One of the best: Gareth Walker looks ahead to a mouth-watering third tier in 2021

While this year has been such a frustration for all sporting clubs, the moves already being made by several in Betfred League 1 for next season give us much to look forward to.

Keighley Cougars’ capture of Halifax talisman Scott Murrell and Barrow’s move for Shaun Lunt last week were the latest in a line of impressive recruits by clubs in this division in recent times, pointing to an ultra-competitive 2021 season.

Just take a look at the 12 clubs set to take part and the kind of personnel that should be involved with them.

Relegated Barrow were widely expected to be among the front-runners this year after retaining the core of their Championship side from 2019.

They also have several players with a wealth of experience of succeeding at this level, such as the likes of Jamie Dallimore, Carl Forster and Jono Smith, with Lunt being a significant addition.

Newcastle Thunder were most other people’s tip for the title, had League 1 been able to get onto the field this year, and their attempted bid to buy Toronto’s licence underlines the ambition at the club.

Having just missed out to Oldham in 2019, they had recruited an impressive squad this year, including Bob Beswick, Adam Lawton and Colton Roche.

While those two clubs have been less active than some of their rivals in terms of signing players to 2021, it’s fair to assume that a decent number of those names will remain with their respective squads, making them strong contenders again next year.

But there are plenty of other clubs making moves to put themselves into a promotion chasing position next season.

Murrell is a major signing for a Keighley team that was already looking to rebuild under new (or should that be old) owners, having added Jake Webster and Richie Hawkyard to their 2020 ranks.

Like Barrow and Newcastle, Hunslet had won their opening two matches this year and had assembled an impressive squad under the vastly experienced Gary Thornton, who last week signed a new contract at the club.

They have made no secret of their promotion aim and if Dom Brambani is part of their squad again they have every chance.

There’s a plethora of halfback talent at Doncaster, where Rangi Chase, Watson Boas and Matty Beharrell were set to vie for two spots this year.

If they all re-sign, alongside the likes of Graeme Horne and Ross Peltier, then they will fear nobody.

There were high hopes too at Workington Town following progress under the initial stewardship of Chris Thorman, and with a talented young squad, including a sprinkling of experience in the likes of Carl Forber, Jamie Doran and Fuifui Moimoi, who will be 40 by the start of next year, they looked a dangerous side.

It’s fair to say that 2020 had been planned as a year of rebuilding at Rochdale Hornets under their new ownership, but they are now in front of every other club in terms of their 2021 squad, with confirmed signings into double figures.

With Championship duo Rob Fairclough and the returning Gavin Bennion among them, alongside the retained Sean Penkywicz, coach Matt Calland will be confident his side can compete with any of its rivals.

North Wales Crusaders had made some exciting 2020 signings in young halfbacks Elliott Jenkins and Brad Billsborough, and in Steve Roper they have another player well versed in succeeding in this competition.

London Skolars were looking to improve on a below par 2019 under well regarded coach Jermaine Coleman, while Coventry Bears had shaken up their backroom team with a view to making progress based around local talent, and West Wales Raiders have already confirmed that their new coach Aaron Wood will remain in 2021 as he looks to take the club forward.

Then there is the great new unknown – Ottawa Aces.

The signings of Championship playmakers Louis Jouffret, Tom Gilmore and Matty Fozard is an eye-catching start to their recruitment, and further additions are in the pipeline.

They should be pushing the top teams under Laurent Frayssinous, adding another dimension to what looks a fascinating competition in 2021.

The above content is also available in the regular weekly edition of League Express, on newsstands every Monday in the UK and as a digital download. Click here for more details.