London Skolars prop Eddie Mbaraga will be more eager than most to get back out on the field in 2021.
The 33-year-old last week became the first Skolars player to be confirmed in the squad for next season and admits there were times he wasn’t sure if that would happen.
After just five games at the start 2019, Mbaraga’s season was ended by a knee injury – something he was still recovering from as the 2020 season fell victim to the Coronavirus pandemic.
But now fully fit again, Mbaraga is ready to kick start his career once again, and it’s thanks in part to one of his team mates.
“To have a new contract and confirmation that there is going to be a season again next year is amazing,” said Mbaraga.
“I injured the meniscus in my knee in 2019. I couldn’t run or do anything so that season was a write off for me. Then with the way things have gone this year I’m chomping at the bit to get back.
“I am just excited to do some team stuff and touch a rugby ball again. I also can’t wait to get back into contact again, it’s something I have really missed and I think I have a lot of pent up aggression to release.
“Thankfully the injury is all sorted now and I am back to some sort of fitness again. I am ready to show people what I can do and how much progress I have made while I have been out.
“Recovering from injury, followed by lockdown has meant the last 18-months or so have been really tough. At times I did think that was it and I wasn’t going to come back and play.
“But I’m really good mates with Iliess Macani and he was nice enough to come up with a fitness programme for me and he was always checking in with me to see I was keeping up with it. Having him on my case nearly everyday about what I was doing and how my rehab was going was a big help so I am really grateful to him, Jermaine (Coleman – coach) and the other guys for checking in on me and keeping me on track.”
As well as Mbaraga, Charles Hammond has also put pen to paper on a new one-year deal with the club.
NEWCASTLE THUNDER have taken their confirmed squad for 2021 up to 18 players after another busy week of recruitment.
As well as the retention of 2019’s leading try scorer Kieran Gill, Reece Dean and Academy graduate Alex Donaghy, the club have also signed winger Cian Tyrer from Wigan Warriors’ academy and Bradford Bulls forward Evan Hodgson, while half back Connor Bailey has joined on a season-long loan from Wakefield.
“Cian is a Matty Russell type of player, great on his feet and an impact ball carrier,” said director of rugby Denis Betts.
“He has great pace and is the sort of player who will score if he makes a break and gets in behind opposition defences.
“He needs to play seniors rugby to keep developing and we are pleased to offer him that opportunity at Thunder.
“Evan had been an outstanding player at Bradford and now has an opportunity to prove how good he is.
“He is a tough kid, with good footwork and a quick play-the-ball and I’m looking forward to seeing him fight for a place.
“Connor has had a taste of Super League and has come through a good system at Wakefield and he is coming to us to develop by playing every week.
“He has a strong kicking game, is solid defensively, is a good organiser and he is hungry for success. I’m looking forward to seeing him prove his Super League credential with us next year.”
On the retained players, Betts added: “It’s fantastic that Kieran had signed on again. He sees and shares the ambition we have as a club.
“He has been a great player for the club since arriving and he is only going to get better.
“Reece is a great organiser and is very experienced and he has all the skills to control games.
“He’s a general on the pitch and pulls the strings well. He is smart, ambitious and has great leadership skills.
“Alex has never failed to impress when I have seen him play and he showed great composure when he made those first starts in the Challenge Cup, particularly in those testing conditions down at Keighley.
“He shows an understanding of rugby league far beyond his experience. We need to invest more time into him, but I am really excited by his prospects.”
The six players join Bob Beswick, Rhys Clarke, Alex Clegg, Ollie Gowing, Kieran Hudson, Jack Johnson, Liam McAvoy, Calum Turner, Nathan Wilde, Sam Wilde, Matty Wright and Lewis Young as contracted players for the coming season.
BARROW RAIDERS coach Paul Crarey is planning a gradual return to full training now that the club have received the go ahead to return.
The first session took place this weekend and Crarey is well aware that doing too much too soon after so long out would have a detrimental effect to their preparations.
“If the games don’t start again until March, that’ll be a full year that the guys have been away from the game which is unbelievable,” said Crarey.
“We just need to take things steady and do it gradually and we are doing some work on injury prevention with our new physio Sean Riley.
“We’re changing how we do things this year and Sean was more involved in the build up to the start of training. Having him in means we will hopefully be able to combat the little niggles the guys will get after coming back after from so long out.
“But we have enough time between now and when we’re meant to start in March or April so we can do some graded return to contact.
“It’s going to be a long pre-season. We’ve got three weeks now up until Christmas, before we give the lads a bit of time off. Then we’ll go hard at it from January and see how we go.
“Throughout it though we’ll continually monitor the players and see how they are feeling, especially after a year out.
“We’re only in twice a week so they’re going to have to do a lot of upper body work and weights away from the club.
“If we wanted to train more than twice a week, we’d have to start paying for testing, which we could afford to do that.
“But it would be stupid to do that if we can train twice a week and then the lads be honest and do some work away from the club. They have been doing that already since the season was cancelled and we can trust them to do it again.”
ROCHDALE HORNETS chairman Andy Mazey has said the task of applying to become 2021’s 14th Championship side has been a beneficial exercise all round, no matter what the outcome is.
Mazey, and his board, took over the club 12 months ago and the application process has allowed them to review the progress they have made over that time.
“The application took a lot of time to put together and we wanted to make sure we did all we could to get the best possible bid in,” explained Mazey.
“We put a lot of time and effort into it and it was a fantastic piece of work when it was finished.
“Regardless of the outcome it has been a root and branch analysis of what we’ve been doing here and we can use it as a management tool to move forward with.
“It’s been a good exercise for us to see where the club is now compared to where it was when we arrived last December.
“You can sometimes get tunnel vision when looking forward but this gave us the opportunity to look back at what we have done so far as well as looking ahead to what the next stages are for moving forward over he next few years.
“It’s also something we can measure ourselves against in the coming years so we can see if we are we doing what we said we would in the proposal.”
One the field, the Hornets players returned to training for the first time since the pandemic last week, providing coach Matt Calland an opportunity to see a strengthened squad together for the first time.
“Matt and the lads were all excited to be getting back together again,” added Mazey.
“It feels a bit like we’re coming out the other end of the tunnel now.”
HUNSLET coach Gary Thornton saw his squad return to training last week and was left delighted with the shape they arrived at the club in.
“We started back on Wednesday and it was good,” said Thornton.
“Everyone has been a very frustrated over the recent months so it was great to finally get them back in.
“They all came back with a clean bill of health and everyone was raring to go.
“It’s been a long time out for them and conditioning for Rugby League is very different to other sports, so we expected them to be a bit rusty and off the pace. It was a reasonably tough session and they all got through it okay.
“Considering the length of time they’ve been out of the game they were all in reasonable shape – no one came back in massively overweight or massively out of condition so I was pleased with that.
“While they were furloughed we had to be careful with what we could and couldn’t do with them and it was on them as individuals to make sure that when they did come back in to pre-season that they were fit to go.
“So fair play to them, they have done that and kept themselves in reasonable shape. They knew it would be tough when they came back in and they had prepared accordingly.
“That helps us all because now we don’t have to do loads of work on fitness, when we’re in, instead been able to crack on with other things as we prepare to finally play again.”
NORTH WALES CRUSADERS coach Anthony Murray has indicated the club could enter the 1895 Cup in 2021.
Initially plans by the RFL will see the Cup competition return in a new format in March, before the league campaign gets underway the following month.
The Wrexham-based club have previously opted out of the Cup competition, but could reconsider that stance if it offered them more opportunities to prepare for the rest of the season.
“For the purposes of getting out there and finally playing again after so long out, then the 1895 would be a tempting competition to be a part of,” admitted Murray.
“But it will be a club decision, and whatever they see fit to do, we’ll do. But it would be a good opportunity to actually play.
“Most teams will likely use those cup games as their warm up matches to lead into the league starting shortly afterwards.
“If our club decides to enter it then we’ll definitely use them as part of our pre-season, rather than having our pre-season complete ahead of them.”
KEIGHLEY COUGARS assistant coach Dean Muir believes the squad now has the right balance to fulfil their hopes of a place in the Championship.
The club were not eligible to apply to fill the vacant space in the Championship for next season, so will need to earn promotion on the field, and Muir is confident they can give that a really good go in 2021.
“It’s an exciting time to be part of the club,” admitted Muir.
“We have brought in some really experienced players for next season, but there are also some good young players in there that we hope will learn from these experienced pros.
“We’re hoping that the senior group of Scott Murrell, QLT and Jake Webster can really bring on the young lads and have a blend in the squad that can push us on to the next level.
“We’ve now just got to wait and see how they all click together and and what environment we can create for everyone to keep them safe and make sure they can play their best rugby.
“League 1 as a whole is looking really strong for 2021 with lot of clubs making a lot of investments in their squad. But we’re really excited by what we’ve got and I know we’ll be there or thereabouts at the end of the year.
“Rhys (Lovegrove – coach) has spoken about his goals in the past. They’ve not changed, they have just been delayed by 12 months.”
WORKINGTON TOWN have said that whatever league they are in next year, the aim of helping the game come back stronger from the disruption it has faced in 2020 will still remain the same.
Town are one of five clubs to have applied to join the Championship in 2021, with an announcement due this week on which one has been successful.
“Best of luck to all the clubs that have applied, we’re sure that we’ve all submitted a strong argument for inclusion,” read a brief statement from the club.
“Whatever league we are in next season, we look forward to playing an active part in promoting the greatest sport on earth as we return and recover from the chaos of 2020.
“As we have been producing our submission it has reminded us how much Rugby League is a key part of our local communities and we look forward to pushing on in 2021.”
DONCASTER chief executive Carl Hall believes the process of applying for the vacant spot in the Championship has proved a valuable experience and reiterated that the club is moving in the right direction.
Doncaster are one of five clubs aiming for promotion ahead of 2021 and confirmed last week that their application had officially been submitted.
“We have done everything we can to give ourselves the best chance of being the club selected to take the vacant spot in the Championship next season,” said chief executive Carl Hall.
“I’d like to thank everyone involved in putting our application forward, we have all worked incredibly hard and left no stone unturned since the process started.
“Looking over the document has really shown me how far the club has come. It has already proven to be a worthwhile exercise and I am proud of everyone at the club.”
COVENTRY BEARS have added another new face to their squad from Newcastle Thunder.
Following in the footsteps of Jed Charlton, winger or fullback Niall Sidney has also joined the club from the North-East outfit
The 22-year-old Scotland international has played six first-team games for Thunder, scoring nine tries.
“Niall is another product of Newcastle Thunder who has also spent time with the City of Hull academy,” said coach Richard Squires.
“He has the natural ability to score points and bags of natural talent.
“He is very coachable and willing to learn”
WEST WALES RAIDERS coach Aaron Wood has been left pleased with how his 2021 squad is coming together, after finally seeing them all together as one group.
The whole squad have now had two socially-distanced welcome meetings at the club and the early signs looks promising.
“It’s been really good,” said Wood.
“There are a lot of new faces but everyone got on really well and there was a good vibe in the camp. Everyone is pumped and excited to be at the club.
“The second one was on Saturday and we were going over the standards that we expect for the season, but just having another chance to catch up was the main thing.
“No one has been shy, they have been getting to know each other again. There has been a really good atmosphere around the place and it’s been good fun.”
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