A look ahead to this weekend’s action in the Kingstone Press Championship including a tough test for reigning Champions Leigh Centurions at Halifax.
Sunday February 22: Kingstone Press Championship
Halifax v Leigh Centurions (3.00)
Richard Marshall was pleased to come away from Whitehaven with a win in his first game as coach to Halifax: “You’ve got to applaud Whitehaven, they made it a bit of a battle for us as we knew they would do. Leigh had a good win against Bradford. They’re obviously a physical team so we’ll have to make sure we’re up for that and more than match them physically.
“I think it will be a good test. We’re coming up against a full-time team but it’s our first game at home. Hopefully there will be a bumper crowd and the Fax fans will get behind us. It’s going to be a great advert for the Championship.”
Marshall has added Jacob Fairbank to his squad but is unsure whether he’ll play on Sunday.
Leigh coach Paul Rowley said of the victory over Bradford last week: “It was a good advertisement for the Championship and reassurance that the new structure is a wonderful step forward for the game as a whole.”
Looking ahead to Sunday’s clash with Halifax he said: “I think it will be quite possibly be one of our hardest games. They are a fantastic side and they’ve strengthened again. We will have to play better this week than we did last week. I don’t think our previous performance will be good enough against Halifax.”
Adam Higson sustained a broken hand against Bradford but apart from that Rowley will be picking from a full squad.
Doncaster v Featherstone Rovers (2.00)
Doncaster player/coach Paul Cooke says that his team have learned some harsh lessons following last week’s defeat to London Broncos: “Such is in the quality of the division this year that you can’t give teams the start like we did. When you find yourself 26 points down after 45 minutes it’s certainly a mountain to climb. We can take a bit of confidence from the way we finished the game but we got nothing out of it and learned some really harsh lessons.
“I have full confidence in the players, they know I’ll back them all the way. The start doesn’t get any easier for us when you consider Featherstone were in the top two last year. We’ve got to concentrate on how we’ve going to beat them, they are a quality outfit.”
Cooke has no injury concerns but will check on the fitness of Kyle Kesik who missed last week’s game.
Andy Hay, Featherstone Rovers coach, was pleased to get off to a winning start against Hunslet on Monday but feels his team still have a lot to work on. “We’re a new team with eight or nine players making their debuts on Monday night and we’ve got to gel pretty quickly,” he said.
“I think it’s going to be a very tough game at Doncaster; they’re a good side. They’ve got a good player in Paul Cooke and called on a few players from Hull FC under the dual registration system so we’re expecting a tough game.
“I’m surprised that London got such a good start over them but again teams at this time of year can be a little bit rusty. I expect them to be a lot better with that game under their belt. They’ll be brimming with confidence at nearly turning London over.”
Hay’s only injury concern is full-back Ian Hardman.
Bradford Bulls v Whitehaven (3.00)
Bradford Bulls coach James Lowes on last Sunday’s game against Leigh Centurions: “I was bitterly disappointed with the way in which we threw away a 20-point advantage last Sunday against Leigh,” said Lowes, “but it is my job to ensure that it does not happen again.
“In the first half we played some really good rugby and were good value for our half-time lead.
“After half-time, I felt we went away from our game plan and that was the most disappointing aspect of the game. Had we stuck to it, then we would have probably come away with the two points.
“We need to respond in a positive manner against Whitehaven on Sunday, who will come hoping to impress after a difficult opening game against Halifax.”
James Coyle, who along with Brett Seymour has taken over the coaching reins at Whitehaven says:“It’s going to be a big ask but we’re going to go down there and try to put on a good show. We can get a lot better; there’s a lot of improvement to be done and there are signs that things we’ve been working on are coming good. If we improve each week we won’t be far off.”
Whitehaven reported a clean bill of health after last week’s game and the two players on loan from Widnes Vikings will probably feature again this week.
Hunslet Hawks v Batley Bulldogs (3.00)
Although Hunslet lost to Featherstone Rovers on Monday, coach Barry Eaton took lots of positives from the match: “Featherstone knew they were in a game, we pushed them all the way,” he said. “But there are lots of things we still need to work on.
“We know it’s going to be a tough year but we’ve got to get back up against Batley. They put in a very dominant display (against Workington), and will be fancying themselves to be up their challenging for that top four.”
Eaton is hoping he’ll to be able to select from a full strength squad.
Batley coach John Kear said: “Our first performance was very satisfactory and the result was very pleasing but there’s no doubt we need to improve further. I went to Wakefield on Monday to watch Hunslet play Featherstone and was very impressed with what I saw.
“We’ve got improvements in us and we need to make them, especially away to Hunslet who looked very hungry and if they want to compete in this division.”
Kear says he’s still a lot to find out about his squad so there may be some changes from last week’s team as he looks to rotate players this week.
Workington Town v Dewsbury Rams (3.00)
Phil Veivers, the Workington coach, says he’s been concerned with rectifying problems this week follow their opening day defeat at Batley: “I thought we had plenty of endeavour but not enough guile. We’ll give Dewsbury the respect they deserve and hopefully aim up a little bit better than what we did against Batley last week.”
Ahead of their first Championship home game he added: “We need to make it a fortress so anyone coming up here whatever they get, they earn and for it to be a really physical and tough game for them.”
Full-back Brett Carter is doubtful with a rib cartilage problem, while Nathan Lucock’s suffered a broken nose and a neck injury at Batley.
Glenn Morrison’s not getting carried away with his side’s opening day win over Sheffield, their first for many years: “Obviously it was a monkey off our backs, we hadn’t beaten them for a while,” he said. “It was great to get the win but I don’t think we played overly well. We worked hard and got the job done, which was the pleasing thing.
“Trips up there (to Workington) are always tough. I went to watch them against Batley and I’ll think they’ll change their team from what they had there. We’re not reading too much into their performance last week.
“I think it’s going to be a tough one and they’ve got a good coach. You can tell from the structures he’s putting in place they’re going to be strong. We’re going up there with the same intensity and we need to come away with the points.”
Morrison will be selecting from a fully fit squad.
Sheffield Eagles v London Broncos (4.15)
Sheffield coach Mark Aston was disappointed with his side’s defeat at Dewsbury saying his side shot themselves in the foot after a good opening. “I thought we started very strongly and were winning 10-0 with five or six minutes to half time, then we let a couple of soft tries in.
“Credit Dewsbury, they had a game plan and stuck to it and came out on top. I thought defensively we were outstanding, but in the second half we were poor. Composure was poor, discipline was poor and field position was non-existent, that’s why we lost the game.
“But that’s gone and we’ve moved on. We’re really looking forward to the challenge this week at the Keepmoat against London Broncos, one of the full-time squads who have come out of Super League. We’ve had a good week’s preparation and will go into the game very positively.”
Aston has no real injury worries but will need to check on Ben Musolino who got a head injury last week. Second row John Davies is very close to being ready while winger Rob Worrincy and hooker Blake South are both available for selection.
London Broncos assistant coach Andrew Henderson knows all about Sheffield Eagles having spent three seasons with the club before moving down to London at the end of last year. The Broncos began their campaign with a victory over Doncaster but a poor second half almost cost them:“I thought we got off to a great start but as the game wore on we lost a bit of respect and there was a bit of indiscipline. We only completed at 30 per cent in the second half and if it wasn’t for our defensive attitude and effort we could have possibly lost that game.
“We’re playing at the Keepmoat Stadium, which is a pitch Sheffield enjoy playing on because their style of play is very expansive. I know possibly what will be coming at us, they pose a lot of threats all over the park and have a decent forward pack who chew up the yards. They’ve got some exciting backs, so we’re going to have to be very much on our game.”
He and head coach Joey Grima will be picking from a fully fit squad.