Whitehaven coach Gary Charlton talks about his side’s progress in 2021
When Covid hit the Championship last season, Whitehaven were at the foot of the table, having lost home games to relegation rivals Oldham and Swinton.
Fast-forward over a year and the West Cumbrian club are closer to the play-offs than the drop zone, with their place in the second tier for 2022 all but assured.
It’s a notable achievement for coach Gary Charlton and his staff, with the experienced coach citing a change in personnel as a key factor in the team’s progress.
“We’ve finally got to grips with this league,” Charlton explained.
“We’ve had some outstanding games and some poor ones, and we probably need a bit more consistency.
“If we can get that then hopefully we can have a good end to the season.
“The players we’ve brought in – Gregg McNally, Liam Cooper and the three Australians – have really stiffened us up and have taken us to a different level.
“We got let down last year when Watson Boas was going to be our halfback and left us a bit in the lurch.
“Nikau Williams has come in and is getting better every game he plays, and more confident. He’s only a young lad with plenty to learn, but he’s happy to do that.
“Liam Walmsley on the wing has been outstanding, a real try scorer – he knows where the try line is and has been exceptional.
“Ryan King has just got back on the field and looks a real good player – Newcastle away was his best game so far and there’s definitely something there.
“You just don’t know what you’re going to get when you sign overseas players, even though we asked a lot of people and did our homework, which suggested they would be good players.
“They have come in and stepped our intensity up, brought good traits, and it’s been good to have them around.”
Asked which other players have been key figures, Charlton added: “Tom Wilkinson has been outstanding at 13. He’s a 50-plus tackles-a-week man, does 15-20 hit ups and plays big minutes. He’s very tough down the middle and mops up everything for us.
“Karl Dixon has played really well too, he’s really come on and the more he plays the better he gets.”
Charlton’s squad have also made their strides despite the potential distraction of a mid-season boardroom overhaul at the club.
“To be honest, I wasn’t too bothered about it and the club is going from strength to strength,” the coach said.
“It’s disappointing to lose board members, but the club is in a good position now and as a coach I’m happy with who is in charge.”
Charlton, who has been quick to heap praise on his staff of Jonty Gourley, Barry Quayle and Scott McAvoy, estimates his squad has cost between £150,000 and £160,000, significantly less than most if not all of the rivals close to them in the table.
Now, he wants them to finish the Championship campaign strongly.
“We’ve prioritised games this year and that’s probably worked for us,” Charlton added.
“We played Featherstone and Toulouse and held a couple key players back for the games after, because you’re not going to compete for 80 minutes with full-time teams and a different class of player.
“We wanted to make sure we competed with the clubs around us, and I think we’re doing that.
“The players have got a smile on their faces as well. When you’re winning matches everybody is happy and training the house down.
“Mathematically we can still be caught, but a lot of other teams will have to win a few games now.
“We’re confident with how we’re going about our business, and hopefully we can keep it going.
“I’d like to think we can stay where we are, in mid-table, which would be great.”
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