A look ahead to the opening round of games in the Kingstone Press Championship, including Leigh’s trip to Batley.
Sunday February 7
Batley Bulldogs v Leigh Centurions (3.00pm)
Batley have a tough opener at home to Leigh Centurions but coach John Kear says there’s no pressure on his team: “In all honesty nobody is expecting Batley to get anywhere near Leigh,” he said.
“It takes the pressure right off but it will allow us also to have a look at how we compare against a star-studded team with a wealth of talent who are very well coached. Neil Jukes has been working there for a number of years so I think it will be a seamless transition.
“It will give us a great marker. As a group we haven’t set any goals yet because we wanted to play this first game. Once we’ve done that, we’re going to re-evaluate. I think we’ll have a very competitive and combative team.”
Batley will need to check on prop Alex Rowe, who had a knee clear out after the Boxing Day game but Sean ‘Paddy’ Hesketh and Brad Day will miss out.
Neil Jukes, the new Leigh Centurions coach, said: “Round one at Batley is going to be difficult. The conditions will be heavy and they’re a good side who put in a good performance against Hunslet last week so we’re in for a tough start.”
Gregg McNally is likely to be out for six months following a knee operation with Cory Paterson rested.
Bradford Bulls v Featherstone Rovers (3.00pm)
James Lowes, the Bradford Bulls coach, is looking forward to their first league outing. He said: “The boys are ready to play and I’m sure Featherstone are. But as with last year, your season’s not defined on the first game. You want to start strong and play well of course, but it’s a long old season.
“We’re looking forward to starting against Featherstone at the weekend. We’ve still got a few players carrying injuries, which is disappointing for them as they’ve been working hard in pre-season, the squad’s probably about 80 per cent.”
Featherstone Rovers coach Jon Sharp has a much-changed squad from 2015. “We’ve brought 11 new players in and made lots of changes,” he said. “Last year I was fortunate to have the last 12 games with Featherstone and looked at some of the things we were doing on and off the field. I felt we needed more leadership on the field and to improve our kicking game.
“We brought in (Anthony) Thackeray, (Kyle) Briggs and (Danny) Craven and hopefully they’ve been able to address those issues. The way they played against Leeds, it looks like we’ve got a decent combination there.
“This week is a real tough one but one we’re excited about. We know that after Leigh they’re probably the second best team in the competition. It’s one of the hardest starts but that’s added spice to our training. We know we can’t feel our way into the season, we have to hit the ground running and we have to be in good form and play at our very best to be competitive against Bradford.”
Steve Snitch is out with a knee injury and Matty Wildie is doubtful with a leg injury
Halifax v Whitehaven (3.00pm)
Halifax boss Richard Marshall, had a successful first year as a head coach and was named 2015 Coach of the Year. Looking ahead to the new campaign he said: “This time last year when I came in I didn’t know about power plays never mind the Championship but I’ve got to know the team, their strengths and weaknesses.
“We’ve got some outstanding recruits who will really enhance the squad and I’m looking forward to seeing them play
“It’s really important we start well. We played Whitehaven away first last year and we did alright. I’ve looked at their team and a couple of the games they’ve played. I know James Coyle is a quality coach and they are a better team this year. We want to be very good at home, we want to get the crowd on our side straightaway.
“The players just want to perform, they’re ready to go. Whitehaven stand in our way this week and we’re hopeful of doing a job on them.”
Miles Greenwood, Simon Grix, Gavin Bennion and Gareth Potts are unavailable this week.
James Coyle, the Whitehaven coach, was also new to the job last year. On his current squad he said: “We’ve got quite a few lads who have come from full-time environments so they should be good for us this year. We still have the dual-registration with Widnes Vikings, which comes from a long standing relationship between me and Denis (Betts) and it’s just grown.
“As long as both teams stay healthy there will be a lot of decent players appearing in the Championship for us.
“We’ve got a tough start at Halifax, it’s pretty much the same as last season’s opener. We’ve got to play everyone twice so it makes no difference. We’ve just got to get on the bus, get ourselves down there and be ready to play and give ourselves an opportunity.”
Oldham v London Broncos (3.00pm)
Scott Naylor, the Oldham coach, saw his team promoted from League 1, and believes the club have kicked on. “Things have improved again from last year,” he said. “I kept most of the lads from last year, firstly because I think they deserved to have a crack in this division, given that they spent three years trying to get here. And I think the team as a unit will take us a long way this year, the fact that they’ve played together for three years and been through the highs and lows. That will stand us in good stead for what will be a very tough season.
“We obviously lost George Tyson and Adam Neal and they went on to bigger and better things but we’ve brought in lads of real quality. The squad’s pretty small; I always start with a small squad because I believe there are always a couple of players who become available. We also have the dual-registration with Huddersfield Giants, which obviously this year is a lot more important.
“Our first two games are London Broncos at home and Leigh away, so to start with two full-time teams is very difficult but we wouldn’t want to be in this division if we didn’t play against that kind of quality. We’ll learn more from those games than from the teams we’re targeting a little bit more. It’s good for the lads to play against those kind of players and to see where they are individually and to see where we are as a team.
“The London game is going to be interesting because it’s our first home game. My lads are going to absolutely fired up and ready for it. It’s going to be good to see where we are early on in the season.”
Craig Briscoe is doubtful with a knee problem.
Andrew Henderson, London Broncos coach said: “I think we’ve recruited a little bit better this year, we’ve got a bit more strength in depth. When you’re coming up against teams like Oldham, who have been promoted, they’ve got nothing to lose, so they’re a dangerous animal.
“It’s early in the season too. They’re going to come out with a lot of fire and intensity and energy because they want to impress their coach but also they want to show the rest of the competition they deserve to be in the Championship.
“I don’t expect anything more than an energetic performance from Oldham. They will play a very simple game because the conditions are more than likely to be wet and heavy. For us it’s about matching them in terms of our energy and enthusiasm and obviously playing the more disciplined game of Rugby League. Hopefully our fitness will come over the top of them in the back end of the game.”
The Broncos will be without Rhys Lovegrove and Mark Offerdahl while Israel Eliab is still waiting for his visa. James Cunningham is doubtful with a foot injury.
Swinton Lions v Dewsbury Rams (3.00pm)
John Duffy, coach of newly promoted Swinton Lions, said: “We’ve got a youthful squad with some experience in there as well. Most of our squad have played Championship before so hopefully that will stand us in good stead when we get to the rough and tough of the season.
“It’s a big challenge that we’re all buying into, we just can’t wait to test ourselves against the best. It’s going to be a real challenge every week.
“Glenn’s done a fantastic job at Dewsbury over the last couple of years and turned things around for them. It’s a big test for us, they’ve recruited really well and they’ve got a lot of Super League-experienced players in there. We’re just looking to give a good account of ourselves.”
Skipper Mike Morrison is a doubt for this week.
Glenn Morrison, the Dewsbury Rams coach, said: “We’ve recruited really well. We lost our halves Anthony Thackeray and Matt Wildie and brought in Andy Kain and Paul Sykes and got Ben Reynolds on a season-long loan from Leigh Centurions. He played his first game for us last weekend and bossed us around the park which was good.
“We’ve got some big front rowers, Tony Tonks and Matt Groat, who I think are two of the best in the competition. We’ve strengthened areas we needed to.
“This week’s game is one of those that if you want to finish at the top end of the table you need to win, so there’s pressure on us not them. I think they’ve got four of our players from last year so it’s going to be tough, they’ve got a lot to play for.
“We’d probably rather be playing Leigh or one of the top teams before they click into gear but it is what it is.”
Workington Town v Sheffield Eagles (3.00pm)
Workington coach Phil Veivers said: “I targeted 30 players and have got 25 so we’re not where I wanted to be. In an ideal world I could do with another three players.
“They will have had 30 training whereas we often only have 12 or 13 because of work commitments. We want to make it a bit of a fortress here at home and our forwards have spoken particularly about that. It’s a game we’re looking forward to.”
Mark Aston, the Sheffield Eagles coach, said: “There’s been a smooth transition from part-time to full-time and the boys have been good but it’s been tough. Training 20 hours a week instead of four or five should hopefully make a bit of a difference.
“We’re looking forward to the Workington game, it can’t come quick enough; the boys are getting excited. They’ve had a long three months, a tough three months and now they’re ready to go. We’re looking fresh and fit.
“We’re in the entertainment game and I‘d certainly love the boys to express themselves and challenge themselves to play an exciting brand of football at the weekend.”
Hooker Greg Burns is out with a shoulder problem.