Barrow Raiders chairman Steve Neale writes a weekly column for The Mail.

MIXED emotions in the camp following our first game in over at year at Oldham.

It was obviously fantastic to be back on a rugby field as another step towards normality was taken, a little disappointed that we came off second best, but then again there was lots of promise and potential for improvement.

The Covid restrictions imposed on the club from the RFL mean that they are only allowing us two friendlies before the league campaign. In terms of reducing Covid I can’t understand the logic; it is either too dangerous to play or it isn’t.

However, we don’t make the rules, we just abide by them, so we had to make a judgement call to use any of the friendly games up before the Challenge Cup or leave them in the bank for April in preparation for the league campaign. We made the decision that league preparation was more important, but it probably cost us on Saturday with Oldham looking a little sharper, especially in the little things like line speed, support play and kick chase pressure.

But there was plenty to get enthused about. Our pack made good yards and Adam Walne, Callum Bustin and Ben Harrison showed that they will be massive assets. Our other debutant, Harry Swarbrick, acquitted himself well and didn’t look out of place as he stepped up a level.

We are in talks with a couple of clubs about filling those friendly gaps in April and I am sure we will look to give all our squad the opportunity to impress. With the Super League and Championship already started we are restricted to teams from our own league and not many of them want to travel to Barrow. That, however, suits us fine. We aren’t allowed a crowd in the ground to watch a home game, but we will be able to stream the away fixture to our ground marquee after April 12. This will probably be the second-best thing to attending.

We had our monthly meeting with the community league this week and we are, at last, able to put some dates in the calendar for the return of rugby league at that level. We are determined to grow the game throughout the area at every age group and at every ability level and we still have an action to put a development plan together with the clubs that could be the blueprint for growth. There are many good people involved in the game and we all want a stronger game in the area which can help promote health and wellbeing and provide a purpose in life for many.

Barrow Raiders are about to launch Raider Braves headed by our players in the community game, Tee Ritson and Callum Bustin, and this will be targeting youngsters that perhaps lack a little confidence to join a club and play competitively. The focus of the sessions will be on having fun and enjoyment and perhaps as confidence increases the children may be signposted to join a team or simply become big fans of the game.

Covid disruption postponed many of our plans but we are now ready to pick up the baton and the Matt Johnson Prestige Stadium in early April will see the resurrection of the interrupted tig and pass tournament from the Autumn, while we have fixed dates in the calendar for the JETS to return in late June and July. We are hoping that the 16 to 17 year olds from these educational sessions make their way into the Furness Raiders squad. With restrictions on travel in place we have decided not to put together the Furness Raiders for the 20/21 academic year, but we are now planning for the return in the autumn and putting together a strong squad to make another tilt at the college title.

There’s every reason to be optimistic about the future of rugby league in Barrow.