Despite earning promotion by going through the season unbeaten, there has been little let up for KEIGHLEY COUGARS coach Rhys Lovegrove, who is already hard at work preparing for life in the Championship.
While the Cougars players made the most of the celebrations, for Lovegrove it was straight back to work as he prepares for a busy close season, some of which he will not be able to dedicate to the club.
“I had a had a few beers after the final game against Rochdale, but it was then back to work on Monday,” admitted former Super League star Lovegrove.
“There isn’t much time off and it’s pretty much straight through for me and Hendo (Andrew Henderson).
“There are lots of things we need to achieve down at the ground and a whole host of regulations that we need to look into and adapt for playing in the Championship.
“Also, with expectations of the side rising, we have to enable improvements of gyms and other facilities that we currently use. So there is a lot to do.
“I’m involved with the Jamaica coaching staff for the World Cup and I’ll be going into camp with them in October, so it’ll be a crazy few months.
“I like things to be done very specifically and I do believe in the right attention to detail, so there are a number of things I need to get done, or have plans in place for, within the next week or so, because my time will be getting stretched soon.
“I am hoping I can maybe get two or three days off at the end of month, but I will just have to see how the next couple of weeks go.”
Elsewhere the club has confirmed that Lovegrove’s assistant and head trainer Matt Nicholson has left the club to take up a role at a Super League club next season.
Nicholson originally signed as a player from Dewsbury Rams midway through the 2019 campaign, but a serious concussion sustained on his debut in an away victory against the West Wales Raiders forced him to retire from playing.
Lovegrove acted quickly to appoint Nicholson to the role of head trainer following his retirement before appointing him as assistant coach alongside Dean Muir ahead of the pandemic cancelled 2020 season.
One person who is staying, though, is Kyle Kesik, who celebrated the club’s recent promotion as champions by signing a new one-year deal at Cougar Park.
NORTH WALES CRUSADERS chief executive Andy Moulsdale believes stability has been key to the side’s success this year.
The Colwyn Bay-based side went into Sunday’s qualifying play-off against Doncaster knowing their season was not yet over, as even defeat would give them a second chance of progressing towards the Grand Final.
The Crusaders had the same route in the play-offs last year after again finishing third, and for Moulsdale a squad full of players with the club at their heart is the best thing he could hope for.
“I am really satisfied with how this year has gone,” said Moulsdale.
“We did well last year and probably surprised a few people outside of our camp by finishing third. The challenge this year was to repeat that and I think we have.
“Our aim was to get into the play-offs and we’ve done that and with one game to go we had the chance to finished second in the league. Had you offered us that at the start of the season, we’d have snapped your hand off.
“A big thing for us is that we have managed to keep the nucleus of the squad together from last season. That has been one of the key elements in the last couple of years.
“When me and Muzza (departing coach Anthony Murray) first sat down three or four years ago and looked at where the cub was at, we knew it wouldn’t change overnight, but we looked at bringing in some young players who he could develop and slowly build with each year and that is what we’re doing.
“We wanted to create a culture where players wanted to stay. 95 percent of our guys could probably earn more money elsewhere but they want to play for the club and that is something money can’t buy.”
Meanwhile the club brought in two new faces and one old one ahead of Sunday’s play-off game against Doncaster due to recent injury setbacks.
Sean Costello and Connor Parkinson have arrived from Clock Face and Wigan St Judes respectively, while former club captain Karl Ashall has come out of retirement to try and help the club claim promotion to the Championship.
SWINTON LIONS coach Allan Coleman believes team spirit can play a big part in his side making a promotion push through the play-offs.
By finishing second in the league, the Lions enjoyed this weekend off and will face the winner of the game between North Wales and Doncaster this Sunday (TBC).
But like many clubs at this stage of the season Coleman, who will have returned from Italy where he was coaching the England Under-19 Lions side by then, is down on numbers due to injury.
However, he does believe the spirit amongst the squad can see them home.
“For the last four or five weeks we’ve only been able to name 17 players and have had to put players in the squad that can’t play,” confirmed Coleman.
“We have been down to the bare bones but way we’ve gone about things have been fantastic. We have such a good spirit and that is what’s working for us.
“We have a real togetherness and even the lads that are injured are always at training. They can’t play but they are there and that is lifting the lads as well.
“That comes to the fore in these tough knock-out games. I don’t always think you have to be the best team; you have to be the smartest. Obviously, if you have a brilliant team that plays great rugby, you are going to be hard to beat. But you can have a weakened side and a better mentality than the other side and still come out on top.”
ROCHDALE HORNETS Chairman Andy Mazey believes this weekend’s increased attendance against Oldham could be the start of a better working relationship with the town’s football club, who own the Crown Oil Arena.
The Hornets have been restricted to a crowd of under 1,000 for this season, but a deal was agreed last week to make the main stand at the stadium available to spectators for the play-off eliminator against the Roughyeds, increasing the potential attendance by 1,600.
“Coming to that agreement was a huge boost for us and the game, which promised to be a really exciting affair, said Mazey.
“We have not looked any further forward than this weekend yet though – getting an increased capacity for the Oldham game was the important thing.
“That was our last home game of the year and hopefully we can work throughout the close season now on things and try and improve the relationship between the clubs and improve the situation we’ve faced this year.
“The capacity restriction in isolation has not been a massive issue except for the bigger games like Oldham, Swinton and Keighley. The way the crowds are in League One means it’s not been a massive problem for us. But we have faced other issues. We lost our office space at the ground and have been moved out of the shop as well as other difficulties, so it has been tough, but maybe this increased capacity can be the start of a better working relationship for us.”
OLDHAM may have only played their first play-off game against Rochdale on Sunday, but it is a concept they are already familiar with this season, according to head coach Stuart Littler.
After a slow start to the season it looked unlikely at one stage that Oldham would reach the top six, but after a recent upturn in fortunes, they recorded a 30-18 win over Hunslet in the winner-takes-all final league game to secure a spot in the elimination play-off against Rochdale, ensuring it was Hunslet that missed out.
“We did have a bad start but towards the back end of year we’ve hit a bit of form, got some systems right and the players have fully got behind that and carried them out,” said Littler.
“There have been a few variables in there but we were brand new side and had to chop and change throughout the season, had numbers in and out with injuries and suspensions, had a lot of loan players come in. But for the last few weeks we’ve had a bit of consistency in the side, which has really helped.
“As a group we’ve been honest about where we’re at. We’re not happy with all our performances this year, but we’ve built a bit of confidence and momentum and played in a play-off game against Hunslet even before the play-off started.
“But we’ve been in that position for the last six to eight weeks. Hunslet were eight points clear of us at one point and we were hunting them down. By the time we played them it was the first time we hadn’t been looking around at other teams results and seeing how they had got on.
“It was in our own hands going into that game and we went out there and took our chance.”
HUNSLET prop Harvey Hallas has become the first member of this season’s squad to agree a new two-year deal with the club.
“Signing Harvey was a priority for us halfway through last season,” said Hunslet coach Alan Kilshaw.
“We knew we had to get him tied down and a two-year commitment from the club shows how much we rate him as he is the type of player we want at the core of our organisation.
“Harvey has been sought after by a number of other clubs, and could have taken more lucrative deals elsewhere. However, we have upgraded his contract in line with his performances and I am looking forward to working with him for another season.
“Last year, when our young pack occasionally struggled, Harvey was a stand-out, no matter the score or the situation. Hopefully next season, with the players we are bringing in, he will have some size and experience around him, which will bring even better contributions from him.”
MIDLANDS HURRICANES have confirmed coach Richard Squires will remain at the club after he signed a new deal.
Squires initially took the head coach role at Coventry Bears in 2021 after stepping up from being the first-team coach and guided them to an eighth-place finish in his first year. He stayed on after the rebrand to the Hurricanes and has overseen six wins this season.
“I am extremely happy at the Midlands Hurricanes and delighted to extend my deal,” said Squires.
“I am also privileged to work alongside an outstanding group of players and staff. Everyone associated with our club contributed to making improvements and we will continue to do so.
“It’s a project that I’m really enjoying and over the time I’ve been here the progress the club has made is very clear. But I don’t think we’ve got anywhere close to fulfilling the club’s potential yet, which is really exciting.”
LONDON SKOLARS coach Joe Mbu is confident his side can learn an important lesson from this season.
The capital club finished in ninth place with season with six victories from their 20 games, but Mbu believes it could have been more and is hopeful of increasing their win percentage in 2023.
“It has been an up-and-down season in terms of results,” admitted Mbu.
“We can take a lot out of the wins we’ve had this year, but what is really pleasing is that we have put in some really strong performances, especially on the road – and that hasn’t always been the case.
“So even when we have lost, apart from against Keighley, who totally outclassed us, irrespective of result there was always a point where we were in the game. For one reason or another we’ve let some of those games slip out of our control, but I know if we’d done more we could have come back and nicked some of those games.
“We have to learn from that for next season because this league, or really any sporting league, if you don’t take your chances when you get them, they don’t come back and you get punished for not taking them.”
CORNWALL coach Neil Kelly has said there is one achievement this year that he is particularly proud of in a season where clubs across all league have been blighted by injuries.
Some clubs, including Super League’s Hull KR, have been so badly affected by unavailability this year they have been unable to name the full required 21-man squad in the lead up to game. On rarer occasions, some teams have been unable to name a full matchday 17. But that is not something Cornwall have ever had to do.
“We have always managed to put 17 competitive players out on the park,” said Kelly.
“We have never named a squad that’s short of numbers and, as a team that is just starting out and is based six hours away from anyone else in Rugby League heartlands, there is a certain pride in that.”
DONCASTER coach Richard Horne has pinpointed one area his side needs to improve on if they are to progress in the play-offs and gain promotion to the Championship.
The South Yorkshire side finished fourth in the league on points difference alone after finding themselves 22-12 down at half time against London Skolars in their final league game of the season.
“In the second half we were chasing the game and we left ourselves too much to do in terms of securing third place,” admitted Horne.
“We got what we deserved in finishing fourth.
“We’ve proved we can post points and it’s about putting pressure on teams in their twenty. We are not quite doing that against these top teams and that needs to change.”
WEST WALES RAIDERS chief executive Peter Tiffin has confirmed the club is starting to work a lot more closely with Wales Rugby League in order to grow the game in the country.
Tiffin has always expressed his intention to work closely with the national body and it looks like that could soon be the case.
“Andrew Thorne (Raiders owner) and I are talking to Wales Rugby League about getting back to working with them and getting a much clearer pathway in the game,” said Tiffin.
“We are looking at future strategic plans and getting the West Wales Raiders name involved much with Wales RL because, without Wales RL, there is no Raiders and without the Raiders there is no professional team in South Wales.
“We both know how much we need each other and with Wales being such a large area there is a lot we can together do to push the game further into it.”
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