A TRIO with Roose Pioneers’ interests at heart have been tasked with transforming the club’s fortunes.

Mike Backhouse, Chris Larkin and Dan Cargan have all played for the Redwaters club for lengthy spells during their careers.

And after accepting the role as the senior coaching team, they have produced a five-year rebuilding plan to rejuvenate Pioneers, from the mini-rugby section up to first-team level.

Pioneers are a proud club with a fine standing in the amateur game, but they have enjoyed up and downs in the 20 years since the merger of the old Holker Pioneers club with Roose in 1997.

At present, the club have just one senior team, who operate in the Barrow and District League, and who have had to rely to an extent on off-season Furness RUFC players to fill the team-sheet every week.

Backhouse, Larkin and Cargan’s plan is to strengthen the open-age section, while providing a pathway from the junior section to the first-team, as well as re-establishing the under-18s team.

It is no easy task, but with and Backhouse and Larkin’s experience in the professional ranks with Barrow Raiders – added to Cargan’s knowledge and dedication to the Pioneers cause – they are confident they will make a success of it.

Explaining how the appointments came about, Larkin said: “The club has been struggling a bit in the last few years and they approached us and said: ‘Would you be interested?’

“At first we weren’t sure, but we went away and thought about it and then decided to have a go at it.

“Me, Cargy and Backy all played together for the club 10 or 12 years ago. Then I signed for Barrow and Mike Backhouse followed me a couple of years later.

“Me and Cargy went right to to Thorncliffe School together.

“Dan played for the Academy at Barrow when I did, but he broke a bone in his neck which stopped him playing so he got into coaching and he has been helping out with Pioneers for years, and has just stuck with them.

“Me, Dan and Backy sat down with (Pioneers stalwarts) Steve Neale, Lee Edmondson and Shaun McPoland, and we’ve written down a five-year plan which will hopefully get the club where we need to be.

“It’s a long-term process. We’re not just there for the short-term.

“Over the next two or three seasons, we want to try and get a successful under-18s up and running and feeding into the first team.

“The oldest age group we had last year was under-16s, and with not having an A-team a lot of them have jumped ship, which seems to be happening regularly.

“That’s one of the reasons they have been struggling, because they haven’t got that group of young lads coming through who are keen to play week-in, week-out.

“As a result, they have been stuck with the same old faces and a few lads from Furness Rugby Union who have been coming down to help out.

“Don’t get me wrong, we are grateful for that and we will probably have some of their players again next season.

“The way it works this year, their season finishes just before ours starts, so that will work for us. We have spoken to them and there are definitely about four of them who want to come down and play for us every week. What we want is our own identity. We don’t want to be half Roose Pioneers and half Furness Rugby Union.

“We’re going to try and do it properly, right from the younger age group and build it up again. It will be a long and slow process, but we are going to have a go.”

After leaving the North West Men’s League, Pioneers joined the Cumbria League in 2014, but the move did not work out and the club are now back in the Barrow and District League, competing against second teams.

Larkin said they resisted calls to apply to join the North West Men’s set-up for the coming season, preferring instead to get the foundations in place before making the leap to a highter standard of competition.

“A lot of the lads wanted to leave the A-team league (Barrow and District) but we said; ‘Look, we don’t know what sort of squad we are going to have yet’,”added Larkin.

“We don’t know which lads are going to come back or new faces come in so we’ll do a year in the Barrow and District and then in a year’s time we are going to be looking at going into the North West Men’s League with a well-built side.

“I know with the Barrow and District League it isn’t all the best amateurs around here, but at least there is a game every Friday, whereas in the Cumbria League you can wait three or four weeks between games.

“If you know there is a gap between fixtures you don’t get lads training and that’s why that league is failing in my opinion.

“With us having a game every week in the Barrow and District, you will have lads coming down to training every week and competing for places week-in, week-out.

“We also feel with all the structure we are trying to bring in we thought it would be easier for us to be in the Barrow and District, and not have all the travelling and stuff as well. Just to have it all here.

“And then hopefully this time next year we will know exactly where we are and what standard we’re at.

“It all depends on how many players we can attract. We know people aren’t just going to come down because we are there. But if we can show people that the club is on the up, then they are more likely to come down.

“Pioneers have been going down and down for a few years and have been the whipping boys, but it has been a great club. I was there when I was five-years-old and so was Mike Backhouse. When we were leaving they had a good first team and a very good A-team, but for whatever reason it has just dwindled in recent years.”

Larkin feels part of the player shortage problem has been caused by the changes in working shift patterns at BAE Systems and other employers.

“Amateur rugby in general is struggling a bit,” he said. “And shifts have hit every sport. I’ve got mates who play football and they play one game in four weeks just because they have to commit to going to work.

“Hopefully, what we want to achieve is to get people looking at Pioneers and thinking they are getting back on their feet.

“The club have got a really good under-12s and under-14s sections but we seem to keep losing them in the 16s and 18s because we haven’t got an A-team.

“Realistically, I don’t know if we will have a first team and A-team next year, but what we are trying to do is build it back up and within the next five years it is in the plan to have a first team and an A-team.

“When we spoke to Steve Neale, Lee Edmondson and Shaun McPoland they all said the club is in a really good state in terms of facilities and the clubhouse, but what we are struggling with as a club is players at first-team level.”

While Cargan already has coaching qualifications, Larkin and Backhouse are new to that side of game. But they are pleased with how things have gone so far in pre-season and want to encourage new recruits to the Tuesday and Thursday sessions at Redwaters (6.30pm start).

“We just hope the things we have learned over the years in the pro game we can bring back to the club and help teach the youngsters,” added Larkin. “As much as we feel we are getting older we are not that long out of the game.”

At 31 and 35 respectively, Larkin and Backhouse will be lacing up their boots next season in player/coaching roles, although Larkin is not sure what positions they will be playing, having both being pacy three-quarters in their pro days.

“I only stopped playing for Barrow three years ago because of injury and I’ve had two years of rest and feel like I’m raring to go,” said Larkin, who has had a couple of operations on a troublesome knee.

“And Mike has been at Barrow, Workington and Rochdale so he has a lot of experience.

“I’ve got a big slower and a bit bigger since my pro days so I might be looking at playing more in the middle. We’ll have to see how it goes!”

For more information about Roose Pioneers, go to the club’s Facebook page and Twitter account.