Youthful enthusiasm and a strong desire to right some wrongs have combined to give Hunslet coach Gary Thornton the best start he’s seen to pre-season training.
The South Leeds club has been hard at work for a few weeks now as they aim to improve on last season’s fifth-placed finish – a campaign that was made all the more disappointing by a string of seven defeats in 11 league and play-off games. Frustratingly many of these defeats came after the club had been in a winning position mid-way through the second half.
And while Thornton is keen to move on and put 2019 firmly to the back of everyone’s minds, he can understand why those members of last year’s squad might want to use that disappointment as motivation for the coming year.
“There was a feeling of underachievement last season and the message we’re putting across is that we need to put that right this year,” said Thornton.
“Our home form was very disappointing and we need to address that. I hope that the players have taken some personal responsibility for that and have an element of wanting to put things right.
“That’s what we spoke about in our initial meeting in pre-season, but we’ve put it to bed now and we’re moving on. We don’t want to be dragging with us what happened last year. It’s a new group of players this year that are facing new challenges. We can’t dwell on last year, we have to focus on this year and what we want to achieve.
“But for their own personal pride, the players we have kept from last year will want to do better this time around.
“I have been really encouraged by what I have seen in pre-season so far. It has been terrific.
“We have got a group of young players here who are all really enthusiastic and working really hard.
“That youthful enthusiasm from some and the disappointing end to last season for others has combined really well. Those that were here last year want to make sure they go better this time around and for the new guys, a lot of them have something to prove. Some of them have been at other clubs and maybe haven’t played as much as they would have liked so want to prove some people wrong for letting them go.
“All that has brought a real competitive edge to training and they have gelled well as a group so all the signs are good.
“It has been one of the best and most encouraging starts to a pre-season I have seen for quite a while.”
Although lots of work has been done behind the scenes so far this off-season, player recruitment and retention news coming out of the club has been a little sparse so far this year.
Only Josh Tonks, Vila Halafihi and Zach Braham have been confirmed as re-signings so far, with Dom Brambani joining from Batley Bulldogs and Simon Brown, who played six games for the club on loan in 2019, coming in from Dewsbury Rams. Harry Kidd, who also featured on loan last season, is also thought to have signed for Thornton’s men.
They all add to the list of players – Jimmy Watson Tom Ashton, Ben Heaton, Jack Lee, Duane Straughier – who are going into the second years of two-year deals. But more signings are due to be announced before the start of the season.
TotalRL can confirm a new signing in the shape of Harry Kidd, the forward who has spent the last two years at Championship club, Halifax.
The fact that they have not been splashing the cash as much as some other teams in League 1 has seen Betfred price them at only 12/1 to win the league behind favourites Barrow Raiders, Doncaster, Newcastle Thunder, Rochdale Hornets, Workington Town and Keighley Cougars.
But Thornton is quite happy that the side can fly under the radar and see all the pressure put on their league rivals.
“It definitely suits that all eyes are on other teams this year,” added Thornton.
“Newcastle are making lots of very good signings and seem to be spending money to get them in. Doncaster and Keighley are doing the same and we know Barrow will always strong under Paul Crarey. I’m not sure what Rochdale will be like and Workington will be very strong with another year under Chris Thorman, so I can understand why we’ve been placed where we have.
“There is no pressure on us. We have put a competitive squad together and we are happy with where we’re at.
“We know the competition is going to be tough this year, but we’ll just keep working hard and hopefully we can surprise one or two of these big-hitters that are current favourites for the league.”