Hunslet boss hails players' 'professionalism' during rugby league's Covid-19 shutdown

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Professionalism is the key word for Hunslet coach Gary Thornton as rugby league’s long layoff drags on.

The easing of lockdown restrictions means amateur sports clubs are now able to train together outdoors, under strict social-distancing, but that does not apply to full-time and semi-professional teams whose players are on furlough.

The government is paying up to 80 per cent of wages for players on the job retention scheme, but they are not allowed to take part in any work for the club, including organised training sessions.

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Thornton, therefore, has had to rely on his players’ own dedication and desire to stay in shape for when - or if - Betfred League One resumes.

Gary ThorntonGary Thornton
Gary Thornton

Hunslet’s squad have been given a program similar to one they would use in the off-season to “keep them ticking over in readiness for coming back into pre-season”, but it is up to the players whether they follow that.

“The bottom line is we can’t be directing them to be doing anything directly related to the club,” Thornton said of the rules surrounding furlough.

“We have been in touch through WhatsApp and things like that.

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“We’ve had a couple of quizzes and things and we’re staying in contact, but in terms of giving them any directions or feedback, we’ve not been able to do that.”There were reports the government would permit training to begin while players remained on furlough, but those have been dismissed by HM Revenue and Customs.

Jimmy Watson. Picture by Watson. Picture by
Jimmy Watson. Picture by

Thornton added: “We are keeping the communication channels open, but they [players] are not doing anything formally for the club.

“It’s all in their own interests and you are relying on the professionalism of your players.

“It is their individual desire to keep fit and their professionalism so if we do get back up and running they are in decent shape and we don’t have to spend too long getting them fit again ready to play.”

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Thornton, who was appointed coach in May, 2017. said the club “have got a good group together this year”.

Dominic Brambani, centre playing for Batley Bulldogs, is part of Hunslet's leadership group in his first year at the club. Picture by Allan McKenzie/SWpix.comDominic Brambani, centre playing for Batley Bulldogs, is part of Hunslet's leadership group in his first year at the club. Picture by Allan McKenzie/
Dominic Brambani, centre playing for Batley Bulldogs, is part of Hunslet's leadership group in his first year at the club. Picture by Allan McKenzie/

He stressed: “It is one of the best groups I have coached for a long time.

“They are all buying into what we need to do and they are all challenging each other.

“Straff [Duane Straugheir], the captain, has been very instrumental in that, along with Dom Brambani and Jimmy Watson, the leadership group.

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“They have been pretty good in keeping everybody together and focused and hopefully if we do get the green light to go ahead they will come back in decent shape.”

It is still unknown if the League One season will continue.

Hunslet began the year hoping to secure promotion to the Betfred Championship and won their opening two league games, but have not played since a Coral Challenge Cup defeat at Featherstone Rovers on March 13.

Thornton said: “There are Championship and League One working parties on-going so we are waiting on the findings of those really.

“In the meantime everyone’s on furlough and there’s not a lot we can do.

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“I think the bottom line is everything will depend on the promotion and relegation debate and whether it is a full campaign.

“If it is not a full fixture list I think that makes it a bit unfair on promotion and relegation.

“I have seen draft fixtures starting in August, but if they do that it is not going to be a full fixture list, potentially.

“You have got to work out if it is a valid competition if it’s not a full fixture list.

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“I can’t see, without meaningful competitions and meaningful ends to them, it is going to be worth continuing with those competitions.

“If that can’t get resolved I am not sure what future we have got for the rest of this season.”

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