Dean Muir, who settled into his role as Hunslet’s head coach at the beginning of October, has already been highly impressed by his assistant coaches, the playing squad, the board and everyone else behind the scenes at the South Leeds Stadium.

Muir succeeds Alan Kilshaw who, after steering the side to second in the Betfred League 1 table, missed out on the target of securing promotion to the Championship when North Wales Crusaders prevailed in the qualifying semi-final. And he’s arrived at the South Leeds Stadium after a roller-coaster ride of his own, having guided West Bowling to an impressive title in the Impact Performance National Conference League’s First Division, although that achievement was tempered by Keighley’s relegation from the Betfred Championship, a demotion he was narrowly able to prevent when he returned to the Cougars towards the end of the campaign.

He reflects: “I’ve been coaching seven days a week, what with the two roles at Keighley Cougars and West Bowling, in addition to my full-time job as a teacher. I’m lucky that my two kids are very understanding and my parents are able to support me.

“My focus now, though, is entirely on Hunslet. I applied for the position as I want to coach at the highest level I can, but it’s also very important to have good people around me. That’s exactly the case with my assistants, Ryan Jackson and Danny Burton. Burts and Jacko deserve a lot of credit for the work they’ve done in keeping the bulk of last season’s squad together. And we’re in the process of making a similarly important appointment regarding our strength & conditioning coach.

“I’ve also been very impressed by the attitude of the players, who are – as with Burts and Jacko – buying into my Rugby League philosophies. I’m very data-driven and there’ll be lots of apps and content, aimed at improving players’ performance levels.”

Hunslet’s squad is currently in the process of being assembled for next year and the Parksiders will be making announcements shortly around retentions and recruitment. Early departures have seen Adam Ryder move to Keighley, one of his former clubs and Sam Hallas re-sign at Bradford Bulls.

There will be others on the move as is always the way in Rugby League but Muir says: “I’ve spoken to the players we are seeking to retain, and they have fully bought into what we want. We’ll have plenty of valuable experience in place, which we’ll be able to harness for the good of the club as, building on the excellent work that my predecessor Alan Kilshaw did – some of the initiatives he introduced are certainly benefiting me – as we sustain an environment in which people can thrive.

“No one will work harder than me, Burts and Jacko (who have been sacrificing time with friends and family for the cause) and the board is giving me full backing. These are very busy early days for me in the role and hopefully this is only the start of what will be an exciting and productive journey.”

He stresses: “We will be performance-based and my ambition is a simple one – that the players improve, individually and collectively, each week; do that and we’ll be in with a chance and the fans will, I’m sure, be entertained.

“I’ll be very actively involved in coaching in training, which is my forte. I feel that it’s a really good fit for me at Hunslet, and I’m only signing men who want to play for this club for the right reasons.”

Muir certainly experienced, in 2023, the highs and the lows of Rugby League in his two coaching roles. Having steered West Bowling to a comfortable title success in the NCL’s First Division he returned to Keighley towards the end of the Betfred Championship campaign and, working with Matt Foster, saw the Cougars suffer relegation by only a three-points differential to Whitehaven in the points’ difference stakes. “It was disappointing to go down but, in truth, we couldn’t have got any more from the squad,” he reflects, adding, “I spent 15 years at Keighley, initially as assistant coach, then head coach, to the reserve side, working along the way with such as Jason Demetriou, Barry Eaton and Glenn Barraclough, and picking something up from each of them. I’m aiming to create something that’s mine at Hunslet and, talking to the board and everyone involved at the club, I quickly realised that this is an excellent opportunity at one of the great clubs.”

He’d already had close dealings with Hunslet’s chairman Kenny Sykes, who is also very heavily involved with Heworth, who were also in the NCL’s First Division last season. Muir reveals: “Kenny spent time behind our dugout when we played them at their place. He wasn’t too happy as they never got a sniff. He might not like me saying this (although maybe he won’t mind too much as they also got promoted) but we were far better than them, which was the case with most if not all of the sides in the section. We were structured and fast, and defended well and strongly. And that’s how I plan Hunslet to be.”