Keighley Cougars’ retiring fullback Ritchie Hawkyard (pictured) has said the decision to hang up his boots has been a long time coming, and that he finally decided to follow his head rather than his heart.
Hawkyard, 33, had signed for the Cougars during the close-season, but instead he will now quit the game.
“I was thinking about it midway through last season,” admitted Hawkyard.
“My body couldn’t do what I wanted it to any more and it was taking so much longer to get over little knocks and niggles.
“At one time I’d play on a Sunday, feel sore on the Monday, go to training on a Tuesday and be feeling okay again by the Tuesday night or Wednesday.
“But this year it was taking me until Thursday to feel right again, so I wasn’t able to train Tuesday or Thursday. I started asking myself if it was worth it.
“Scott Naylor at Oldham had my back and said he still needed me on board and as long as I could still do it in games, I could rest through training.
“But then we won the league and I knew there was no way I could play in the Championship and I had always wanted to go back to Keighley.
“I told Keighley when I signed that I needed a couple of months to get my head and body right and I’d be back for pre-season at the back end of December and the club was fine with that.
“I used those two months off to spend time with my family and that put into perspective what I have missed over the last few years. Just being able to go and watch my daughter’s dance classes and taking my little lad to the park or to look at the Christmas lights are things I’ve not been around to do much in the last few years.
“I wasn’t missing the rugby side of things and the pros of retiring outweighed the cons.
“It was time to go back to training on the Tuesday and wile my heart was telling me to carry on, my head was saying it was time to finish.
“It was a hard decision and it was tough telling the guys at Keighley, but I know it was the right time.”
DONCASTER coach Richard Horne believes his brother’s presence in the squad could lead to great things for the club in 2020.
34-year-old Graeme Horne has decided to extended his career by a further year after signing up to be coached by Richard for the first time in their careers.
“I’ve been wanting to get this done for a while, but Graeme wanted to wait for a bit and have a bit of time away from the game,” said Richard.
“He has been in the game for a long time now, so he just wanted to decide if he wanted to do another year.
“But when I spoke to him a week or so ago I managed to convince him to go round again for another season.
“He had a really good year for York last season and when he played I thought their performances went up. You could see the difference he made for them.
“With the experience he has, he is a great signing for us. He’s played in Super League and helped get York promoted to the Championship, so he knows what it takes to get it over the line. That is very important for us.
“I’m not sure he’s too happy about me being his boss though, so I’ve told him I won’t be too hard on him. But he’s a professional and I’m sure he’ll be open to a bit of criticism from me throughout the year.”
Further experience has been added to the ranks for 2020 with the signing of former Super League backrower Aaron Ollett from Newcastle Thunder.
“I was really happy to get Aaron over the line,” continued Richard.
“He can cover a lot of positions and with not having the dual-registration this year that is important. He can slot it at backrow, 13 and hooker if needed.
“He plays with a lot of energy and trains hard and that is just what we want in our players.”
HUNSLET have had a busy week with another six players being confirmed for Gary Thornton’s squad.
Jack Lee is the only returning face to the club after confirming he is to take up the second-year option of his current contract.
Alongside him, 19-year-old hooker Lochlan McGill has joined from Bradford Bulls Academy, while halfback Danny Rowse has made the move from NCL neighbours Hunslet Parkside. Also incoming are prop Harvey Hallas, who featured on loan for Keighley in 2019, second rower Danny King, who has joined from Dewsbury Rams, and fullback Keidan Hartley from Featherstone Rovers.
With the squad now taking shape, Thornton is delighted with what he has got to work with once they return to training after Christmas.
“I am really happy with how things are progressing and that we are getting things moving now,” said Thornton, who was particularly pleased to finally get Rowse on board.
“The squad we are putting together has a real mix of youth and experience and everyone has been training really well.
“I am really hopeful that we will have plenty to offer in 2020.
“In Danny’s case, he has been on our radar for a while and has been a massive part of a successful Parkside club.
“I always knew he had the attributes to step up, but I wanted it to be his decision as to when he turned professional, as there were still things he wanted to achieve in the amateur game.
“Thankfully he’s now decided to take that step and he’s come in and been brilliant.
“It means we have three really good pivots in the squad now in Dom Brambani, Simon Brown and Danny. It gives us some real cover and cutting edge in that area.”
WEST WALES RAIDERS‘ new coach Aaron Wood has already got a healthy squad to work with, and the club is expected to start making some player announcements in the coming weeks.
Wood only arrived in the country last week after being named as Kim Williams’ replacement. Now he has the task of getting the squad ready for their opening game against Newcastle on Saturday, February 15.
“I’m looking forward to getting started properly and establishing the squad to get them fit and ready to go for a competition that starts in six weeks,” said Wood.
“There are plenty of players here for me to work with. We have quite a few signings, which we will be announcing after a Christmas and there are also a few Aussies ready to come in as well.
“There are also a number of local recruits coming in who have gone off to play union elsewhere for a few years, but are now coming back to play for us.
“It means we should end up with a squad of 30 to 35 players.”
Wood has also begun adding to his backroom staff, with Wayne Ponting coming in as his assistant and also as a full-time head of development, while Rob Simon is the new head of strength and conditioning.
“The coaching staff is unreal,” added Wood.
“We have only worked together a couple of times but we all have same ideas and objectives and we are just going to try and get the guys fitter and stronger for the season ahead.
“We want them to have fun and that’s a big thing we’re going to promote this year.”
NEWCASTLE THUNDER coach Simon Finnigan has said it was a no-brainer to offer record appearance maker Joe Brown a new deal for 2020.
And it is not just on the field that the Jamaican international will have influence, with the 32-year-old taking on a coaching role at the club as he starts preparing for a life away from playing.
“Joe knows this club very well and as played more games for us than anyone else,” said Finnigan.
“He has been great for me since I joined the club and he is well respected, so it was an easy decision to keep him on board.
“What he offers off the field is great, but what he gave me on it was excellent too.
“He has told us that he would like to look into coaching once he finishes playing and with the reserves team coming in this season we’ll need extra help with that, so he’ll fit in there.
“It’s a way for him to get his foot in the door of coaching and if he likes it, he will progress further.
“He will continue playing at the same time, so it’s a great deal for all parties.”
Academy graduate Dan Coates and Northumbria University student Sam Blake have also put pen to paper on new deals for 2020.
Italian international Brendan Santi has also joined the club from Toulouse to take Finnigan’s squad to 26 players.
ROCHDALE HORNETS‘ squad for 2020 continues to grow with Sam Freeman joining from Widnes Vikings, while Andy Lea and Adam Carr make the step up from the amateur game by signing from Thatto Heath.
“Sam is young, fit and athletic and he fits the bill for the sort of player we are looking for,” said coach Matt Calland.
“He has pace to burn and can play fullback or wing.
“Andy comes with great leadership qualities and a real winning mentality.
“He has great skill levels and is a real workhorse in defence.
“Adam comes to us after a real successful season at Thatto Heath where he lifted the National Cup and was a key performer in the NCL.
“He comes to us as an ambitious, hungry, young powerful forward and he’s one we can work with and help mature.”
Calland has also strengthened his off-field staff by adding Craig Farrimond, who most recently coached in the NCL at Thatto Heath, as his assistant, while Matt Whitehead joins as the new physio.
Dave Ramsbottom and Miles Greenwood have confirmed they are to stay at the club as team manager and strength and conditioning coach respectively.
WORKINGTON TOWN coach Chris Thorman hopes to make several new signing announcements in the coming week after offering contracts to a number of players who have recently been trialling at Derwent Park.
“We made two contract offers last week to two players who have been training with us and we will be making offers to two other triallists as well,” said Thorman.
“From the feedback I’ve had they will sign with us, so adding another four will take us to around 27 players.
“All four guys are from different backgrounds with different levels of experience. They have all impressed me with their attitude and their application in our training sessions, so I was more than happy to offer them contracts.”
Meanwhile, fullback Ryan Fieldhouse has announced his retirement from the game following a string of injuries over the last year.
LONDON SKOLARS coach Jermaine Coleman believe people could soon be talking about the club for the right reasons, if a couple of intended targets come to fruition.
“A lot has been being done behind the scenes and hopefully we’ll soon be able to announce a couple of big signings in the new year,” said Coleman.
“We’re looking at a couple of guys who have been retained from last year, and hopefully a couple who will be joining us from the Championship.
“Nothing is ever guaranteed until they have signed and they are here training with us. But fingers crossed we’ll have some announcements coming soon.
“Hopefully they will get some people really talking about what we can do this year and what we can potentially achieve.”
COVENTRY BEARS‘ director of rugby Alan Robinson has confirmed the club will shortly be revealing which of the recent triallists have earned themselves deals for 2020.
Following their open trials in November, the Bears gave a number of players selected from that a run out in a game behind closed doors against the Prison Service, leaving Robinson pleased with what he saw.
“We will probably announce who has been successful over Christmas,” said Robinson.
“The game against the Prison Service was really good for all the triallists and it let us have a really good look at them.
“We’ll probably be taking on four or five of them. Most of them are pretty young guys but they did a great job that day.
“They won’t be League 1 ready just yet, but having them training with the squad and working towards that level will be really useful for us if injuries hit much later in the year.”
Robinson also confirmed that the club has signed a new ten-year agreement with the Butts Park Arena.
NORTH WALES CRUSADERS coach Anthony Murray has been delighted with the way his squad has performed in the opening months of pre-season training.
“We have a bit of a break now until end of the month and, to be fair, the lads have earned it,” said Murray.
“They have all worked really hard and I cannot fault the effort and commitment they have put in.
“It is all going as expected at this stage and I am pleased with where we are at.
“The players are all looking a lot fitter than they were when first came back in, which is the whole idea of pre-season.”
BARROW RAIDERS are hoping to get a fourth pre-season game arranged ahead of their season kicking off with a Challenge Cup third round tie at the start of February.
The Raiders already have clashes against Oldham (H – Jan 5), North Wales Crusaders (H – Jan 12) and Workington (H – Jan 26), but are looking for options to get a final fixture under their belt to best prepare for the season.
“We thought we had a game nailed on, but circumstances mean that we can’t play that team, so we are looking for somebody else,” head coach Paul Crarey told the North West Evening Mail.
“We’d like to have four – with these ten amateur boys coming in, we want to play them as much as we can just to see how they run.
“We’ve got two teams who’ll be competing against us in the same division and one that has just gone up into the Championship, so hopefully they’ll get a taste of what they need to be if they get selected, when the season starts, to play first-team rugby.”