NORTH WALES CRUSADERS hooker Karl Ashall has admitted that the heavy defeat to Doncaster in June has proved to be a turning point in their season.
Doncaster ran out 68-0 winners at Zip World Stadium that day but rather than lick their wounds, Crusaders dusted themselves down and resolved to make sure there was no repeat of that performance.
Prior to Saturday’s game against Rochdale, North Wales had picked up seven wins in the eight games since that Doncaster defeat – losing only to the Hornets a fortnight later. A six-game winning run from then has seen impressive results against Keighley Cougars, Hunslet, West Wales Raiders, Coventry Bears, Barrow Raiders and Workington – the latter two being being at the top of the league when the Welsh side faced them.
So what has been the secret to their recent success?
“Nothing much, just sticking to what we have to do and not going away from the game plan,” revealed Ashall.
“We know what works well for us so we’ve just stuck to it for 80 minutes and we have been getting the rewards for that.
“There has been no flukes, we’ve played really well in all the games we have won.
“The result against Doncaster really kick started our season. We said after it that we could either sulk and let a performance like that get to you, or you make sure it galvanises you and the season.
“The guys needed to see that if you play badly, you get beaten, but if you play really badly, you get hammered and that’s what happened.
“But we’ve turned it around and since then we’ve been absolutely nailing our game plan. It’s no secret that if you have a high completion rate you give yourself a better chance of winning. We’re frustrating teams with that and making them come away from areas they don’t want to be in.
“We’re now going into games as favourites rather than the underdogs, and rightly so. But it does mean the pressure is on as we have to live up to that. We can’t get complacent, and let it go to our heads.
“We can’t start thinking we are better than we are because when we’re good, we’re really good, but when we’re bad we ow there is a performance like the Doncaster game in us.”
KEIGHLEY COUGARS are already on the look out for more exciting young talent following Phoenix Laulu-Togaga’e’s move to Hull KR.
Coach Rhys Lovegrove has already admitted the young fullback’s move to a Super League club was not a surprise after a string of strong performances for the Cougars, but has now said he is keen to find more future stars to help develop.
“We always knew that Phoenix was never going to be our player for the long term,” said Lovegrove.
“You know pretty quickly when you see a talent like that they’ll move on. He was signed at Leicester Tigers anyway so we thought he’d be going back there, unless something special game along in Rugby League. Which it has.
“We always knew we’d have to find another young and exciting full back. We like to play expansive style of game here and Phoenix suited that and we have got some good results with him in the team.
“We do need to start perusing at the market now and look at some of the juniors. We’re really excited by what this country offers.
“There is a lot of talent out there that is just not getting utilised. Whether they are in wrong system, just misunderstood or something has gone wrong I don’t know, but I am big advocate for trying to find those players and giving them the opportunity to progress and develop in our environment and with our style of footie.
“I have got a few people earmarked, but for now we have just got to perform on the field and get ourselves in the play-off picture for promotion.
“Then we’ll start pushing the boat out in terms of those development spots.”
ROCHDALE HORNETS chairman Andy Mazey has lauded the togetherness Rugby League clubs across the game have shown in relation to loan deals throughout 2021.
Short-term loans of one or two weeks have ensured that numerous clubs have been able to field full teams this season as injuries and covid-isolations have hit many hard.
That was the situation Rochdale found themselves in ahead of their trip to London Skolars but were able to bring in AJ Towse, Myles Harrison and Toby Warren from York City Knights and Cain Tyrer Newcastle Thunder.
“We never anticipated having to go into loan market this year,” admitted Mazey.
“I think we’ve used around 40 players now this season and when we started the season with 30 players plus trialists and Matt’s Academy lads we though we’d be well placed to deal with anything. We could never have foreseen the crisis we’ve had pretty much from week one. We lost three players in first game and it has just carried on in that vein ever since.
“The loan system really pulled us out of trouble ahead of the Skolars game.
“There seems to be a good spirit amongst clubs in regards to helping each other out with players – genuinely everyone sees to be doing it tough this year.
“Myself and Matt (Calland – coach) have utilised our contacts within the game and picked the phone up to people and it’s refreshing to see that everyone is willing to help each other out.
“It’s that sort of camaraderie that is getting everyone through this tough year. Everyone just wants the game to succeed and wants to see as many fixtures fulfilled as possible. By helping each other through these tough times it’s made it possible to play fixtures clubs would otherwise have struggled with.
“Tough times do bring people together and, on the back of year that never was, this year has been tough on everyone.”
Meanwhile, the club were this week issued with a blue plaque to commemorate their 150th year.
The plaque has been fitted outside the Roebuck Hotel in Yorkshire Street which is the site where the club was formed in April 1871.
Captains from each of the club’s three teams were in attendance with Sean Penkywicz, Claire Collins and Jordan Holt representing the men’s, women’s and wheelchair rugby league teams respectively.
Each of the representatives wore the club’s amber and black jersey which was the club’s official colours following their formation and has been brought back in 2021.
Players from through the years also attended the unveiling including one of the original Fijian pioneers Michael Ratu Snr who signed for Hornets in 1965, and his son Emon, who played for the club in the 1990’s.
The Fijian connection represents a vast an interesting history that the club has enjoyed in its 150 years, and it is something they have worked hard to celebrate.
Former Hornets Chairman, Mark Wynn who funded the plaque said: “During my tenure as chairman, we had a huge focus on remembering and respecting the history of the club. Whether that be through the creation of a museum at Spotland, Heroes of Hornets awards or nurturing our relationship with Fiji it is important that we celebrate our roots.
“The installation of the Blue Plaque marks a monumental piece of history for the club, town and spirt of rugby league. It’s something all supporters can be proud of.”
Hornets Chairman, Andy Mazey added: “It was a real honour to be with some fantastic people on Saturday for the unveiling of an official RFL blue plaque to symbolise 150 years of Rochdale Hornets at the very place it all began.”
The unveiling of the plaque is part of a series of events celebrating the club’s 150th year while Mark Wynn and ex-Hornets chair, Jim Stringer are writing a book that explores the history of Hornets from 1871 until present day which is due to launch later this year.
BARROW RAIDERS coach Paul Crarey has his own ideal outcome of the current restructuring plans for the game.
Crarey, who played for Barrow and Carlisle throughout the 80s and 90s, would like to see a return of one big league below Super League and believes more games will benefit the longer-term development of younger players.
“I’d like to see two divisions, not a Super League 1, Super League 2 and another league – just two, with two up, two down. It’s as simple as that,” explained Crarey.
“I’d like to see a Super League competition and a big Championship below that with lots of games being played every week.
“Teams like us could then have big squads and really give young players a chance in the division.
“When we played Hunslet we had seven players out so we played a lot of young kids and they did a great job for us. If we had a big Championship, there would still only be a couple of teams that could win it as we have now, but if these young players are playing better teams every week they are only going to get better for that.
“We need a competition that’s going to prepare them for moving up a division. We had that in the past with the Stones Bitter Championship and the Championship.
“Whatever happens though it needs to be not about diluting the sport, but making it stronger and I think two divisions would be good for the game.”
DONCASTER‘s on loan back-rower Liam Tindall knows a strong finish to the season with Doncaster is likely to make an impression on parent-club Leeds Rhinos.
Tindall joined the South Yorkshire club earlier this month and scored and early second-half try as he picked up his first win with the Dons against Barrow Raiders.
“Everyone is willing to work hard for each other even if we’re down on numbers,” said Tindall, who is clearly enjoying his time with the club.
“I couldn’t have wished for a better set of lads here. It’s a challenge for me and something I’ve wanted to do for a while, to get a few run outs is great for my development.
“There are plenty of players at Leeds that have done it and if you can impress on these loans it makes you a lot stronger.”
Tindall isn’t the only on loan star making an impact for Doncaster. Newly-arrived Loui McConnell, who joined from Featherstone just before the Barrow game has come if for praise from coach Richard Horne.
“Loui was outstanding,” said Horne after the match.
“He’s had one training session with us and wasn’t even up to speed on our structures and plays. But he’s come in and looks like he’s been with us for five or six weeks, so credit to him.
“Liam Tindall did a really good job too and his kick returns caused all sorts of problems for Barrow.”
Rowland Kaye has noticed a couple of very big, and positive, differences at WEST WALES RAIDERS since his recent return to the club.
The centre left the club and joined French outfit Carcassonne following the curtailment of the 2020 season, but returned to the Llanelli-based club in time for the visit to London Skolars last month.
“The team is a lot different with a lot of new recruits this year,” noted Kaye.
“Take away the North Wales Crusaders game since I’ve been back, because that doesn’t reflect us in a good light, but in a number of games we have been getting a lot of good scores and being close in games so we’re definitely going in the right direction.
“The big difference for me is that we’re getting a lot of boys turning up for training and we’re all playing for each other.
“In the past it has often more been a case of the guys were just turning up to play rugby, but now we’re turning up for each other and we want to put in a good shift for each other. That is reflecting on our scorelines where we’ve been very competitive in games.
“We are enjoying being on the field together. In previous seasons, enjoyment wasn’t always a part of it, but now we’re enjoying being together and what we’re doing.”
LONDON SKOLARS‘ final two match of the season are about doing themselves proud and trying ending the season on a positive note, according to coach Jermaine Coleman.
The Skolars host Workington Town on Saturday, before travelling to North Wales Crusaders a week later to draw to a close a season that has never really got started for Coleman’s men.
“We need to salvage a little bit of self pride,” said Coleman, who believes the end of this year is likely to have a knock-on effect into 2022.
“We’ve let ourselves down in too many games this year and we’re always having to chase games. Against Hunslet we only completed one of our first seven sets and just invited pressure on ourselves.
“The final games are a case of putting a little bit of pride and dignity back in to our performances and finishing on a bit of a high.
“We want to know we can walk away from the season knowing that there is something to build on next year. If we are not capable of doing that then it’s going to be a long off-season, a long pre-season and probably an even longer season next year.”
HUNSLET coach Alan Kilshaw couldn’t be happier with the attitude his players have shown since his arrival at the club.
The former Rochdale coach arrived at the South Leeds Stadium following the departure of Gary Thornton and quickly set about stamping his own mark on the side.
“There has been no moaning,” said Kilshaw.
“Things have been a bit more intense at training than it was, but the senior players are behind that and understand the reasons why we’ve had to do it. They all missed a chunk of pre-season through furlough and Covid, so we, like some others, were playing catch up. But we’re training hard and everyone is responding well to that.
“We are always striving to be better and I know there is a lot more to come from this group. Hopefully we can tap into that before the end of the season.
“But it’s not a bad start for me, and we’re definitely going in the right direction.”
COVENTRY coach Richard Squires says the Bears will have no fears heading into the final two games of the season as they continue to make a late push into the play-offs.
The Midland’s side are arguable enjoying their most successful League 1 season yet and have already picked up impressive wins over Hunslet, Keighley and Rochdale in 2021.
“With the way the fixtures have fallen I don’t think we could have had a tougher run in to end the year,” said Squires, who saw his team face Hunslet on Sunday.
“Hunslet, Doncaster, and Rochdale are all up there so for them to be our final three games, is tough. But we have beaten some of them already this year so we know we can compete.
“We’re doing it tough at the minute squad wise, but it’s not all doom and gloom.”
WORKINGTON TOWN captain Jamie Doran has won praise after using his experience to help encourage Rugby League players of the future.
The 27-year-old stand-off teamed up with club vice-chair Graeme Peers to help out at a string of summer-holiday training camps.
There were free sessions for six to nine-year-olds and those between ten and 15, and a Workington Town Council spokesperson said: “All the children who attended the sessions have said how much they enjoyed them and were delighted to have been trained by Jamie.”
Doran played junior rugby himself, turning out for Kells near his home town of Whitehaven before joining Wigan’s Academy.
He made two first-team appearances for the Warriors before signing for Workington in 2016 after a spell on loan the year before.
Promotion-chasing Workington have two regular-season games to go – away to London Skolars on Saturday and at home to Hunslet the following Sunday, September 12.
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