06 December 2017
“Last year’s squad had an option to leave so everyone that’s here now has chosen to be here. I want to take this club forward and I have the backing of the board to do that.”
With the 2018 season fast approaching and the Lions’ first pre-season friendly against Salford just over a month away, we caught up with Head Coach Stuart Littler to discuss his squad preparations, the challenge of the Championship in 2018 and most importantly the choice of music on the team coach for next season!
It goes without saying that 2017 was a tough year for the Lions. However, a bright moment amongst a dark campaign came through the appointment of Stuart Littler as the Lions’ new Head Coach.
Littler, aided by assistant Jay Duffy and his coaching staff, secured an impressive 16-6 win away to Bradford Bulls in his first game in charge. This was followed up with two vital wins in the Championship Shield against Dewsbury Rams and Oldham Roughyeds to ensure the Lions’ Championship status for 2018.
Former Head Coach John Duffy had left the Lions to join promotion-chasing Featherstone Rovers following a 40-22 home defeat to Dewsbury Rams back in July. Within 48 hours, Stuart Littler was named as Head Coach of Swinton Lions, this being his first senior coaching role. He was immediately tasked with saving the club from relegation to League 1, and despite the daunting job ahead of him Littler reveals he was eager to take up the opportunity.
“When I sat down with the board last year after John left, I stated that I’d take the job and I wanted to move the club forward. The big thing was to ensure everybody was paid moving forward so we wouldn’t end up in the same situation as last year when we were counselling players and having to change training sessions just to keep morale high. Hopefully we now have a blank canvas, and all the lads who are here now want to be here.”
‘EVERYBODY HAS CHOSEN TO BE HERE’
The former Salford centre explains that whilst last season’s off-field problems initially made recruitment demanding, the current squad has really bought into the new feel-good factor around the club.
“It has been a challenge that we’ve embraced and we’ve now got a team now to take us forward. The lads have really bought into what myself, Andy and the board have spoken about which is a sustainable and professional outfit. We don’t want to get into the situation we were in last year and we’ll move forward as a club slowly bit-by-bit.
“Last year’s squad had an option to leave so everyone that’s here now has chosen to be here. I want to take this club forward and I have the backing of the board to do that. It’s slow steps and we’re going to build something gradually, but from day one of pre-season all the boys have ripped in and some have stood up as key performers already.”
‘WE SHOULD SING SOME TOM JONES SONGS’
One of the most exciting prospects for the Lions next season is 23-year-old Australian Hayden Hansen. The Redcliffe Dolphins captain will make the near 17,000 km journey across the globe to Heywood Road to join the squad in early January. Littler explains how the move came about.
“We were at the Championship Awards dinner when an agent put us on to Hayden. We did our homework on him and spoke to him to see where he was and what he wanted to do. He’s really bought into what we want to do as a club and we’re excited to get him over.”
Despite the culture change for Hansen, it seems the Lions’ Head Coach isn’t too concerned with his integration into the squad, “We have another half Australian in Tom Maloney, he’s part Aussie and part Leigh. We’ve got a few Welsh lads too, so we should be able to sing some good Tom Jones songs on the coach next season – a bit of Delilah blasting out!”
WORLD CUP STARS TO BE RESTED
Whilst much of the squad are looking ahead to the 2018 season, two members of Littler’s side have only just finished their season following the 2017 Rugby League World Cup in Australasia. Both Lions’ favourite Rhodri Lloyd and new signing Danny Ansell featured in the Dragons’ campaign down under, which ended early following three straight defeats.
Former Ireland star Littler recognises the need for rest for the Lions international stars, “I’ve been to two World Cups myself and it’s a long season and we need bodies on the pitch. Last year we were down to minimum numbers with 18 or 19 players towards the end of the year and sometimes down to 11 on the training pitch – it was tough!
“We don’t want to be there, I want players fresh and hungry. They need to rest their bodies but also their heads and to see their families. They give up a lot to play part-time rugby, so Danny and Rhodri will have some time off.”
‘WE NEED TO CHANGE NARROW DEFEATS INTO VICTORIES’
The 2018 Championship season could prove to be the toughest yet for all concerned.
Whilst Leigh Centurions returned to the league’s second tier after relegation in the Million Pound Game, Canadian newcomers Toronto Wolfpack will provide a new dynamic opponent after storming to the League 1 title last season. Littler is fully aware of the challenge ahead.
“Toronto coming up are a full-time team and they are spending money with good signings from Super League and NRL clubs. Leigh coming down are also going to be strong. It’s going to be a challenge but one that we will embrace.
Littler is confident that his team can change their fortunes on the field, “Last year we had a lot of stuff going on off the pitch and we lost ten games by fewer than ten points and about six by fewer than six. If we can turn that around we’ll be in contention for the Championship Shield. We need to change the narrow defeats into victories.
“We showed last year that on our day we’re a match for anyone in the league – even the full-time teams – but we weren’t consistent enough. Every coach wants consistency, so we need to be consistent in our actions and get our worst performance closer to our best performance.”
LITTLER PLEASED BY ATTACKING OPTIONS
Following strong recruitment in the off-season, the Lions’ Head Coach is very pleased by his options in attack, especially on the wings. But he also recognises where development can be made to make his side stronger and more versatile.
“We’ve got some real strike on both edges, with some very dynamic and athletic players in those areas. I’d like to think as a centre myself I can develop our centres a bit more, and hopefully we can allow them to take the next step up in their careers.
“They’ve really ripped into training and we have options now. Last year we didn’t have that towards the end of the year and we couldn’t drop one person or switch the team around.”
When asked about what to expect from his team in the forthcoming season compared to the last, Littler suggested only minor changes would needed to improve things, “I’d like to play an attractive brand of rugby going forward with a tough mentality to defence and a togetherness. We’re tweaking a few things and we have a scope to change things a little bit, but we’re not re-inventing the wheel. We’ll drip feed in what we need to and fix the areas we have identified from last year where we weren’t on the money and together we’ll move forwards.
“As a team we’ll continue to learn and that includes me as a coach. If you don’t continuously learn you stay where you are and we’ve got to progress as a club. I challenge myself after every session and reflect on it. I’ll be honest with the group and I’ll expect honesty back.”
Swinton Lions Head Coach Stuart Littler speaking to reporter Colin James.
Written by Chris Bell.
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