SHAW CROSS SHARKS will begin their NCL Division Two campaign with a new head coach after the appointment of Mark Barlow.
Barlow has taken on the role alongside his playing duties at Keighley Cougars, where the 35-year-old recently signed for the 2019 season.
‘Sparky’ is entering his 20th professional season since making his debut for Wakefield Trinity at 16, and has gone on to feature for Dewsbury Rams (twice), Halifax, York, Batley Bulldogs, Gloucestershire All Golds, Oxford and Hemel Stags.
The former Shaw Cross junior described how and why he has made a return to the club, taking over the role held for most of last season by Paul March.
“I did play a couple of seasons in the junior section for Shaw Cross, from the under 10s up to under 12s, and then I did make an appearance in the first team as well 14 years ago, when I left Dewsbury Rams.
“I played for the first team in that one game and then returned back to pro ranks, but I’ve obviously got that link with Shaw Cross and that’s a reason why I’ve re-joined.
“I was approached by the club, saying that there’s a head coach role available. I didn’t jump in straight away. I knew I was talking to Keighley and I didn’t know if there was going to be a Keighley club, so I didn’t want to commit.
“So I watched them against Celtic, I saw them in the Challenge Cup, and I was really inspired by the performances. They were a young team. Obviously they had a couple of old heads, and all the others were just young lads who wanted to have a go.
“They know rugby league. It just inspired me. I knew they just needed a little bit of direction, just someone to lead them a little bit, and that’s what made me think I can do a job here.”
Barlow says that he has the help of a good team around him to help manage the workload of his commitments with Keighley, with two new assistants in the shape of fellow ex-Dewsbury players Michael Wainwright and Martin Woodhead.
“We’ve obviously got Danny Flowers underneath as well who is going to be playing in the second team. So we’ve created a good coaching set-up to help the first team, 18s and second team,” he said.
“It’s not just me, without them it wouldn’t be possible. I thought if I can be head coach and have some good assistants underneath me and just build that positivity around the club, that can only be a good thing.”
The new boss admits that the timing of the changes, in the weeks leading up to the start of the new season, is not ideal, but is confident that things will fall into place with everyone pulling together.
“Pre-season is about getting combinations with your half-backs, your forwards, your hookers, and I haven’t had that opportunity, so it’s going to take one or two games for me to work that out and the players know that,” he said.
“The one thing we do have at the club is everybody willing to turn up at training on a Tuesday and Thursday. Everyone wants to push in the same direction, everyone wants to play for Shaw Cross, and that can only be a good thing.
“There is definitely enough there to build on to have a good season in this division.”
The Sharks also have new captain for 2019 in the shape of Dec Naughton.
The experienced forward has called for the squad to pull together after a difficult 12 months.
“I’ve been at Shaw Cross for about 10 years now and this is a privilege to step up,” he said.
“We had a bad season last year but hopefully if we’ve got a full team together this season we should come out the back end of it.
“I’m trying to keep that positivity up, no negatives, because that’s what seemed to let us down last season, everyone being negative and everyone having a say in something instead of just trying to get on with it. I think it’s just about time we pulled together.”
Naughton says that the arrival of new coach Barlow has improved things ahead of the new campaign.
“It’s good now that the new coach has come in. He’s brought a bit of structure,” he said.
“We’ve got all the lads turning up now that we’ve got leaders in Mark and myself, and it feels like something is coming back that we haven’t had for a while and hopefully, just before the season starts, we should be there.
“I do know Mark myself and he’s a good rugby league player and he does know what he’s on about.
“But the lads have got to put in the work as well. We’ll see how we go, but I think things will go alright and we should get back up to that Division One next season.”
Barlow begins his tenure tomorrow (Saturday, kick-off 2.30pm) when the Sharks host Clock Face Miners at Shark Park in the first game of the new season.
Thornhill and Dewsbury Moor also get their league campaigns underway at the same time, with both in new divisions following their respective promotions.
The Trojans begin their Premier Division season with a tough clash against established top-flight outfit West Hull at Overthorpe Park.
The Maroons are also at home as they face fellow promoted side Stanningley in their first match of the Division One campaign.