ROCHDALE HORNETS interim head coach Gary Thornton will use the remaining games of this season to prepare the side the best he can for the play-offs, in the hope they can then go out and right some wrongs.
Thornton has temporarily taken charge of the Hornets following Matt Calland’s surprise departure in the wake of the 22-53 home defeat to Swinton Lions.
And with up to 13 players unavailable for his first match in charge when the Hornets travelled to Doncaster on Sunday, it was certainly a baptism of fire for Thornton, who brought in York City Knights players Myles Harrison and Brad Ward on emergency loans to plug some of those gaps.
“I have been there myself so I know that it is never an easy situation when a coach gets sacked,” admitted Thornton.
“Matt has assembled this squad, so there is a lot of loyalty here to him, and a lot of players have been around him for a while, so it was a shock to everyone when he left.
“That was one of the reasons I agreed to take over for the rest of the season – to keep some continuity there. I have been here since pre-season, so I felt it was better to do it that way than have someone new come in and start changing everything around.
“I have agreed to take the role until the end of the season to try and steady the ship, because Matt leaving has really rocked the club. I don’t think anyone saw it coming.
“It was quite clear when I joined at the start of the season that Matt had put together a great squad with a blend of experience and youth. But this is a results-driven business and the fact we’ve not been able to beat any of the top three clubs in Keighley, North Wales Crusaders and Swinton has probably highlight some deficiencies and that something needed to be done.
“It is not for me to question the decision that has been made, but to take the reins and try to fulfil what Matt set out to do at the start of the year.
“I’ll have five games in charge to try and get this group ready for the play-offs and that is the only way to look at it.
“The fact we’re at the end of our resource doesn’t really help either. I have 13 players unavailable through bans, loan recalls or injury, so I have had to bring Myles and Brad in to make up some of the shortfall.
“The problem with taking players on loan from Super League clubs is that when they have a reserves game, the players are called back. That’s happened this week with Ben O’Keefe recalled by Wigan and three we brought in from Warrington last week – Dan Brewin, Tom Whitehead and Luke Thomas – going back.
“Without Myles and Brad, we wouldn’t have been able to name 17 players, so I really have to thanks James Ford for helping us out. We needed players and he had a couple that need game time.
“It has been a real baptism of fire to come into the job with. One of the reasons I wanted to be an assistant rather than a head coach was so I didn’t have to deal with headaches like this, but I am straight back into it.”
HUNSLET are close to securing a new deal with head coach Alan Kilshaw as preparations for next season get underway.
The club is currently looking at retaining the majority of this year’s squad for 2023 before making any new signings, but for Kilshaw it is important to get his own future secured first so that players know what they are signing up for.
“We are starting to talk to players about next year, but I am also finalising a deal with the club about my own future because my contract is up too,” said Kilshaw.
“We have verbally agreed everything, so it’s just a case now of me putting pen to paper and that probably needs to be done first so that the players know what is happening.
“Once I’m sorted, we can start retaining players and look at who else we want to bring in.
“We will have a similar budget to the one we had this season and we are trying to reward this year’s players first. Then we’ll go out and look at players from elsewhere.
“We don’t want to have too big a turnover of players but there will be a few moving on and that’s just the nature of the beast.
“The players we’ve had on loan will probably be the priority to bring in. We’ve had a few on long-term loans that have done really well. If they have ambitions to play in Championship, hopefully they can achieve that with us. If that’s not by going up this year, then hopefully they will stay with us and help push towards that goal next year.”
DONCASTER coach Richard Horne knows that the club’s form earlier in in the season could come back to haunt them as they approach the play-offs.
The club lost six of their opening ten games, conceding 64 points against Swinton and 46 when they came up against both North Wales Crusaders and Rochdale Hornets, while replying with just 50 points across the three matches.
In contrast to that early-season form, the club went into Sunday’s rematch with the Hornets unbeaten in the second half of the season. But their points difference, which was significantly boosted by a 62-6 win over West Wales, is still significantly inferior compared to the sides they are chasing above them.
“Keighley are uncatchable now at the top, so for everyone else it’s now about finishing as high as possible in the play-off positions,” said Horne.
“It’s so tight up there. And because we conceded a fair few points in those early games when we weren’t quite at our best, that might come back to bite us when it comes to final positions at the end of the year.
“There will be some focus on defence and trying to concede fewer points, but for us it remains about winning games. But whether we win by two points or by 40, it’s about making sure we keep in touch with all the teams around us. We can’t really afford to drop any games now, so there is a big push now to finish as high as we can.
“We showed last year that we can go a long way in the play-offs, but we are focused on chasing the second or third spot with some big games coming up.
“It’s going to be a good end to the year for all the teams involved and a great play-off series. All the teams in there deserve to be there and we have all shown that anyone can beat anyone, so when we get to the play-offs it will come down to what happens on the day.”
MIDLANDS HURRICANES coach Richard Squires believes their recent 24-0 win over Hunslet is a defining moment for the club.
The Hurricanes bounced back from a 54-6 defeat a week earlier to take the historic victory at the South Leeds Stadium.
“That result had been coming,” said Squires after the match.
“This is a group that has worked hard all season and they deserve it.
“This is the first traditional Northern team we’ve beaten away from home, either as Coventry or the Midlands, so it’s a game changer.
“A lot of belief shows what we can do and where we can compete. We’ve been known as the nearly men but there is only so much we can take of that.
“Hopefully we can now carry this on into the end of the year.”
NORTH WALES CRUSADERS are better placed to tackle the play-off this year, according to their chief executive Andy Moulsdale.
Despite finishing third last season, the Crusaders failed to progress in the play-offs, losing to both Keighley and Doncaster.
But for Moulsdale, that experience will benefit them as they look to earn promotion to the Championship this time around.
“We are definitely in a better position ahead of the play-offs than we were a year ago,” said Moulsdale.
“We will have a lot more confidence going into those games. Last year we maybe lacked a bit of experience and belief. We were a relatively young team and it was the first time a lot of the players would have found themselves in that position.
“But this year we are another year wiser as a squad.
“Hopefully we’ll keep some fresh bodies on board and give the play-offs a real go this year. It’s going to be tough though, because there will be some really big teams in there with us.”
One player the Crusaders will be able to call on in their promotion push is Benn Hardcastle, who has returned to the club on loan from Midland Hurricane for the remainder of the season.
WEST WALES RAIDERS could be about to do something they have never done before by keeping a coach on their books for a second consecutive year.
When the club first enter the league under their current guise, John Ellis was at the helm, with former player Phil Carleton later taking over.
The following year brought Kim Williams over from Australia and he was replaced a year later by Aaron Wood, who saw his first season fail to get off the ground due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
He did a full season in 2021 before heading back to France, leaving Ashley Bateman to take the job just weeks before the current season was due to begin.
“We are fully confident in Ashley and maybe finally this will be a season where we don’t have to look for a new coach,” said chief executive Peter Tiffin.
“We all think what Ashley is trying to achieve is brilliant. And if we can give him a full pre-season to do what he needs to, then we can make progress.
“In the past we have had coaches from overseas who have grown up with Rugby League, but not Rugby League in Wales. But Ash knows about the game in Wales and understands what is needed to build and grow a club here.
“Everything was so last-minute with him for this season. He literally came to watch the Challenge Cup game against Swinton and we spoke after that. And that was that.
“He didn’t have long to get things sorted, but he’s already started his plan for next season, is already talking to players about next year and knows who he wants to bring in, so having that time will make a big difference.”
Billy Gaylor is the latest KEIGHLEY COUGARS to commit himself to the club for 2023.
The halfback or hooker has become a mainstay in the first team under Rhys Lovegrove and he feels he still has much to offer at Cougar Park.
“It was a no-brainer for me to stay with the Cougars,” said Gaylor.
“From when I first signed in 2018, the club has just gone from strength to strength in every department.
“It is a competitive squad this year and everyone is pushing one another to be better and that is something I enjoy being a part of.
“I’ve developed my game under Rhys and his coaching team but there is still plenty for me to learn in order to improve.
“It’s a really exciting time to be involved with a club like Keighley.”
CORNWALL’s leading try scorer Harry Aaronson will extend his stay in the southwest after agreeing a new one-year deal with the club.
The 24-year-old former Swinton, Keighley and Oldham winger went into Sunday’s visit of North Wales Crusaders with eight tries to his name and has been one of the club’s standout performers during their debut season.
While the Choughs are currently battling it out with West Wales Raiders to avoid finishing bottom of the league, having won just one of their opening 16 matches, Aaronson was in no doubt about staying with the club for 2023.
“I’ve said it before, this year has been my most enjoyable playing Rugby League to date,” said Aaronson.
“I know the results haven’t gone our way, but the team, the project and the environment itself has been really enjoyable. It is a great club to be a part of and they have done everything properly to set us up for success in the long term.
“It was a no-brainer to sign for next year and I wanted to commit as soon as I could, so here we are.
“The club and I sat down about a month ago and we sorted things out straight away. The club wanted me to stay and I wanted to stay, so things moved pretty quickly and hopefully we can have a successful season in 2023.”
Judd Greenhalgh, who has spent the majority of the season at LONDON SKOLARS on dual registration from London Broncos, will remain at New River for the final three games of the season after signing a short term deal with the club.
Greenhalgh joins his brother Mike and Lameck Juma in re-signing for Skolars this year after stints at London Broncos.
“Judd adds size and aggression to our pack and has benefited from training in the Broncos Championship squad,” said head coach Joe Mbu, who gave Greenhalgh his League One debut as an 18-year-old.
“He played well at Rochdale and we look forward to seeing more of that for the remainder of 2022.”
The club have also signed promising prop forward Fraser Piercy-Farley, 23, after some strong performances in the Skolars A side.
SWINTON LIONS were severely down on numbers when table-toppers Keighley Cougars visited Heywood Road on Sunday.
Lewis Hatton, Billy Brickhill and Jayden Hatton all picked up knocks the previous weekend against Rochdale and join Mike Butt, Luke Waterworth and Lewis Charnock on the injury list, while Widnes Vikings have recalled Brad Holroyd from his loan spell with the Lions.
“With the exception of Luke, we’d had a reasonably fair run as far as injuries are concerned,” said Lions chief executive Steve Wild.
“But all of a sudden we’ve been heavily affected.
“Head coach Allan Coleman would like to bring a player or two in, but in the current climate, with a lack of availability, it’s just not that simple.
“But as they say, one man’s misfortune is another man’s opportunity. The spirit in the camp is fantastic, as proven by our recent performances, and I’m sure the lads who step up will do us proud.
“Hopefully over the next few weeks we’ll get some bodies back.”
OLDHAM loanee Logan Astley is loving the experience he is getting at the League One club.
Astley made his Super League debut for Wigan against Huddersfield in May, before joining the Roughyeds for the rest of the year.
“It’s been good so far,” Astley said of the move on the Talking Yeds podcast.
“It has given me the opportunity to play professional first-team rugby. I have only played one game for Wigan, so this gives me good experience of playing against men every week and that has been really enjoyable.
“It is definitely harder than playing reserve grade and in this league there are some really tough games, some very good teams and some players with Super League experience.”
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