Had the 2020 season run to schedule, this week would have seen the staging of the annual awards night for Betfred Championship and League One clubs.
Given that there have been minimal matches played, a traditional list of winners would be disingenuous, so here is some alternative recognition for a unique year.
Uncrowned Champions of the Year – Toulouse Olympique, Hunslet
Yes some clubs played more matches than others, and yes, there were others that were undefeated as well after the early weeks of the season. But Toulouse and Hunslet topped the respective piles when the action ground to a halt, and as such may crop up in pub quizzes of the future. Its just a shame we didn’t get to see Sylvain Houles’ class of 2020 take on a Featherstone or Leigh, or Gary Thornton’s Hunslet face Barrow and Newcastle.
Hero of the Year – Lewis Hatton, Swinton Lions
Shortly after lockdown was confirmed in March, it emerged that Swinton forward Hatton had volunteered to be fast-tracked onto the NHS frontline while he completed his nursing qualifications. The story gained national media attention and deserved plaudits for the front-rower, whose selfless actions typified many in the Rugby League community during difficult times. Hatton recently completed his nursing degree, gaining a first, and he has re-signed for the Lions in 2021.
Warrior of the Year – Brendan Sheridan, Oldham
Another story that gained national attention was Roughyeds’ assistant coach Sheridan’s brave battle against Covid-19. Sheridan spent two weeks in an induced coma in hospital in Wakefield before being released to a groundswell of support from people within the game. Sheridan deserves further recognition for then bravely talking publicly about the impact his ordeal had on his mental health.
Innovators of the Year – Barrow Raiders
There have been plenty of examples of clubs across Rugby League using their imagination to raise vital funds during the tough times of this year. But Barrow’s decision to turn Craven Park into a giant beer garden once lockdown restrictions started to ease was the most innovative and well-received initiative.
Performance of the Year – Dewsbury Rams 20 Widnes 8
The Championship season only lasted five weeks, but during that time, Dewsbury Rams emerged as the potential dark horses of the competition. Lee Greenwood’s side started by giving the otherwise dominant Leigh a stern test, before winning at Halifax and beating Oldham. But it was the home win over the more fancied Widnes that showed they were making strides from 2019. That is progress that they will hope to pick up next year.
Unveiling of the Year – York City Knights’ new stadium
It’s been a long time in the making. A very long time! But the pictures and videos that have been released of the new community stadium in York paint a stunning picture of the club’s new facility. The Knights have been one of the most forward-thinking clubs in the sport in recent years, and their new home ground move should only serve to increase their potential.
Signing of the Year – Gavin Henson, West Wales Raiders
There are a few candidates for this – think Danny Brough to Bradford, Danny Kirmond and Ryan Atkins to York, Shaun Lunt to Barrow or Scott Murrell to Keighley. But for sheer shock value, it has to be West Wales’ ambitious recruitment of former Great Britain Lions rugby union international Henson. Given his 2011 appearance on Strictly Come Dancing, he will be the highest-profile person to have played at this level. How he fares on the field remains to be seen – especially given that he will be 39 by the time next season kicks off – but it should be fascinating to watch.