WITH just three league wins all campaign, last season was one to forget on the field for Dewsbury Moor as they suffered relegation from NCL Division One.
But those struggles paled into insignificance in August when star player Archie Bruce was found dead in his hotel room in Toulouse, hours after making his professional debut for Batley Bulldogs.
Just 20 years old, Archie had been signed as a trialist at the Bulldogs last season and continued to play for his amateur side, excelling as their top try-scorer and earning 11 man of the match awards in a fantastic season which made the loss of such a promising talent only more tragic.
However, his name and his legacy will live on at the club, not least on their shirts for the new season which have been sponsored by Archie’s parents, Steve and Beverley, and will have #ACB9 on the front.
Pete Robinson has taken over as head coach of the NCL team for the 2020 season and says it is a fitting tribute.
“It means a lot to his mum and dad, and it means a lot to the team. Everyone is really proud that we’re going to have his initials on the front of the shirt as our main sponsor,” he said. “Archie is still going to be playing with us this year.
“Obviously it was tough for all of us. I know everybody who played with him last year is training really hard and putting effort in, they want to honour him.”
Robinson has been at Moor all of his rugby career, and will combine playing duties with his second spell in the open age coaching role this season. He knows the current crop of players very well, having led most of the current team through from the Under-15s onwards in the junior section.
After achieving back-to-back promotions from Division Three to One, he doesn’t believe the club were as far away from bridging the gap as the final table would suggest, and reports a brighter outlook ahead of their Division Two return.
He said: “We lost a lot of games by eight points or less, so there were a lot of close games. There were only a handful of games where we got blown off the park.
“We beat the team top of the league so the quality was there, we just couldn’t do it every week for whatever reason.”
Robinson, who will be assisted this season by James Delaney and James Eatherley, added: “We’ve got a positive outlook for this season. Everyone is putting a lot of effort in at every training session so the mood in the camp is good.
“We’ve had really good numbers in pre-season. We’ve been training a long time; we started before Christmas. We’ve had a lot of work to do from last year and everybody has bought into what I’ve tried to get across to them. It’s been really positive.”
The squad has been strengthened with a number of additions, including two of their top young talents who have returned from the Huddersfield Giants academy. Stand-off Finley Bruce, brother of Archie, is back at the club, alongside back-rower Tom Berry.
Other familiar faces include Tobias Richardson, who has spent the past year-and-a-half at Dewsbury Rams, along with Jacob Flathers and Ben Kershaw, while the club also hope to have Batley assistant coach Mark Barlow playing back at his old junior club for one final season.
As well as good progress on the field in the off-season, there are positive developments off it as work continues on a new clubhouse, which is due to open in a couple of months.
The downside is that the Maroons are unable to host their opening four matches, with four away trips before a derby clash with Dewsbury Celtic on the first weekend of April.
The campaign starts on March 7 against one of the other sides that have dropped down from Division One in Normanton Knights, and Robinson hopes his side can defy the schedule and begin the season in style.
“We’re just trying to get off to a fast start,” he said.
“We didn’t win many games last year so it’s trying to turn around the culture of losing.
“This Normanton game is absolutely massive in terms of setting our season up.
“Because of the clubhouse at least our first four games are away from home so the start to the season is really tough.
“We’ve got Dewsbury Celtic this year; that’s a massive derby for us so to have a good performance in that would be big.
“We haven’t really set many goals, it’s just taking it a game at a time and trying to do better than last year.”
They showed signs of a resurgence in their Challenge Cup first-round exit at Wigan St Patricks in January and Robinson said: “They beat us heavily last year but we ran them close. I think we were winning at half-time, so everyone thinks we’ve moved on a little bit from last year.
“Everyone is positive and everyone is eager to play our first match at Normanton.”