Anthony Murray is satisfied he will leave NORTH WALES CRUSADERS in a better place than he found it after announcing his shock decision to stand down as head coach at the end of the year.
Murray is in his second spell at the club, having served as assistant and then head coach between 2014 and 2016 before returning in 2018.
After finishing third in League One last season, they are currently going even better this term with 14 wins from 17 matches putting them second in the table.
But Murray, who won the League One Coach of the Year award in 2021, will be leaving Colwyn Bay at the end of this campaign in a personal decision.
“I’ve had a fantastic association with North Wales Crusaders since 2014, then went I went back there in 2018,” said Murray.
“Everybody has worked hard, on and off the field, to make sure the club goes from strength to strength each year, and I’m really pleased with how that’s worked out.
“As a coach, when you go into a team you always want to leave it in a better place than you find it. We’ve most certainly done that as a coaching group.
“We’re having a fantastic season and if we carry on and keep winning games, we’re going to put ourselves in the best possible position where promotion might be achieved.”
After a weekend off, the Crusaders host Rochdale Hornets on Saturday before finishing the regular season with fixtures against Keighley Cougars and Swinton Lions.
HUNSLET coach Alan Kilshaw has said he would not have an issue with the League One season finishing earlier than that in the Championship and Super League if it allowed clubs to retain a level of consistency.
Currently the three leagues all finish around the same time of year, despite there being fewer games in League One.
As well as facing two bye weekends due to the odd number of teams in the league, clubs in League One have also had free weekends around the time of the Challenge Cup Final and the mid-season internationals.
“There are quite a few clubs like us in this league that are suffering a number of injuries right now,” pointed out Kilshaw.
“Maybe it is time to look at how we structure the season. We started playing in January and we all have quite a few weekends off throughout the year, which I am not sure is helping the league or hindering it.
“I don’t think starting with the Challenge Cup in January helps, but that is a prestige competition and we respected it this year whereas some teams might have written it off a bit. But we played three games in it and the financial aspect of getting fans back in after a few months without a game is a good thing.
“But with that starting so early and the league then not starting until mid-March, that’s quite a bit of time before you get some intense games back.
“The breaks throughout the year probably don’t help either. I don’t know how much the International weekend really affects League One teams. With five or six free weekends throughout the season when the league starts in March and you’ve already had a January start, I’m not sure that is the best way to do things, especially if you start to build up some momentum in that week-in, week-out rugby.
“I wouldn’t see anything wrong in League One finishing before the other leagues. That would also give the teams that go up a decent crack of playing in the Championship because they’ll get a little longer to prepare for it.
“Right now, if you go up through the play-offs you’re not finishing until early October. It’s a short turnaround then until the Championship season starts at the end of January.
“When you don’t know what league you’re going to be playing in the following year, most of the Championship players will have been signed up by the time you do.
“An earlier finish would allow for better preparation.”
Elsewhere Kilshaw has lost the services of on-loan hooker Oli Burton and forward Matty Stableford.
Burton has been recalled by Batley Bulldogs, while Stableford has left the club by mutual consent for personal and family reasons.
ROCHDALE HORNETS interim coach Gary Thornton has targeted one area in particular that needs urgent work.
“You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to know that our disciplinary record has been horrendous,” admitted Thornton.
“We had three sinbinnings against Skolars and then another three and a sending-off against Swinton the following week. We also got eleven referrals in all to the Match Review Panel following the Swinton game, which is not great.
“We played around two-thirds of that game with eleven or twelve men and you just can’t compete at this level in those scenarios.
“Discipline has been a big issue for us and that is putting under enormous pressure as we’re not playing with 13 men for long enough periods and we have to address that.
“A lot of that is down to frustration, because you can see that in the team when things are not always going our way. That frustration is turning into a lack of concentration and some clumsy efforts in defence.
“We’re not particularly over-aggressive; it is just clumsiness and bad technique that’s costing us.
“We have to address this collectively. It is not just down to me; it is down to players as well. They have to take some responsibility and see that their discipline improves for the remainder of the season.”
Thornton, who was previously assistant coach under Matt Calland, has added to his backroom staff with the appointment of Mike Grady.
Former North Wales Crusaders and South Wales Scorpions coach Grady has joined as Thornton’s assistant until the end of the year.
KEIGHLEY COUGARS’ Scott Murrell will retire from Rugby League at the end of the season.
The 36-year-old came through at Leeds Rhinos but spent most of his career at Hull KR and Halifax Panthers, becoming a firm favourite at both clubs.
Murrell helped Hull KR achieve promotion to Super League in his first season in East Yorkshire before becoming a top-flight regular, making a total of 178 appearances in eight years.
He then spent the same amount of time with Halifax, where he was established as one of the leading players in the Championship.
Murrell, who played most of his career as a halfback, signed for Keighley in 2021, passing the mark of 400 career appearances that year and helping them currently lead the League One table this year.
“It was a hard decision to call it a day, but to end on the high of this season feels the right way to go,” said Murrell.
“I have always worn my heart on my sleeve and given 110 per cent, and I can’t thank all my coaches, teammates, and supporters enough for their backing over the years on and off the pitch.
“I would like to say a massive thank you to all my family and friends. None of this would have been possible without all of them behind me.
“Now I am looking forward to my next chapter in the game away from the pitch and I can’t wait to see where that takes me.”
CORNWALL coach Neil Kelly has praised his side for showing some second-half resilience.
In a difficult season, the Choughs have often seen the score run away from them in the late stages of contests.
Kelly admitted he feared similar in their recent defeat to high-flying North Wales Crusaders, but was pleased to see them limit their opponents to two scores in the half for a 36-12 full-time score.
“The scoreline was 62-22 when we played North Wales Crusaders earlier in the season,” reflected Kelly.
“This time around, I was concerned in the final ten to 15 minutes that we might ship some soft scores, which would put a lopsided look on the scoreline.
“That is why I am saying that I have nothing but praise for the players because of the way they kept the line intact.
“The score was 12-6 in the second half and we can look at some scores that are avoidable – you can always do that. But North Wales have come down here and we have given them a good game without winning.
“We want to be competing with teams like this in the coming months and years but, that aside, this result is a really positive one for us.”
DONCASTER coach Richard Horne is confident his side can give Keighley Cougars a tough test when the sides meet at the Eco-Power Stadium on Sunday.
Keighley went into the last round of fixtures unbeaten at the top, while Doncaster are enjoying a recent turnaround in form which has seen them win seven games back-to-back prior to the weekend’s trip to Midlands Hurricanes.
“We have found a bit of form recently and we knew that we would do,” admitted Horne.
“We’d had a lot of new faces come into the squad at the beginning of the year and while a few of our early results were disappointing, we knew that a few players would struggle to begin with, given how we wanted them to play.
“Some players were simply out of form and not where they needed to be.
“But we have found that form now, which is great going into the back end of the year. It’s the right sort of time to go on a bit of a run.
“Keighley are uncatchable at the top now, but we are still chasing second or third spot. Sunday is a massive game for us.
“Not many teams will beat Keighley – they have a Championship-quality team – but if we can continue our current form, we will have a really good shot at them.”
LONDON SKOLARS fullback Jarred Bassett is hoping he can continue his rich try-scoring vein with the club into next season.
The 30-year-old has scored four tries in each of the recent games against West Wales Raiders and Cornwall, taking his total up to 16 for the season, prior to Sunday’s trip to Oldham.
But he is not one to take all the praise for himself, crediting an upturn in the team’s performances for his recent form.
“I had a bit of a slow start and I think it until took me around four games before I got on the scoreboard,” said Bassett.
“As the season has gone on, I have started to feel more comfortable. As a team we have been getting better combinations too, so space has been opening up for me a lot more.
“I don’t want to go anywhere, so I need to sit down with Joe (Mbu – coach) and Adrian (Fraine – Chairman) and have a chat about things. But I am not looking to leave London, so if they want me again, I am happy to stay.”
MIDLANDS HURRICANES coach Richard Squires was as astounded as anybody by his side’s “ridiculous” recent defeat to Oldham.
Trailing 39-0 with a quarter of the match left to play, Midlands hit back with five quick tries to almost pull off a staggering comeback.
Squires said: “We just left it far too late. We scored 36 points in 17 minutes. It was ridiculous, but we let them go 39-0 up.”
That match came a week after Midlands recorded their first win away at a northern heartland club, beating Hunslet.
“It was tough after Hunslet, I don’t know if we came down after because we put a lot into that game.
“We didn’t do anything really different but coming off the back of the Hunslet game but it was tough to follow.
“We’re always there or thereabouts, we just lack experience, which we’re looking to change in the future.”
OLDHAM marked the visit of London Skolars yesterday (Sunday) with the appearance of an old favourite from the capital.
Bob Mordell, who made 73 appearances for the club between 1979 and 1983, received his heritage certificate from the club at half-time in the Skolars’ match.
The second-row forward made one appearance for England’s rugby union team, in the 1978 Five Nations, before switching codes, and after his Oldham spell returned south to captain the short-lived Kent Invicta club and play for Fulham, now London Broncos.
Mordell, now 69, was joined at the game by Adrian Alexander, another Londoner who made the switch to Oldham at the same time and is now a club ambassador.
SWINTON LIONS coach Allan Coleman is confident his players will learn the lessons from their close-run defeat to leaders Keighley Cougars.
The seemingly invincible Keighley were pushed all the way in a 26-22 loss the week before last at Heywood Road.
That ended a run of three big wins in a row for the Lions and Coleman was proud his team gave Keighley “one hell of a game”.
And he knows he has a group that will take on board his feedback for improvement.
“The good thing with this group of players is that for the last few weeks, every time we’ve watched video and we’ve asked them to do something, they’ve done it the week after,” said Coleman.
“It’s really good that I’ve got a group of players like that.”
WEST WALES RAIDERS chief executive Peter Tiffin has praised coach Ashley Bateman’s commitment to the cause this year.
Not only did the former player take the reins at the last minute earlier this year, but he has also pulled his boots back on to represent the club as a player for the first time in almost a year.
Down on numbers, Bateman named himself on the bench for the visit of Cornwall, but it was not enough to stop the South West club picking up their maiden League One victory.
“It’s the sign of a good coach that he was willing to do that and will do the tough stuff when it’s needed,” said Tiffin.
“We had quite a few players out that week for various reasons and we had let a couple of lads go and play back in community game a couple of weeks before, because we didn’t think they’d be needed.
“If we hadn’t done that, Ash wouldn’t have needed to play, but he loves this club to bits and is fully committed to it, so will do whatever is needed for it.”
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