WORKINGTON TOWN coach Chris Thorman was grateful for the week off afforded to his side for finishing second in the league.
While the play-offs got underway for North Wales, Keighley, Doncaster and Hunslet over the weekend, Thorman’s squad was able to sit back and start their preparations for facing Keighley Cougars this Sunday.
But keeping a close eye on potential opponents wasn’t at the forefront of Thorman’s mind. Instead he was focusing more on what has to be done to get the best out of whatever team he can put out at the weekend.
“We certainly made the most of the week off,” said Thorman.
“One of the keys to being a successful Rugby League side is not picking up too many injuries, but unfortunately for us, that’s not been the case over last four to six weeks. We’ve probably picked up a season’s worth of injuries in the last month and I was just about down to my last 17 or 18 fit players for Hunslet game.
“That has meant players are having to play more minutes than normal. That’s meant we’ve been taking energy out of the same players for the last few weeks so having the weekend off came at a very good time for us.
“It was crucial for us and it was about managing those players with injuries and hopefully getting three or four of them back for the game. It’s looking fairly positive that we could have Dec O’Donnell, Marcus O’Brien, Perry Singleton, Blaine Marwood and Alex Young back and there is enough there that can bring some quality back into the side.
“We finished second in a competition that went right down to final game. We could still have finished first so going into the weekend we need to reflect on how we finished second and what put us in that position.
“If we can replicate some of that, and some of the stuff we’ve done consistently throughout year then we’ll be alright.”
For the first time since 2015, NORTH WALES CRUSADERS are in with a chance of promotion to the Championship.
Despite going down 14-28 to Keighley Cougars on Saturday, the Welsh outfit get a second bite at the cherry this weekend due to their third-placed finish in the league.
Coach Anthony Murray knows how much of an opportunity promotion would be for the club on and off the field, but he is keeping his feet on the ground and won’t be letting anyone get too carried away with their current position.
“There is a real buzz around club at the moment and everyone is really excited by the opportunities in front of us,” said Murray.
“Promotion would be massive for the club, especially with the area we’ve managed to tap into at the moment.
“The response we’ve had in the short time we’ve been in Colwyn Bay has been remarkable. Attendances have risen game on game and the stadium caters for the higher level so I am sure promotion would generate even more interest.
“The possibilities would be endless for the club if we were to get promotion, but we’ve got to concentrate on here and now.
“We’re in the play-offs so we do have that opportunity now, but so does everyone else in the play-offs. We’ve got some tough games ahead of us to get there and we’ll do everything we can to do it.
“We finished the season in a really good position, but the season’s not finished yet.”
DONCASTER coach Richard Horne accepts that he and the club could lose a number of their star players if they don’t get confirmation soon as to what budget they are working with next season.
Clubs across the league are still awaiting a final announcement on how much their share of central distribution funds will be cut, which is making it very difficult to start planning for the 2022 season.
“Not knowing what’s happening is massively delaying things,” said Horne.
“I think we’ve got three or four players signed on for next year, mainly due to the fact they were done on two-year deals last year.
“But it looks like everyone will be working on a tight budget.
“I am already having lads say to me they want to stay, but I’m having to say to them that if they are getting offers from Championship clubs, it’s looking like their best option. They have to look after themselves, we can’t promise them anything yet until we know where we’re at next year.
“All players want to earn whatever they can and everyone wants to play at the higher level, so if they get a good offer, even half good, we just can’t compete with it at the minute.
“It’s their decision and if they can’t hold on and wait until we know we can offer them, then we have to wish them luck.”
LONDON SKOLARS have paid tribute to their departing head coach Jermaine Coleman, who has been named as Danny Ward’s permanent successor at neighbours London Broncos.
Former Coventry Bears coach Tom Tsang took the reins at the Broncos on a temporary basis following Ward’s departure, but now Coleman will move across the capital to take on the role.
Coleman has had a long history with London Skolars, first turning out for them as a player in 2004, before taking over from Tony Benson as interim head coach whilst out injured in 2009. He stayed with the club until 2011 and then had a short spell as player coach at Hemel Stags, before returning to the Skolars as player-coach in 2015. And despite trying to retire from playing on several occasions to concentrate on coaching, Coleman was stilling pulling the boots on as recently as this year, when injuries and unavailabilities hit hard.
“Everyone associated with the club would like to thank Jermaine for his outstanding contribution on and off the field over several seasons,” read a club statement.
“In particular, Skolars fans will fondly remember the club’s outstanding form in 2019, which saw the team sit at the top of the Betfred League 1 table for a period of time.
“Aside from his playing and coaching prowess, Jermaine also spent time working for the club’s community department, promoting the sport to thousands of school pupils in Haringey and the surrounding London Boroughs. He has played a key role in shaping the club that we have today.
“We all wish him well with this new chapter in his Rugby League career.”
The club are now actively looking for Coleman’s replacement.
ROCHDALE HORNETS chairman Andy Mazey admits he doesn’t make a habit of criticising match officials, but fears a couple of decisions in the final weeks of the season could have hit the club hard in the pocket.
Shaun Robinson was shown a red card in the first half of the game against North Wales at the end of August, while Joe Taira was also dismissed a week later against Barrow. Both were for high tackles, but the Match Review Panel later deemed both tackled players to have slipped or dropped their height at the time of impact.
“I’m not one to bag referees, but for two weeks running we had a man sent off in games that we were winning and then subsequently lost,” said Mazey.
“If they were genuine sending offs then we could accept it, but to have the Match Review Panel say they weren’t is frustrating.
“Certainly against Barrow, with the way the lads were performing, if we had 13 players on the pitch we could have won it and still been in with a shout of the play-offs.
“Ultimately it meant the lads got losing pay, we didn’t get the two points, our season was over early and our final game was pretty meaningless.
“It’s been a financial hit as well because it meant we finished seventh and outside of the prize money spots for next year. We also lost out on the chance to play in the play-offs and have a crack at promotion.
“But that said, I’m a positive person and what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. All the frustrations we’ve faced recently just motivates everyone to turn it around and get it right next time.”
BARROW RAIDERS‘ latest record breaker Theerapol Ritson believes the club can be a success in the Championship after earning automatic promotion from League 1.
Ritson scored seven tries, more than any other player at the club in one match, in their 76-0 win over West Wales Raiders to seal top spot and a route back into the Championship at the first time of asking.
His haul on the final day took Ritson to 22 tries in 14 league games and he ended the regular season top of the League 1 try scoring table alongside North Wales Crusaders’ Rob Massam, who will be looking to add to his total during the play-offs.
It’s fair to say then that 2021 has been a memorable year for the Thailand-born winger.
“It’s definitely a career highlight of mine,” said Ritson.
“I can’t praise the lads enough for their efforts throughout the year, they’ve also helped make it my most enjoyable year yet.
“There’s been many times this year where we’ve had to face adversity but finishing the year as champions makes it all worthwhile. The time and effort put in by everyone at the club, the staff, coaches and fans has been awesome too so it’s nice to be able to return the favour by winning some silverware.
“As a player I always welcome a challenge, and rejoining the Championship is no different. We have been here before and we know what to expect. I firmly believe this time around we’ll be ready, and I look forward to the task ahead.”
KEIGHLEY COUGARS‘ Jack Miller ended the regular season as League 1’s top points scorer and it is no more than he deserves according to coach Rhys Lovegrove.
Half back Miller crossed for 11 tries and kicked 90 goals to end the regular season on 224 points and added a try and four more goals to that in Saturday’s play-off fixture against North Wales Crusaders.
“Jack has really progressed this year,” Lovegrove told the club’s Facebook page following their narrow final round win over Doncaster.
“He’s always been a talented player and I really feel that he’s dug down into the details of his game and kept things really simple.
“We spoke about Jack just having little pockets of opportunity just to do what he wants to do within our systems and processes. We’ve also shown him ways I felt he could impose his own game into what I am trying to create and what the other players can achieve.
“It’s no surprise that a lot of his tries have come off his support play and our ability to attack down that right edge and showing Jack where can inject himself and be part of that. It also ties into our ethos of working hard and working hard for your mates and just being there for the small details.
“Hats off to him, he’s worked really hard on his game and deserves all the plaudits he gets so far.”
HUNSLET forward Lewis Wray came in for special praise from his coach Alan Kilshaw following the recent win against Workington Town.
But it was not just for his performance in that game, more the attitude the 23-year-old has shown in the time since Kilshaw’s arrival.
“Lewis, who went on after 20 minutes and came off with ten minutes left, was brilliant,” said Kilshaw.
“He didn’t always make my team at first, but he listened to what I wanted him to do to improve his game, went away and worked hard on those areas, and is now a much-improved forward.
“A coach can’t ask more of a player than that.”
Wray was again included in Kilshaw’s squad to face Doncaster in Sunday’s knock-out play-off match, but there was no place for Simon Brown who fractured an arm at Workington.
COVENTRY BEARS coach Richard Squires has predicted there is much more to come from young half back Dan Coates after he became the club’s record points scorer in a single season.
Coates’ eight tries, 57 goals and single field goal saw him reach 147 points in 17 appearances, beating the previous points in a season record of 138 set by Brad Delaney in 2017.
Taking to Twitter, Squires wrote: “Excellent achievement. Crazy what a player can do when you give them an opportunity and back them when giving them that opportunity.
“Scary thing is how much improvement and development he has left in his game.”
WEST WALES RAIDERS had to draft in a number of amateur players from both their local area and Cumbria in order to raise a team to face Barrow Raiders in their final game of the season.
While that garnered criticism from some quarters, the club were eager to make sure the game went ahead in order to finish the season with a special achievement next to their name.
The Raiders are just one of four League 1 teams, along with Keighley, Hunslet and London Skolars, who were able to fulfil all their fixtures in a season still hit with Covid postponements. Only Wigan Warriors in Super League and Championship duo Whitehaven and Swinton, can claim the same feat.
“It was touch and go as to whether we’d be able to go to Barrow because of the way injuries and isolations had hit us towards the end of the season,” said chairman Peter Tiffin.
“One of things we brought up with Barrow and RFL was that we wanted to get the game played. It was the same the previous week against Hunslet when we only named one sub.
“We’re a proud club and we wanted to get through this season as much as we could so that when people look back on the Covid season we could be remembered as one of the ones who played every game, regardless of the difficult circumstances.”
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