PONTEFRACT RUFC coach Simon Middleton is looking forward to doing his bit to help Yorkshire rugby after being appointed as a coach to the county’s senior team.
The former Castleford Tigers and Leeds Carnegie player (pictured right) is held in high regard as a coach with the Moor Lane club and for his previous work with Leeds and he will now take up a position as backs coach with Yorkshire as they aim to win the rugby union County Championship.
Middleton, who started his rugby career with Knottingley RUFC, also helps coach the England women’s team, but he remains committed to Pontefract as he looks to plot a way back to North East One following an unlucky relegation last season.
He said: “I’m really pleased to have the opportunity as one of the coaches with the Yorkshire team.
“Yorkshire is right at the heart of my rugby and I always wanted to play for the county side and never did for one reason or another, probably because I went to Rugby League in my prime I suppose. To get a chance to actually coach them is probably the next best thing.
“I’ll be overseeing the backs. No doubt I’ll have an input on team structure and team defence because that’s been my background until the last year or so, but specifically it will be looking after the backs.
“In the past I’ve worked with the England Women’s team and I worked with them right up to the World Cup when I did quite a few sessions with them. I was sort of a defence consultant up to the World Cup and I haven’t actually done any work with them since, but I’m doing some more down in Guildford.
“I’ve got a good relationship with the head coach, Gary Street, who took his coaching qualifications with me, and I’m one of the guest coaches that they bring in.
“They obviously only get together leading up to internationals so Ponte’s very much my focus and I’ll continue with that until at least the end of the season and hopefully beyond.”
Middleton is happy with the progress made by his Pontefract side so far this season.
He said: “It’s been enjoyable this season. Last season was tough. Without making excuses we got relegated in very strange circumstances from what was a very tough North East One Division with the teams below us beating the teams that were at the top of the league right at the end. You question some of the things that were going off, but it was what it was.
“We’ve come back into Yorkshire One and it’s still a really good standard of rugby and really competitive. The thing about Yorkshire One is that we get a lot more local rivalry, we’ve got ourselves, Knottingley and Castleford so we’ve got the three close towns playing each other on a regular basis for the first time in countless years.
“We’re getting good crowds down, there’s great banter and lots of social events going off revolving around the game. Players from the past are meeting up with each other again and it’s creating a really good buzz.
“Knottingley was my hometown club before I went to Rugby League and when we played there it was great. There were about 200 people at the game, it was absolutely fantastic and we played really well.
“Knottingley played well, but it was just one of those days when everything went right for us. I’m really looking forward to playing them again down at our place.
“In North East One there were such difficult places to go with long trips often and you question some of the things that goes on in terms of the officialling. It’s a pretty arduous place to go to the North East and to get a result up there you’ve got to play extremely well. But it’s a pretty good standard of rugby.
“Our form’s ranged from good, but not quite good enough to beat some teams in the Yorkshire division to being outstanding at certain times. We’ve played some fantastic rugby in some of the games, the Knottingley match, Castleford down here and Heath. I can reel a few off where we’ve played some really exciting stuff.
“We’ve got a certain way we want to play and we’ve done it really well at times. That’s full credit to the lads and you can only do it if they turn up and train.
“They’ve been just brilliant, they do everything I ask and rock up in their numbers every week and give me a chance to develop them.
“It’s a bit of a transitional time. We’re regrouping a little bit. At the end of last season we lost Glen Boyd, Michael Bateman, Chris Plangent, Sam Brady. The marquee players we had all left the club with the exception of one or two.
“But we got back lads who hadn’t played last season for one reason or other like Chris Sant, who’d gone to university, and Rob and Paul Nowak, who are back after taking time out from the game. Then we’ve had other additions like Matthew Bacon, who’ve come from Rugby League and joined us and have just been sensational.
“We recruited Caleb Senior, who was a much sought after player and had hung his boots up. We were fortunate that Derek Eves came back and those two have added quite a bit of bite to us.
“So where we lost some quality we also gained some quality and some good local players who wanted a part again.
“It’s carrying on from last year. We’d sewn some seeds that we have seen grow this year and hopefully that will continue to develop.”
Middleton can always pick up some tips from new England head coach Stuart Lancaster, who remains a friend from the days when both were at Leeds as players and on the coaching staff.
“My first ever game at Leeds was under Stuart’s captaincy,” said Middleton.
“But he then got an injury that sort of ended his career. I played a few games with him then he looked after the academy at Leeds while I was involved with the first team.
“I had half a season working with him on the academy and then two seasons where he was director of rugby, Daryl Powell was head coach and I was assistant coach. We saw both sides of the coin with a fantastic promotion then a very tough relegation.
“I spoke to Stuart last week and I still stay in touch with him. He’s a very grounded bloke and very down to earth.
“What he will do with England is exactly what he’s said he will do. If anybody can change the culture, which needs to change, he’ll do it. He’s an expert in that area. He’s an outstanding man manager and very good coach. His man management skills are as good as I’ve seen and what he will do is get the best out of the coaches that work with him. He’ll organise the running of the side so it ticks smoothly and if anybody can get the best out of the young players that he’ll bring into the squad I’m pretty sure it will be Stuart.”