out there with a partially torn hamstring.
“It’s hit us all at once at a time when we didn’t really want it with us looking to make a push for the play-offs.
“It’s frustrating because we’ve done so well this season without any major injuries, so to get them all at the same time towards the back end of the season is a real shame.
“It’s not easy to bring new faces in at this stage of the year but we’ve had to do it and we’ve done our research on those we’re bringing in so we know they’ll fit into the squad.
“Kieran has came in on a season-long loan and proved to be a great addition for us. Unfortunately he was unavailable through work at the weekend but he’ll now be available for the foreseeable.
“Connor has been playing at Barrow for the last few weeks so he’s been doing well and will add to us as well.”
WEST WALES RAIDERS might have picked up their first point in over two years against Doncaster, but that doesn’t mean it was all celebrations in the dressing room afterwards.
Having led for much of the match, a last minute try from Doncaster’s Tom Halliday denied the Raiders a famous win and instead the spoils were shared.
“The boys have been buzzing in training this week, but after the game it was a weird feeling for them,” admitted coach Aaron Wood, who was delighted with the character his side showed in injury adversity.
“It was almost like coming second at the Olympics. We were so close to that win, but we still don’t have it.
“We were all happy with the result, but it was mixed emotions – we didn’t win but we also didn’t lose. We felt a bit down that we didn’t get the win after being so close, but happy at the same time with our performance and getting our first point in a long time.
“We only had 15 fit players to select from and then picked up an injury in the first five minutes so it was a big effort from the boys to show what they were capable of under the pressure of not really having a bench to play with.
“It was a really good performance from everyone and it had been coming for a while. We finally got that full 80 minute performance we’ve been looking for and we really showed what we can do.
“Apart from the game against Crusaders, the last month has been good for us. We’ve always been in the fight for 65-70 minutes, but learning from that. We’re playing carefree Rugby League at the minute and our game plan a bit out there and flamboyant. Teams are shocked we are not the same Raiders we were, so hopefully we can turn that into some wins over the next few weeks.”
Wood was without Joe McClean for Saturday’s game against Workington after the forward returned to Hunslet after a one-week loan.
WORKINGTON TOWN were set to welcome fullback Gabe Fell back to the club last week following the tragic death of his father – former Salford and Rochdale player David Fell.
Gabe had not played since, as he came to terms with his loss, with the team dedicating their narrow victory over Keighley Cougars recently to their team mate and his family.
“We are all just looking forward to seeing him again and making sure he knows, face-to-face, that we’ve got his back for anything that he needs,” said Thorman.
“My final thoughts now and for the rest of the season will always be on Gabe and his family.
“Every victory that we tick off, and every performance that we do like that, it’s always for Gabe’s dad’s memory and we are always thinking of Gabe.”
Meanwhile the club have further strengthened their back options with the loan signing of John Hutchings from Championship side Oldham.
The winger or centre joined Roughyeds from St Helens’ academy before the start of the Covid-curtailed 2020 season, but has since found opportunities hard to come by so will be hoping this move gives him the chance to earn some first grade rugby experience.
HUNSLET coach Alan Kilshaw has added some international experience to his ranks with the signing of prop forward Dean Zammit from Whitehaven for the rest of the season.
The 27-year-old, who was born in Australia and worked his way through the Penrith Panthers junior system, has earned nine caps for Malta.
Having played semi pro in Australia for St Mary’s, Zammit moved to the UK in early 2020 and turned out for NCL side Wigan St Patricks before stepping up to the Championship with Whitehaven and making four appearances this season.
“I have been very impressed with Dean’s attitude,” said Kilshaw.
“He could have sat on a contract at Whitehaven but sought a release as he wants to play and contribute to us this season and earn a deal for next year.
“He has all the attributes and dedication to go well for us, having played at a high level in Australia and in the Championship this season. I’m looking forward to working with Dean and hopefully seeing him have a successful back end of the season.”
ROCHDALE HORNETS have extended the loan signing of Cian Tyrer from Newcastle until the end of the season.
The young utility back joined the Hornets ahead of their trip to London Skolars and put in an impressive performance at full back in the capital.
Tyrer was set to feature again against Doncaster on Sunday, and will remain available to Matt Calland for upcoming league games against Hunslet, North Wales, Barrow and Coventry as well as the play-offs.
The extended deal means chairman Andy Mazey has finally got his man.
“I know Cian and his dad personally and I actually tried to sign Cian before he went to Newcastle,” said Mazey.
“He came down then and met Matt and myself and Matt showed him round the training ground, but he decided he wanted to try his hand at Championship level, so he went up to Newcastle.
“He’d not been getting the game time so we enquired about him and initially managed to bring him in on a short-term loan, but he impressed against London and Matt liked what he saw and wanted to extend that deal.
“Fortunately, and thanks to Newcastle, we’ve been able to do that and he’ll stay with us for the rest of the season.”
NORTH WALES CRUSADERS coach Anthony Murray has said the return of fans to the ZipWorld Stadium has had a big impact on his players.
Sunday’s visit of Barrow Raiders was the third match played in front of spectators since restrictions were lifted following their move to the new ground and Murray has seen first hand how well the move has been accepted.
“When there are plenty of fans in the stadium it’s great for the players and everyone involved,” said Murray.
“It has really given the players, and the coaching staff, a lift since they have been back.
“Our fans make a massive difference to the players when they’re out there. We’ve always said our supporters are or 18th man so it’s great to see them back and all getting behind the players.
“It is also nice to see the players going round to show their appreciation after games to the fans that have driven from all over Wales to watch them.
“It has been really nice to see a lot of familiar faces in the crowd. Our hard core fans are still there every week – home and away, but there are also new faces there and that was idea behind us moving. So it’s all going really well.”
BARROW RAIDERS coach Paul Crarey has warned it might not be as easy to rearrange the postponed game against Workington Town as people might initially think.
The match was postponed earlier this month after a Covid-19 outbreak at the Raiders. It was a the first missed game for the Raiders, but the third for Town, who had already seen matches against Coventry and Rochdale fall victim to the pandemic.
Despite the game between the two sides being classed as a Cumbrian derby, the journey involved for Barrow to travel to Workington, could still be a difficult prospect if it were to be played mid-week.
“Whether or not that game will get played I don’t know,” admitted Crarey.
“It is relatively local, but it’s still an hour and a half for us to get straight to Workington, or if we go along the motorway and through Penrith to to get there on better roads, that’s probably a two hour journey.
“So it’s probably as easy for us to go straight down the motorway to places like Keighley and Rochdale as it is going up the coast.
“It’s not as easy as people think to rearrange games, and there is a backlog of games all over the place. So we probably just have to get through the block of games we’ve still got and then see what happens.”
LONDON SKOLARS hooker Neil Thorman came in for strong praise from his big brother Chris after playing his 350th career game in the UK.
Thorman hit the landmark in the recent narrow defeat to Rochdale Hornets. That was his 105th appearance in two spells for the Skolars, adding to 53 and 192 for Gateshead Thunder.
“We probably don’t tell each other how proud we are of each other often enough, as brothers tend not to do,” said Workington Town coach Chris when talking to BBC Radio Cumbria.
“But I am very very proud of him. I played in a few, but I never got to 350 games.
“For the last 10 or 12 years he’s been playing in the middle as a hooker and he still has a fair influence on the game. So for a 37 year-old he still goes alright doesn’t he.”
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