2021 is a big year for Coventry, which follows Kingston-upon-Hull as the UK’s City of Culture. And it’s already shaping as a breakthrough year for the Bears, as they fly the flag for Rugby League in the West Midlands.
Coventry go into Sunday’s home match against Keighley Cougars at the Butts Park Arena on the fringe of the Play-Off places in Betfred League 1, an encouraging start for their new head coach Richard Squires – another strong link between the Midlands and Hull.
Squires is assisted by Dave Scott, who is keen to represent his native Scotland in another World Cup this autumn, and their cosmopolitan team also includes Stefanos Bastas from Greece, and Peter Ryan and Josh Dunne from Ireland, as well as local stalwarts such as Hayden Freeman who is the club’s record points-scorer having first joined the junior section as a 12-year-old from Birmingham.
But there is much more happening behind the scenes, as the Bears are determined to make the most of the opportunity offered by their involvement in Rugby League World Cup 2021 – when Mal Meninga’s mighty Kangaroos will face Scotland at the Ricoh Arena.
After an award of almost £15,000 from the CreatedBy Capital Grants Programme administered by RLWC2021 and the RFL, Bears in the Community have established three satellite Rugby League clubs in and around Coventry – the Alphas, Griffins and Knights.
They have already registered more than 250 players and coaches, with 12 schools now involved in a development programme which has reached a further 900 youngsters, delivered by the Bears’ founder and former Ireland international Alan Robinson, as well as current player Kieran Sherratt.
Try Tag Rugby is another key part of the Rugby League offer across Coventry and Warwickshire, with more than 400 adults playing every week – and free taster sessions next Tuesday and Thursday (June 22 and 24), building to a Festival on Saturday July 10.
Debbie Watson, the Bears’ CEO and Community Coordinator for Bears in the Community CIC, said: “We feel really lucky to be able to get back up and running and kickstart the great things we have been planning throughout lockdown – both the professional team and our community work.
“We have established a great link with the Coventry School Games Organisers and we continue to build relationships with local schools to give the youth in the city the opportunity to try a new sport this summer and for many years to come.
“Our community work is bigger and better than ever before and we are delighted to be back out in the sunshine and operating at full capacity once again having an offer for anyone who wants to get involved - playing, volunteering, or watching sport.”
Cllr Kamran Caan, Cabinet Member for Public Health and Sport, said: “I’m so pleased to hear about all of the community work that is taking place in the build-up to our Rugby League World Cup match later this year. This is a key reason as to why we strategically want to bring major sporting events like this to the city.
“It’s great to see so many communities involved in safe sport and physical activity after it being restricted for so long. I’m glad that grassroots sport is developing and enabling wider communities to be active and take part in physical activity.
“I’d like to congratulate Coventry Bears on the fantastic work they continue to carry out across the city and I look forward to seeing even more rugby league activity in our communities soon.”