KEIGHLEY COUGARS look set to be playing in front of a brand-new stand in just over a year’s time.
Subject to planning approval, the current Danny Jones Stand is to be demolished and replaced with a new state-of-the-art facility, following a £2.25 million grant from the community fund of the towns’ fund.
Work is due to begin at the end of the current campaign and is expected to be completed in time for the start of the 2024 season.
Since returning to the club at the beginning of 2019, the Cougars’ current directors have long campaigned for a new stand to help modernise Cougar Park and it looks like they are finally getting their way.
“This is a huge moment for the club,” said Cougars Chairman Mick O’Neill MBE.
“Sitting at the top of the league unbeaten we now have the support of the government to build the club a new state-of-the-art stand, which will not only be of immense benefit to the Cougars, but also to the town of Keighley.
“Our thanks go to the Towns Fund board under the leadership of Ian Hayfield and to Robbie Moore MP, who has worked tirelessly to get this funding for the club.”
The new stand will accommodate 2,100 seats and will also be a community-based facility for the town with the new stand having a variety of facilities for the people of Keighley.
The Cougars will continue to play at the ground while the work is undertaken, with temporary facilities for players, staff, and supporters being installed at the ground. The first team, however, will be training at a facility away from the ground during this period.
Meanwhile the club has increased its squad of contracted players for 2023 up to twelve players after Alix Stephenson became the latest player to agree a new two-year contract extension with the club.
The 23-year-old followed in the footsteps of grandad John, father Andy, and uncle Phil when he signed for the Cougars in December 2020, but unfortunately suffered a broken leg on his debut for the club against the Bulls in the pre-season Joe Phillips Memorial Trophy. Since his return to action last August, he has become an integral part of the team and has scored eight tries in 13 appearances this season.
Cougars head of rugby Andrew Henderson is delighted to keep Stephenson, who can play on the wing, in the halves, or at fullback, on board.
“Alix is an exciting young local talent who has done a fantastic job this season playing in a number of positions for the team,” said Henderson.
“His versatility and utility value are a great asset to the squad.
“We can progress and develop him further within our performance environment and I believe he has the attributes to play at the next level.”
Stephenson joins Mo Agoro, Dane Chisholm, Charlie Graham, Aaron Levy, Jack Miller, Eddy Pettybourne, Nathan Roebuck, Brenden Santi, Harvey Spence, Kyle Trout and Lewis Young in next season’s confirmed squad to date.
DONCASTER finally returned to the Eco Power Arena on Sunday after almost two months on the road and coach Richard Horne knows how vital that could be as they approach the business end of the season.
Following two bye weekends and trips to North Wales Crusaders, Swinton Lions, Cornwall and Oldham, the Dons now have a run of three home games in their final five matches.
“It’s been a while,” said Horne.
“We always have this period where we have to be away from the stadium as the pitch gets re-surfaced, so we’ve been looking forward to getting back there.
“It’s a fantastic venue and that is the hardest thing for us, because teams look forward to coming to us to play there, so they always make it tough.
“Our fans love it there and hopefully we can put in the sort of performances we have been doing away from home. They make themselves heard and they were probably as frustrated as the players were with how we started the year, but they have stuck by us and continued to support us. So having them back behind us in our own stadium will be a big boost to us all.”
NORTH WALES CRUSADERS could know as early as today (Monday) where their final game of the season against Swinton Lions will be played.
Stadiwm CSM will be unavailable on Sunday, September 3 due to essential pitch maintenance work, leaving the Crusaders looking at all viable options for a replacement venue.
“There needs to be some work done on the pitch before we have our play-off games and the Rugby Union team start their season at the ground,” explained Crusaders Chief Executive Andy Moulsdale.
“So we have known for a while now that we probably wouldn’t be able to play our final league game of the season there and had been keeping Swinton and the RFL updated. So it wasn’t a surprise to the clubs when it was announced last week.
“We’re trying to keep the game in North Wales if we can, but we’re not overly blessed with stadia in the area that are available to us, so we have been looking at all options. We’ll try to keep it as close to the border as possible if we can’t stay in Wales.
“We had a Challenge Cup game earlier this year at Caldy, which seemed to go down well, so that’s a possibility as well. But as that is a sports club it just depends if it fits in with what they have on that weekend.”
Meanwhile the club has added former Dewsbury Rams halfback Alex Smith to their ranks for the remainder of the season.
CORNWALL’s players are getting a different message in training now compared to the start of their debut campaign, according to Neil Kelly.
The coach, who beat the signing registration deadline to bring Bradford Bulls’ Jayden Myers back to the club for the rest of the year, believes a change in mindset from their earlier games has changed the way they can approach games. But Kelly also knows there is still more to be done as they chase further wins in their maiden campaign.
“One of our problems is that when we get ourselves in front, it’s almost like the players don’t then know what to do,” admitted Kelly.
“They maybe don’t realise that what has got them in front will keep them in front. It is not a mystery; they’ve just got to keep doing the same things and not allow the scoreline and the lead do the wrong thing with the ball.
“That is a similar message to what we’ve been giving them all year but now I am giving it to them for a different reason.
“For most of the year there has almost been a damage limitation element to it and telling them that if they don’t complete their sets, they are giving the opposition possession and inviting them to come and score against us. And invariably that’s what they were doing.
“But since we beat West Wales, we’re not going into games, closing our eyes and hoping everything works out okay after 80 minutes.
“We’re now competing in games and that is part and parcel of us recruiting some players from the north that are making us more competitive, but also the local players are continuing their own development and getting better.”
WEST WALES RAIDERS chief executive Peter Tiffin believes the club’s biggest issue this year has been the lack of consistency in the squad.
Once again, the Llanelli-based club finds itself rooted to the bottom of the league with just one win. But Tiffin thinks that if coach Ashley Bateman had been able to select the same side on more than one occasion, then things may have been different in some games.
Injuries and unavailability were so bad at one stage that Bateman himself had to be registered in time to pull his boots on and feature from the bench against Cornwall in June.
“We haven’t had the same squad available from one weekend to the next all season,” confirmed Tiffin, who is pleased that even when players have been unavailable, they have stayed closed to the rest of the squad.
“Whether it’s been injures, Covid, or a sickness bug that passed through the squad one week, it’s really hit us and has meant it’s been a frustrating season.
“I don’t think we have had a week all season where we’ve not had someone have to pull out of the squad after the final training session.
“It’s been tough, because it’s meant we’ve just not been able to get continuity, and that has been a big issue for us.
“But Ashley is building a great squad and, even if people can’t play, they are travelling to games to support the team. In the past we’ve sometimes travelled to games with 17 players, and if one of them has had to pull out we’ve been left a man short. But now we’re going into games with 21 players making the trip and injured guys coming along too.
“If we could just get a bit of continuity from one week to the next, it could be so different.”
LONDON SKOLARS coach Joe Mbu believes there is still much to play for in his side’s final four games of the season.
Following on from Saturday’s visit of Cornwall, the capital club now faces West Wales Raiders at home followed by a trip to Oldham before enjoying a weekend off. They then round off the season with a home clash against Midlands Hurricanes and a trip to Doncaster.
While the play-offs are now out of reach, Mbu knows his players can still get something out of the season.
“Looking at the games we have left, we are targeting a strong finish,” said Mbu.
“But I target every game the same. For me every game is a chance to win; we came close against Rochdale so we now just need to build on that first half performance.
“We just need to learn as much as we can from every game we play and do what we can to get better as a team and as individuals.
“We have still got the same drive for what we want to do and that is to win as many games as we can this season.”
HUNSLET coach Alan Kilshaw believes seeing games out will be crucial as his team look to make a real promotion push once the play-offs get underway.
The south Leeds club went into the weekend occupying the final play-off spot, but with an eight-point cushion over Oldham. Despite their 0-24 home defeat to the Midlands Hurricanes, Kilshaw believes it is now all about building momentum in the final four games of the regular season.
“We have identified areas that we know we must be better at, areas we have been working hard on for a number of weeks,” said Kilshaw, who has welcomed Halifax loanee Cole Oakley back into the fold for the remainder of the season.
“This group always gives their all for the badge, and we can be very proud of how they have faced and overcome some challenges this season.
“We must be ‘on’ for the full duration of the game now, and build some ‘finals football’ performances.
“Our main objective is still the one set out at the start of the season, which is to secure a play-off spot; having those ‘finals football’ performances will then build into that play-off campaign.”
Kilshaw was forced to watch Friday’s defeat against the Hurricanes from the stands after being suspended from touchline activity for two matches after independent Operational Rules Tribunal found him guilty of breaches of the RFL Operational Rules for comments he made to the Match Officials earlier this season.
With a bye coming up this weekend, Kilshaw will not return to the sidelines until the game at Swinton Lions on Sunday, August 21.
SWINTON LIONS played their part in the continued growth of the game away from its traditional heartlands by running a coaching development weekend with Belfast Eagles.
Lions’ director of development Damian Ridpath arranged the trip in which Gareth Pratt, youth player development coach and community development coach Mark Robinson, flew to the Northern Ireland capital to provide coaching sessions for Eagles players from the age of five through to the seniors and masters.
Around 100 participants in total benefited from the weekend’s sessions, which included core skills development of catching, carrying, passing, tackle technique, correct play-the-ball technique, kicking practice, transition from offence to defence, specific player position roles, and responsibilities around the ruck area.
Pratt and Robinson also helped the Eagles coaching staff with their own development.
“The weekend had been planned for some time and it was fantastic to see it prove such a success,” said Ridpath.
“We have now laid the platform within Ulster to support Rugby League activity, and will be using this experience to assist the creation of more opportunities for people to enjoy Rugby League with Belfast Eagles in partnership with Swinton Lions, while continuing to develop an ongoing relationship between the two clubs to grow Rugby League in a non-traditional area for the sport.”
OLDHAM have agreed to release their young halfback or hooker Brad Jinks, to allow him to return to the amateur game with Waterhead.
The 20-year-old joined the club last August but found his opportunities cut short through injury, making just three appearances. He has featured on another eight occasions in 2022, scoring a try in the 30-16 defeat to North Wales Crusaders in May.
“Brad asked to go, saying that playing semi-pro rugby had too many commitments for him,” explained coach Stuart Littler.
“He goes back to Waterhead with our blessings and best wishes.”
MIDLANDS HURRICANES coach Richard Squires has called on his squad to remain calm in games if they are to finish the season with more points to their name.
His words came after the 54-6 home defeat to Keighley Cougars – a game in which on-loan hooker Chris Cullimore crossed for the first try conceded by the Cougars since mid-June.
“The effort is there in some areas but in others we could be better,” admitted Squires.
“We need to be a little more patient. We try to score every time we get near the line. We’ve definitely got some attacking strike but we’ve just got to put it together.”
Squires’ words paid dividends on Friday night, when the Hurricanes travelled to Hunslet and secured a 24-0 victory at South Leeds Stadium.
ROCHDALE HORNETS halfback Rangi Chase has confirmed he would like to play on again next year.
The 36-year-old former Man of Steel and Albert Goldthorpe Medal winner has been starring in League one in recent seasons after joining Doncaster in 2019 following the conclusion of a two-year drugs ban.
He then had a short stint with West Wales Raiders before joining the Hornets mid-way through last season, and despite suffering a broken arm on debut, the move to the Crown Oil Arena seems to have given the former Super League start a new lease of life.
Taking to Twitter, Chase confirmed: “Been asked if I’m retiring this year… My answer is hell no. I’m enjoying it. I love this game.
“When I can no longer perform, I’ll wave the white flag. Until then I’ll enjoy and love what I’m doing until I can’t.”
The Hornets will be hoping that the former Castleford, Salford, Leigh and Widnes star will choose to spend a second full season with them as they look to earn promotion to the Championship.
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