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Ex-Super League centre completes shock return to former club

Halifax Panthers have announced the signing of Ben Crooks from Betfred Championship neighbours Keighley Cougars on a deal until the end of the 2023 Betfred Championship season. The 30 year old three quarter joins the Panthers on a permanent deal and goes straight into contention for this weekends derby at Odsal.

Keighley have moved quickly to replace Crooks by bringing form Salford Red Devils and Leigh Leopards centre Junior Sa’u on a deal until the end of the season with a potential for a further deal in 2024.

The club said:

“To soften the blow losing a player of Ben’s calibre the club can announce the re-signing of Junior Sa’u. Junior joins for the remainder of the 2023 season with the club and player open to negotiations to extend the deal into 2024.”

Returning to the other side of things, Crooks was pleased to put pen to paper with the Panthers. “I’m really happy with the news, I’m excited to be joining what’s already a quality squad and set up at Halifax”, said Ben. “With my years in the game, I’d like to think I bring some added experience to the squad. The Shay is a fantastic ground and a brilliant set up, so to call this my home ground going forward, I’m really pleased.”

“The fax fans have always been loud and proud when I’ve played as an opposition player so to have them on my side during a game will be a great boost when playing. I’m just looking to play my best, and contribute where ever I can and hopefully help the squad to some silverware this year.”

Fax boss Simon Grix was delighted the club moved so swiftly to secure his signature.

“It’s all come about pretty quickly, to be honest”, said Grix. “We’d heard on the grapevine that Keighley were looking at making some changes, and that probably started with Luke Gale followed closely with Rhys Lovegrove. We’re in conversation with agents at the moment often, just because we’re trying to retain our players and see what’s available out there and his name came up. And then I suppose it’s happened really fast from there.”

“He’s thirty today I believe, an experienced centre and I do feel like we’ve lacked experience in that position. Obviously, Tibbs is a baby and you can’t just give him experience, he’s got to earn it and he’s doing a good job at the moment. He’s recapturing some form that we’ve seen in the past but the other options we’ve got, it’s been a bit up and down and just been alright. We haven’t excelled.”

“We don’t have masses of options in the backs there particularly with letting Nick Rawsthorne move on to get what he needs out of the game, and it just gives us another option and puts competition amongst it. There has been times where I’ve been filthy after a game but had my hands tied around what it looks like next week and Ben will give us that opportunity to change it.”

“He’s played Super League for a long time, he’s had a stint in the NRL with Parramatta, and from what I’ve seen of him at Championship level so far, he’s been really good. So hopefully, he can come in and add to us. In the past, we’ve had experienced players in that position in Greg Worthington and Steve Tyrer. And having that experience in the backline is important as apart from Salty, they’re all learning a lot and although they’re coming along a lot, some of Ben’s good habits and tricks of the trade will hopefully rub off on them. It’ll be good for us on the whole, it adds competition and quality to our squad.”

Director of Rugby Richard Durgan added: “It was clear we needed some experience in the back line and so when we heard Ben was available it was the obvious decision. The club have worked hard behind the scenes to get this done and my thanks goes to Ian Croad whilst I’ve been on holiday to help get this sorted

This signing was made possible due to our Squadbuilder supporters. Commenting on the signing of Ben Crooks, Panthers Commercial Director Steve Lambert said: “Our ability to add a quality player like Ben to the squad has been made easier to manage following the initial uptake of the recently re-launched Squadbuilder. All of your contributions go towards developing the squad and our supporters commitment has given the club the ability and confidence to make this signing, with hopefully more to come. We will publish a Squadbuilder update and the first monthly prize draw next week, if you’re not a member please consider joining by going to the website or by telephoning the club.”

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