COMMUNITY rugby league is slowly starting to return to some sort of normality, with juniors leading the way.

And we spoke to three Bradford clubs about how things were going, both from a training and playing point of view, with some matches beginning to take place from last weekend.

West Bowling’s head coach Ryan Hunkin, who has also been working with the newly-formed girls’ set-up, said: “We had our primary age groups playing last weekend and this week it’s our U12s up to U16s.

“It’s been great for them to play proper contact rugby too, 100 per cent.

“I actually like tag and touch rugby, because it develops certain aspects of the game that can sometimes get forgotten about, but the kids were buzzing to play full contact.

“There’s no scrums for the youngest groups, they usually start from around U11s, but like in Super League, we’re not doing them at any level because of the rules around coronavirus, so they’ll just be replaced by turnovers instead.

“It seems a bit weird when they can engage in full contact tackling, but I guess this is seen as unneeded contact.”

West Bowling’s youngsters have also got the chance to strut their stuff at Horsfall, on the impressive artificial pitch there.

Hunkin said: “We’re working with Bradford (Park Avenue) in arranging training and games down there.

“The U8s played there last Sunday, which was a fantastic experience for them, and the girls train there on Saturdays.”

Asked how the new girls' set-up is going, Hunkin said: “We wanted to get more girls in Bradford playing and it’s going really well.

“The numbers are good and we’ve had kids from all sorts of different schools, from the likes of St Bede’s, Buttershaw and Lightcliffe.

“They’re just having training sessions for now, not games, and I’m coaching them.

“I’m amazed at the level of commitment on show and like the boys, they were excited to get the chance to do contact rugby at training last week.

“We’ve got teams there at U12s, U14s and U16s.”

Queensbury’s U8s coach, and club treasurer, Stuart Rubery, said: “We only got one game in at the start of the year until Covid struck, and then no-one really knew what was happening.

“The kids often depend on their Tuesday and Thursday training sessions and then the games on a Sunday.

“It’s been hard for adults at our level to go without rugby league, so I’d imagine it’s even worse for kids.

“But they’ve listened to what they need to do since we returned to training, then getting to play last weekend and seeing all the smiles on their faces was great.”

Rubery added: “We can organise contact games, but that’s just kids at the moment. Some open age sides might be able to return to training theoretically.

“But our kids are getting to play some games now, whereas the adults can’t. They don’t get paid at our level so they’re not going to train now, with no games coming up any time soon.

“Contact for adults is that bit different anyway.”

Five of Queensbury’s junior sides got to play matches last weekend, with Rubery explaining: “Our U7s, U8s, U9s, U10s and U11s all got to play last Sunday.

“They’re not playing this weekend, as we’re having two weeks between games to allow for a little incubation period.

“The U13s were due to play this weekend but that’s been called off sadly.

“We can’t wait for next year now. At those lower age groups, there’s no leagues as such, but the U13s are in one.

“There’s hope that they might be able to start in February but I think it’s more likely to be March.”

There’s another reason for Queensbury to be excited about their junior rugby sides too.

Rubery said: “We’ve just started up some girls’ teams, at U12s, U14s and U16s. We’ve just had one or two training sessions so far in Thornton, but we’ve had about 30 girls turn up.

“We did it years ago, but you’d find Bradford Bulls would take all the best female talent at community level, so it died off.

“It’s nice to see it becoming popular again. We’re delighted to have seen so many new faces at training, as Wibsey and West Bowling already have girls’ teams, so there’s competition out there.”

Bradford Dudley Hill’s youngsters are not back in match action, but their newly-restarted Tiny Tots programme, for children aged two to eight, is going down a storm, with a famous face helping out too.

First team manager and club secretary Steve Wright said: “We’re getting extremely good numbers and last weekend we had about 40 kids at the session, which is the best we’ve had in a long time.

“I think parents are seeing there’s something happening and they want to get their kids out there and active.

“(Bulls hooker) George Flanagan has been down every week I believe, as he’s friends with the dad of one of the young lads.

“It’s been great to have his help and having a recognisable face down there has probably helped swell the numbers a bit.

“George’s son has been helping too, as have some of our open age lads, with Aiden Batey and Adam Jefferson being particularly good.”

Explaining how the sessions work, Wright said: “There’s no contact for them as yet, but we’ve got tackle bags and shields for them to use.

“They get disinfected at regular intervals, and we’re taking all the precautions we’re supposed to.”

He added: “The kids are loving it, and as a result, we’re looking to have U7 and U8 sides for 2021, but it’s obviously still a long road ahead before that becomes a reality.

“We have two, three and four year olds coming too. Hopefully we can keep them interested by making the sessions fun, and that will breed into them forming our U7 and U8 sides going forward.

“Fingers crossed they’ll have little brothers and sisters that can come down in future too.”

Up at open age level, there is a trial game of contact rugby league happening between Wigan St Patricks and Orrell St James this afternoon behind closed doors.

Asked about this potentially positive step for the men’s game, Wright said: “We’re getting regular contact from the RFL about safety and what we can and can’t do.

“Options have slowed down (because of increasing coronavirus cases in the UK), as there was hope that we’d be able to start holding the odd friendlies from the start of this month.

“There’s a hell of a lot for Wigan to do in hosting this game and I take my hat off to them. We’ll see how that game goes and what repercussions there are. I expect there’ll be plenty of feedback on what happens there.

“If it does go well, there might be scope for having some sort of normal league structure in the new year.

“Maybe regionalising games would be a good way to go at first, but the issue there is the difference in quality between the divisions.

“Plus in the NCL (National Conference League), that’s what makes it, those long away trips. We love away games, especially up in Cumbria.

“A lot of the lads book it off and take their partners with them so they can make a weekend of it.

“Going to games in separate cars, like you’d have to at the moment, instead of a coach, the camaraderie isn’t the same. The lads aren’t really going to stick around after the game for a few drinks if they can just hop in their cars and go home.”

Wright added: “They’d maybe even have to make 2021 a trial season. It will make a big difference if we can have fans back in.

“I’m sure we’d get away with it at our level, which I find a bit weird really, as they’d be in much tighter spaces at our ground than at some of the big Super League stadiums where they’re not allowed at the moment.”

At the moment, certain rules have had to be applied to Super League rugby to try and counteract any further risks of spreading coronavirus, such as scrums being removed from match play.

Asked if that would be an issue if those regulations were applied for next season at community level, Wright said: “I’d say expect the worst and anything better would be a bonus.

“There’s been talks of abolishing scrums for a while anyway and having watched Super League with that new rule in place, I don’t see why they’d bother bringing them back in future.

“With all these new rules, I’d expect rugby league to be played like that for some time.”