Looking at Championship changes for 2020

The 2020 Rugby Football League Championship is shaping up to be one of the most exciting in recent times. There has been plenty of activity between the top clubs, with plenty of recruitment from the Super League and lessor leagues mixed in as well. 

There have been significant changes made by the Rugby Football League’s Laws Committee which new recruits will have to get used to. Some are more subtle than others. One crucial difference stresses the responsibilities of the player tackled to “maintain balance and control and make a genuine effort to make contact with the ball with a foot.”

Other changes include:

  • Automatic sin bin for striking/punches to the head.
  • A shorter shot clock. Now teams only have 25 seconds at a dropout and 30 seconds to restart at a scrum.
  • A Golden Point. This might be the change which will have the most dramatic difference for the Championship (and League 1!). Each team will get one competition point from a drawn match. Then the first team to score a Golden Point in two additional five minute periods of extra time will gain an additional point. This can have a real effect in the case of a tight race for the playoffs or relegation.

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So, let’s move along and get on to the main topic. Let’s see what is going on for Championship recruitment for 2020.

Who are the most notable new Championship recruits for 2020?

It is subjective who we all think will have the most significant impact in the 2020 Championship. We all like different types of players and have our own opinions.

Many outsiders are impressed with what is going on at Widnes, and with the notable signing of new head coach Tim Sheens followed by some eye-catching player signings.

Sheens’ impressive background of coaching with great success in both hemispheres will be noted by both potential players to be signed and opposing teams. Widnes of course had a tough time of it last season, going into administration and being deducted 12 points, but things are starting to look-up.

One of those Sheens signings is hooker Logan Tomkins from Salford Red Devils, who joins on a one year deal. Tomkins had a storming 2019 season and helped his former team to a third-place finish in the regular Super League and to reach the Super League Grand Final for the first time in their history. He is a marvellous addition to the team at Widnes. The player himself has expressed his keenness to work with Sheens, having linked up with him previously at Salford.

The signing of Matty Smith from Catalans could turn out to be a real masterstroke. The England International and former Super League winner has struggled in recent years and has bounced from Wigan to St Helens to Catalans without getting settled, as well as having a brief loan spell at Warrington. He too has cited the presence of Sheens as a factor in his decision to drop down a league to get his career back on track.

Some people claim Smith has slowed down in the last few years. Still, he seems determined to make a success of his stay at Widnes, and he could be a real asset in the teams attempt to reach the Super League.

Taking those key three figures in to account, Widnes can be happy with their recruitment for 2020.

Toulouse have recruited well, including three former Widnes players. Kiwi back-rower Harrison Hansen was one player many Vikings fans would have liked to kept, but he has decided to swap Cheshire for France and looks like being an astute signing for Sylvain Houles.

Joining Hansen is back-rower Frank Winterstein, who played for Widnes in Super League back in 2012. He joins Toulouse straight from NRL side Penrith Panthers and brings vast experience to their pack.

Completing the trio is hooker Lloyd White, who returns to UK competition having spent a year playing in Australia after leaving Widnes following the club’s relegation from Super League.

The London Broncos will be determined to bounce back to the Super League at the first time of asking. They have shown determination in their recruitment policy and have some exciting signings. They too have made signings from Widnes, with youngsters Dan Norman and Olly Ashall-Bott making the switch to the capital. Ashall-Bott is a young talent that the team hope will emerge as a significant force in the coming years after having a difficult 2019 through injury.

Leigh will be among the favourites for promotion and have once again recruited well. Hooker Matty Wildie is a tough, versatile character that adds more guile to their squad, and they have also swooped for Ben Hellewell from London Broncos.

Featherstone made the Grand Final in 2019 with a heavy reliance on dual-registration from Leeds, and that partnership looks set to continue in 2020. Another former Widnes face in Wellington Albert is likely to feature prominently for Rovers.

Their stand-out signing of the off-season is that of prolific points scorer Craig Hall from Hull KR. Super League winner Brett Ferres has also dropped down to the Championship from Leeds.

Here is a list of signings made by the top clubs

Featherstone: Craig Hall (Hull KR), Jake Sweeting (Castleford), Brett Ferres (Leeds), Dale Ferguson (unattached), Dean Parata (Toulouse), Louis Jouffret (Batley), Alec Susino (Barrow), Thomas Minns (Hull KR), Ben Blackmore (Sheffield), Wellington Albert (Leeds, loan)

Halifax: Paul Brearley (Batley), Matt Garside (Bradford), Scott Grix (Huddersfield), Keegan Hirst (Wakefield), Tom Gilmore (Widnes), Jodie Broughton (Catalans), Keal Carlile (Newcastle)

Leigh: Ryan Ince (Widnes), Nathan Mason, Ben Hellewell (both London), Danny Addy (Hull KR), Callum Field (Wigan), Nicke Glohe (Australia), Mark Ioane (London), Matty Wildie (Bradford), Craig Mullen (Wigan, loan), Jarrod Sammut (Wigan), Josh Woods (Wigan, loan)

London: Dan Norman, Olly Ashall-Bott (both Widnes), Josh Walters (Featherstone), Rhys Curran (Toulouse), Jordan Williams (London S), Cory Aston, Tuoyo Egodo (both Castleford)

Toulouse: Harrison Hansen (Widnes), Frank Winterstein (Penrith), Jy Hitchcox (Bradford), Lloyd White (Mackay Cutters)

York: Will Sharp, Ben Johnston (both Halifax), Danny Washbrook (Hull), Chris Clarkson (Castleford), James Green (Bradford), Elliot Wallis (Hull KR, loan), Jimmy Keinhorst (Hull KR, loan)

Is there someone lesser-known I should look out for this season?

Widnes’ initial recruitment prior to the arrival of Sheens had done little to inspire fans, but they have at least three players who have the potential to spring a surprise. Deon Cross, Jake Spedding and Kenny Baker, who has trained excellently in pre-season, could turn out to be a hit for fans and critics alike.

Final Thoughts

The 2020 Rugby Football League Championship is shaping up to be a great one. The top teams all appear to have recruited well, and we are all in for plenty of action and excitement.

Who is your money on to win the playoff final and win promotion to the Super League?

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