Newcastle Thunder coach Simon Finnigan has expressed his delight at the club being able to stage its first ever triple-header event on Sunday.
The action at Kingston Park got underway at 11am, when the Under-18s Academy side faced Hull KR, before the Reserves also took on the Robins in the build up to Thunder’s League 1 clash against Workington Town.
“With all three grades playing on the same day for the first time, it was a big day for the club,” said Finnigan.
“It’s a credit to everyone at the club for getting us to this point. Not only can we run a team at three different grades, but pull it all together and have them playing together on one day at the same venue.
“I’d say that if you combine all three squads, probably around 80 per cent of them were local, northeast players, which is a big achievement in itself.”
Next up for Thunder is a fifth round Challenge Cup tie against the winners of Wednesday’s rearranged fixture between Whitehaven and Dewsbury.
“It’s a funny one that we won’t know who we’re playing until a few days before, but I’d rather be in this position than Whitehaven or Dewsbury’s with the extra game to play,” added Finnigan.
“We’ll dissect the rest from the weekend early this week, watch for the result of that game on Wednesday and then, by the time we get back in on Thursday, we’ll know who we’re playing.
“Whoever we play it will be a good gauge for us and our promotion aims.
“Dewsbury are playing really well at the moment and we already know plenty about Whitehaven.
“They went up ahead of us last season, and they haven’t yet quite reached the level they’d have wanted in the Championship. But we know type of challenge they’ll pose.
“So whoever we play it will be a real challenge for us.”
HUNSLET coach Gary Thornton is hoping to welcome two stars back to his line-up for Friday’s fifth round Challenge Cup tie at Featherstone Rovers.
Matty Chrimes only missed out on Sunday’s game against North Wales as he continued his recovery from an ankle injury, and he looks set to return, while Zach Braham has now served his three match ban for dangerous contact against Coventry in the third round of the Cup.
But for Thornton, the duo’s return may not be the only changes he makes to the starting line-up.
“It’s a great time to get these two back,” said Thornton.
“We’ve got a reasonable size squad and with Matty now back everyone is pretty fit, so we might use the Featherstone game as an opportunity to use a few players who have missed out in the last couple of weeks.
“I saw Featherstone’s game against London Broncos and they were excellent, so it’s going to be a tough task for us.
“But it’s also an exciting tie for us as we’ll be able to test ourselves against a potential top-four Championship side.
“We have ambitions to be up there in Championship, so this game can give us a really good measure of how far away we are from that, or indeed, how close to it we are.
“We knew last week that North Wales on Sunday was going to be our toughest game of the year so far and we had to step up for it. We’ll now have to take another step up this weekend for Featherstone.
“The league is the priority this year, but Friday’s game will give us a gauge as to what we need to do to be successful in the league.
“It will be a good test for us and the boys are all looking forward to it.”
KEIGHLEY COUGARS assistant coach Dean Muir has said Dalton Desmond-Walker will have to fight to get his place back in the team after picking up an injury in the recent defeat to Workington Town.
The prop has suffered a broken hand and is expected to be out of action for around a month.
“It’s a fracture that will heal by itself, so we’re looking at three to four weeks that Dalton will be out for,” said Muir.
“It’s a blow for him and us.
“He’s full of energy, plays at a high tempo and he’s really aggressive. He’s huge to the way we play and he buys into what we are all about.
“He’s had a brilliant pre-season and trained really well, so it’s an unfortunate injury for him.
“But there are other lads at the club who now have an opportunity to step up and secure their place in the team. It will then be down to Dalton to work hard to earn his place back.”
Muir also confirmed that Jordan Aitchison has returned to full raining with the club following heart surgery. Routine tests in January diagnosed Aitchison with Woolf Parkinson White Syndrome, but after a successful operation he looks set to return to the field later this season.
LONDON SKOLARS director Hector McNeil has said this year’s introduction of the Reserves League has given his club some new challenges to face.
“We’re pleased with the number who have come through our system and made the first team, but we only have a certain pool to call on, and it’s not like being in a traditional league area, where you could perhaps dip into the National Conference League a time or two,” McNeil said in an interview in the latest issue of Rugby League World magazine.
“We’ve been able to utilise some loans and dual-registrations from the Broncos and Wigan, and I think at the times we didn’t have some of those players last season, it was noticeable that we came close to winning games, but couldn’t quite see them out.
“I don’t think the new Reserves Championship has helped us either, because it means more players are staying with their parent clubs, rather than getting experience by playing for us.
“But that’s how the game has gone, and we have to find ways to deal with the changes.”
ROCHDALE HORNETS vice-captain Andy Lea believes all the work the club has done throughout pre-season could see them make a real push for promotion back to the Championship this year.
Despite off-field issues in pre-season and coach Matt Calland having to build a new-look team, the Hornets claimed the Law Cup against Oldham in January, and have progressed to the fifth round of the Coral Challenge Cup with matching 54-10 victories over both York Acorn and the British Army Rugby League.
“Making the play-offs is the big goal for me and all of the lads,” Lea told the club website.
“We know what is needed for that to happen. It’s just about getting the job done each week.
“Pre-season has been tough, but I’ve really enjoyed it. Matt has been trying to get the best out of us all and it’s been working. We are improving each week and hopefully we keep progressing.
“We have had some goods wins, especially with it being a fresh team. All the lads have come together well and we just need to keep working hard.”
DONCASTER are unsure exactly how long they will be without Watson Boas after the stand-off returned to his native Papua New Guinea last week.
The 25-year-old has headed home on a temporary basis for unspecified personal reasons, but will return when the time is right.
The halfback appeared in the 22-32 defeat to Barrow Raiders and featured in both Challenge Cup ties this season, with his late try securing a third round victory over amateur opponents Thornhill Trojans.
“Watson came to me and explained his reasons for needing to go back to Papua New Guinea and I totally support that,” said chief executive Carl Hall.
“Hopefully he can get the issues sorted as soon as possible, but there is no pressure on him to return too soon.
We look forward to having him back with us and hopefully the boys can pick up some positive results in his absence.”
WORKINGTON TOWN coach Chris Thorman believes he has one of the brightest back divisions in the league, with a number of young stars showing great potential.
One of which is winger Elliot Hall, who scored four tries on his club debut against Keighley Cougars.
“Elliot is going to be some player, if he realises his full potential,” Thorman told the Times & Star.
“As are Alex Young on the left wing and Gabe Fell at fullback.
“I wouldn’t swap them for many in this division.
“What the fans see is Elliot intercepting and running 70 metres. But what I thought was that our defence earned Elliot the right to score those points.”
Meanwhile hooker Dec O’Donnell could be sidelined for a couple more weeks after having undergone a knee clean-out operation.
COVENTRY BEARS director of rugby Alan Robinson will be hoping for an improved result from his team when they next return to Butts Park Arena to face Doncaster on Sunday March 29.
The club’s opening home fixture saw them go down 28-8 to Newcastle earlier this month.
“We want to perform well at home this year, that is an aim I have set the squad,” said Robinson.
“We want to make Butts Park a real tough place to come and play.
“We need to start moving forward as a club and if we can perform and compete in these games, then we can do that.”
BARROW RAIDERS coach Paul Crarey believes his side’s opening League 1 clash against Doncaster was a great advert for the competition.
Both sides are amongst the favourites for promotion to the Championship, with Barrow coming out 22-32 winners on the day at the Keepmoat Stadium.
“It was a great game and a great advert for this division,” Crarey told the club website.
“It had everything. It had physical stuff; it had sinbins, some real tough tackles and some great tries from both teams.
“If we see a game like this one every week it will be a great spectacle for fans.”
NORTH WALES CRUSADERS coach Anthony Murray has said their opening day win against London Skolars was about much more than the two league points they earned.
In the same fixture last season, Skolars ran out 19-18 winners in one of four games that the Crusaders lost by two or less points.
“Our game management was loads better in that second half this year,” said Murray.
“When we finally started to edge our way in front I didn’t think we were in any danger.
“We earmarked that we had to win at London if we are serious about trying to go one better than last year. We lost here by a point last year and a couple of games like that cost us.
“So it was really good that we won and started the league campaign as we wanted to.”
WEST WALES RAIDERS coach Aaron Wood has promised some more new additions are on their way to his squad.
And they will likely need some new faces after Chris Davies was banned for six games last week after being found guilty of gouging in the Challenge Cup game against Underbank.
“We were talking to one or two at the weekend and we have one big signing coming soon, hopefully,” Wood told the club website.
“And the French boys have always been coming, but we’re just waiting for the season to finish in France before they turn up.”
Despite going down 50-10 to Hunslet in their opening game of the season, Wood was able to take some positives out of the game.
“I was disappointed with our second-half effort, but the first half showed that we do have the ability to score tries and defend aggressively.
“We’re getting better every week at training, so it’s looking positive.”