Championship Weekend Preview (31-Jul/2-Aug)

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Friday July 31

Co-operative Championship

Widnes Vikings v Halifax

Widnes Vikings will pull level with Halifax at the top of the Co-operative Championship table if they can grab three points in Friday’s showdown.

The Vikings are in encouraging form, having lifted the Northern Rail Cup and then won away at Toulouse, but coach Paul Cullen is demanding more from his troops.

Cullen said: “I was pleased with the win in Toulouse but we need to improve substantially in what will be our toughest game of the season.

“The three previous meetings have all been fantastic games and this one should be no exception.”

Cullen’s hopes have been boosted by the fact that his side picked up no new injuries from their trip to France.

Only long-term absentee John Duffy (broken jaw) remains absent.

Miles Greenwood is not expected to play for Halifax after suffering knee ligament damage during last week’s defeat against Featherstone.

Halifax assistant coach Damian Ball said: “We will certainly learn from that defeat and make sure we are ready for Widnes on Friday.”

Saturday 1 August

Co-operative Championship

Featherstone Rovers v Toulouse Olympique

Dwayne Barker is set to make his Rovers debut when Daryl Powell’s men host Toulouse in Saturday’s Co-operative Championship fixture.

The former Halifax player will add pace and power to Rovers’ back-line as they prepare for a final play-off push.

However, Joe Hirst will not feature for Rovers after making a loan switch to Sheffield Eagles.

Powell, who believes that a second placed finish is still within Rovers’ grasp, was delighted by last week’s victory at Halifax.

He said: “To go away to Halifax and come away with the points will hopefully give us a lot of confidence for the rest of the season.

“It sets a bit of a platform now for the six tough games remaining but we can take each one as it comes and keep chipping away at it.”

Yoan Tisseyre, a 20-year-old second row or centre, could make his Toulouse debut on Saturday. He has joined the club from FC Lezignan.

Gateshead Thunder v Batley Bulldogs

Thunder coach Steve McCormack insists Saturday’s relegation showdown is just another game as Gateshead battle for Co-operative Championship survival.

McCormack’s men trail Leigh by three points but victory over Batley will see them increase their chances of staying up.

McCormack said: “It’s exactly the same as any other game to us. We know how important it is. As the games go by we’re aware that we need to pick points up. We’ve made sure our preparations are as good as they can be and if we play well then we know we’ve got a chance.

“Discipline wise we were very poor against Sheffield. We probably had no right to be in that game with no of penalties but that shows how good a team we are that we were still in there fighting.”

He added: “We know what to expect from Batley. Both teams have made changes on and off the field over recent months and Batley have had some great results. We know they’re capable of playing well, just as we are, so it will be whoever puts it together on the day that gets the result.”

McCormack is expected to name a similar squad to the one that lost at Sheffield last week, having reported no new injuries from the Eagles clash.

Bulldogs will be without coach Karl Harrison for the next three games after he left the country on a pre-arranged holiday.

Harrison said: “It’s something that was booked while I was out of the game, and something that the Batley club were fully aware of when I took the role on.”

Assistant coach Joe Berry will take over in Harrison’s absence, with the former Salford coach returning for Batley’s last two league games.

Sunday August 2

Co-operative Championship

Leigh Centurions v Doncaster

Leigh coach Paul Rowley has drawn a line under last week’s humiliating defeat at Barrow as the Centurions concentrate on securing Co-operative Championship survival.

Rowley’s men lost 74-6 last week but they can edge closer to securing their Championship future with a much-needed win over Doncaster on Sunday.

Rowley said: “We’ve put in some poor performances and some good performances all year. We’ve been very inconsistent and against a good team with everything going for them, we deserved everything we got last week

“It’s all about looking forward and this weekend is a biggie, particularly with the Gateshead v Batley game too.

“Doncaster are on a bit of form after their performance against Whitehaven. I’m pleased about that because it ensures there will be absolutely no complacency among our boys.”

Rowley added: “Doncaster have brought a few new players in and they’ll have enthusiasm and a lot of good habits. It’s a dangerous fixture.”

Andy Hobson remains sidelined for Leigh but Mark Castle, Dave Alstead and Adam Higson are all expected to be fit again. Rowley is also considering further changes to his team in the light of last week’s display.

Dons boss Tony Miller, whose side earned a bonus point in their 19-10 defeat against Whitehaven last week, said: “We know that we are relegated so it is now all about building for next season when we’ll start with a clean sheet.

“But I have something to work with because several of the debutants (against Whitehaven) made big impressions.”

Whitehaven v Sheffield Eagles

Whitehaven coach Ged Stokes is demanding – and expecting – a big improvement from his side when they host Sheffield on Sunday.

Haven narrowly scraped past struggling Doncaster last week, eventually winning 19-10.

Stokes said: “It was good in that we got three points but the less we say about it, the better. It was a very ordinary game.

“Our side needs a challenge and Sheffield certainly present that. It’s a very important game and 99 per cent of time Whitehaven respond to that.”

Stokes has a slight doubt over Paul Ballard (ankle) while Scott McAvoy (groin) will be monitored throughout the week.

Stokes added: “We’re going into this game with players competing for positions, which is a good thing for any team.

“I’m looking forward to the challenge. There’s a different feel in the camp already this week.

“You’ve got to be prepared completely for Sheffield. There’s no area that they’re weak in.”

Eagles coach Mark Aston could give debuts to Joe Hirst and Luke Hardbottle, who have joined on loan from Featherstone and Leeds respectively.

Aston said: “We’ve five games left of the league season and we need players who can freshen up the squad and provide cover.”

Co-operative Championship One

Swinton Lions v York City Knights

Lions coach Paul Kidd will monitor the fitness of Richard Hawkyard (hip) before making a final decision on his team selection.

The Lions are still 11 points clear of Rochdale in the final Co-operative Championship One play-off spot but a win this week would consolidate their chances following last week’s reverse against the Hornets.

York City Knights are also coming off the back of a defeat, having lost 20-8 against Hunslet in a performance head coach James Ratcliffe labelled as “woeful”.

Ratcliffe said: “There was no excuse for our performance and we need to work really to combat it before we go to Swinton.

“We’ve got to get our house in order. Defensively, we were woeful and with ball in hand we were disgraceful.”

Former Barrow, Featherstone and Dewsbury centre Ian Bell could make his Knights debut on Sunday.

London Skolars v Workington Town

Gareth Honor is set to play his 150th game for London Skolars when they host Workington Town in Sunday’s Co-operative Championship One basement scrap.

Both teams have only won one league game each all season but the Skolars performed well in last week’s 46-22 defeat at Blackpool.

Head coach Jermaine Coleman said: “There are always areas to work but we were definitely pleased with the progression we made from the previous week.

“Both ourselves and Workington are in similar positions so I presume their coaching staff will be thinking the same as I am.

“It should be a close game and they might be looking for revenge after we got three points against them earlier in the season.”

Corey Simms (concussion) will undergo a fitness test along with Jamal Coleman and Florent Rouanet, who will make his debut if he is passed fit.

Town travel to London boosted by the new coaching regime of Gary Charlton and Martin Oglanby.

Charlton said: “This game is massively important to the players. They want to win this one because they do not want to end up at the foot of the ladder.”

Former Town forward Dean Bragg could make his second ‘debut’ for the club after rejoining the professional ranks.

Hunslet Hawks v Blackpool Panthers

Buoyant Hunslet coach Paul March is urging his side to kick on after last week’s win at York.

March said: “I spoke to the lads at half time and asked how many of them could say that they’d come in at the break with no points against them. Not many put their hand up.

“I was very pleased to keep York to one try. We’ve improved from the Dewsbury game and that’s what I’m asking all the players to do – improve every week.

“The penalty count is still a bit high but if we can cut those out then we can kick on.”

But March admits that revitalised Blackpool will provide a stern test for his troops.

He said: “Their results are showing that they’re playing well and they’ll have got a lot of confidence out of the Northern Rail 9s that they have then taken into the league. We need to be wary of that. We’re well matched on the league table but we’ve got home advantage and we want to prove a point to everybody.”

Joe Helme (hamstring) is not available but Danny Ekis, who has joined the club from York, could make his debut if his registration comes through in time.

Blackpool boss Martin Crompton could give a debut to former Leigh winger Sam Reay.

The Panthers won 46-22 against London Skolars last week. Crompton said: “We didn’t play as a unit but it’s four wins on the trot and another record. However, we will have to play much better than that.”

Oldham v Rochdale Hornets

Thomas Coyle will miss Oldham’s derby clash with Co-operative Championship One rivals Rochdale after being given a one-match suspension by the RFL.

The scrum-half pleaded guilty to a charge of making a dangerous tackle during Oldham’s game against Keighley on July 19. As well as being suspended, Coyle was also fined £50.

Roughyeds coach Tony Benson, who endured a traumatic week at the club last week, is hoping to bounce back with victory over Hornets.

Benson said: “Our ambition is to be promoted still and I think that’s a realistic goal.”

He added: “Rochdale are always fired up and enjoy coming here and we’re fully aware of that.”

Benson is not expecting any of his injured players to return to action on Sunday.

Daryl Kay could make his debut for Rochdale after he was released by Blackpool.

Hornets beat Swinton 24-22 last week. Coach Darren Shaw said: “It was a stop-start affair but the main thing for us was we continued that little bit of momentum and we can look forward to Oldham.”