Betfred League One news round-up

CORNWALL boss Neil Kelly has had a few different visions of how his team’s very first game this weekend might go – and he’s hoping it’s not a nightmare.

The new club head to North Wales Crusaders this Saturday to write the opening chapter in their history, though Kelly admits he is as unsure as everybody else as to how they will get on.

“I go to bed at night and sometimes I have a nightmare and wake up in a cold sweat,” he said looking ahead to their first fixture.

“Other nights I’m feeling very positive, everything goes well and we get an unexpected win.”

Kelly has maintained for a while that Cornwall will not be at full strength as a squad, or fully cohesive as a team, on the opening day, but believes they are in a relatively good position having started with a blank piece of paper just a few months ago.

“It was always going to be this way given we got the nod late, I got the position late, we recruited late,” he said.

“It stands to reason we’re not going to be ready until later. That’s just where we are.

“Given that we did start so late, I think we’re in a good place. We’ve got the makings of a really good squad.

“I think we’re at the stage where we’re now ready to test ourself against opposition, and we’ve got a really tough test.

“North Wales have had a positive start to the season (in the Challenge Cup) and they are stiff opposition for us to face. I’m looking forward to it, it’s exciting.”

Cornwall added to their squad last week with two locally-based players – Matty Turton, a Leigh-born halfback formerly of amateurs Miners Rangers, and utility back Chris Chard, who was born and raised in the Duchy and has Rugby League experience for the Army’s Infantry side.


DONCASTER captain Sam Smeaton hopes to forge a close-knit team after being appointed as skipper for the new campaign.

The experienced centre has taken over the role after the previous incumbent, Brad Foster, departed for London Broncos at the end of last season.

Smeaton started his career at Featherstone Rovers and had short spells with Sheffield Eagles and Halifax before a four-year stint at Batley Bulldogs.

He dropped down a division to sign for Doncaster in 2020 and following a short-lived first season due to Covid, played every match bar one last term as the Dons came within 80 minutes of promotion.

With Richard Horne’s side looking to go one better in the league this season, Doncaster-born Smeaton will lead the charge.

“It’s a real privilege for me to be named as captain for the new season, and I’m really proud to lead the team,” said Smeaton.

“I try to lead by example and make sure that we’ve got a unity stronger than any teams we come up against.

“It’s a big season as we look to build on what we achieved in 2021, so hopefully we can get off to a good start and build from there.”

Explaining the decision, head coach Horne added: “Having spoken to the coaching staff it was an easy decision to appoint Smeats as captain for 2022.

“The way he carries himself within the group is clear to see and the other lads look to him for advice and support.

“He is the one to organise team events off the field which plays a big part in them being together on it as well.”

Ahead of starting their season at home to Midlands Hurricanes – they travel to Keighley Cougars this Sunday for their second game – the Dons signed Loui McConnell on a two-week loan from

Featherstone Rovers, plus James Davies on a one-year deal following a successful trial.


KEIGHLEY COUGARS have as challenging a start to the new season as any team but head coach Rhys Lovegrove has no issues with taking on the big sides early.

Having started the season at Oldham at the weekend, the next three rounds bring clashes with three other sides who will hope to be in the promotion mix this season in the shape of Doncaster at home this Sunday, then Hunslet and Swinton Lions.

The run will prove a good early test of Keighley’s own credentials to challenge at the top this season.

“It is a tough start but ultimately every team has to play each other home and away, so it is what it is,” said Lovegrove.

“You take them as they come. It’ll certainly be a good indicator for us in the first few weeks.

“Everyone wants to get off to a good start with regard to performances. If you can pick up points early as well of course that makes a difference.”

Lovegrove is confident he has a team to take on those early challenges, despite having a number of players absent for their opener.

Josh Lynam will be out for a few months following an MCL injury while Anesu Mudoti also has a knee issue.

Myles Tate is waiting to be cleared by a doctor following a medical issue, and Billy Gaylor is still being held back after his concussion in January’s Challenge Cup exit at Hunslet.

“Player welfare is at the forefront everybody’s mind at the moment and it’s close to my heart so we’re being very careful,” said Lovegrove of the concern for Gaylor.


SWINTON LIONS coach Allan Coleman hopes to see his side make a fast start to the campaign but they will have to do so without Billy Brickhill.

The forward suffered a bad injury in their final pre-season game at Keighley Cougars two weeks ago and will be out for a significant spell.

“He had a very deep tissue wound to his thigh,” said Coleman. “He had to be taken to Manchester General Royal for plastic surgery.

“They were quite worrying times. It was probably the worst I’ve ever seen on a rugby field.

“But he’s all stitched up now and he’s back out. It will be a while but we’ve got some good medical staff so he’ll be looked after.”

Lewis Charnock can now return from suspension after being forced to sit out the Challenge Cup defeat to North Wales Crusaders, friendly at Keighley and yesterday’s opener against West Wales Raiders.

Coleman hopes to have everyone in the squad bar Brickhill available for this Sunday’s trip to Midlands Hurricanes, where the Lions will look to get early points on the league table.

The Swinton boss says there are no excuses after the lengthy pre-season and expects his side to be firing in these opening rounds.

“Every team in this competition now should be a lot more advanced than they would be in a normal season,” said Coleman.

“It usually takes five or six games to get going but we can’t afford to do that in this division.

“We’re quietly confident that we’re in a happy place and we won’t need any games to get us going.”


HUNSLET coach Alan Kilshaw has no issue with the later start to the season and is excited for some free-flowing rugby as the sun comes out.

Despite other divisions starting as early as the end of January, League One only got underway last weekend with Hunslet playing away at London Skolars.

Before then, their only competitive action was in the Challenge Cup, where they reached the fourth round before going out to North Wales Crusaders.

Since then, the improving weather has enabled Kilshaw, whose side host this Oldham this Sunday, to work on Hunslet’s attacking game.

“We’ve probably worked more on our attacking this month than we had before our cup run,” said Kilshaw.

“The weather has obviously not helped, it’s probably been the worst month of weather in the whole of pre-season in February.

“But it’s drying up now and light nights are coming so we’ll be able to get on the pitch soon and do some more quality work.

“It’s good that we start in March when the majority of the season is through the summer months. I think that’s probably the way the Championship and Super League should go as well.

“You avoid those mud baths and that January and February weather, so I think we’re fortunate how our competition is structured.”

Meanwhile, Hunslet captain Duane Straugheir has had a hernia operation and is targeting a return to action in May.


LONDON SKOLARS coach Joe Mbu was pleased with his sides final preparation for the season.

Before welcoming Hunslet for the opening fixture of the League One season on Saturday, Skolars played the Army in the Capital Challenge at the Honourable Artillery Company the previous week.

The professional outfit ran out 52-18 winners and Mbu said the victory served as very good preparation.

“We knew what the Army would bring, they’re a big physical side and they’ll be in your face,” he said.

“They put you under a tremendous amount of pressure and I think it was the perfect game before our first fixture.

“That’s the league we’re playing in, we’re playing against powerful men. They’ll be in your face and put you under pressure so I thought that was the perfect test for us to see how we fared against such an opponent.

“I thought the boys did themselves proud in the way they conducted themselves, kept their discipline and worked hard.”

Skolars have a blank weekend before returning to action on April 9 with a home fixture against North Wales Crusaders.


MIDLANDS HURRICANES will be adapting some of their tactics to suit their new home when they play their first competitive match at Portway Stadium this weekend.

Following their rebrand from Coventry Bears in the off-season, the club also have a new home at Forshaw Heath Lane, south of Birmingham, which they will share this year with rugby union side Birmingham and Solihull Bees.

It is a big change after almost two decades playing at Butts Park Arena, and one which will have some impact on the team’s approach when Swinton Lions visit this Sunday.

“We were on an artificial pitch last season, which boded well for fast people,” said Midlands captain Liam Welham, a former Featherstone, Hunslet and Doncaster player.

“We’ve got a much heavier team but they’re athletic as well, so they’ve got the speed to go alongside that.

“We’ll look to use the pitch. It’s a lot wider, the in-goals are a lot deeper, so a few of our tactics will vary now in terms of how we finish sets.

“We had a pre-season friendly against London the other week and it went really well. It’s going to be a great pitch to play on.”


NORTH WALES CRUSADERS have brought winger Scott Turner back to the club with a deal for the 2022 season.

Turner previously played for the club for three seasons between 2014 and 2016, scoring 28 tries in 34 matches, including a try in their 2015 iPro Sport Cup final win over Swinton Lions.

The 27-year-old has now returned for a second spell with North Wales, who are on an upward curve again after a third-place league finish last season and a run to the fifth round of the Challenge Cup to start this year.

“Scott has been training with us now for a couple of weeks and he will be ready to go shortly,” said Crusaders head coach Anthony Murray, who was also boss during Turner’s first spell at the club.

Turner has also been followed through the door by former Widnes Vikings hooker Callum Wood on a contract for the season.

After opening their League One campaign at Rochdale Hornets, North Wales will be the first team to take on the newly-formed Cornwall this Saturday.


OLDHAM hope to have Sean Slater back sooner rather than later after missing the start of the season with a knee injury.

Slater, a hooker or halfback, signed for his hometown club from Huddersfield Giants ahead of this year.

However, his time with the Roughyeds hasn’t got off to the best of starts, suffering a medial ligament tear in the club’s pre-season victory at Keighley Cougars which has ruled him out for several weeks.

There is a specially-prepared rehabilitation programme for Slater though Oldham head coach Stuart Littler is also keen to ensure the youngster is looked after from a mental perspective as well as a physical one.

“We need to support him and be there for him mentally as much as anything,” said Littler, who takes his side to Hunslet on Sunday.

“For a 20-year-old like Sean, who was all fired up to be playing for his hometown club, this is a huge disappointment.

“But he can rest assured that we are all there rooting for him and supporting him and we will be throughout his rehab, which could take several weeks.”


ROCHDALE HORNETS will be happy to fly under the radar this year and are “quietly confident” of success, according to chairman Andy Mazey.

It was a disappointing 2021 season for the Hornets, missing out on a spot in the League One play-offs.

They have stuck with head coach Matt Calland, brought in Gary Thornton as an assistant coach, and brought in 13 new players for this year.

Results in the Challenge Cup have offered some encouragement with victories over League One rivals Midlands Hurricanes and amateurs Lock Lane before bowing out to Championship opposition in the form of Barrow Raiders.

Ahead of the league season’s start yesterday at home to North Wales Crusaders, Mazey revealed the quiet optimism within the club.

“There is a real buzz, pardon the pun with us being the Hornets!” said Mazey.

“It is a tough competition. We’re not the favourites, the likes of Keighley and Swinton are heavily fancied.

“Nobody is getting carried away but our thoughts within the camp are that if we can get that little bit of luck that everybody needs and we’re doing everything we can do, we’re quietly confident we’ll be really competitive this year.”

Rochdale hit the road this Saturday to face perennial strugglers West Wales Raiders.


WEST WALES RAIDERS skipper Joe Burke says new head coach Ash Bateman is getting the best out of the players in training with his personal touch.

Former player Bateman has been appointed as boss ahead of the new season and he has kept Burke in post as club captain for another year.

The two have known each other for a long time and Burke is pleased to report on the positive influence he has seen Bateman have since taking the reins.

“Ash and myself go back about 16 years,” he said. “It’s going brilliantly. The last eight weeks have been so organised and structured. He’s getting the best out of the boys on the pitch.

“I think Ash is bringing in a different look on things, using his past experience.

“I think he’s a really good man manager, he really knows how the get the best out of the boys especially on the training pitch. He doesn’t take things lightly.

“We didn’t have an easy start but (we’re seeing) the progression, the organisation, the numbers in the training now.

“The big things this year is the attitude, people want to be here.”

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