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KINGSTONE PRESS LEAGUE ONE SEASON PREVIEW

Kingstone Press League One gets it’s new season underway tomorrow, so here is our prediction for how things will pan out in 2015:

1st – North Wales Crusaders

Showed what they could do under Anthony Murray only after relegation was confirmed in August. The Wrexham outfit have kept the spine of the squad at the Racecourse whilst recruiting smartly with seasoned veterans such as Ian Mort joining along with highly thought of youngsters such as Prop duo Joe Burke and Ryan Duffy. The squad is built around players such as Tommy Johnson, Stuart Reardon and Andy Moulsdale, all of whom were part of the squad which convincingly won this division two years ago. Pre-season so far has seen them push Leigh close before picking up a victory away at Batley, with a trip to Swinton still to come. ‘Cru Cru’ as they are known are as tough as they come and know there way round this league better than most.

2nd – Swinton Lions

It has finally happened! It only took the Lions three years of constant upheaval, squad unrest and eventual relegation but they have packed in dual registration and shown the door to the Warrington Wolves. Coach John Duffy has rebuilt the squad with veteran names like Stuart Littler and Mick Nanyn and a number of exciting youngsters such as Jimmy Rowland, Ben White and Grant Beecham being brought in to join the likes of the long serving Hawkyard brothers at Swinton. The club have also moved homes once again, returning to Park Lane in Sedgley Park after a four year absence which has seen them ply their trade at The Willows and Leigh Sports Village. They are no longer the Wolves reserve side and are a serious threat to all in this division and maybe some sides in the division above.

3rd – Keighley Cougars

Only in this division after the RFL sensationally broke their own rules to reverse the decision to deduct Batley Bulldogs three points in the Dual Registration saga, Paul March has kept his team together. The majority of the squad were offered deals in the higher divisions but stayed loyal as they look to right a big wrong. David March has been brought in after leading Hunslet to promotion last season with veteran winger Rikki Sheriffe arriving on loan from Halifax. Keighley born duo James Feather (Hunslet) and Josh Lynam (Australia) both left before changing minds and returning to Cougar Park, providing a much needed boost to a depleted looking squad at that point. Look out for Jesse Sheriffe as well, younger brother of Rikki and Jode, Jesse has finally got his opportunity to shine after spending the previous three years as apprentice to Craig Moss and James Craven.

4th – Barrow Raiders

Whilst pre-season results will have you questioning why I’ve put the Raiders down so low, an injury plagued Whitehaven, unfit Keighley and Barrow amateur select haven’t provided Paul Crarey’s side with the greatest of challenges. The likes of Liam Harrison and Liam Campbell have much needed experience but it will be the form of the club’s SIX Leigh loanees (Bate, Briscoe, Bullock, Hankinson, Pitman and Ward) will dictate how successful a season it will be at Craven Park. They need to make Craven Park a fortress though and 18:30 kick offs on a Saturday will certainly help the 2009 Championship winners do that.

5th – Rochdale Hornets

Ian Talbot has probably pulled of the biggest off season signing at this level with Danny Bridge coming in from the Warrington Wolves. The move enables the former Wolf and Bull to move part time to study at University and adds real quality to the side at the Spotland Stadium. Batley centre Lee Paterson adds much needed experience and stability to a backline which was chopped and changed throughout 2014 due to Dual Reg and mid-season departures with the halves being strengthened by the Skolars Danny Yates and Australian Dean Mignacca. A big and powerful forward pack will provide much for opposition to think about and includes Warren Thompson, this division’s Player of the Year during the Hornets promotion campaign two years ago.

6th – Oldham Roughyeds

Always the bridesmaid, never the bridge. A figure of speech so appropriate for the Roughyeds who suffered an agonising golden point defeat at the hands of Hunslet, Oldham’s fourth Play Off final defeat in the past seven seasons. Scott Naylor has managed to keep most of his key players at Whitebank whilst adding Salford trio Gareth Owen, Nathan Tyson and Adam Neal, all with a vast amount of Super League and Championship experience. The dual registration agreement with Huddersfield could provide an advantage with Scott Grix and Michael Lawrence already turning out for Oldham in pre-season.

7th – Newcastle Thunder

It’s all change in the North East with the Thunder adopting a new name, new ground and a new look squad. Stanley Gene is the beneficiary of the new owner’s big plans for the club with Super League CEO Blake Solly predicting the Thunder to reach Super League in the foreseeable future, it seems anything is possible at Kingston Park. Despite Gary Lo’s unannounced departure the other three recruits from Papua New Guinea are settling in well and the likes of Jordan Meads, Louis Sherriff and Jason Payne only make a powerful side look just that, powerful. The 4G pitch at Kingston Park will also provide the Thunder with a huge advantage at home.

8th – York City Knights

If you want to know how not to finish a season, the Knights could have given you a lesson in September. After romping to the League Leaders trophy, the Knights squandered home advantage, twice, in the play offs to not only miss out on promotion but the Grand Final itself. Sacking Championship One Coach of the Year Gary Thornton for an inexperienced James Ford will be what costs the Knights the most in my opinion as the squad has been reshaped to Ford’s vision. But at the time of writing, York Rugby Union may be the only way York have a home to play their home games at during the 2015 season.

9th – University of Gloucestershire All Golds

When I spoke to Lee Greenwood at the season launch he expressed his ambition for this season and that ambition was for the All Golds to mixing it up at the top of the table. Even though Greenwood was brutally honest on that being twelve months away, an exciting young squad will cause many a side in this division problems. Brad Adams and Emmerson Whittel both appeared for the Bradford Bulls during their doomed season in Super League last time around and will appreciate being round the likes of Phil Cowburn, Chris Vitalini and Toby Topham in the West Country.

10th – Hemel Stags

The recruitment of Jamie O’Callaghan from the London Broncos was deemed “the biggest signing in the club’s history” by coach Troy Perkins, but his Super League experience won’t be enough to ensure the Stags make it three from three in regards of making the end of season play offs. Whilst key performers like Eddie M’Baraga have stayed, losing Mitch Barbera and James Cameron to Australian clubs, James Hill to his studies and exciting young hooker Evan Simons to Newcastle only takes quality out of the Stags side. Recruitment wise elsewhere, former Dewsbury full back Derrell Olpherts is back at this level with former Stags duo Aidan Pritchard and James Helliwell both returning to Pennine Way.

11th – Coventry Bears

The new boys of League One and the Semi Professional ranks. Alan Robinson’s dreams for this club are slowly becoming a reality and with an ambitious young coach in Tom Tsang at the helm, the Bears are not just an unknown quantity but a banana skin for all at this level. Welsh international James Geurtjens is one of twenty four new signings by the Bears and his experience will be crucial as will that of other Australian based recruits Simon Phillips and Paul Ivan. Highly rated young centre pair Eddie Medforth and Nick Taylor have joined form the Sheffield Eagles and will be amongst the tries this season. It is also a credit that Tsang is prepared to give the likes of long serving Coventry born Alex Brown a chance in League One.

12th – London Skolars

Jermaine Coleman has what looks like a weaker squad to that of Joe Mbu, so another season of fighting it out at the bottom awaits. A newly re-developed stadium with a state of the art 3G pitch will give the Skolars an advantage on home soil but there are far, far stronger teams in this division and losing Mufaro Mvududu to Hunslet and Danny Yates to Rochdale means an impressive looking pack will be made to work more by a weakened backline.

13th – South Wales Scorpions

Funnily enough, I spoke to Scorpions Head Coach Mike Grady a fortnight ago in regards to his side’s chances for this season for a feature on the Cougars website. He told me despite a budget cut he’s happy to have kept his key performers and Welsh internationals at the club to aid with their development. 19 year old Connor Farrer has been appointed Captain whilst the club has moved grounds once again, this time to Parc Dyffryn Pennar which is the home of Mountain Ash Rugby Union.

14th – Oxford RL

Tim Rumford, the former Castleford Head of Youth Development, has moved into coaching at this level long after being tipped to do so by Ian Millward. But, he was met by a paper thin squad which had already seen its three crown jewels taken away and could only fill the void with amateur players and Union converts. A rebuilt squad with very little experience at this level means I can only see a season of struggle ahead for Rumford and Oxford.

 

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