ROCHDALE HORNETS Chairman Andy Mazey has said newly-appointed Gary Thornton was his number one choice for the club’s vacant head-coach role.
Thornton had taken the job on a temporary basis following the departure of Matt Calland at the start of August – stepping up from assistant to take the reins for the remainder of the season.
When the former Batley, York, Doncaster and Hunslet coach initially took the assistant role he admitted he was enjoying not having as much pressure on his shoulders. But that will all change again now.
“We are working on retaining some of the existing squad and bringing others in, so it was important we made a decision on the coach early,” said Mazey.
“Gary was my first choice for the role and I am delighted he has agreed to stay with us and help move us forward.
“You never plan to part ways with a coach, so when we came to that point with Matt, Gary thankfully agreed to take in on until end of the year and was a breath of fresh air.
“He picked us up, was really positive about everything we were doing, the lads already had a good relationship with him and they really bought into what he was trying to do.
“Our discipline has clearly improved under Gary and we have put in some good performances despite injuries, suspensions and other issues he’s had to navigate, so he’s done very well.
“League One is challenging and budgets in this league are challenging, but he’s bought into that and has told me he has his hunger back. I don’t think he was necessarily thinking about being head coach again after stepping into the assistant role, but with how the lads have responded to him and the vibe around the place, there are smiles on people faces.
“He’s really enjoyed being back in charge and that contributed to him wanting to take the role permanently.
“Gary is a very good communicator – very clear and concise in everything he puts across and he is a great man manager.
“He is also a great coach, with a great pedigree, having previously won the Championship and League One Coach of the Year award.
“He is a great fit for club and I am very confident he’s the right man for the next stages of this club’s development.”
SWINTON LIONS may not yet know which league they will be in next year, but one thing they do know is that Allan Coleman will once again be at the helm after agreeing a new two-year contract with the club.
Coleman initially joined the Lions as assistant coach in 2019, and took over from Stuart Littler towards the end of the 2021 season.
This season he has led the club to a second-place finish, with promotion back to the Championship still a possibility.
“Allan is a quality coach in the truest sense of the word, in that he makes players better players,” said Lions chief executive Steve Wild.
“But more than that, he has the total respect of those around him, be it his players, his staff, ourselves in the boardroom, or our wonderful volunteers and fans. Players want to play for Swinton Lions because of Allan, and that’s a wonderful testament.
“The game is going through period of change and uncertainty, but once the clouds clear, which is hopefully imminent, clubs such as ours will need stability. That is why we offered Allan a two-year deal.
“It’s an acknowledgment that whatever happens as this current campaign draws to a close, and whichever divisions we find ourselves playing in for seasons 2023 or 2024, we believe that Allan is absolutely the right man for Swinton Lions.”
Coleman added: “I am so happy with the club offering me a new two-year deal and I cannot thank the Board enough.
“Swinton Lions is a club I call home and I just love the place. It’s a special club with such rich history and tradition. However, I want to build something special here and make our own history.
“It may take time, but I feel that the board is with me on this, and together we can achieve our ambitions and goals.”
KEIGHLEY COUGARS have started planning for life in the Championship by targeting several new faces that coach Rhys Lovegrove wants to add to the squad that went through this year’s league campaign unbeaten.
As well as new arrivals though, the club is also in the process of retaining several faces from this year’s squad.
For Lovegrove, the process of retention and recruitment has been made easier by the fact, by finishing top and gaining automatic promotion, that have an extra few weeks preparation time over whichever other team from League One follows them into the Championship via the play-offs.
Keenan Dyer-Dixon and Jake Webster have become the latest players to sign new deals with the club, with the latter also taking on a coaching role next season alongside recently retired Scott Murrell, taking the number of players already in Lovegrove’s squad for 2023 to 19.
“I have had a really good chat with Andrew Henderson about which players I feel have really excelled within the system and culture we’re creating here and we have certainly targeted people to add that demographic,” said Lovegrove.
“We are lucky that Hendo has done a great job with that and managed to get hold of some of those players and I am really excited to get to work with them.
“The extra few weeks we get for this process is 100 percent beneficial and it feels radically different to last year.
“We were in the play-off system last year and everyone in there is wanting to win, but there is next to zero ability to plan for what happens after that until the season comes to an end. I think we have seen that in action in the Championship this year when you compare Barrow’s acclimatisation to the Championship compared to Workington’s.
“Not having to be in the play-offs has certainly suited us and has allowed us to identify key people we would like to bring in. Our performances this year in going unbeaten has also allowed those players to see what we’re trying to create.
“There is a fairly limited player pool and it is up to each club to sell what they have to offer on the field and we have done that this year.”
CORNWALL coach Neil Kelly has said it will not just be on-field recruitment that plays a role in making sure the club continue their development as they head into their second year in League One.
The south west club will be looking at improving on their solitary win this year when they return to the field in 2023, but for Kelly there are vital things to do off the field as well as on it in order to make that happen.
“We have a plan in place for how we want to move forward on the field,” said Kelly.
“Now it’s just making sure we can man that plan with the right quality of players so that we make the improvements on the field in year two and learn from some mistakes we made this year.
“I have already had conversations with those behind the scenes about what I want for next year and that is a conversation that is ongoing. I can see where we can improve and some of that is through recruitment, but it is also about developing the environment and the club structure down here.
“We are looking to appoint a strength and conditioning coach and we are currently sifting through various applicants for that. We see that as being one area of improvement – to get the side fitter.
“We didn’t have a pre-season this year because we literally had just weeks to prepare for the full season and we didn’t even have the full squad for that.
“We’re going to have the ability this year for a pre-season starting in November and finishing when the season starts, meaning we will be better conditioned to play.
“This year we had a few players pick up knocks that put out for a week or two, but some of them wouldn’t have happened if players were in better condition going into the season.
“Fitness is a big issue, as is having players based down here and those are two big hurdles for the club now. We need to identify the players that can make us better and get them down here full-time and get them fitter before we go again.”
DONCASTER centre Jason Tali cemented his place in the club’s history a little further last weekend.
The Papua New Guinean scored two tries in the Dons’ play-off victory at North Wales Crusaders, which earned them a qualifying semi-final against Swinton Lions yesterday (Sunday).
Tali’s double took him to 99 for the club since he joined in 2016, moving him up to second place in their all-time records.
And the man he pushed down to third was none other than current Doncaster chief executive Carl Hall, who scored 98 tries across three separate spells there as a player.
The record remains with Mark Roache, who scored 111 tries in total for the South Yorkshire club.
HUNSLET coach Alan Kilshaw has one very specific attribute in mind when it comes to building his squad for next season – local pride.
Following on from Harvey Hallas’ recent re-signing, local players Jimmy Watson – who has his testimonial year scheduled for 2023 – Josh Jordan-Roberts and Harvey Whiteley have also put pen to paper on new one-year deals.
Jack Render, Jamie Greenwood and Fraser Stroud have also agreed renewed contracts.
“It’s really important to me that the squad for next season is a hardworking side that reflects the board, the staff, the supporters and the people of south Leeds,” said Kilshaw.
“We are building the core of the team around players with local roots, or who have strong links with the history and heritage of this club.
“The players we have already retained from last season have absolutely bought into that ethos and reflect those principles, none more than Jimmy, who epitomises our philosophy.
“We are assembling a strong squad for next season, with depth in all positions. These announcements, with more to come shortly, are just the beginning of that process.”
LONDON SKOLARS have started their player retention for 2023 with the re-signing of Leighton Ball and the club’s Young Player of the Year Luciano Bejanidze.
The duo have signed one-year deals and coach Joe Mbu is hopeful that most of their team-mates will follow suit and remain at New River Stadium next season.
“We always hope that the players can see the long-term view of what we’re trying to do here and the process we’re going through,” said Mbu.
“This is the start of something and I am sure my players can look at this season, and see what we did this year with barely any time to really form a squad before the start of the year, and want to stay involved.
“We are not going to be going into next season on the back foot in terms of recruitment, and hopefully we will retain most, if not all, of the players from this year and then see how we go.”
MIDLANDS HURRICANES coach Richard Squires praised “phenomenal” Elliott Windley as the hooker was the big winner at the club awards.
The Hull-born former England Youth international was one of the club’s top performers in his second season in the Midlands.
And that was rewarded with both the Supporters’ and Players’ Player of the Year.
“Before he picked up his injury, he was phenomenal,” said Squires of 22-year-old Windley.
“He had the best start to the season, picking up four man-of-the-matches in his first five.”
Squires’ pick for player of the year, however, was experienced centre Liam Welham: “He’s consistent, he’s there week in, week out. He always puts his hand up.”
NORTH WALES CRUSADERS’ season came to a disappointing end in the play-offs for a second season running.
Last year, they performed brilliantly to finish third in the table but went on to lose both home play-off fixtures.
And history repeated itself in 2022, after a campaign which saw them only narrowly miss out on second place. From third, they were beaten by Doncaster and then lost on Saturday to Rochdale Hornets in the elimination semi-final.
After the Dons game, which would have seen them move within 80 minutes of the play-off final with a victory, head coach Anthony Murray admitted his team were struggling from the effects of the whole season.
“For the effort and commitment of the player, I couldn’t have asked any more,” he said.
“It’s been a really long season; we’re doing it busted like everyone else. We’ve got about eight players missing with long-term injuries.”
OLDHAM prop Tom Spencer has announced his retirement from the game.
The 31-year-old, who played alongside Oldham coach Stuart Littler at Leigh Centurions, hung up his boots for good following the 24-38 defeat to Rochdale Hornets in the elimination play-off to focus on his busy life away from the game.
Spencer – one of three ever-presents for the Roughyeds this season – is currently studying sports science at UCLAN in Preston, alongside running a gym in Wigan with former Leigh team-mate Jamie Acton. His wife is also expecting their first child.
“All good things come to an end and I’m very excited about this new chapter in my life,” said Spencer, who has amassed almost 200 senior appearances in a 13-year career that has also seen him play for Wigan Warriors, Leigh Centurions and London Broncos.
“I’ve had a great time in Rugby League and I’ve memories that will stay with me for the rest of my life. I would like to thank all the clubs I’ve been with for everything they’ve done for me and for giving me some wonderful opportunities.”
WEST WALES RAIDERS’ 2022 season was statistically their worst since their inaugural campaign five years ago.
When they entered League One in 2018, they lost all 26 matches, conceding over 2000 points in the process.
Since then they have earned a result in each completed season, including a second professional victory this year when they won at Cornwall in May.
However, the numbers underline another year of struggle for the Raiders’ first team, including their lowest number of points scored in any season with only 140 on the board at an average of just seven each match.
In conceding 1196 points their defence was the poorest since that first season in 2018, likewise their points difference of -1056 (averaging a defeat of more than 50 points a game).
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