COVENTRY BEARS‘ Alan Robinson has revealed that the club’s rebrand, which will see them compete in League 1 as Midlands Hurricanes, was vital if they were to survive and keep a Rugby League presence in the area.
The cuts in central distribution for League 1 clubs in 2022 was leaving the Bears’ future in doubt, and Robinson knew that new investment and opportunities were paramount to their survival.
That investment has come from Huddersfield businessman and Rugby League fan Mike Lomas of Big Red Construction, who will become Chairman of the new Hurricanes club and be co-owner alongside Robinson as chief executive.
Coventry Bears will continue to function as a community team and will play in the Midlands regional competition with young and local players in 2022. The Bears in the Community Foundation will also continue to develop junior satellite clubs across the West Midlands to support and underpin the Midlands Hurricanes professional development.
“I have made no secret over the last couple of months that we needed to do something or we would not have been able to exist as a professional club,” said Robinson.
“I am not a wealthy man. I am just someone that runs a sustainable business and to me a sustainable business is working within your means until a time when you can bring a lot more money in through investment or you can grow the business.
“We were in a position where we were facing a massive funding cut and were going down to around £18,000. How do you put a squad together on that amount of money in League 1? We just wouldn’t have been able to do that so it was very clear to me that we needed to do something.
“I have had a number of ideas for some time now and the Hurricanes concept was something I have always had in the back of my mind. Being a regional brand opens a whole lot of new opportunities in the whole of the Midlands.
“A lot of time has been spent on this concept and it has only been able to come to fruition because we have gained investment. If I hadn’t have found that investment, Coventry Bears wouldn’t exist at all and there would be no League 1 team in the Midlands.
“But we have now got a new part-owner for the club with the opportunity for significant investment in the game in the Midlands. Coventry Bears will still exist and we will be a thriving community club again and it will only thrive more with a professional brand sitting above it.”
New LONDON SKOLARS coach Joe Mbu has admitted he cannot wait to get started back at the club where he has previously spent so much of his career.
Following a spell with London Broncos and Harlequins, Mbu moved to the Skolars as a player in 2009 and a year later took on a player-coach role at the club. He hung up his playing boots in 2011 but remained as coach until 2015, when Jermaine Coleman took over.
With Coleman now in charge at the Broncos, Mbu, who is also head coach of the Nigerian Rugby League side, couldn’t resist the opportunity to get back into day-to-day coaching at a league club.
“I am both delighted and excited to be back,” said Mbu, who has spent the last few years coaching rugby union in the capital.
“I am really looking forward to meeting some of the new players and seeing what we have got and how we can all move forward together.
“It’s definitely a new challenge for me. I don’t really know what to expect, but I’m ready to do the hard work and take it from there.
“I don’t expect the Skolars just to be participants, I want us to challenge to be the very best we can be in League 1.
“I enjoyed my previous stint at the club and have maintained a huge fondness for the club and the local area.
“Pre-season will be starting in a couple of weeks and I can’t wait to get underway.”
HUNSLET have taken their squad for 2022 up to 20 players, with four more signings from varying ends of the experience spectrum.
Bringing in a wealth of knowledge is experienced Championship and League 1 centre Jason Mossop, who has made the move to West Yorkshire from Whitehaven.
Having previously spent time with the Castleford Tigers Academy as well as playing for Leeds Met University, Mossop has spent the last 14 seasons in his native Cumbria with both Workington and Whitehaven. He has, however, since located to Leeds for family reasons so a move to Hunslet suits all parties.
“This is a real coup for the club,” said coach Alan Kilshaw.
“We have recruited an outstanding player who had been a consistent performer at Championship level.
“We are also getting an ultimate professional and someone who will no doubt set a great example for some of the younger lads in the group. Jason has shown huge commitment in coming to us when other offers were more attractive financially. He has bought into the ethos of what we’re trying to implement at Hunslet and he is another locally based player for our supporters to get behind.”
Mossop’s experience will be vital for two new faces that are both looking to make their mark in the semi-professional game.
Jordan Paga, who featured once for Coventry Bears earlier this year whilst on loan from Huddersfield Giants Academy, will add utility value at Kilshaw’s squad as he can operate equally effectively at halfback, fullback and hooker.
He is joined at the club by Matty Stableford from local amateur side Oulton Raiders, who has had professional experience with Leeds Rhinos Academy and Bradford Bulls reserves.
“Jordan has been in some very good systems, including at Huddersfield Giants, and is hungry for a crack at this level,” added Kilshaw.
“His dedication to improve and push himself is second to none – he will be a very good acquisition as he can play a number of positions comfortably, and I feel there is a lot of potential which the coaching team need to develop and harness.
“Matty isn’t dissimilar to the lads we have previously given contracts to. He came out of the pro game but kept his standards high and deserves a chance at this level.”
Completing the week’s business is Harvey Hallas, who has shelved plans for some time away from the game to run out for Kilshaw’s men for another twelve months. The 24-year-old featured 13 times for the club in 2021.
ROCHDALE HORNETS Chairman Andy Mazey believes the squad his club is currently building will prove to be stronger than the one they had in 2021.
Connor Aspey is the latest new arrival at the Crown Oil Arena, having signed on a year-long loan deal from Salford Red Devils.
The 19-year-old made his Super League debut in 2020 against Hull Kingston Rovers, while he has also featured for Newcastle Thunder, North Wales Crusaders and Widnes on loan in recent seasons.
“While we want to ensure the club is sustainable, we also want to balance that with being ambitious as well,” said Mazey.
“We’re not just going to spend what we can to stay sustainable without having any ambition. We have to find the right balance to do both.
“Matt Calland and I are very big on is having local Rochdale lads playing in Rochdale shirts.
“The core of our retentions has a big local element. But we also have some players, like Connor, coming in from Super League clubs who are young and ambitious.
“All that, mixed with some of the more established names within the team, means I am pretty confident that, despite the budget cuts, we’re going to have a more competitive and better-balanced squad than we had this year.”
KEIGHLEY COUGARS are continuing to build their squad ahead of the upcoming season with utility forward Billy Gaylor the latest player to agree a new deal.
But coach Rhys Lovegrove has suggested not all his business might have been done ahead of a return to pre-season.
“We will be leaving a couple of areas free for improvement over pre-season,” admitted Lovegrove.
“There are a lot of unknowns around Rugby League at the moment and I think there will be a lot of player movement still to do, so leaving us with an opportunity to capitalise on any key individuals that might become available at a later date is very wise business.”
2022 will be Gaylor’s fifth season at the club after he arrived from Coventry Bears in 2018. He initially struggled to break into the side and was released from his contract to play for amateur club Siddal. But when the Cougars hit financial difficulties in the latter part of that season, Gaylor returned to the club to help during their time of need and he has remained at Cougar Park ever since.
OLDHAM have added some international experience to their pack in former Dewsbury, Doncaster and Keighley Cougars backrow man Jason Muranka and Jamaica prop Jordan Andrade.
Over the last eight seasons Muranka, the 32-year-old Serbian international, has crossed for 17 tries in nearly 80 appearances.
Andrade makes the move from Hunslet and already has his sights set on a place in the Reggae Warriors’ squad for the World Cup.
“Jason has been around the Championship and League 1 for a number of years and he’ll be able to help the younger lads,” said Oldham coach Stuart Littler.
“He runs good lines and he’ll be good for us on the edges. If needs be, he can also play more up the middle.
“With only eight substitutions allowed next year we’ve got to get the balance right in team selection. Players who can play different roles, like Jason, will be invaluable. He’s a handful in possession no matter where he plays.
“Jordan has set himself a huge 2022 goal – to help the Roughyeds get back into the Championship first time out and in so doing to get the chance to play for Jamaica in the World Cup. He thinks his best chance of doing that is with Oldham.
“My job is to help him to achieve those team and personal targets and I’m looking forward to working with him.”
At the opposite end of the scale is Underbank Rangers captain and full-back Owen Restall, who has finally taken up the opportunity to turn professional.
“Owen is coming for the right reasons, in that he is desperately keen to make a go of it and to prove to himself more than anybody else that he can hack it and do well in the pro game,” added Littler.
“He has something about him, no doubt about that, and things we can work on. We can build on his talents and take him to the next level. We are building our squad almost day by day. Things are going really well.”
The club has also signed Oldham-born former Huddersfield Giants Academy halfback or hooker Sean Slater.
He now links back up with former Giants team-mates Callum Cameron and Tom Grierson at Oldham.
SWINTON LIONS have added some extra Championship experience to their pack by signing Jordan Case from Widnes Vikings.
The 28-year-old has impressed the club on the numerous occasions he has played against them and Lions coach Allan Coleman is delighted to be able to call on the forward in League 1.
“It’s great to get Jordan signed,” said Coleman.
“He is an experienced player who has played with and against a few of our senior players. They have all said the same thing – we want Jordan with us and not against us. I am really looking forward to working with him this coming season.”
Elsewhere the club continue to retain several players from the 2021 squad, with Mitch Cox, Jose Kenga, Richard Lepori, Luke Waterworth and Ben Heyes, all penning new deals with the club.
Cox was the only ever-present in this year’s squad, while by contrast Kenga and Lepori missed parts of the season through injury.
Waterworth has become a firm favourite amongst the Lions’ faithful since he joined them five years ago, while Heyes will be looking to add to the ten appearances he has made so far.
DONCASTER chief executive Carl Hall has said that everyone at the club is busy working to ensure the right squad is in place for 2022.
Having missed out on promotion in October, several players have moved on to take up opportunities in the Championship, leaving the club with some spaces to fill as they aim for promotion once again.
“We’ve improved every year at Doncaster and we want to go one step further in 2022. We’ll do everything we can to do that,” said Hall.
“We had a fantastic bunch of players this year and we want to build that again, so we will have to bring the right calibre of player in.
“We can’t let that improvement slip and the club is really backing us in our aim.
“That we are not making any announcements yet isn’t down to finances. The owners are backing us and we have got the budget to go and get the team we want. We’re just being smart and trying to bring the right players in, so that we don’t lose the environment we had in 2021.”
NORTH WALES CRUSADERS prop Chris Barratt has said it was an easy decision to remain with the club for another twelve months.
The packman scored one try in 18 games as the Crusaders charged to a third-placed finish in the league.
“We probably did a lot better than people expected and the experience of the play-offs will no doubt help us in the future,” the 28-year-old said after signing his new deal.
“I thought I had a pretty solid year, particularly once I got back into it after the long COVID-19 break, and it’s the most I’ve enjoyed playing for a long time.
“We had a fairly new squad last season, but we’ve had a full year together now and it’ll benefit us.
“League 1 will be like it was last year – it’s a very tough league – but we know we can beat anyone on our day.
“There was no question about whether I was going to sign again and I can’t wait for next season.”
Callum Hazzard, who made one Super League appearance for St Helens in 2019, has also committed his future to the club with a new deal and is anticipating another tough year ahead.
“League 1 is always a very tight competition and that’ll be the same again next season,” said Hazzard.
“I think there’ll be as many as eight teams competing for those top places and we’ve just got to try to build on what we’ve done last season.”
WEST WALES RAIDERS have appointed ex-Cardiff Blues and Wales Sevens player Gareth Davies as another assistant coach alongside Ben Flower.
37-year-old Davies has most recently played for Merthyr RFC and has vast experience within the 15-a-side code. Part-owner Peter Tiffin believes he can bring a lot to the club.
“Gareth is a great fit to what we are trying to build at the club,” said Tiffin.
“Along with Ben, his Welsh background and knowledge of rugby is exactly what we are trying to grow within the club.
“I think Ben and Gareth are a great fit and will bounce of each other. They have been very proactive already in searching for their Raiders’ squad for 2022 and along with the new head coach appointment and further Raiders staff they are looking to improve massively on previous seasons.”
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