ROCHDALE HORNETS favourite Joe Taira, who was restricted to just ten appearances this year due to illness and injury, will remain at the club for a further year after agreeing a new contract.
The Fijian forward first joined the club in 2016 from amateur neighbours Rochdale Mayfield, and stayed for three seasons before joining Batley Bulldogs. But he returned to the Hornets for a second spell ahead of the 2021 season.
For Hornets chairman Andy Mazey, the re-signing of the 32-year-old is just as important for what it means off the pitch as what he can bring on it.
“We are delighted to have extended Joe’s contract,” said Mazey
“He symbolises our Fijian connections and community which is something we are very proud of as club.
“Joe plays the game only one way and leaves it all out on the pitch every time he crosses that white line in our shirt. I’m already looking forward to seeing more of those strong carries and some whack again in 2022 as I’m sure our supporters will be too.”
Taira will be joined in the squad by centre Tom Ashton, who has signed a new contract with the club as well as Huddersfield Academy duo Joe Howe and Ben Killan, who join on permanent deals.
Howe can play at centre or second row, while Killan is a prop.
OLDHAM are close to confirming a move back to the town for the 2022 League 1 campaign, and have set sights on attracting a four-figure average home gate.
The relegated Roughyeds will return to the Vestacare Stadium, home of Northern Counties East League football club Avro.
They have spent the last two years in the Championship sharing with another football club, Northern Premier League Stalybridge Celtic, at the larger Bower Fold, which is six miles away from Oldham.
That’s because the Vestacare, which is in the Limehurst area of the town, holds 1,500 and has an artificial pitch, doesn’t meet the RFL’s minimum standards for Championship rugby.
Oldham last played there in 2018 and 2019, when they were promoted from League 1 under Scott Naylor with an average home crowd of 623.
“We maintain a good relationship with Stalybridge Celtic, but the Vestacare Stadium has the advantage of being in Oldham, making it that bit easier for our supporters,” explained chairman Chris Hamilton.
“And because we use it for some of our training, the players know the ground and the surface.
“We are just making the final arrangements in terms of making sure the football and Rugby League games don’t clash.”
Oldham went into the 2021 campaign with high hopes of mounting a play-off challenge under Matt Diskin, and won two of their first four Championship games, but after defeats in each of their next seven, the coach departed.
Ex-Leeds supremo Brian McDermott came in as a consultant, but in ten matches, was only able to pick up only one point.
Since then, ex-Swinton coach Stuart Littler has come on board at Oldham and been tasked with winning a quick return to the Championship while McDermott has taken charge at Featherstone.
NORTH WALES CRUSADERS coach Anthony Murray is confident that his off field business can fill the hole left by three big departures.
Hooker Karl Ashall and prop Warren Thompson retired at the end of last season, while Dave Eccleston has joined Whitehaven.
But in their place Murray has signed hookers Paul Nash and Harry Swarbrick from Swinton Lions and Barrow Raiders respectively, winger Dec Kay from Rochdale, forward Kieran Sherratt from Coventry, and most recently former Warrington academy halfback Reece Briers – son of Super League great Lee.
“It was a real shame to lose Karl, Warren and Dave, but the main thing for us after that was to keep hod of the majority of the rest of the players we had, and add a few new players as well, which we’ve managed to do,” said Murray.
“Retirements happen and this is nothing new for us. A few years ago we had the likes of Jonny Walker, Alex Thompson and Stephen Wild, who were all big figures for the club, decide to retire at the end of the same season.
“We had to go out and recruit then to try and replace those guys and we did it successfully. We’ve had to do that again this year and that gives other players an opportunity.
“With some of the new guys we have brought in hopefully they’ll fill those spots, and do it with a future ahead of them.
“I’d like to think they can be like-for-like replacements, but obviously they’re a little bit younger and lack some of the experience those guys had. But they will gain that experience while they’re here and be better for it.”
KEIGHLEY COUGARS coach Rhys Lovegrove has always been vocal in his desire for the club to help develop the stars of the future.
The fruits of what he wants the club to do were seen last year when they had two candidates nominated for League 1 Young Player of the Year, with Phoenix Laulu-Togaga’e being named the winner ahead of Charlie Graham.
Laulu-Togaga’e is now preparing for his Super League debut with Hull KR after a breakthrough campaign with the Cougars, which saw him score five tries in 12 appearances.
The club clearly agree with Lovegrove’s objectives having successfully applied to join the Rugby Football League’s England Talent Pathway (ETP).
As an ETP accredited partner, the club will be allowed to focus on players aged 12-16 based on the principles of open access and development of each individual. The player pathway developed will support both boys and girls in order to produce players long term for both the Keighley Cougars men’s and ladies’ first teams.
“Our aim as a club is to support inclusion and the development of players, coaches and people,” said Cougars head of rugby Andrew Henderson.
“Being granted ETP status as a club by the RFL demonstrates another opportunity to deliver on this ethos and will form the first stages of our player development pathway.
“We want to work with our fantastic community rugby league clubs in our area along with some brilliant schools that are currently engaged in our Cougars Foundation rugby programme. It will be exciting to see the next emerging talent coming through our very own system.”
The programme, which will be led by current assistant coach Dean Muir, is delivered through Club Foundations, Community Clubs, Professional Clubs and Schools.
While this remains a longer term project for the club, in the shorter term, preparations for the new season continue with more players committing to the club for 2022.
Josh Lynam, Taylor Prell and Robert Matamosi have both signed new deals with the club as they set their sights on promotion to the Championship once again.
SWINTON LIONS coach Allan Coleman knows that a good run in the Challenge Cup will be an important part of their preparations for the new league season.
League 1 clubs enter the knock-out competition in the second round, which will be played on the weekend of January 30th. The next three rounds will be played on alternate weekends before the Lions get their League campaign underway against West Wales Raiders on Sunday, March 27.
“A good cup run this year would give the chance to stay involved, play every other week and get some continuity going into the new season,” said Coleman.
“If I’m being realistic, Swinton Lions won’t win the Challenge Cup, but those early games will give us a chance to use the squad wisely and let us make sure we get a look at everyone equally so that we know what our strongest team is come March 27, which is the most important date of the year for us.”
DONCASTER have added more Championship experience to their ranks with the signing of Greg Burns from Sheffield Eagles.
The 26-year-old hooker becomes the club’s second new recruit for 2022 following the arrival of Connor Robinson from Halifax.
Burns graduated from the Eagles Academy and made his first team debut in 2015. He has since established himself as a consistent member of the side, making 89 appearances for the Eagles, including featuring in the 1895 Cup win at Wembley in 2019.
“I’m really happy to be joining Doncaster,” said Burns.
“It’s a club I know well after playing for the Eagles at the Keepmoat for the past couple of seasons.
“They’re a really progressive club, and came close to promotion last season so I think the aim has to be to take that next step.
“After speaking to Carl Hall, Richard Horne and Chris Plume my mind was made up to come here for a fresh challenge.”
Joining Burns in the side is former Wakefield Trinity Academy forward Leon Ruan, who has opted to sign a one-year deal with the Dons after receiving interest from several clubs in the top two tiers of the game.
Papua New Guinea centre Jason Tali has signed a new two-year contract with the club, while Aaron Ollett-Hobson and Ross Whitmore will both also remain at the club after putting pen to paper on new 12-month deals.
MIDLANDS HURRICANES have handed contracts to three rising stars of the student game.
Sean Croston, a former St Helens junior who featured five times for Whitehaven in 2021 and previously for Newcastle, is joined by Tyler Walton and Nathan Newbound in signing.
Walton is a product of the Newcastle Thunder Academy system and featured twice on loan at Rochdale Hornets earlier this year. He has also recently enjoyed a stint in France playing for Albi Tigers, where he picked up the Player of the Year award.
Wakefield Trinity Academy product Newbound has been with Sale Sharks in the 15-man code for the last couple of years, but has switched back to Rugby League after taking up a Sports Scholarship at university.
All three players are currently involved in the Northumbria University side who are top of the BUCS National University League.
“Sean is an exceptional talent,” said Hurricanes coach Richard Squires.
“He’s young, enthusiastic and looks like he has plenty of ability. As soon as I talked to him I knew he was someone that needed to be at Hurricanes. He comes in very high regards from previous coaches and has the ability to reach the top of his game. We will be looking for Sean to really express himself this year and light up the league to showcase the skill set that he has.
“Tyler is a very aggressive and agile middle who is able to do big stints. He has had a taste of League 1 action with a number of teams but has never been able to put his foot down and get some consistency under his belt. He took the move to France and strung a number of games together and really showed his potential.
“Nathan is a player that has fallen through the net during his transition to rugby union. He played competitively in every single game for Wakefield Academy and was a stand out performer week in week out. He builds his game around tough carries and aggression in defence and this is something fans can look forward to.
“He had a number of Championship and League 1 clubs show interest in him but I’m over the moon he has bought into what we are building here and I’m delighted to have him on board.”
Local prop Trae O’Sullivan has also returned to the club after a spell in the 15-a-side code.
“Trae is a Coventry Bears and Midlands Hurricanes junior and was in the original Hurricanes system when it was running several years ago in Loughborough,” added Squires.
“He’s currently been playing Rugby Union in a break from League but has several years experience with different clubs and has matured as a person and player over this time. He’s a big body which we have been missing previously and the aggression and physicality he can bring will help add a different dimension to our game.”
HUNSLET coach Alan Kilshaw has continued to put his faith in youth by signing young prop Sam Moorhouse on a one-year deal.
The 6ft 3in 20-year-old came through the system at Stanningley before initially joining Leeds Rhinos and later Dewsbury Rams – where the Covid-19 pandemic put his career on hold.
“Sam was recommended to me by Mark Butterill, who coached him in the Leeds system, and after doing our usual due diligence we had no hesitation in bringing him in,” said Kilshaw.
“He really impressed me and our assistant coach Ryan Jackson when we met him for a chat; in fact he wanted to train that evening and do the testing with the rest of the squad.
“Sam has settled in quickly, with some mates already in the team. He is another local lad who we want to do well, and I’ve no doubt how much pride and passion he will show in the shirt.
“He’s a real handful and has been putting himself about in training already. He carries strong and has a good offload, and I’m looking forward to helping him develop his game and to seeing him progress in Hunslet colours.”
LONDON SKOLARS have confirmed their third re-signing for the new season with hooker Ryan Cane signing a new deal to take him into his third year with the club.
The 24-year-old joins Josh Dalton and Abevia McDonald in committing to the club for 2022 and will be hoping for an impressive season that could the see him represent his Italian heritage on the biggest stage of all.
“I was very keen to come back to Skolars for another season,” said Cane, who has previously played for Cabramatta RL, Westerns Suburbs Magpie & East Campbelltown in Australia.
“With this being a World Cup year, I have a number of goals that I want to meet and have a point to prove.”
Skolars general manager, Charlie de Haan, added: “Ryan is an incredibly hard worker and has impressed us with his attitude on and off the field.
“He is always looking to learn more and I believe will be a key player for us going forward.”
Aaron Small has also re-signed for the 2022 season.
WEST WALES RAIDERS co-owner Peter Tiffin is confident the club will have a strong squad going into the new season, despite not yet having formally announced any new contracts.
While the club have been publicly busy assembling a new coaching team following the departure of Aaron Wood, work has been taking place behind the scenes to get old and new players signed on for the new campaign.
“I’ve had three or four big names coming to me wanting sign for us and I never thought we’d have had this previously,” said Tiffin.
“We have had a few players move on, but apart from that everyone is else is ringing me asking me about how they can re-sign or what we need to do for them to stay.
“We’ve also had a few Rugby Union players show an interest in coming and having a go because they’ve seen a challenge and it’s something they want to try.
“You could see from the draw against Doncaster, and some of other games where we came close, that we are building something here, and with one or two key signings of players that have played at a higher level, we can be stronger.”
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