The Co-operative Championship reaches its climax on Sunday, but with Barrow Raiders having clinched first place, all eyes are on the desperate three-way relegation battle, which features Leigh Centurions, Gateshead Thunder and Batley Bulldogs.
Relegation for the vocally ambitious Centurions is almost inconceivable, especially after their recruitment of former Leigh, St.Helens and Wigan coach, Ian Millward, for next season. A move that was intended to signal their charge to the engage Super League.
Yet one of the three clubs will certainly go down to CC1 next season and the coaches know that even a win may not be enough. All three clubs are locked together on 29 points, so it really is a question of who does best on the day. However, Leigh have far and away the worst points difference so the three-points for a win is vital to them (Batley are on minus 88 points, Gateshead minus 103 and Leigh on minus 179).
On the face of it Gateshead Thunder have the easiest of tasks, travelling to bottom-placed Doncaster, who are winless in their last sixteen games. But coach Steve McCormack knows the importance of the three points: “
It’s not as straightforward as needing just the win now, because if all three teams win then things are going to get pretty complicated. “It could all come down to points difference in that instance, so we need to make sure we don’t just win but we win well.”
Batley Bulldogs face a tough ask at Featherstone Rovers who could still move up a number of places from the sixth spot they currently hold, to boost their own playoff chances. Although Rovers lost their last outing – a 28-12 defeat at Sheffield last week, coach Darryl Powell saw glimpses to give him hope, saying:
“We did enough to build a bit of confidence within the group. It’s just a matter of us coming up with that type of tempo and urgency for 80 minutes rather than 40 minutes.”
Although Rovers will likely miss Jamie Field (shoulder) and Jon Fallon (knee), Iestyn Harris’ return from injury gives them a timely boost, making the Bulldogs task all the harder, but coach Karl Harrison remains focussed on victory, saying:
“… we need at least a point at Featherstone – and maybe a win.”
The Leigh Centurions host Whitehaven at the immaculate Sporting Village, with coach Paul Rowley under no allusions as to the extent of the task facing the club:
“There have been a lot of up and downs in the last five years. This is one of the stickier points.
“There are three teams on 29 points and the ironic thing is that we if we all win then we’d be joint seventh and one would still go down.
“It’s a pressure game but we’re in great form. We can take a lot from the Halifax game – if we had have had a video referee then we would have won that game.”
“We’ve played Whitehaven twice already and there wasn’t much in either game. They’re like ourselves – a workmanlike side that’s playing with a lot of confidence. “Ged Stokes is my vote for coach of the year. He’s done a fantastic job. If you look at all the money being spent in this division then Whitehaven have really worked hard.”
Ade Adebisi (illness) is not expected to play for Whitehaven but coach Ged Stokes is reporting an otherwise healthier squad than two weeks ago. Stokes said: “
This would be a tough game even without the circumstances Leigh are facing. There hasn’t been much between us.”