RUGBY league may still be on hold but off the field preparations are ongoing at the area’s new club.
Had things gone to plan, Tameside Knights would have been launched with adult and junior teams after being formed as part of the Rugby Football League’s new Greater Manchester Rugby League initiative.
But, of course, the Covid-19 scuppered everything and everything has been placed on hold.However, former Great Britain international Paul Sculthorpe made sure things are still being put in place for them to launch once the 13-a-side game is allowed to resume at all levels.
The ex-St Helens star dropped off some much-needed equipment at the Knights’ new base as the people behind the club hope to place a new area on the sporting landscape.
An original scheme for an open age side to play in the North West Mens League Merit Division this year with a view to joining the competition’s pyramid in 2021 may now be put back.
But it is getting the next generation with a ball in their hands that is the main reason behind the new side, which will play out of Ashton Rugby Union Club on St Albans Avenue.
“We’ve been working with the RFL since last September on a project that is aimed to grow participation across Greater Manchester,” said Matt Valentine of Manchester Rangers, whose members helped set up the Tameside Knights.
“At Manchester Rangers, we had a number of players from the Tameside area who would travel to play for us and as part of that project, we decided to set something up in the borough.
“Now the Tameside Knights have in place coaches and players ready to go.”
Bob Marsden, who once played for Salford, will be the men’s coach at the Knights while staff will head into local primary schools – when they can reopen fully – to offer courses, clinics and sessions aimed at getting children interested in rugby league.
At the beginning, the club will operate a ‘minis’ section for children aged between seven and nine-years-old with new teams being introduced as members get older.
“Also it means we’re not as reliant on big numbers,” Matt added. “At that age, you only need seven or eight players and you have enough for a team.
“Even though we’re in the early stages, the interest in Tameside Knights has been great and we’ve even had some of the rugby union clubs in the area talk about getting involved as it will be rugby union in winter and rugby league in summer.
“We were hoping to get sessions in classrooms started. In Tameside, there are plenty of people who love rugby league or have an interest in the sport but there’s no ‘exit’ for them – nowhere they can take that interest further.
“It’s the same story across a lot of the Greater Manchester area. That’s where we hope teams like Tameside Knights can come in.”
The Greater Manchester Rugby League scheme is aimed at boosting the sport’s profile and accessibility in areas it struggles to but through.
And after working with Super League side Salford Red Devils and Championship outfit Swinton, there is real hope that it can have an impact in Tameside, as well as Stockport, Trafford, Bury, Bolton and Manchester.
Already the game has roots in Rochdale, Oldham, Salford and Wigan but the likes of Widnes’ Audenshaw-raised Jack Johnson, who played Super League at Warrington, coming through mean a new focal point in this area.
“Absolutely we’ll use the development of the likes of Jack,” Matt said. “It’ll give the children the knowledge that they can make a career in rugby league.
“There are a lot of talented athletes in the area and while there is a lot of rugby union, cricket and athletics – and football is everywhere – there is no rugby league.
“With some of the talent being produced at schools in the area, there would be some good rugby league players.
“It’s not as if we’ll be shutting them off from playing at some of the more established clubs in the area either. This is just a way of getting new people interested in rugby league.”
If you are interested in getting involved with the Tameside Knights, contact Nick Ryan on 07840 032689.