Betfred League One news round-up

NORTH WALES CRUSADERS chief executive Andy Moulsdale has admitted he would have liked the chance to face one of the game’s big guns after becoming the only League One side to progress to the fifth round of the Challenge Cup.

A 30-8 win over Hunslet set up a home clash with Sheffield Eagles, however they will need to win that game if they want the chance of facing a Super League club in the competition.

Currently the Super League sides do not enter until the last-16 stage, but Moulsdale would like a rethink of the structure to reward the lower league clubs that progress furthest.

“With the way the Challenge Cup is structured now, we’ll have to win four games to get a chance of facing a Super League team,” explained Moulsdale.

“And to me that takes away part of what the Challenge Cup is about, in terms of giant killings and going up against the top teams. If you look at football’s FA Cup this year there has been a lot of smaller clubs playing the bigger clubs, but that has pretty much been taken away for the Challenge Cup now, which is a shame.

“When I was playing, we got drawn to face Wigan away in the club’s first year, and although we got battered it gave us that experience. That is why people play the game – to test themselves and chance their arm against the very best.

“Also it doesn’t seem quite right to me that a Super League club will only have to win two games to be in the semi-finals and maybe that takes some of the value out of the competition.

“Personally I would like to see the Cup restructured to give more lower league clubs the chance to play against a Super League side. Playing one of the top sides would mean the world to any club in League One, especially with all the funding cuts we’ve had recently.

“With the games we’ve played up until now, there has been no real money involved or financial benefit, but it’s the Challenge Cup and everyone wants to play in that. But any game against a Super League side would be a big payday for clubs.”


KEIGHLEY COUGARS coach Rhys Lovegrove admits he is closing in on knowing what his starting 17 could be for their opening League game against Oldham later this month.

Lovegrove used all 29 available members of his squad in Sunday’s warm up game against the same opposition, but plans to trim that down significantly for this weekend’s final pre-season outing against Swinton Lions.

“Having these friendlies now gives every player an equal opportunity to showcase what they’ve got,” said Lovegrove.

“17 players got the chance to do that against Hunslet in the Cup, but that was very early in the pre-season plan when we hadn’t really covered any of the game-based stuff. So I can’t use that to judge any players on their execution of game plans and processes.

“Oldham allowed everyone the chance to get equal minutes against top-class opposition. From the data that comes out of that we’ll then pick around 20 or 21 for this weekend’s game against Swinton. But that will be based on players’ ability to execute our systems and processes that we see as our standards. So if only 19 earn it, only 19 will get picked.

“There is some real competition for places so it will be interesting to see how it pans out before we then have to cut it down to 17 for our opening game.”

Elsewhere, Lovegrove has added two new faces to his squad with the signings of former Newcastle Thunder prop Rory Nettleton and 18-year-old trialist Keenan Dyer-Dixon. Both were named in the squad to face Oldham on Sunday.


CORNWALL coach Neil Kelly believes his knowledge of both codes of the game could be crucial when it comes to preparing his newly-formed squad for the new season.

Many of those players that have joined the club for their inaugural season in League One have come from a rugby union background and now need to adapt to the 13-man code. But with Kelly a proven coach in both games, he is well aware of what needs to be done to help this process along.

“I have jumped the hurdle between the two codes on several occasions as a professional coach and that has given me an insight into and appreciation of what changes the union players need to make to become league players,” said Kelly.

“After a certain point in the tackle the two games are totally different, in one you are trying to turn around so you can present the ball and carry on with the next play. In the other you go down, get up and play the ball. The set pieces in union are also very different to anything we have in Rugby League.

“I appreciate what the union players have to overcome to play for Cornwall which make it a bit of an experimental process.

“Can you change a whole host of players, especially some forwards, and the instinctive way they have been brought up to think and play to the point where it’s almost instinctive to do what Rugby League players do in such a short period of time? I have an insight into what they need to do that.”

One player though who won’t face that transition is latest signing Jack Ray.

The 23-year-old started his playing career at Oulton Raiders before joining the Castleford Tigers Academy side. In 2019 Ray moved on and joined Dewsbury Rams, making two first team appearances from the bench as well as nine while on loan at Coventry Bears.

He joined Hunslet the following year and played twice before the season was cut short due to the Coronavirus pandemic, he subsequently left the game, and Yorkshire, to focus on a career in the forces and is currently stationed in Cornwall.

“It was a no-brainer to sign Jack,” said Kelly.

“He is a player that has been raised in the Rugby League heartlands. He came through a very good academy set-up at Castleford and he has also gained experience playing in the Championship and League One.

“When I found out that he was now based in Cornwall, it made perfect sense for Jack to join us. We can help him get his career started again and his experience, by being able to play anywhere in the pack, will be invaluable during the season.

“In Jack’s case, like the rest of our forwards, I will almost be asking them to take the numbers off their backs and play anywhere in the pack. Apart from the hooking position, our forwards will need to be versatile and adding Jack to the squad strengthens that no end.”


WEST WALES RAIDERS‘ new coach Ashley Bateman has admitted it was only by chance that he returned to the club in a coaching capacity.

The 32-year-old, who has been involved with the club in its various guises for most of his career, was an ever present for the club last season but will take on a new role this year having been handed the role of head coach on a permanent basis.

“I went down to watch the Challenge Cup game against Swinton and was talking to Tiff (owner Peter Tiffin) afterwards,” said Bateman.

“He asked if I could come on board as coach in the short term while they sorted something out.

Speaking to the club again a few weeks later the boys seemed happy with how things were going so they approached me about doing it full time and I am happy to do it.”

Since Bateman’s arrival, the number of players attending training sessions has significantly increased and the club are sure they have found the right man to take the club forward.

A statement released to confirm the appointment read: “Year on year, the Raiders have looked for qualities in a coach that has the skill to develop players, the passion of the Welsh, and the determination to build the game in Wales.

“If Bateman can show half of his passion as a coach, that he had as a player, it could very well be the missing link the club has needed to take the team to the next step, and help the club turn the corner.”


HUNSLET coach Alan Kilshaw has backed the club’s connection with the Leeds Rhinos reserves.

The relationship between the two clubs will allow for some of Hunslet’s fringe players to gain some much needed game time when not called upon by Kilshaw once the League One season gets underway later this month.

“We have a really competitive squad this year and those guys who aren’t picked for games are really supportive of those who are,” said Kilshaw.

“Hopefully we will get to the point one day where we have our own Academy and Reserves Teams, but we’re not there yet.

“If I’m leaving lads out and telling them they need to work on x, y and z, it’s very hard for them to do that just in training. We need to see them do that in a game situation and that is where the Reserve Grade comes in.

“The lads can go out and get a run and get that game time. It might be when they’re coming back from an injury or suspension, or it might be that they need to work on some areas of the game.

“So to have that facility available to us will benefit everyone all year.”


OLDHAM prepared for Sunday’s pre-season friendly against Keighley by hosting Salford Red Devils’ reserves side in a behind close doors game a week earlier.

And for coach Stuart Littler is was a worthwhile exercise as they prepare to kick-off the League One season.

“Behind closed doors games are as close to a real game as we can get, but that we can manage it as we see fit,” said Littler.

“It might not be an 80 minutes game in two halves, it might be four quarters with time for feedback in there, but we also need to let the players go too at some points. At the end of the day as coaches we’re not out on the field with the boys, it’s not under nines with us behind them coaching them.

“They’ve got to come up with some decisions themselves. Yes, we can filter some information down to them like in any game, but it is about us learning how to play with each other, what each player brings, what their qualities are and how we can become strongest as a unified group.

“What we got from that Salford should have teed up up nicely for Sunday’s game at Keighley and then into the season.”


SWINTON LIONS coach Allan Coleman has said his side’s preparations have ramped up now that the season is less than a month away.

Following their final pre-season game against Keighley this Sunday, the Lions will get their campaign underway when they host West Wales Raiders on Sunday, March 27.

“We have had a really tough, but enjoyable pre-season,” said Coleman.

“It was very difficult for the players as we’ve tested them mentally as well as physically. We questioned them and gave the different scenarios to work with.

“That means we can’t now just go back to getting them fit. It’s now about working on things we have not been happy with so far and continuing to challenge them to be even better than they were.”


ROCHDALE HORNETS‘ full focus can return to a successful League One season after their run in the Challenge Cup came to an end at the hands of Barrow Raiders.

“We knew it was going to be a really tough game against Barrow, who are playing really well in the Championship,” said assistant coach Gary Thornton.

“We were disappointed with the game, but we can take positives out of it. There is lots to learn, and we will learn from it.

“We had a good run in the Challenge Cup, but we were always going to focus on the league. We came up against good Championship team and that is probably where we need to aim to get to.

“We have got some work to do to get there but we’ve got enough promising signs and Matt (Calland – coach) is working them really hard in training and the boys are all buying into it.

“There is a lot of potential in the squad, and when hit peak fitness we’ll be force to be reckoned with in League One.”


DONCASTER may have been knocked out of the Challenge Cup at the hands of Championship side Whitehaven, but centre Sam Smeaton believes positives can still be taken from the 60-0 defeat.

“As the game progressed, fatigue set in and we were probably trying a bit too hard, trying things we’d not normally do and not sticking to systems, which just does not work well,” the 33-year-old told the club website.

“One of the few positives to come out of it was getting 80 minutes into the lads’ legs and picking up no injuries.

“Rather than going into a new season without much game time, we’ve had a lot of friendlies and these cup matches so we know exactly where we are.”


MIDLANDS HURRICANES coach Richard Squires has been particularly pleased with the performance of some of the newer members of his squad during pre-season.

While big name signings such as Benn Hardcastle and Russ Spiers have had the desired impact, Squires believes he has also found a couple of hidden gems.

“Benn has brought in a lot of experience, and that has shown in training,” said Squires.

“Russ made his debut in the pre-season game against Bradford and was outstanding. He is exactly what we’ve been missing – a no nonsense middle who can get us on the front foot and tackle his heart out.

“But Adam Reid, who played his first ever game of Rugby League in the York friendly and got some big minutes against Bradford has really impressed in training. He’s putting his best foot forward in his first proper pre-season of Rugby League.

“There is also James Phillips, another young lad who has come through and keeps improving and learning from being around the older boys.


LONDON SKOLARS coach Joe Mbu has admitted this year has been the longest pre-season he has ever experienced, but has been grateful for the extra time he’s had to work with his new look squad.

“It has been a long process, but it’s just one of those things that’s happened and we’ve had to manage it the best we can,” said Mbu.

“We’ve not over-exerted ourselves and we’ve planned accordingly so that we have done the right level of training.

“We are still building as a team and as a squad and we’re getting there. With so many changes in the squad this year the extra time together has been really important.

“The effort the boys have been putting in has been great and we probably needed the extra time and we’ll be better for it.”

The above content is also available in the regular weekly edition of League Express, on newsstands every Monday in the UK and as a digital download. Click here for more details.