There were a few names mentioned when Featherstone Rovers announced that a major signing would be unveiled at their New Year’s Day friendly against Hunslet. A few predicted that Gareth Raynor would be joining the club he supported as a boy, and sure enough the former Hull and Bradford man was welcomed prior to Featherstone’s 24-0 win over the Hawks.
Raynor has had his problems over the last few years, but after help from the Sporting Chance clinic has hopefully put the worst of them behind him. There’s no doubt he will be a key part of Rovers’ championship defence.
In his League Express column, Nick Fozzard commented on the number of former Super League players choosing to continue their careers at Championship level. Fozzard himself has signed for Dewsbury Rams, and made his debut against Batley Bulldogs on Boxing Day. Batley, now coached by John Kear, have signed Ben Fisher from Hull KR. Leigh Centurions have signed Rob Parker, while Jason Demetriou, player-coach at Keighley Cougars, has been joined by fellow Wakefield old boys Sam Obst and Michael Korkidas.
Workington Town, one of the favourites in Championship division one, have secured the services of former Castleford Tiger and Crusader Peter Lupton, as well as Jamie Thackeray, the former Leeds and Hull man having already has spells at Barrow Raiders and Limoux.
There’s no doubt that there are many good reasons for players to avoid moving down the divisions at the end of their careers. For one thing, a player nearing retirement at the top level may no longer have the desire or the physical fitness to continue at any level. Players who have been stars in Super League can become targets at a lower level, whether legitimately through foul play. Some players may step down and find a lower league harder work than they anticipated, such as David Peachey when he left Cronulla Sharks for National League 1 Widnes Vikings.
A star player may simply want to end his career still one top, rather than see their playing career decline over two or three seasons. Who could begrudge Darren Lockyer his decision to retire while still good enough to star for Brisbane, Queensland and Australia and win a Golden Boot nomination?
That said, those players who do continue their careers away from the spotlight bring immense benefit to the clubs they serve and the leagues in which they play. Fozzard points to the experience that seasoned professionals can pass on. Players from Super League have often worked under some of the best coaches in the world and played alongside some of the best players, and such players can share their knowledge and insight with less experienced players. Some can even have a formal role coaching – under the player-coaching of Jason Demeteriou Keighley Cougars earned promotion from Championship division one.
The presence of high-profile players, even towards the end of their playing careers, can increase the prestige of a competition such as the Championships. That players such as Raynor and Fozzard want to play for clubs like Featherstone and Dewsbury increases the level of importance that fans might attach to those clubs and their competition. This is of particular importance to the Championship, given the absence of automatic promotion, the unfortunate decision of Sky Sports not to broadcast the league anymore and the decreasing attendances at individual clubs and on average across the division.
It’s not difficult to see why players decide to retire at the top, and having given so much throughout their careers they’re certainly entitled to make that decision. But those who elect to continue their careers in the Championships do a great deal of good for the clubs they play for and the whole game at that level.
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