HUNSLET’s veteran scrum-half Dom Brambani has announced his retirement from the game after a career spanning almost 400 games.
His performances in the final few weeks of the season showed he could still perform at this level, but the 36-year-old has decided that the time is right to hang up his boots once and for all.
“The last few matches have gone well for me personally, but I’d already made my mind up,” said Brambani, who has also featured for Castleford Tigers, Halifax, Sheffield Eagles, Dewsbury Rams and Batley Bulldogs during his career.
“My body’s been telling me for a while now that I can’t really carry on at this level. It takes me until Thursday, after games, to recover and get back to normal.
“It’s time for me to bring the curtain down on professional Rugby League. I worried about doing another pre-season of training three nights a week, with the real possibility, bearing in mind that I’ve increasingly been picking up niggles after games, that after signing a contract I might well have subsequently been sidelined from matches. That certainly wouldn’t have been fair on Hunslet.
“I’d have loved to go out on a high by helping Hunslet secure promotion, but it wasn’t to be.”
As well as this departure, there has been an arrival as well, with Josh Jordan-Roberts returning to the club from Rochdale Hornets.
The 23-year-old second row forward is a product of Oulton Raiders, and spent time on loan at the South Leeds Stadium in 2018.
“Bringing Josh back to the club was really important to me – we want our best local players playing for Hunslet,” said Hunslet coach Alan Kilshaw.
“He has just had a terrific season for Rochdale and been a real handful on an edge – and that includes against us, scoring a try and making a couple of breaks at Spotland.
“Josh is heading into an important stage of his career and he can be a real leader for us in the next Betfred League 1 season.”
Elsewhere young hooker Harvey Whiteley and loanee Dave Gibbons have both agreed new one-year deals with the club.
KEIGHLEY COUGARS‘ season may have ended in the most heartbreaking of way, but coach Rhys Lovegrove believes his players will learn from their experience.
The Cougars were14 points ahead going into the final quarter of their semi-final against Doncaster, but a try from Liam Jonson after the final hooter sounded levelled matters, leaving Jake Sweeting to make a touchline conversion to steal the win for the South Yorkshire club.
“I’m not going to lie, it was a difficult one to take,” conceded Lovegrove.
“Especially when we were in control – we had played some really good footy and were up by 14.
“But when you’re playing a team with the quality of Doncaster, who have some fantastic players and are really well coached, you can’t let up.
“Semi-final footy is about the ability to play 80 minutes and ultimately we just didn’t do that. We didn’t close that game off and left the door open and Jake Sweeting eventually took advantage.
“Doncaster came back into the game through some really simple errors on our part. We switched off in some areas or lost our line-cohesion in others, so it was a really big lesson for some of our boys.
“It is written on one of our boards at the club that small actions win big games and the boys lost sight of that a little at the end, but they will learn from it.
“While it was disappointing for us, from a performance perspective, and we are in the entertainment industry after all, it was a great advert for how great the part-time game can be.”
WORKINGTON TOWN coach Chris Thorman believes star halfback Carl Forber could get the opportunity to hit more career landmarks if he wants it.
The 36-year-old went into Sunday’s promotion decider against Doncaster needing three tries to reach 100 for his career.
This season has already seen him hit numerous milestones, including 1,000 career goals, both including and not including field goals, 2,000 points for the club and 300 Town appearances.
“Carl is the model of consistency and is a very selfless player too,” said Thorman.
“His team-mates could take a lot from Carl in terms of how professional he is.
“I can’t speak highly enough of him. He’s nearly as old as me, so he’s doing alright considering his age, but his form is as good now as it has been since I have been at the club.
“There is a fair chance he’ll go around again next year and I’ve always told him that his form will dictate if he can do that. If he’s playing well enough they’ll be an offer for him and he’s certainly playing well enough.
“So there will more than likely be a contract offer for him if he wants to take it.”
DONCASTER coach Richard Horne has felt the benefit of having a settled squad going into the latter stages of this season.
Previous years have seen the South Yorkshire side fall short in the play-offs, partly down to injuries and unavailabilities. But that hasn’t been an issue this year as the club progressed all the way to Sunday’s promotion decider at Workington.
“One benefit has been that we’ve been able to have a settled squad and had a fitter squad at this stage of the season,” said Horne, who has praised everyone at the club for their efforts this year.
“Usually in the play-off we have been scraping a team together with patched up boys going out onto the field when they probably shouldn’t have done. But this year we’ve been able to rotate a few players if we have had knocks and that has helped.
“It’s been a strange year with Covid, games being cancelled and some of the boys having Covid. It’s been tough at times, but all the staff at the club have been fantastic.
“They have gone above and beyond their usual roles to make sure the boys are fit and ready for the weekend.
“It’s been a really big team, and squad, effort this year.”
NORTH WALES CRUSADERS chief executive Andy Moulsdale believes the experience his young squad has gained from this season’s play-off campaign will prove invaluable as they renew their charge for the Championship next season.
After finishing third in the league this year, the Crusaders lost to both Keighley Cougars and Doncaster in the play-offs. But despite that Moulsdale is still pleased with how the lseason has gone for the Crusaders, who now play out of Colwyn Bay.
“When I took over this job we’d been left in a bit of a state by the previous owner and it was always a three or four year plan to consolidate, regroup and give it a good go in the 2020 season,” admitted the former Crusaders player.
“Covid put that back a year, but it was still the plan this season and we had put everything in place and brought the right players in to do that.
“We’ve still had a really good season but just come up a little bit sort. Although I think that if you’d said to everyone at the start of the season that we’d finish third, not many people outside of the group would have predicted that.
“Ultimately the two playoff games we played against Doncaster and Keighley showed that they had more experience of playing in big games than us. They had guys playing that have played in Super League and what we lacked there is what cost us. But in terms of desire and effort, we couldn’t have asked for any more from the lads.
“We’ve got a relatively young team, so we have to hope they’ll learn from the experience this year. It’s looking like we’ll keep the nucleus of that squad together, which will be good for next year and hopefully we’ll kick on in 2022.”
Meanwhile, Dave Eccleston has left the club to join Whitehaven.
The 25-year-old recently moved to Cumbria, so making a club move as well was the sensible option for the winger, who joined the Crusaders from Oldham in 2019.
“I’m devastated that the time’s come when I need to leave the club, but it was taking me well over an hour just to get to training, so it makes sense for me personally,” said Eccleston.
“The move to Whitehaven is a chance for me to test myself at a higher level and I want to take the opportunity and show what I can do personally at that level.”
ROCHDALE HORNETS coach Matt Calland is hopeful that more players will follow in the footsteps of himself and Rangi Chase by staying at the club next season.
Chase signed a new Hornets deal in late September, while Calland will now also remain at the club in 2022.
Calland, who was appointed as head coach mid-way through the 2019 season, is already looking at putting right some of the wrongs from this season.
“I’m excited to be doing another season,” said Calland.
“Last season ended too early for us. We couldn’t build any momentum with all the injuries we had and Covid. We just got our bodies back and the season ended.
“We scored some points towards the end against the likes of Doncaster and Coventry and if we had a few more games with that team, we’d have done okay.
“We are trying to keep the majority of the squad together. With pay cuts, we may lose some to other clubs, but we are looking to retain the majority of the squad and bring in some keen, hungry players to add to it.
“I am looking forward to next season already, which will include a big pre-season.”
BARROW RAIDERS have begun their retention for life in the Championship by handing a new deal to prop Carl Forster, who become the elevanth player from this year’s squad to be on the books for 2022.
The 29-year-old, who won both the Player of the Year and Players’ Payer of the Year this season, will also join the coaching set-up as Paul Crarey’s assistant.
“It’s great that Carl has agreed to re-sign,” said coach Crarey.
“If anyone deserves a contract, Carl does. He has been outstanding for the club both on and off the field. We are also welcoming Carl onto our coaching team as in the Championship the requirement states you have to have two assistants and we feel with our traveling players, we need someone in Lancashire to take sessions and monitor players if they can’t get through or have missed training and need an added session.
“We feel that Carl would be a good fit for us with his professionalism and knowledge of training venues, and we hope to help in his development of coaching for later in his career.”
The players who were already signed up on longer term deals with the club are Luke Cresswell, Tee Ritson, Shane Toal, Declan Hulme, Jordan Walne, Adam Walne, Tom Hopkins, Charlie Emslie, Ryan Shaw and Gary Wheeler, while Ellis Gillam is a new arrival after making the move from Cumbrian neighbours Whitehaven.
WEST WALES RAIDERS have recruited ex-Wigan, Leigh and Wales international prop Ben Flower to join their coaching staff.
The 33-year-old recently called time on his Rugby League playing career, then agreed a move to union club Pontypool.
Flower started out in the 15-a-side code before joining Crusaders, where he had a four-year spell which included a loan stint at South Wales Scorpions, forerunners of West Wales Raiders, who recently patted company with head coach Aaron Wood.
Ben Flower, who won a World Club Challenge, three Super League Grand Finals and a Challange Cup with Wigan, said: “I can’t wait to get involved with the Raiders, the club has the same outlook on how big Rugby League can be in Wales and I want to be involved in it.
“I am living proof that a Welsh player can play at the top and I think there are so many more out there that can do the same.
“In my new position at the Raiders, I feel we can do something special in growing the game both on and off the pitch.”
Raiders co-owner Peter Tiffin said: “Ben has so many fantastic ideas to grow the club further and wants the club to achieve much more on the pitch. His appointment is exactly the right fit in the direction of the club’s plans.”
COVENTRY BEARS‘ Richard Squires has reflected on his debut year as a head coach with pride after leading the club to a number of memorable wins and earning a nomination for the League 1 Coach of the Year award.
But he knows that he owes a debt of thanks to owner and director of rugby Alan Robinson for handing him the role and the chance to take the first step on the coaching ladder.
“This year has been a big time commitment for me, but it’s been good and a steep learning curve,” said Squires.
“In this league you’ve got coaches like Rhys Lovegrove, Chris Thorman and Richard Horne, who have all played at the top end of the game, so it’s a tough league so for me to come into for my debut year. But I feel I have put my own little spin on it with the full backing of Alan to bring in who I wanted to bring in.
“It was a tough ask for Alan, first of all for taking a risk on me, but then letting me recruit who I wanted, with him not knowing too much about some of them but allowing me to go on past relationships with people.
“All in all it’s been a really rewarding season for me.”
Former LONDON SKOLARS coach Jermaine Coleman has suggested he may still be working closely with the club as his new employers, London Broncos, look to continue the link between the two organisations.
Coleman left the Skolars and moved across the capital last month. With the Broncos since announcing their decision to go part-time from next year, given the expected cut in RFL funding.
Coleman is already looking at ways to ensure that locally developed players get the right pathway into the elite game, without having to make the jump from Academy to first-team rugby too quickly.
“Only a very few players could make the step from Academy to first team without playing somewhere else in-between,” said Coleman.
“It is a big jump.
“This year we will likely have the Reserve competition and I know the club has been in dialogue with the Skolars for some time about making the links stronger, so I hope that we can start to see more Academy players get opportunities to play in a more senior competition without having to throw them straight into the first-team games.
“This should help their development and also help us to retain more of them in the future as they will have options after the Academy.”
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