NEWCASTLE THUNDER coach Chris Thorman and assistant Mick Mantelli are working towards a brighter future under upgraded Kingston Park floodlights.
The North-East club, where the ex-Workington chief was appointed in September and former Thunder coach Mantelli confirmed as his right-hand man last week, both play and train on the artificial surface at the 10,200-capacity stadium they have shared with rugby union club Newcastle Falcons since 2015.
Thunder took on Keighley there in their opening pre-season match on Saturday.
Thorman’s side also have a match at League One Doncaster on Sunday (3pm) as they continue the countdown to their opening game at promoted Swinton on Sunday, February 5.
Thunder, who have announced a dual-registration agreement with Hull FC, finished eleventh in 2021 after their elevation from League One through a bidding process, and were twelfth last season, spent as a full-time club before a reversion to part-time was confirmed.
Thorman has added signed teenage Hull KR halfback Jack Potter on loan and added two Newcastle University students to his squad – former Wakefield Academy centre Mac Walsh and fullback or halfback Max Flanagan, on one-year deals.
Thunder have reversed their two league fixtures with Featherstone, who will now be hosts on Sunday, February 26 and visit Kingston Park on Saturday, September 9.
BRADFORD BULLS have signalled the size of their newly-assembled squad by arranging a pre-season game at Workington – the day before their Championship opener at home to Whitehaven.
Leigh Beattie, who will again take charge of the Odsal club’s Reserves this year, will take a team to Derwent Park on Saturday, February 4 (2pm), while Mark Dunning’s firsts will host Whitehaven on Sunday, February 5.
Relegated Workington will be getting ready for their League One opener at London Skolars on Saturday, February 18.
It isn’t envisaged that any Bulls players heading to Cumbria will be involved against Whitehaven.
Dunning is looking forward to Sunday’s home clash with Super League Huddersfield (2pm) after the opening pre-season run-out at Dewsbury, whose former coach Lee Greenwood is now one of his assistants alongside Bradford stalwart Beattie.
The Bulls also visit Leeds on Sunday, January 29 (2.30pm) and the coach explained: “We will take fewer players to Huddersfield than we did to Dewsbury, and less again to Leeds.
“There will be lads on the periphery who we want to get some game time, and going to Workington allows that.”
Bradford have confirmed the retirement of second rower Sam Scott due to a long-standing knee injury.
WHITEHAVEN centre and former Wigan Academy player Chris Taylor will launch his testimonial year on Saturday with the help of Warriors coach Matt Peet and his assistants Sean O’Loughlin and Thomas Leuluai.
The sides meet in a pre-season match at the LEL Arena on Sunday (3pm), and the trio will be at the ground the previous evening for the 29-year-old’s big night (6pm, entry £10).
Other than a short spell at Halifax in 2015, Taylor, who last month signed terms for 2023, has spent all his senior career at Whitehaven, whom he first joined in 2014.
A shoulder injury limited him to three appearances last year, but he is now on the comeback trail after surgery.
Jonty Gorley’s side have another work-out against Super League opposition when Castleford visit on Sunday week (3pm), as they continue the countdown to a league opener at Bradford on Sunday, February 4.
Whitehaven, who have Kells prop Ross Ainley, Jorge Cabral, a winger from the student game, Thatto Heath fullback halfback or hooker Lewis Fairhurst and former St Helens Academy, Oldham and Workington winger John Hutchings on trial, held a season launch on Friday, two days before facing neighbours Workington in the Ike Southward Memorial Trophy meeting.
WIDNES VIKINGS have announced the departure of chief executive Phil Finney after almost four years in the role.
He was appointed in March 2019, having previously worked at the club as player performance manager, head of youth performance and performance director.
In those posts, he helped develop a successful Academy system which was shelved amid the financial issues which followed relegation from Super League in 2018.
“After almost 14 years, the time is right for me and my family to have a change and pursue new opportunities and challenges,” Finney explained.
“As a Widnesian and lifelong fan, it has been a privilege to work for the club I have always supported and something I will cherish.
“I would like to thank the supporters, players, staff and sponsors I have had the pleasure of working with over the years and wish the club all the very best.”
The club said in a statement: “We thank Phil and wish him well.”
Widnes visit Oldham for a pre-season game on Sunday (3pm).
HALIFAX PANTHERS came face to face with their former assistant coach Liam Finn when they travelled to Dewsbury for an opposed training session.
It formed a key step in Panthers chief Simon Grix’s preparations for a campaign that begins against Sheffield at The Shay on Sunday, February 5.
Grix brought in his old Halifax team-mate Finn as his right-hand man ahead of last season, when the former Super League and Ireland halfback called time on a 21-year playing career.
But the 39-year-old left in June to succeed Lee Greenwood at Dewsbury, where he had two spells as a player (2006-09 and 2019-21).
Grix has since recruited Anthony Irvine, a stalwart of the Halifax Rugby League scene, as assistant, while Jon Kelly has become strength and conditioning chief in place of Scott Grix, who has joined the Leeds staff.
Having visited Wakefield, Halifax, who have taken teenage Leeds halfback Kai Morgan on loan, head to Hunslet for a pre-season game on Sunday (3pm).
KEIGHLEY COUGARS coach Rhys Lovegrove has signed Keenen Tomlinson – after working with the Dewsbury second rower for Jamaica at the World Cup.
Lovegrove was among the Reggae Warriors staff for the tournament, at which the 25-year-old ex-Bradford and Batley player featured in all three Jamaica matches.
Tomlinson, whose father Max played as a winger for Keighley in 2002, becomes the 29th member of the current Cougars squad.
“Keenen is a player I know well,” said Lovegrove, whose side host Castleford in Jake Webster’s testimonial on Sunday (3pm).
“We actually had him on trial a couple of years back, but he opted to sign for Dewsbury, who at that time were in a higher division than us.
“He offers versatility as he can cover a number of positions and a player with his attributes will also be useful in a long season like the one we are about to embark on.
“He is fast, athletic, and a fantastic human being, all attributes I’ve been looking for.”
SWINTON LIONS have set up a game at St Helens on Sunday (3pm) and handed a trial to Australian fullback Joe Lowe, a 21-year-old who has been playing for Queensland Cup side Sunshine Coast Falcons, and Ince Rose Bridge winger Calum Hughes, 27.
While bred in Australia, Lowe was born in Wigan, and still has family there.
Now he has swapped Kawana Waters for the Greater Manchester town in the hope of having a crack at the European game.
“Joe approached us to ask about an opportunity,” explained Lions coach Allan Coleman.
“We did some research and asked him to join us for pre-season training.
“He has proved popular among the squad, and demonstrated he’s got the potential as well as the skills and temperament to play fullback or halfback.
“We will see how things go during pre-season then have a chat.”
The game at Saints follows a recent dual-registration deal between the clubs.
This article comes from this week’s issue of League Express. You can take out a subscription by going to https://www.totalrl.com/league-express/