Coventry Bears countdown to the new season, starting with a friendly against Super League Leeds on Friday, January 19th has now begun.

With corporate hospitality places for the game sold out, an increase in season ticket holders and advance sales going well, the stage is set for a good crowd and atmosphere under the Butts Park floodlights and a new-look Bears team will be waiting!

Towards the end of last season, The Bears embarked on a bold new strategy to only have players able to train regularly as a team in the Midlands, rather than to rely on players based in the North who could not always attend as regularly as necessary to ensure fitness and a cohesive team.

This has inevitably led to the departure of some Butts Park favourites, but the withdrawal of Gloucester and Oxford from the league, and the relocation of South Wales’ team to the West of the principality has opened up a further swathe of territory from which to recruit both experienced and up-and-coming talent.

Amongst the players re-signing and providing continuity from last season are captain Chris Barratt, Hayden Freeman, James Guertjens and England student Internationals Jason Bass and Kieran Sherratt. Welsh duo Paul Emanuelli and Zak Williams, signed late on last season, are also continuing.

Harry Kauffman’s name will be familiar to Bears followers, and following a spell at Oxford and in the Midlands amateur scene, he rejoins the Bears for the upcoming season.

Midland Hurricanes RL Academy products Owen Jones, a Shropshire lad formerly with London Broncos and Derby based Josh Jackson are testament to the development of Midlands talent as they don the Bears colours.

Two more England Student stars have also agreed terms, Lewis Lord of Loughborough University and Ben Stead from the defunct Gloucester All Golds.

With such a young squad, the experience of forward Chris Vitalini, an Italian international with six years in the semi-pro game, latterly with South Wales Scorpions, will be useful.

Front rower Malikhi Lloyd Jones and winger/fullback Errol Carter have also made the move from Gloucester, whilst Joel Thomas and Andrew Hoggins move up from Oxford RL.

Meanwhile, the tie-in with Coventry University brings Salford academy player Dante Morley-Samuels and Irishman Peter Ryan into the Bears line-up.

Coventry Bears v Leeds Rhinos, kick off 7.45pm Butts Park Arena Coventry.