KEIGHLEY COUGARS stalwart James Feather will retire at the end of the season, having fulfilled his promise to get the club promoted back to the Championship.
Nicknamed ‘Buster’, Feather has spent his whole career at the Cougars, signing his first deal in 2003, debuting in 2006 and serving as skipper for more than a decade.
He has announced his retirement twice previously, in 2017 – after which he was inducted into Keighley’s Hall of Fame – and in 2020 during the Covid pandemic.
But Feather answered the call of duty both times, and then felt he had to continue again this season after 2021 ended in play-off heartbreak.
“I can’t have that semi-final loss to Doncaster as my last involvement with the club,” he said at the time, vowing to help put things right.
And that’s exactly what he has done, helping the big-spending Cougars end their eight-year stay in the third tier this season by securing the League One title.
Now Feather, at the age of 38 and with 365 appearances and three promotions to his name, can bow out on the right note.
“This weekend will be the last time I pull my boots on in a competitive game at Cougar Park for the club I’ve loved all my life,” he said of the visit of North Wales Crusaders yesterday (Sunday).
“There’s only one person who’s told me to knock it on the head over the last two years and they are right, I’m too old!
“And there will be no U-turn this time.
“There are so many unbelievable everlasting memories that this club has given me over the years, far too many to list, but this weekend will be the most special, winning the trophy at home.
“2022 champions will be the end of my career. What a way to go out with the best blokes you could wish to play alongside.”
OLDHAM back Tommy Brierley is targeting a return at the start of next season.
The 25-year-old suffered a broken leg on the opening day of the League One campaign against Keighley Cougars.
Brierley hopes to be running again by the start of October, another step in his recovery on the road to taking part in pre-season training in the new year.
“I’ve set myself targets and up to now I’m doing well and I’m confident of reaching those targets,” he said.
“I can’t speak highly enough of the rehab I’m getting at the club and the support I’m getting from the chairman, the other lads, the coaching staff and the entire backroom team.
“We are a closely-knit unit at the best of times, but from my personal point of view, it has never shone through more than during my injury absence.
“I go over to Oldham once a week for rehab etc and I’ve been there as a spectator at most home games. The support and encouragement I get is great.
“For a sportsman or sportswoman to be on long-term injury is an awful experience, but I can’t tell you what the support at the club means to me.”
Meanwhile, Sean Slater has received a two-match ban for a dangerous throw in Oldham’s recent win at Cornwall.
HUNSLET coach Alan Kilshaw isn’t panicking despite a losing run that has threatened their participation in the play-offs.
The club went into last Friday’s home clash with Doncaster on the back of four consecutive defeats, allowing Oldham to catch up in the battle for seventh place in the table.
Three of those defeats came against the three leading sides while there was a surprising home loss to Midlands Hurricanes.
“We’ve played the top three all away from home: (North Wales) Crusaders, Keighley and Swinton.
“We’ve been competitive in two of those games, we could have beaten Crusaders if we had a full squad at our disposal.
“The Midlands game we take in isolation due to the number of players we had missing, and our performances wasn’t up to our standards on the day.
“The other three we were bang in – there were elements even in the Keighley game where we were strong.
“But we’re aware of the ladder and the ramifications.”
Hunslet hope to have a healthier squad going into the final round of the regular season this Sunday when they travel to Oldham for the return fixture.
Jacob Doyle, Sion Jones and Ross Peltier were all pushing to return from knee injuries last week.
Kilshaw said: “We’ve faced a lot of adversity. We lost Jimmy Watson for the season who was massive for us, and (Duane) Straugheir recovered from a hernia op, broke his arm and then broke his arm again.
“We’ve never known a season like it really, with the luck we’ve had. But it’ll stand us in good stead for the remainder of the season and for the future.”
CORNWALL fans chose Liam Whitton as their standout player of the season, and he has returned their adulation by committing to another year with the club.
The 21-year-old fullback has been one of the brighter lights in a difficult first season as a professional club for the Choughs.
After the last of Cornwall’s ten home matches this year – all defeats – Whitton received the Supporters’ Player of the Year award.
And the former Halifax Panthers player, who came through Leeds Rhinos’ Academy, has now signed for the 2023 campaign.
“I have enjoyed every minute of being in Cornwall and it’s class that I am coming back in 2023,” said Whitton.
“Since I moved to Cornwall earlier this year, everyone has made me feel so welcome. The club is moving in the right direction even if the results haven’t reflected the progress we are making.
“The fans have been absolutely class and they have backed us all the way. We are building a side that can have a real go next year and I can’t wait to be a part of it.”
Cornwall head coach Neil Kelly said: “Liam has been one of our most consistent performers this year.
“He made a big decision to move down here and sign for a new developmental project but you can see that he’s enjoyed his football.
“I have said before that I see Liam, because of his age, as someone who could become a mainstay of this side and for Cornwall Rugby League club in general.
“Like all clubs at this level, our planning for next season is well underway so for us to have someone like Liam tied down for next year already, it has given our recruitment and squad building a timely boost.”
Jake Lloyd will miss Cornwall’s final match of the season this Sunday at Midlands Hurricanes after receiving a one-match ban for dangerous contact.
DONCASTER coach Richard Horne says his full focus is on the play-offs as the regular season draws to a close.
His side finish their campaign with a visit from London Skolars to the Eco-Power Stadium this Sunday.
The Dons are aiming to return to the Championship for the first time since 2015, and Horne hopes they learn the lessons dealt to them by the team that has already secured promotion.
Champions Keighley Cougars wrapped up the title by winning in South Yorkshire, a result which Horne believes should be a “wake-up call”, having snapped an eight-game winning run.
“It was disappointing but we will learn a lot from that moving forward towards the back end of the season,” he said.
“I don’t think that we have been at our best the last couple of weeks, it has been a bit of a wake-up call for us and where we need to be.
“It’s all about building for that first play-off game and making sure we are in form heading into it.
“We’ve had a dip; even though we have been winning I just feel that our performances haven’t been great.”
LONDON SKOLARS head coach Joe Mbu says the club is showing its value by producing players of League One quality.
It’s been a mixed season on the field for the Skolars, who went into Saturday’s home clash with Midlands Hurricanes seeking a sixth victory of the campaign.
Mbu says that the centrality of some Skolars-produced talent to their team this year shows that they are doing things right.
“You only have to highlight people like Leighton (Ball) and Jerome (Yates), who have been fantastic this season for us,” said Mbu.
“Not to mention our captain Aaron Small, who has come through the Skolars system and is now captaining the club.
“For me that shows what the club is building. They’re amongst our best players every week.
“That goes to show that we’re doing at the club is slowly getting there. We’re producing players that are able to play in League One and play well.”
MIDLANDS HURRICANES struggled to raise a squad for the second week running with more players signed up short-term to fill gaps left by injuries.
One of the players brought into an 18-man squad for Saturday’s trip to London Skolars was Joel James, who played for the club under its previous Coventry Bears guise between 2015 and 2017.
Dom Flanagan has also been recruited from Thornhill Trojans, following two amateur players who were called in the previous week.
Jack Wallis and Andrew Oades of Myton Warriors featured in a victory at West Wales Raiders which saw the Hurricanes field only 15 players.
Wallis scored a try, as did fellow debutant Adam Reed from rugby union side Aldridge, who has spent the season training with Midlands.
“It was a very scrappy performance across the board, which was expected after the preparation we had during the week,” reflected head coach Richard Squires.
“Up until Thursday we only had 13 fit players available and we managed to get two amateur players into the squad.”
NORTH WALES CRUSADERS coach Anthony Murray believes second place would be a fair reward for their hard work over the season.
Ahead of Sunday’s trip to new champions Keighley Cougars, the Crusaders held a two-point advantage over third-placed Swinton Lions, and the two meet this Saturday at Warrington’s Victoria Park in the last match of the regular season.
The League One play-off structure rewards the team finishing highest with a bye to the semi-finals, so one home win puts them in the final.
“It’s a battle on to try and finish as high up the table as we can,” said Murray.
“If you secure second spot you have a week off and you’re one game away from a Grand Final.
“We want to try and go one better than we did last year.
“We’ve been in the top two all year and we’ve worked hard to get where we have this year.
“Swinton are a really good team and they’ll have their eye on it as well. We just have to keep doing what we’re doing.”
They will be without Chris Barratt for the Swinton fixture, plus their first play-off match, after he received a two-game ban for questioning the integrity of a match official.
ROCHDALE HORNETS face big squad dilemmas heading into the play-offs.
Since taking interim charge earlier this month following the exit of head coach Matt Calland, Gary Thornton has been struggling to raise a full team.
Lewis Sheridan could miss the rest of the season after dislocating fingers and requiring surgery.
Zac Baker is continuing to serve a five-match ban and will only complete it after the first round of the play-offs, while Fenton Rogers will also miss Rochdale’s opening play-off game to finish a three-match ban.
And Scott Parnaby has been called up by England to play in the European Under-19s Championships in Italy, the final of which is on the same weekend as the first play-off round.
Rochdale have also been reliant on loan players who can be recalled by their parent clubs.
Ben O’Keefe and Pat Moran returned to Wigan Warriors and Newcastle Thunder last week, for example, so were unavailable for Rochdale’s game against West Wales Raiders.
Luke Thomas recently made his Super League debut for Warrington Wolves and Myles Harrison returned to York City Knights to feature again for them, with both only making one appearance on loan for the Hornets.
SWINTON LIONS coach Allan Coleman has tipped George Roby to soon make a Super League breakthrough after his season was confirmed to be over.
The Huddersfield Giants loanee suffered an injury while training for his parent club. It will require an operation, meaning he will be unable to play for Swinton again this year.
Hooker Roby first joined the Lions in July and scored ten tries in ten appearances, and his absence is a blow ahead of their play-off campaign.
“George has been brilliant for us since he arrived from Huddersfield on loan,” said Coleman.
“He fitted into our culture instantly and that’s the sign of a true professional.
“George has the talent to go all the way in the game and it won’t be long before he’s a Super League regular.
“I want to thank George for what he has done for Swinton Lions.
“He proved very popular amongst the lads and staff, and whatever we achieve this year a lot of that will be down to the performances George produced for us.”
WEST WALES RAIDERS’ Shane Lee has been referred for further investigation over two incidents in his side’s recent defeat to Midlands Hurricanes.
Lee and Midlands’ Tyler Walton were sent to the sinbin in the first half after a clash between the two teams, with Lee referred by the match review panel for an alleged testicle grab during the incident.
Several minutes later, Lee is also alleged to have bitten a player in a confrontation, while Walton has himself been referred for further investigation for alleged gouging.
Meanwhile, Keenan Dyer-Dixon has been recalled from his loan spell by Keighley Cougars.
Dyer-Dixon made twelve appearances for the Raiders, having initially joined in April.
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