The 2022 National Conference League will, as the amateur game’s flagship competition’s bosses had hoped, comprise four divisions of twelve teams each following last week’s resounding thumbs up by existing clubs for applications for membership by Seaton Rangers, of Workington, and Doncaster outfit Bentley who, in accordance with standard NCL practice, will both begin life in Division Three, the bottom tier.
Conference administrator Alan Smith announced: “Over 90 per cent of votes were in favour of both teams joining. Bentley and Seaton Rangers successfully passed an extensive application process and examination of their submissions by members of the NCL Management Committee.
“The Management recommendation to accept both has been given an overwhelming level of support from member clubs, and the accepted invitation to these two clubs takes the NCL back to 48 clubs. The arrival of Seaton will extend the NCL footprint into the Allerdale district of Cumbria, with Bentley also forging a new pathway by pushing our influence into the Doncaster region.”
He continued: “Seaton Rangers have a first-class clubhouse and playing facility, with over 260 playing members from open age to Under 6s, and have recently received a grant from the RLWC2021 Legacy Fund to improve their gymnasium.
“Bentley, with a similar number of players, are currently building a new specialised facility for the 2023 season and will play at Wheatley Rugby Union Club in 2022. This approved arrangement will provide excellent changing, playing and social facilities for Bentley and visiting teams until they are able to operate from their new clubhouse in 2023.“
Chairman Trevor Hunt added: “Bentley and Seaton are two very strong clubs with ambitious, driven and hard-working committees and players, who have been knocking on the door of the NCL over the past few years despite the Covid issues.
“They both unlock areas that hitherto did not hold an NCL presence, and we look forward to seeing them thrive within the NCL community. Bentley have some work to do on their facilities, but we have every faith that with the backing of the RLWC2021 Legacy funding, they will provide the necessary facilities to make them a real force within the game.”
Seaton chairman Miguel Blanco-Charters – a proud Cumbrian and former Rangers scrum-half who has represented Spain at international level – told League Express: “The club is absolutely buzzing; from the youth section, which involves ten teams at all age levels other than Under 16s, to Open Age, where our ‘A’ team will continue to play in the Cumberland League.
“We have always spoken about wanting to achieve this, in fact for the last four or five years it’s been at the centre of most of our conversations, from a committee level through to the players’ perspective.
“We have developed on and off the field to get us to this point. I couldn’t be more proud of our club and all our volunteers, who go above and beyond for Seaton Rangers. We have a brilliant junior system, thanks to all our coaches and helpers with each team, and this is the start of something big for us.”
He continued: “Being part of the NCL allows us to be able to develop our juniors; we have a big group of last year’s former Under 16s players stepping up into the open age environment who will be able to continue to progress in our ‘A’ team and first team squads. And playing in a much stronger competition up and down the country provides more opportunities for our players to be noticed ahead of BARLA and Community Lions tours under our head coach Ryan Campbell.
“Ryan has been part of Seaton for a number of years now, first as a player then in a coaching role alongside former Head Coach Matthew Tunstall. He also is one of our junior coaches and took over the Open Age role this year when Matthew’s work commitments prevented him from continuing.”
Blanco-Charters concluded: “Our immediate ambition is to have a really good first season in the NCL. This is brand new to most of our players so it will take some adjusting to playing new teams week in week out – and the travelling – but it is something we are relishing.
“In the long term, we hope to grow, compete and hopefully climb the divisions to the top tier.”
Bentley Vice Chairman Nick Pownall said: “It’s been a long-term goal for us to be accepted into the NCL and everything we are doing as a club has been geared towards this.
“We’ve played West Hull and Leigh Miners in the Challenge Cup and although losing on both occasions the players put up a good showing against Premier Division opposition.
“They are keen to test themselves against the best sides nationally. A lot of lads are coming to the peaks of their careers and feel it’s where the club belongs.
“We are the only current representative from South Yorkshire, so we will be flying the flag for the local area.”
Bentley boast eight underage sides, including a girls team. “Being in the NCL will enhance the desire to represent Bentley,” said Pownall. “While we hope that some go on to play professionally, being able to offer rugby to all age groups from 16 down to six means that we will have a constant flow of young hungry players coming through.”
That can only benefit the NCL side which will be coached by former player Andy Whitfield, who has been at the helm for ten years. Pownall said: “Andy has arguably overseen one of our most successful eras, with us constantly at the top end of the Yorkshire Men’s League and having a couple of Challenge Cup runs, culminating in us reaching the third round in 2019, when we beat tough opposition, both away, in the RAF and West Bank.
“Andy’s passion and commitment to Bentley is shown on the field and off it; he has helped coach various junior sides as well as being a very active member of the committee.”
Pownall stressed: “Our first season is about consolidation; league position isn’t a priority but finishing as high as possible is obviously the end goal. We’ll have three Cumbrian trips as well two to the far end of Lancashire, so getting used to travelling will also play a big part in how we fare this season.
“The lads have a winning mentality, so they themselves will drive any changes needed to progress. In the long term, we want to become an established club in the NCL pyramid and to play at the highest level we can.”
The NCL line-up in 2022 – with fixtures launching on Saturday 5 March – will be:
PREMIER DIVISION: Egremont Rangers, Hunslet Club Parkside, Leigh Miners Rangers, Lock Lane, Pilkington Recs, Rochdale Mayfield, Siddal, Thatto Heath Crusaders, Thornhill Trojans, Wath Brow Hornets, West Hull, York Acorn.
DIVISION ONE: Featherstone Lions, Hull Dockers, Ince Rose Bridge, Kells, Milford, Myton Warriors, Oulton Raiders, Saddleworth Rangers, Skirlaugh, Stanningley, West Bowling, Wigan St Patricks.
DIVISION TWO: Barrow Island, Beverley, Bradford Dudley Hill, Clock Face Miners, Crosfields, Dewsbury Celtic, Dewsbury Moor Maroons, Heworth, Hunslet Warriors, Normanton Knights, Wigan St Judes, Woolston Rovers.
DIVISION THREE: Batley Boys, Bentley, Drighlington, East Leeds, Eastmoor Dragons, Hensingham, Leigh East, Millom, Oldham St Annes, Seaton Rangers, Shaw Cross Sharks, Waterhead Warriors.
The Rugby Football League is inviting applications for new Women’s and Girls teams, with a deadline of Friday 14 January for submissions.
Clubs were also reminded at last Wednesday’s community webinar that the RFL aims to increase the number of players at amateur clubs to 60,000 (and to 150,000 by 2030), with a target set for the female game of 9,000 by 2025. Similar targets have been set for schools and further education, with a hoped-for 150,000 players by 2030.
In addition, the RFL aims to have 75 per cent of community clubs accredited to development plans by 2025, with social inclusion goals underpinning all initiatives.
Joe Stearne will be taking on a major challenge early in the New Year – on behalf of his partner Charlotte, who has been diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
The referee, who hit the headlines a few months ago after having been attacked by a player in a National Conference League fixture, has long had a reputation as one of Rugby League’s `givers’ and, on Saturday 8 January, will set out from Ossett, between Dewsbury and Wakefield, to Old Trafford, the return run taking the miles covered by him and his party to around 50.
He said: “Charlotte has been so strong, fought the horrible disease head on, and has been amazing.
“That pure strength has inspired me and few others to do another crazy challenge to try raise some much needed funds for MacMillan, to help them support families who need them like we did.”
Joe added: “If our route works out we’ll be just short of the double marathon distance. There’ll be constant pain, but that’s nothing compared to what cancer patients go through each day.
“Having run a fair few marathons the thought of turning round at the finish and completing another isn’t that appealing but this is for a great cause and I have a great team behind me helping me finalise everything! ”
He concluded: “If anyone can spare a few quid and donate that would be amazing. I have a little team behind me helping us plan and support for the day – if anyone is interested and wants to help out then please let me know!”
Joe can be contacted by emailing email@example.com, and donations can be made by visiting https://gofund.me/1599059c
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