Championship clubs facing crunch weekend

Full back switch: Will Sharp of Featherstone
Full back switch: Will Sharp of Featherstone

A look ahead to Sunday’s action in the Kingstone Press Championship where the race to win a play-off spot or avoid relegation has reached fever pitch.

Barrow Raiders v North Wales Crusaders (3.00pm)

Bobbie Goulding is preparing for his final home match in charge of Barrow Raiders – and will be desperate to go out on a high.

Raiders, whose relegation has already been confirmed, have lost their last 11 league matches.

But North Wales Crusaders, fresh from a victory over Keighley Cougars, insist they will travel with plenty of confidence.

Prop forward Jonny Walker is available, and coach Anthony Murray expects to be picking from a full-strength squad.

Murray said: “It will have done our players the world of good to have a rest last week, and hopefully we can now finish the year strongly.

“It was great for everybody at the club to get a result last time out, but now we’ve got to move on and focus on Barrow.

“It’s going to be a very tough game. It’s their last home game of the season, and Bobbie’s too, and I’m sure he’ll want to finish well.

“But our focus is on ourselves. We’ve prepared as best we can, and if we can get things right from our end then we should be able to compete on Sunday. It’s a game we’re looking forward to.”

Batley Bulldogs v Swinton Lions (3.00pm)

Batley Bulldogs cannot afford any mistakes as they prepare for two crucial games that will determine which division they play in next year.

The Bulldogs are currently three points behind Whitehaven with only two games remaining.

Defeat against Swinton Lions, coupled with a Whitehaven victory over Rochdale Hornets, could see the Bulldogs relegated this weekend.

Coach John Kear said: “I’m confident of staying up… but the players need to remain focused on doing their jobs and winning games.”

Bulldogs are without Ben Black, while Swinton coach John Duffy is aiming to halt an eight-match losing streak.

The Lions lost their last match 62-6 against Leigh Centurions, but have taken points from 14 of their 24 league fixtures so far.

Dewsbury Rams v Keighley Cougars (3.00pm)

Dewsbury Rams coach Glenn Morrison is still without a number of players as he prepares to take on in-form Keighley Cougars.

The Rams have won four of their last five matches, while Keighley have won three of their last four.

Callan Beckett, Stephen Nash and Ewan Dowes are all expected to miss the rest of the season after scans on their respective knee injuries delivered bad news.

Wayne Godwin and Makali Aizue are also ruled out for the short-term, but could feature in the play-offs.

Morrison said: “Keighley are a good team with a lot to play for, so we know it’s going to be tough.

“We’ve probably got the same squad as we had last time. We’ve got a few wins under our belt while players have been busted, so hopefully we can continue with that momentum.

“But Keighley have got some big, powerful forwards, and Paul March is also a big part of what they do.

“He’ll have them fired up, but we’ve got to just focus on our own performance.”

Keighley need a single point to confirm their Kingstone Press Championship status for 2015.

The Cougars are currently six points above 10th placed Batley Bulldogs with two league fixtures remaining.

Doncaster v Halifax (3.00pm)

Doncaster coach Paul Cooke expects to face a backlash from third-placed Halifax when the two sides meet on Sunday.

Halifax recently lost against Featherstone Rovers, and Cooke believes Karl Harrison’s men will be desperate to make amends.

Cooke said: “I’ve just watched that Halifax-Featherstone game, and the first 20 minutes killed Halifax. But both teams were strong, and it’s certainly a tough game for us this weekend – even more so after Halifax’s loss.”

He added: “It’s in our own hands to finish in the top four. If you’d said at the start of the season that we could be in this position with two games to go, we’d have snapped your hand off.

“But we’ve now got two big games to finish the season, at home against Halifax and Batley.

“The players have had eight days off completely, where they’ve done whatever they wanted to do.

“It was their first weekend off since February 2, and they certainly deserved the break. Now we’re all looking forward to getting stuck in again.”

Cooke has no new injury concerns, while Luke Ambler (wrist) and Callum Casey (ankle) are both expected to be available for Halifax.

And Halifax coach Karl Harrison is refusing to give up hope of a top-two finish.

Harrison said: “It’s far from over, and I still believe it will go down to the very last minute of the last game.”

Featherstone Rovers v Sheffield Eagles (3.00pm)

Featherstone Rovers coach Andy Hay could play Will Sharp at full-back following his excellent display against Halifax.

Sharp made the shock switch at The Shay, but impressed in both attack and defence.

Tim Spears could return for the hosts after missing 11 matches with a bicep injury, but Gareth Moore is ruled out through suspension.

Rovers face Sheffield Eagles and Keighley Cougars in their final two games, knowing that victory in both would secure a second-placed finish ahead of the Kingstone Press Championship play-offs.

Hay said: “It’s in our hands. We’re capable of winning both those games if we perform to our best.”

Matt Garside, Michael Knowles and Dominic Brambani are all expected to be available for Sheffield coach Mark Aston.

But Eagles won their last match, against Rochdale Hornets, 48-0 – leaving Aston pondering whether to keep faith with the same players or include his returning trio.

Whitehaven v Rochdale Hornets (3.00pm)

Tom Carr (knee) is Whitehaven’s major doubt ahead of Sunday’s crucial Kingstone Press Championship clash with Rochdale Hornets.

Two wins for Whitehaven in their final two league fixtures would secure their position in the second tier in 2015.

Coach Dave Woods said: “We’ve just got to concentrate on our own performance. We need to be confident and get three points.”

Hornets, who are one point above Swinton Lions and 10 points clear of Barrow Raiders, are determined to finish in 12th position.

Coach Ian Talbot said: “We’ve got a target now of trying to stay out of the bottom two, and a result this week would go a long way to us doing that.

“We can then say that it’s the restructure that’s relegated us, because in a normal year we’d have survived if we stayed out of the bottom two.”

He added: “We want to finish on a high, and get some confidence for next year.

“We’ve moved on from our Sheffield defeat, but we also know that any game up at Whitehaven is always tough.

“They need one or maybe two wins from the last two games to stay up, so they’ve got it all to play for.

“Brett Seymour is one to watch, they’ve some experience in the pack, and dangerous outside backs in guys like Jessie Joe Parker. It’ll be a good test for us.”

Talbot has no new injury concerns ahead of the trip north.