New duo add to Karl’s playmaking options

Simon Brown (centre) won a Grand Final with Sheffield
Simon Brown (centre) won a Grand Final with Sheffield

Halifax have unveiled their first two new recruits for 2014, signing the York stand off Simon Brown and the Castleford playmaker Ben Johnston on two year deals.

Brown, a former Leeds junior, was a member of the Sheffield side that won the 2012 Championship Grand Final before making a surprise move to York, who were eventually relegated, for 2013.

York-born Johnston, a scrum half, made his Super League debut for the Tigers in 2012 and spent some of this season playing alongside Brown on loan at the City Knights.

The 21 year old, who was contracted to the Wheldon Road club for next season, was among the try scorers as Gary Thornton’s side lost out 18-16 to Fax at the Shay this summer.

“Ben is someone we have been monitoring for a while,” said Fax boss Karl Harrison, who did not offer new contracts to incumbent half backs Anthony Thackeray and Paul Handforth.

“Cas rate the kid, but they didn’t feel he was going to make their side next season so they agreed to release him in the best interests of developing his career.

“He’s a Rob Burrow type player; small, with plenty of pace and very quick feet and we’re excited about his potential.

“Simon’s different in that he’s been around for a while at this level and he’s won a Grand Final.

“He’s an exceptional kicker, a very good passer of the ball and quicker than people give him credit for.

“He also knows how to run a gameplan, which is what we wanted.

“I’m not sure why he went to York, I know Mark Aston at Sheffield was devastated when he left them, but I do know he sees this as a big opportunity to get back on track.”

Brown and Johnston, who will jostle with skipper Scott Murrell for a place in the halves, are unlikely to be the last playmakers Harrison signs this winter.

And while neither is the big name sections of the club’s support seem to crave, Harrison sounded a pragmatic note.

“In the end, you can only sign the players that are available to you,” said Harrison, who said he hopes to have “six or seven” options for the hooking and half back roles.

“I know the expectations of the supporters as well as anyone, but there a lot of factors that dictate recruitment and the market is one of them.

“It’s also unfair to people like Simon and Ben to judge them before they’ve even arrived.

“They’re both very talented players who will improve the side and I’m looking forward to working with them.”

Warrington’s former Man of Steel Brett Hodgson is to leave the club at the end of the season, the club have announced.

The veteran Australian full-back, who will be 36 in February, had another year left on his contract but the Wolves say they have decided to release him so that he can pursue other options.

Hodgson has recently been linked with a move to Salford.