For Workington Town captain Jamie Doran, victory in Sunday’s League 1 play-off final will see his time with the club go full circle.
Not only would it see the club return to the Championship for the first time since 2016, but it would also see the club achieve the aim they set for themselves when Chris Thorman arrived as coach almost 18 months ago.
“The ultimate aim when Chris came in was to get up into Championship Rugby again as we know that’s where the club deserves to be,” said Doran, who joined the club on loan from Wigan Warriors in 2015, before the move was made permanent.
“Before the Keighley game I said to the lads that it was probably one of the most important game of their career for some of them and this week will be the same. Some of us have been in the play-offs before and a few of us have made debuts for Super League teams, but for me to captain this team and get back into the Championship would be a massive achievement.
“We have a massive job on Sunday, but if we do it, it would not only be great for the club, but great for Cumbria as well to have all three teams in the Championship together.
“It’s been a long road to get to this point, especially for myself, who’s been at the club for seven years. When I first joined, we were in the Championship, but unfortunately got relegated the following year. Getting the opportunity to get back up there has been a long time coming and I can promise all the fans and everyone watching that we will give it 100 per cent on Sunday to get this club back to where it should be.
“We know there a few things for us to fix ahead of the game, but we are all buzzing for the game. It’s at home as well, so it will be a massive treat for all the fans that have been coming to support us all year.
“If we can lift that play-off trophy, it will be for the fans and those fans that have passed away over the last 18 months or so. We know there will be people missing for that game, so it’s about making them proud as well as doing it for ourselves.”
KEIGHLEY COUGARS fullback Phoenix Laulu-Togaga’e rounded off a great debut season when was named as League 1’s Young Player of the Year, beating team-mate Charlie Graham and Workington’s Brad Holroyd to the honour.
But for Laulu-Togaga’e’s coach Rhys Lovegrove, the award, and the Cougars duo’s nominations, is more than just an individual achievement.
“It’s a huge achievement for them both,” said Lovegrove.
“Neither of them have played too much Rugby League this year, having come from Union backgrounds. I know Charlie has been at Hull FC for the last few years, but with Covid and the Reserve Grade system not being great in terms of continuity of games, he’s not played that many matches. And Phoenix come through the Leicester Tigers system, so this is testament to them and how well they have adapted to the game and taken on its nuances.
“It is huge for the club too to get that sort of recognition, especially in a time where some clubs don’t seem too interested in developing juniors. Some people are so worried about the point at the end of the stick that they don’t often look to the future unless they are one of the select few Super League clubs that have that luxury.
“When I first joined the club, something we really spoke about was giving opportunities to young men to develop in the game in a healthy and learning environment. We’ve got a number of young players that have done that, but Phoenix and Charlie are the posters boys for it.
“For them to get these nominations reflects well on the hard work the club have put in as well, so fingers crossed it continues.
“Phoenix and Charlie are both very exciting prospects and keeping them playing Rugby League is a huge coup for the game. They have exciting futures in the game and I am stoked Keighley Cougars have played a part in that.”
NORTH WALES CRUSADERS chief executive Andy Moulsdale has congratulated Anthony Murray and Rob Massam, who completed a double at the League 1 awards last Wednesday.
Murray was named as Coach of the Year, with Massam taking the Player of the Year accolade and, for Moulsdale, both prizes are fully deserved.
“I am made up for them both,” said Moulsdale.
“Rob has been fantastic this season and finished as the League’s top try scorer. But he brings a lot more than that to us.
“He’s great to have among the group and has been with us for a long time.
“When I took this job around three years ago one of the first things I did was bring Muzza back. I know Muzza from playing for him in 2015 and 16. I know what he brings to the club and how well we work together.
“There are not many players who have worked under Muzza that have a bad word to say about him. He’s a players’ coach and the lads at this level respect that and he fully deserves all that he has achieved this season.
“These are voted for by the fellow coaches, so it means even more in that respect, because our achievements are being recognised by others.
“We have maybe gone under the radar a little bit in the last couple of years, but this season we’ve made some bold decisions with the move to Colwyn Bay and such like. So it’s nice to see Anthony and Rob get that recognition on behalf of the club and hopefully we can carry that on into next year and beyond.”
BARROW RAIDERS Chairman Steve Neale has said his side will do all they can next year to live up to their Club of the Year title.
The Raiders took the League 1 award in last Wednesday night’s virtual ceremony after their efforts in getting promoted back to the Championship at the first attempt, as well as launching many initiatives off the field to help sustain themselves as a club.
“The work we have done off the field has allowed us to think a bit bigger,” Neale told the Awards show on OuRLeague.
“We are thinking about improving the team. We have a pretty strong squad anyway, but we are in deep discussions with some real quality players. We’ll be making a real fist of getting into the top eight next year.
“But we also appreciate that our facilities have got to keep pace with that, so we are looking at Super League facilities’ standards and making improvements to the ground at the same time.
“We’ll continue with all the great community work we’re doing and event programmes, so that we’re generating money from lots of different income streams. We can’t just rely on 14 or 15 games a year, we’ve got to bring money in every week.
“We’re aiming to be an established top end Championship team in the short term. Then, in the long term, why not Super League?”
HUNSLET fullback Jimmy Watson has been given the go-ahead to step up his rehabilitation from an Achilles injury and has celebrated that by signing a new contract with the club.
Since joining the club, initially on dual-registration from Leeds Rhinos, in 2013, the 30-year-old has scored 68 tries in 176 games, but he missed the latter part of the season after suffering the injury at London Skolars in mid-June.
Hunslet have since done all they can to aid his recovery, including funding vital early treatment.
“I can’t thank the club enough for how they supported me in my rehabilitation, and I can’t wait to get back into action,” said Watson.
“I’m back at work now and the surgeon says I’m about ready to ramp up my fitness work with running and stuff like that, while Hunslet are allowing me use of the gym.
“I’ve been here for the best part of ten years since joining from Leeds – it’s like a second home, and I aim to make us as successful as we can be in 2022.”
Coach Alan Kilshaw added: “Securing Jimmy was a key part of our plans. We are building a team of young local lads, with some quality experienced players around them.
“Jimmy is also local and represents the values of the club and what we expect from the team. I’ve seen, in the short time I’ve been here, how much the club means to him and how hard he’s been working to return to full fitness ahead of pre-season. I’m more than confident he will return from this injury and get back to his best form.”
ROCHDALE HORNETS have beaten off stiff competition from clubs higher up in the game to secure the service of Rangi Chase again for 2022.
Chase made the move to the Crown Oil Arena mid-way through the season after being granted a release by West Wales Raiders, but broke his arm in his debut match, limiting any further involvement to just the final three games of the season.
“Having witnessed the impact Rangi made in such a short space of time at the club, and also having got to know him personally, I’m absolutely delighted to have reached an agreement to keep him at Rochdale Hornets for 2022,” said Chairman Andy Mazey
“Matt (Calland – coach) made it perfectly clear he wanted to do all we could to retain Rangi and it’s an important piece in the jigsaw secured.
“Rangi turned down opportunities to return to higher levels to remain on this journey with us and a special thank you must go to three of our sponsors who have supported this deal to help make it financially viable and possible.”
The 2011 Man of Steel and Albert Goldthorpe Medal winner added: “I’m over the moon to have signed again. From day one, the club was ‘A’ class since I arrived and although I only had a handful of games, I feel like it’s my duty to give back to the club who have shown me support.
“I’m happiest I’ve been in a long time and that will contribute to my performances next year.”
LONDON SKOLARS Chairman Adrian Fraine is hoping the return of a couple of special events in their calendar could help the club offset some of the problems a reduction in funding would cause next season.
Covid caused the cancellation of the Annual Capital Challenge pre-season match against Wigan Warriors in 2020 and a reduced capacity at Wembley saw fewer fans travel down to the capital and take advantage of Scholars’ Friday Night Lights clash with Doncaster.
But with next season’s Challenge Cup Final being hosted even closer to Skolars’ New River Stadium, Fraine is hoping for a bumper crowd – and already has additions planned for the event.
“The Capital Challenge game at the Honourable Artillery Company usually sees a lot of people from the city come along, so it’s usually a big income earner for us,” said Fraine.
“If that goes well, we could earn a substantial part of our budget for next year from that event alone.
“The other event we host that brings funds into the club is the Friday night match before the Challenge Cup Final. Next year’s final is going to be at Tottenham Hotspur’s Stadium and we are also based on White Hart Lane, so we would hope that with the Final being so close it could attract more supporters to take in both. We’re also looking to stage an All-Stars game in addition to our own game and it’s possible we might get Jamaica involved for a friendly, which was something we were speaking to Jermaine Coleman about before he left the club. So we’ll get something positive and exciting to put together for that day.
“If those two events go well then that could be our playing budget for next season covered. But there is always an element of risk to these events – there could be bad weather or more Covid cancellations – so we know we can’t just rely on them and say success from them is guaranteed.
“But in the short term, like everyone has to do, we just have to try new things to generate funds and just have to hope a fair wind blows in our direction and things go ahead as planned.”
COVENTRY BEARS coach Richard Squires has admitted he could look for work elsewhere if the Bears are not in a situation soon to offer him new terms.
With uncertainty over funding cutbacks still affecting clubs’ ability to plan ahead, Squires, who was one of three shortlisted nominees for the League 1 Coach of the Year award, knows that he may be forced into moving on if he is to continue his development in the game.
“It has been a rewarding season for me and that has made me want to do more and more and move higher in the game,” said Squires.
“That’s something take into consideration with everything else that’s going on.
“Alan (Robinson – owner) has been getting calls about my availability next year from other clubs, which is flattering for me, but for him it’s not something he wants to hear with everything else that’s going on.
“We’ve already spoken about it and we have set a deadline between ourselves on a mutual respect basis that if we know where we are by that point then we can come to an agreement over next season, but, if we’re not, then he’s kindly given me the nod to look at other offers.
“But Rugby League is a small world and there are only limited opportunities, so if something does come up it will definitely be a conversation with Alan. It’s always in the back of my mind, but as it stands Alan has my full backing with everything.”
WEST WALES RAIDERS chief executive Peter Tiffin has not given up hope of ex-British Lions star Gavin Henson turning out for the club again.
Henson hit the headlines when signed for the club ahead of this season and went on to make his long-awaited Rugby League debut in the 58-4 Challenge Cup defeat to Widnes Vikings in March.
But that was his only appearance for the club as injury and unavailability prevented him from playing again. However, the Raiders are eager to keep hold of their marquee signing.
“Gavin is in our thoughts for next season,” said Tiffin.
“We have a few names lined up that we want to get tied up and announced as soon as possible and Gav is one that we need to get nailed down for next season.
“He only played once this season, so if he does re-sign for next year we’ll not be announcing it in the same way we did last year, because we just want him to get out on the pitch so people can see him actually playing.
“It was a shame not to see him out there this year, but it’s been a difficult year for businesses. He set up his own business – a pub and restaurant, and he’s had to back that up. In hospitality, weekends are the most popular time, so with the struggles everyone has had to face, he’s had to work a lot and just wasn’t able to get away from it to play.”
DONCASTER coach Richard Horne has paid tribute to the impact former Super League star Ben Cockayne has had on the side.
The 38-year-old arrived at Doncaster in August and, going into Sunday’s play-off eliminator against Keighley, he had made seven appearances for the club.
“Ben has been a breath of fresh air for us with his leadership and just knowing the league,” Horne said of the former Hull KR, Featherstone, Wakefield and York back, who started his career with the South Yorkshire club in 2006.
“He’s been there and done it. He’s won the competition, so his leadership has been huge for us since he came in.”
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