MIDLANDS HURRICANES coach Richard Squires has said that both he and the club have tasted uncharted waters already this year as they prepare for a strong season in 2023.
With the club undergoing a major rebrand towards the back end of 2021, preparations for the season just finished could not start until that was confirmed, considerably cutting down Squires’ time to put his squad together.
But with the rebrand having had a positive effect, a much smoother pre-season is in prospect and several players have already been signed up.
“It was tough this year because of the limited amount of time we had to put the team together,” said Squires.
“We were always chasing our tails and that really told towards the back end of the season when we were having to rely heavily on players from reserves teams who had to go back to parent clubs when they had games.
“We’d love to have sneaked into the play-offs but it just wasn’t to be. But with time to plan and prepare for next season, we really aim to push for them.
“For the first time in this club’s history as either Midlands Hurricanes and Coventry Bears, we were actually speaking to players in July and August about next year, which is so much earlier than last year.
“We’ve lost a few players already, but a fair chunk are keen to stay. We’re not able to spend considerable amounts of money, so we must grow it organically.
“It looks like we will keep most players we wanted to keep. The odd couple have slipped through due to money or other commitments, which is a shame, but that’s how things go sometimes.”
Hooker Elliott Windley is staying, while Midlands have announced the double signing of Matthew Bailey, from Keighley Cougars, and youngster Conner Gilbey from Hull KR.
Liam Welham and Chris Cullimore are also staying, with Welham also taking on the role of assistant coach while Cullimore will become captain.
HUNSLET coach Alan Kilshaw believes the signing of two new centres shows the club’s desire to add more strike to its edges in 2023.
The Parksiders missed out on a play-off spot last term and only the bottom three clubs – London Skolars, Cornwall and West Wales Raiders – scored fewer points.
But Kilshaw hopes to have brought more firepower into the club by signing Joe Burton from Bradford Bulls and former St Helens youngster Nico Rizzelli, both on one-year deals.
Burton, 20, was highly-rated at Bradford, while 22-year-old Rizzelli has returned to Rugby League after opting for a year out of the game.
“These two quality signings show our intent for next season in terms of how they fit into our game model and how we intend to play,” said Kilshaw.
“Both are quick and strong and have excellent footwork. We have highlighted the need for some strike out wide and these two young men can bring that.
“Joe could have stayed in the Championship but he has bought into the long-term ambitions of the club and can see himself developing within our environment.
“Nico, like some young men, has come out of a Super League system and stepped away from the game, but he is far too talented not to be playing and I’m glad he has jumped at the chance to play for Hunslet.
“He has kept himself in good shape and he is a really exciting player that our supporters can get behind next season.”
Meanwhile, Kilshaw has paid tribute to the players who have left Hunslet following the conclusion of the season.
Former captain Duane Straugheir is set to move on, as will Cameron Berry, Kiedan Hartley, Sion Jones, Kieron Moran, Ethan O’Hanlon, Jordan Paga, Joe Summers, Pat Walker and Richard Wilkinson.
“As always at this time of year, we say goodbye to some players who are going on to pastures new, and others who are finishing playing for good,” said Kilshaw.
“We have a couple of lads we are still in talks with and some more recruitment to share with our loyal fan base during the next few months.
“Everyone who is leaving goes with our best wishes; we have given opportunities to some which they have taken well, while others have served us over a longer period.
“It’s a privilege to represent Hunslet and it’s been a privilege to coach those players.”
DEWSBURY RAMS coach Liam Finn believes he has secured an exciting addition to his backline with the capture of Owen Restall.
Restall was one of the breakthrough stars of the League One season in 2022, after joining Oldham from Underbank Rangers.
There the 27-year-old scored 21 tries, a tally bettered only by two players in the entire division.
“Owen will excite the fans with his running game,” said Finn of Restall, who can play at fullback or on the wing.
“He delayed taking up professional rugby because he was enjoying his work career and playing high level amateur in the NCL.
“He played for Oldham and showed straight away what a quality player he is, top scoring for them.
“We’re hoping to keep adding to his quality and he adds to our already dangerous back line.”
The Rams have also signed forward Louis Collinson from Heavy Woollen rivals Batley Bulldogs and outside back Jacob Doyle from Featherstone Rovers.
Former Castleford Tigers Academy player Collinson has experience of the third tier, spending much of this year on loan at Cornwall.
“We’ve had our eye on Louis for a while and we’re delighted to get him to the club,” said Finn.
“He’s similar to a lot of players we’ve signed in the fact that his attitude to do things properly is what we want to be about.
“He’s a tough young forward who has the ability to gel our forward unit together from the loose forward role.”
Doyle scored two tries in Featherstone’s 1895 Cup Final win at Wembley in 2021, but spent time last year at Hunslet.
“Jacob’s a real strong ball carrier that can play numerous positions in the outside backs,” added Finn.
“He’s another young player that’s keen to learn and full of enthusiasm. He’s another person who we believe is what we want to be about next year.”
The Rams have also retained winger Andy Gabriel for 2023.
DONCASTER Chief Executive Carl Hall hopes to see Leon Ruan “light up Super League” after the forward secured a move to Leeds Rhinos.
The highly-rated 19-year-old has been training with Leeds throughout the year while playing for the Dons, who narrowly missed out on promotion.
Ruan, who joined the South Yorkshire club from Wakefield Trinity at the start of the season and was nominated for the League One Player of the Year award, has signed a three-year deal at Headingley.
“This move is a fantastic opportunity for Leon to show what he can do at the highest level after a good year with the Dons,” said Hall.
“As a club we are proud to have played a part in his development and will look forward to seeing him light up Super League in the future.
“I would like to thank the Leeds club for their professionalism throughout; as always they were a class act to deal with.”
Ruan thanked the Dons after signing for the Rhinos, saying: “Doncaster have been a massive part of my career to get where I am and have the chance to sign at Leeds.
“The coaches, staff and players have helped me and pushed me to find out about myself physically and mentally. Without them I wouldn’t be where I am now.”
Doncaster have also lost the services of Robbie Storey, who has joined newly-promoted Championship side Keighley Cougars.
OLDHAM coach Stuart Littler is delighted to have retained Emmerson Whittel for next season.
Forward Whittel, who returned to the club ahead of the 2022 campaign following a spell in Australia, has signed a new two-year contract.
“The highest possible praise I can give him is to call him a winner,” said Littler of Whittel, who will miss the first four matches of next season through suspension.
“This is a big signing, and the two-year deal is our way of rewarding Emmy for all he has done for the club in the season just ended.
“His consistency of performance week in and week out is astonishing.
“We pride ourselves on doing a lot of effort-based stuff in training and Emmy’s contribution to it is appreciated by everyone at the club. His work ethic is second to none.
“He faced a lot of competition for our Player of the Year vote from players like Martyn Ridyard, who led us round the park; from Owen Restall, who scored 21 tries; and from Kian Morgan, who has played all over the place for us and has come on in leaps and bounds, be it at centre, halfback or fullback.
“But Emmy’s competitiveness and consistently high level of performance, allied to his work ethic, edged it for him.”
Joe Hartley has also agreed a new deal, with the back signing a one-year contract.
“Joe certainly went from strength to strength as the season progressed, be it at centre or on the wing,” said Littler, who has also secured the retention of Sean Slater for another year.
“As an Oldham boy he is very proud to play for the Roughyeds and that shows in how he plays.”
However, top try-scorer Restall has left the club to join relegated League One newcomers Dewsbury Rams.
WORKINGTON TOWN have kick-started their squad-building for the 2023 season with the signing of three players and the retention of a further two.
The new additions include forward Luke Broster, who was on trial with the club during pre-season ahead of the 2022 season.
He subsequently joined West Wales Raiders but did enough there to secure a permanent deal at Workington.
Broster is joined by two additions from the amateur game, including the familiar face of Blain Marwood.
The hooker left Workington at the end of the 2021 campaign to return to community level, but after an impressive year with Barrow Island, which saw him named as NCL Division Two Player of the Year, he is back in Town colours.
Meanwhile backrower Liam McNicholas has been given his first professional contract, joining the club from Distington.
Workington’s two latest retentions are forwards Joe Kirkup and Malik Steele.
Prop Kirkup was recruited from the amateur game midway through last season and has now received a permanent deal, while former Newcastle Thunder Academy backrower Steele was a regular in his first season at senior level.
ROCHDALE HORNETS have secured the signing of Harry Swarbrick on a one-year deal from North Wales Crusaders.
Former Barrow Raiders player Swarbrick, 25, impressed Hornets coach Gary Thornton in his one season playing for North Wales.
“Harry is a fantastic signing for us,” said Thornton.
“He comes with Championship and League One experience and is equally at home at hooker, centre or loose forward.
“He has a good Rugby League pedigree and will add to our attacking and defensive qualities, whichever position he plays.
“Having spoken to Harry about his ambitions, he fits in with our plans for the coming season and I’m really looking forward to working with him and getting the best out of him in our upcoming campaign.
“This is another key addition to our new-look squad for 2023.”
Swarbrick added: “I’m really looking forward to kicking on, after having a great year over at North Wales last season.
“I’ve always enjoyed the atmosphere when playing against Rochdale, so I’m excited to get to play in front of the fans every week.
“I’m keen to build on where I’m at, as a player, and under Gary I’m confident we can push for great things in 2023.”
LONDON SKOLARS coach Joe Mbu has complimented the attitude of Liam O’Callaghan after agreeing a new contract with the forward to remain at the club for the 2023 season.
O’Callaghan made 17 appearances in his first year at the New River Stadium and did enough to earn a renewed deal.
“It’s great to have Liam on board for 2023,” said Mbu, who was nominated for the League One Coach of the Year award after leading Skolars to six wins last season.
“He has good hands and can play two or three different positions well.
“He’s another guy who has the right attitude, works hard and constantly wants to improve.”
O’Callaghan added: “It’s great to have signed a new deal with the club.
“We were on the wrong side of some results last year where we should have won.
“That experience will help us push on in 2023 and I can’t wait to get started again.”
CORNWALL have secured Adam Rusling on a permanent deal following the halfback’s loan spell at the club last season.
The 19-year-old has played in Super League for Castleford Tigers and spent 2022 with Hull KR.
As well as featuring for the Robins’ Reserves side, he spent time with Cornwall, and following his release by Hull KR he is more than happy to return to the south west.
“I came down to Cornwall last season and played a few games for the club and I really enjoyed it,” said Rusling.
“Everyone made me feel really welcome and it made me want to come back once I knew I was leaving Hull KR.
“I see Cornwall as a club with huge potential and I see myself being part of the club’s journey.
“Although I am only young at 19, I have been part of the environment at Super League clubs and hopefully I can bring some of the experience to things like pre-season and training for Cornwall and we can grow as a team.”
NORTH WALES CRUSADERS have lost the versatile Harry Swarbrick after only one season at the club.
Swarbrick joined North Wales ahead of the start of the 2022 campaign from Barrow Raiders, who he helped to promotion the previous year.
The former Warrington Wolves and Salford Red Devils junior made a total of eleven appearances in all competitions for the Colwyn Bay club, scoring five tries as they secured a third-place finish in the table.
But he will line up against the Crusaders next season, having signed a deal with League One rivals Rochdale Hornets.
WEST WALES RAIDERS forward Luke Broster has departed the club to join new League One rivals Workington Town.
Broster, who was born in Liverpool but largely raised in Cumbria, joined West Wales ahead of the new campaign following a trial at Workington.
He played eleven times for the Raiders last season, including in their sole win away at Cornwall back in May.
One of West Wales’ best performers throughout the year, he has now earned a permanent deal with Town for next season.
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