KEIGHLEY COUGARS may have gone into this weekend’s rounds of matches six points clear at the top of the League One table, but their coach Rhys Lovegrove is not getting carried away with the thought of finally earning promotion back to the Championship.
The West Yorkshire side has not played in the higher league since 2014 and it has been building over the years to get back there.
That looks like it could finally happen in 2022, but Lovegrove is eager to keep his players’ feet on the ground for the remaining five games of the season.
“We’ve said all year that it’s just about doing our job and sticking to the process and the lads have been really good with doing that,” said Lovegrove.
“They are enjoying the experience and challenge of rocking up to training and trying to be better than they were the week before.
“That’s what it’s all about, so we’re just take it week by week.
“If I’m honest, promotion itself is not something we’re really thinking about because we don’t tend to focus on things on that sort of scale. We just remain focused on what we want to achieve in each specific game and we know if we achieve those outcomes within the game, then it puts us in a great position to win that game. Then, if you win enough games, things like promotion come off the back of it.
“We break things down into the smaller pieces rather than the bigger picture, so we’re just chugging along trying to reach the goals we targeted at the start of the year and we’ll see where that takes us.”
Whichever league the Cougars are in next season, one player who will still be there is Aaron Levy, who last week signed a new one-year deal with the club, with the option to extend by a further twelve months until the end of the 2024 campaign.
Levy joined the club as a 16-year-old in December 2012 and quickly established himself as a regular in the reserves side. Then in 2018 he was handed his first-team debut against Hemel Stags and has been a regular in the side ever since.
“As soon as Hendo (director of rugby Andrew Henderson) and Rhys said they wanted me back for next year, I had no doubt that I wanted to be here,” said Levy.
“This place is building something special and I’m excited to be a part of it.
“The culture of the club is one of the biggest reasons I wanted to stay; we’ve built a strong culture of working hard but enjoying ourselves and it is infectious to be around.
“The lads are all fantastic, which is what has made this year so special. We’ve got a lot of different personalities, but everyone is accepted, and I think that is reflected in how hard we work for each other on the field.”
HUNSLET coach Alan Kilshaw is hoping he will have a couple more bodies to call upon once the club returns to action after its upcoming bye weekend.
The south Leeds club faces Midlands Hurricanes on Friday night, and then does not play again until a trip to Cougar Park to face table-toppers Keighley on August 14.
Halfback Pat Walker and winger Wayne Reittie were missing again at the weekend with Kilshaw looking to err on the side of caution when it comes to getting them back on the field, while Jacob Doyle will also be sidelined for a couple of weeks with a knee injury.
“Doyle’s knee flared up following the Skolars game, which will keep him out for a few weeks, and we have also had setbacks with Reittie’s and Walker’s rehabilitations,” said Kilshaw.
“Both have manual jobs in the building trade, which isn’t helping their recoveries from, respectively, hamstring and back injuries. We have therefore made decisions to keep them on rehab programmes until after our pending week off, which follows the Midlands Hurricanes game at the end of July.
“That should help ensure, without any more disruption, their fitness for the back end of the campaign.”
Two players, however, who won’t be back following the week’s rest, or indeed this year, are captain Duane Straugheir (arm) and fullback Jimmy Watson (hamstring tendon sprain), both of whom picked up longer term injuries in the win over Skolars.
“Season-ending injuries to two senior players is a blow,” added Kilshaw.
“Straugh hasn’t had much luck this year, while Jimmy had been an ever-present after his long lay-off last season. We feel for them, and the group will support them.”
CORNWALL coach Neil Kelly believes his side can add to their single win this season with more victories in their debut campaign.
The South West side have five games remaining – London Skolars (A), North Wales Crusaders (H), Rochdale Hornets (A), Oldham (H) and Midlands Hurricane (A) – and Kelly is hoping the club will be celebrating again before the end of the season.
The club’s maiden victory came against West Wales Raiders in June, and if that proves to be their only win of the season, it will always remain a special memory for Kelly for one reason in particular.
“As well as the guys we’ve brought down from the north with experience, we’ve had players like Sam Snell, Decarlo Trerise and Sam Gilder that have come into the side and really continued their development, so it was great to win at West Wales with five or six players from Cornwall in the 17-man squad,” admitted Kelly.
“That is a real achievement to win a game of Rugby League when virtually a third of your team has never played at this level before this season. All the lads deserve a lot of credit for that.
“In my coaching career I have had more successes than failures and I’d like to feel like we can win every game. That’s not realistic here, but in my own mind at the start of year I was thinking that if we got three or four wins this season that that would be seen as success. But with the acquisitions we’ve brought in and the way the local players are developing, that has become more of a realistic possibility.
“We have only won one game so far so far, and I am happy we’ve not gone a full season with 20 defeats, but I do still feel there are a couple of potential wins for us over the coming weeks.”
If that elusive second win does come, it will be without Luke Collins, who has been handed an eight-game ban and fined £75 after being found guilty of using homophobic language in the recent match against Doncaster.
They will also have to do it without their inaugural signing Anthony Mullally, who has decided to retire from the game with immediate effect.
DONCASTER chief executive Carl Hall has praised the professionalism shown by Ben Cockayne as the former Super League fullback brought his time at the club to an end.
The 39-year-old has taken up an opportunity with Championship club York City Knights as James Ford’s new assistant coach, following the departure of Brett Delaney, who has joined former Leeds Rhinos team-mate Danny Maguire at Hull Kingston Rovers.
Cockayne started his career at the South Yorkshire club in 2005 and, after spells with Hull KR, Featherstone, Wakefield and York, he returned midway through last season.
He has scored 19 tries for Doncaster in 40 appearances across his two spells with the club.
“Ben has been the ultimate professional since returning to the Dons midway through last season, and was a key part in us reaching the play-off final,” said Hall.
“He approached me and explained the situation and I have nothing but respect for the way he went about it. As a club, we pride ourselves on doing things the right way and by allowing him to pursue his coaching career with York I feel we have done just that.
“The win at Oldham was a fitting tribute to Ben and we wish him all the best for his new venture; he has been top class from the moment he stepped through the door.”
While the Dons have lost Cockayne, they have added extra strength to the pack with the signing of Jose Kenga, who was recently released by Swinton, on a deal until the end of the season.
It was a case of two in, one out at SWINTON LIONS ahead of Friday’s registration deadline.
Incoming are loan duo Brad Holroyd from Widnes Vikings and Hull KR teenager Max Kirkbright, but their arrival has been offset by the departure of Jose Kenga, who recently enjoyed a loan spell at Midlands Hurricanes.
Kenga made his Lions debut in February 2019 and made a total of 27 appearances for the club over a spell hit by both Covid and serious injury. His last appearance for the club came against Cornwall in May.
With a young family based in Yorkshire, the commute has become increasingly difficult, so a mutual decision has been taken to terminate his contract to allow him to pursue other options. He has since joined Doncaster for the rest of this season.
Both incoming players are outside backs and Lions coach Allan Coleman knows Holroyd well from his time in the community game.
Holroyd has Championship experience under his belt from this season, while Kirkbright has mainly been playing reserves at Hull KR, but did become a member of the first-team squad this year.
“Jose has been a model professional during his time at our club, and on top of that he is a thoroughly nice human being,” said Coleman.
“It’s a pity that things haven’t quite worked out, but we respect the logistical difficulties that Jose has faced recently and having spoken to him at length, we’ve reluctantly agreed that this is probably the best way forward for both parties.
“I have coached Brad at England level and he was nominated last year, whilst at Workington, for the Young Player of the Year award. He therefore knows this league well, which is a huge plus.
“He’s a very talented player.”
“Max is a really promising wing or centre at Hull KR, where he’s in a full-time environment. He is a very talented young player, and when I spoke to him, he couldn’t wait to come on board at Swinton and push for a jersey.
“He adds to the good competition we now have in our back-line and at the right time of the season.”
ROCHDALE HORNETS beat Friday’s registration deadline to re-sign prop forward Pat Moran from Newcastle Thunder.
The 24-year-old, who played 36 times for the Hornets between 2017 and 2019 when on loan from Warrington Wolves, has joined on loan until the end of the season.
Moran has also had spells with Widnes Vikings, SO Avignon, and London Broncos, before making the move to Tyneside last November.
“I’m really pleased we got Pat in before the deadline,” said Hornets coach Matt Calland.
“He’s been up at Newcastle and not getting much game time, so we saw an opportunity to bring him in and it’s great to have got it done.
“He’s previously played for the club, so he knows what we’re about and he was really keen to come back and get some game time.
“This gives us plenty of competition now in the pack, which is vital at this stage of the season.”
OLDHAM coach Stuart Littler may have only had loanees Oliver Field and Johnny Openshaw at his disposal for a week or so, but he has already seen enough from them to extend their deals until the end of the season.
Field came off the bench against Doncaster and instantly caught Littler’s eye, while Openshaw has also put in strong performances against Rochdale Hornets and the Dons.
They were both also included in Saturday’s squad for the long trip to West Wales Raiders.
“Considering his age and the fact that he was playing in a new team for the first time, Oli was certainly impressive,” said Littler, following the defeat to Doncaster.
“He carried the ball strongly, made right decisions at the right time and generally set an example for some of his fellow forwards.
“Johnny is exciting. He’s the sort of lad who can get fans up and out of their seats and it’s great to have him here.”
The duo have been joined at the club by four more loanees – all from Wigan Warriors.
Logan Astley and prop Jack Bibby return for another loan spell for the remainder of the year, while centre Alex Sutton and prop Toby Brannan have also joined.
It is not all good news though, as Dane Windrow (Wakefield), Nyle Flynn (Batley) and Declan O’Donnell (Workington) have all returned to their parent clubs following a spell with Oldham.
WEST WALES RAIDERS have signed a third player on loan from Keighley Cougars for the remainder of the year.
Keenan Dyer-Dixon and Kian Fisher are already at Stebonheath Park and have now been joined by Anthony Dyne.
Dyne, who can play either wing or back row, has featured just twice for the Cougars this season, once in the Challenge Cup defeat to Hunslet in January and once in the league – against the Raiders – in May.
Keighley were keen to see Dyne get some regular game time in the final weeks of the season and the move to Llanelli will allow him to do that.
Dyne went straight into coach Ashley Bateman’s squad to face Oldham on Saturday and he will be looking to retain that position for the Raiders’ remaining five games.
MIDLANDS HURRICANES welcomed Hull KR reserves forwards Bailey Dawson and Tom Wilkinson into their ranks ahead of Sunday’s visit of Keighley Cougars.
The duo have featured for the reserves this season but will now get a taste of the professional game after linking back up former Robins Brad Clavering, Elliot Wallis and Elliot Windley, who are all currently plying their trade with the Portway club.
The Hurricanes will be hoping the pair can boost their pack options ahead of their final six games, but it will not be enough to propel them into the play-offs.
Richard Squires’ men went into the weekend in eighth place, eleven points off a top-six spot.
NORTH WALES CRUSADERS coach Anthony Murray is looking for a strong finish to the season to put the club in the strongest possible position for a decent run in the play-offs.
The Colwyn Bay side went into Saturday’s game against Hunslet sitting second in the league and now just have five games left against Oldham, Cornwall, Rochdale, Keighley and Swinton.
Despite the tough run-in, the Crusaders look like they will make the play-offs once again, but this year will be looking for a better showing than last season. After finishing third in 2021, the Welsh side lost both of their play-off games to Keighley and Doncaster.
“It’s largely possible we are going to be in those play-offs, which was always the goal,” Murray told the Leader newspaper.
“We are just jostling for position now and anybody in that top six can finish anywhere – that’s how competitive it is.
“Just being in the play-offs is the total aim, but building momentum going into those play-offs is what we’re looking for.”
LONDON SKOLARS coach Joe Mbu is hopeful that the club can be doubly represented at the World Cup later this year.
Abevia McDonald and Jerome Yates were both part of Jamaica’s training camp in Leeds last month ahead of the tournament and Mbu has said he will do what he can to keep them in contention for the Reggae Warriors side.
Both players have been regulars for Mbu this year and he hopes that continues.
“Those two guys have that typical West Indian spirit where they always have a smile on their face and they did when they came back to us after that camp,” said Mbu.
“They are enjoying themselves and doing well, so for me it’s just a case of keeping them fit and given them as many opportunities in the team as I can in the team to try and keep them involved with Jamaica.”
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