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Friday, 31 October 2014

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Craig and Shane do battle for No 1 spot

THE likely rivals for Whitehaven’s prized No 1 jersey next season have both signed up for 2011.

Craig Benson and teenager Shane Ackerley have committed to one-year deals and are expected to vie for the full-back role.

Ackerley burst on to the Championship scene late in the campaign after some impressive efforts for Haven’s title-winning reserve-grade.

Benson lost his first-team slot early in the year following a dip in form but showed resilience to battle back in to the reckoning, and he was man-of-the-match in the reserve-grade Grand Final.

“We need this competition for places,” said rugby director Ralph Calvin. “Craig Benson had a difficult time but got his head down and fought his way back in to contention, and it’s great to see him sign on.

“Shane Ackerley took his chance when it came and guys like him are the future of the club.”

Benson may be in pole position early in the season as Ackerley will be out of contention after picking up a three-match ban.

He was sent off following a fight in the reserve-grade Grand Final win over Featherstone.

The pair are the latest signings to be announced by the club, who have also recruited top performers such as Spencer Miller, Howard Hill, Scott McAvoy and Craig Calvert. All should play important roles next season in helping the club’s bid to bounce back to the Championship at the first attempt.

David Seeds took the coaching post only last week but had been working hard behind the scenes for several weeks with his coaching team to persuade players, made free agents by the administration process, to commit for next season.

The new boss picked his own coaching team, opting for continuity by naming Les Ashe, a former assistant coach at the Recre under Ged Stokes, as his No 2, while Chris Wright will remain in charge of their successful reserve-grade.

Dave Smith retains his position with the club’s youngsters and Gary Hewer, a key figure behind the scenes over recent years, will stay as head of performance and player development.

“Ged put that team together and I don’t see why we have to change it, because they are very good people,” Seeds said.

“We spent three years under Ged and it’s a strong structure. I have a full-time job and need support. Gary Hewer has more coaching experience than me, and Les Ashe had a stint as head coach at Workington Town and did very well there.

“They have a lot of experience I need to pull on. We all work together and are all on board with the type of training we will do.”

Chris Wright steered the reserve-grade to Grand Final success this year and the second-string competition will switch to Under-23s next term, with up to three over-age players allowed to feature.

Seeds sets great store on retaining a second-team, despite Haven’s relegation to Championship One.

“We have some cracking kids, and one of the big things for me is for us to develop them and see them come through,” he said.

“If not in the first-team they still need to keep fit. We are willing to give everyone a chance but they have to earn it.

“Chris Wright has to take a lot of credit for last season. They were going to some games with 13 or 14 players and still coming away with wins. Credit to Chris, Graham Burns, Dave Smith and, sometimes Gary Hewer.

“It shows the strength of our coaching team, we have flexibility because we all have full-time jobs.”

Meanwhile, former Haven favourites Tony Solarie and Graham Cameron are launching an ex-players association at the Recre.

Solarie said: “We are trying to get together as many ex-players as we can to forge a few links and help the club during what appears to be a difficult time financially.

“The club is fully supportive, which is great. A lot of us were supporters before we were players and were supporters after we played.”

A club spokesman said: “It’s a wonderful gesture from people putting something back in to the club. It’s a new beginning and these lads are on board.”

Garry Purdham memorial shirts can still be ordered from Unique Sports, in Whitehaven, priced at £40 and £30. Over 500 have been sold with proceeds going to the former back-rower’s young family. If ordered now, they will arrive before Christmas.

This week’s Pride of Five £100 winners are: Alison Story, of Richmond, with ticket number 2,564; Joanne Litt, of Richmond, 966; T Butler, Distington, 3,580; S Roberts, Hillcrest, 2,019; P Knox, Woodhouse, 803.

Last week’s winners, all from Whitehaven, were: Mrs Carr, Sneckyeat Court, 2,277; L&G Taxis, Ennerdale Terrace, 819; Mr & Mrs Glaister, Lakeland Avenue, 3,065; Mrs Pringle, Conniston Avenue, 3,165; C Akred, Chatsworth Drive, 2,846.

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