Co-operative Championships preview
Co-operative Championships previews
Saturday March 12
Toulouse Olympique v Halifax RLFC (7.00pm)
Toulouse Olympique coach Gilles Dumas has told his players to increase their performance levels after last week’s 16-10 Carnegie Challenge Cup defeat at Keighley.
Olympique had made an encouraging start to the year, winning three of their four games prior to that Keighley fixture.
But Dumas was left scratching his head after a disappointing defeat at Cougar Park.
He said: “We didn’t have enough possession, we made too many mistakes and we gave away too many penalties.
“Our spirit was really poor, which we need to improve, and we need to work harder because the Co-operative Championship competition is at a high level.”
Former Halifax player Ged Corcoran could return to the Toulouse line-up after recovering from a dislocated elbow, but Rory Bromley (Achilles) is still missing.
‘Fax pair Jon Goddard (Achilles) and Lee Paterson (ankle) are both missing for the trip to France.
Halifax coach Matt Calland believes the conditions in Toulouse could suit his team perfectly.
He said: “We love to play on dry tracks. We’re a warm weather team and we’ll get better and better as the season goes on.
“Things are looking good for us at the moment. We’ve got a tough schedule coming up, but we’ve 26 or 27 top quality lads and I’m sure we’ll have a strong enough squad to cope with it.”
Sunday March 13
Batley Bulldogs v Dewsbury Rams (3.00pm)
Batley Bulldogs coach Karl Harrison will need a new hooker for Sunday’s Co-operative Championship derby with Dewsbury Rams.
Kris Lythe, who wore the number nine shirt against Fryston last week, has been suspended for one match and fined £50 after being found guilty of head-butting during the Bulldogs’ recent Northern Rail Cup victory over Halifax.
Batley came through unscathed from their Carnegie Challenge Cup tie with Fryston, meaning Harrison is able to name the bulk of those 17 players to face Dewsbury.
Harrison said: “We played really well against a different type of opposition.
“Fryston were physical and robust, but we played well and scored some nice tries.”
Pat Walker remains Dewbsury’s main injury absentee, having suffered a broken arm in a Northern Rail Cup fixture against Toulouse.
Rams coach Warren Jowitt wants his side to be more ruthless, despite last week’s 62-6 win against South Wales Scorpions.
Jowitt said: “The first 20 minutes and the last quarter of the game were really good but the middle 40 wasn’t so good.
“We let Scorpions off the hook a lot with mistakes.”
Hunslet Hawks v York City Knights (3.00pm)
Hunslet Hawks coach Paul March has a fully fit squad to pick from as he tries to engineer three points from Hunslet’s first Co-operative Championship fixture.
March has recovered from a groin problem while Richard Blakeway has also been given the all clear from an ankle complaint.
March said: “We’re much improved from the start of the year, but the intensity levels are going to rise again this week.
“The speed is faster in the Co-operative Championship, and the referees are looking for cleaner rucks. But we’ve got the players and the experience in our squad, and we should go OK.”
March has taken encouragement from his side’s Northern Rail Cup endeavours. He said: “We’ve already shown against Batley and Sheffield that we’ll be competitive this year.
“The main difference this year is that we can’t give teams too much possession, because they’ll definitely score points at this level.”
Elliott Kear comes back into the Hawks’ reckoning as his week-to-week loan deal from Crusaders continues.
Knights coach Dave Woods, who like March is also steering a team newly-promoted into the Co-operative Championship, said: “It’s really important that we get a good start.
“If we can surprise a couple of teams early on and get some points on the board, that will stand us in good stead. We’re confident in our own ability and we think we can do all right.”
Woods must decide whether to make major changes to last week’s record-breaking 17-man squad that won 132-0 against the University of Northumbria.
The York City Knights coach has eight other players at his disposal this week, including dual-registered trio John Davies, Nathan Massey and Jordan Thompson.
“Ian Bell, Matt Garside, Nathan Freer and Ben Jones are also ready, so we’ve got some choices to make,” said Woods.
Ryan Esders starts a four-match suspension after being found guilty of two incidents during a Northern Rail Cup fixture with Keighley.
Sheffield Eagles v Widnes Vikings (3.00pm)
Sheffield Eagles go in search of their first back-to-back wins of 2011 when they host Widnes Vikings in Sunday’s Co-operative Championship opening round.
The Eagles have secured only two wins this year – against Gateshead in early February and against Leeds Met last week – but coach Mark Aston will be confident his team are now prepared for the week-to-week rigours of the Championship.
New signing Quentin Laulu-Togagae is set for his Sheffield debut. He is likely to slot straight in at centre to replace the suspended Menzie Yere.
Vikings coach Denis Betts paid tribute to Danny Sculthorpe after he made his Widnes debut in last week’s 54-6 Carnegie Challenge Cup win over Siddal.
Betts said: “I’m pleased for Danny because it’s been a long, hard road for him. He’s worked hard and really dedicated himself to getting back out on the field.
“When he first came down here, I was really impressed with his attitude. He was really knocked for six and he’s come back from a very, very tough situation, so I’m genuinely pleased for him.”
Sculthorpe could feature again along with Chaz I’Anson – “the physio is pleased with how both of them have reacted,” said Betts – when Widnes finalise their team for Sunday’s trip to Bramall Lane.
Betts said: “Sunday will be a tough day. Mark Aston will have his team fired up and they’ll be very tough opposition.
“Mark doesn’t waste time with pre-season games. He uses the Northern Rail Cup games to get his side ready to go, and that’s what we’ve got to be prepared for on Sunday.”
Co-operative Championship One
Doncaster RLFC v South Wales Scorpions (3.00pm)
Doncaster coach Tony Miller has suffered a major blow to his preparations for the new Co-operative Championship One season after it was confirmed that Chris Spurr will miss Sunday’s opener against South Wales Scorpions.
Spurr suffered a hamstring injury during last week’s Challenge Cup win over Thatto Heath and now faces a number of weeks on the sidelines.
Miller told the Sheffield Star: “I don’t think that there is a stand-out team in Championship One this season.
“Five or six teams, including ourselves, are going to be competitive. Our biggest problem could be injuries, because we don’t have don’t have the biggest of squads.”
Jamie Bovill is also suspended for the Dons to further increase the pressure on Miller’s squad.
Lewis Mills is the Scorpions’ only injury absentee from last week’s team that faced Dewsbury.
South Wales went down 62-6 against Warren Jowitt’s men but director of rugby Mark Rowley is expecting a big response on Sunday.
He said: “A few people last week had to look at themselves in the mirror and say ‘Do I want to play rugby league or am I just here to make up the numbers?’
“We’ve had some good sessions this week. The boys have done a lot of hard work and we’re ready for what will be a tough challenge up at Doncaster.”
Keighley Cougars v London Skolars (3.00pm)
Keighley Cougars coach Jason Demetriou says a professional preparation will give his team the best possible chance of success in 2011.
Demetriou is eyeing a return to the Co-operative Championship and knows that a good start against London Skolars is essential to for building momentum and confidence.
He said: “How we prepare for games is something that I’ve emphasised to all the players. We’ve got a great squad and I’m confident we can beat anybody – if we prepare right.”
Tom Burton suffered a dislocated shoulder against Toulouse last week. He now faces up to six weeks on the sidelines, but Gavin Duffy is available and will most likely take Burton’s place on the wing.
Demetriou added: “We’re progressing nicely. Everything I’ve put in place in terms of how we approached the Northern Rail Cup has paid off. Every player has had some good game time.
“Saturday was first time I’ve played my strongest 17, and our attitude was outstanding.”
He continued: “I’ve watched London’s game against York when they drew and I thought they deserved it. They’re aggressive, they’ve got a big pack and they work hard for each other.
“Joe Mbu is doing a good job and I hear they’re coming up overnight. It’s a big challenge for us, and a great way to start the season with a match between a team who want to get promoted and a team who want to prove a point.”
Matthew Thomas returns to Mbu’s Skolars squad after serving a one-match suspension last week.
Skolars won 60-24 against Cumbrian amateurs Egremont last Saturday. Mbu said: “We knew it would be tight early on, but we held our game plan and controlled the ball well.”
Oldham v Gateshead Thunder (3.00pm)
Oldham Roughyeds coach Tony Benson must cope without Marcus St Hilaire (hamstring), Lucas Onyango (suspended) and John Gillam (fractured eye socket) for Sunday’s Co-operative Championship One fixture against Gateshead Thunder.
Gillam sees a specialist on March 14 while Onyango returns next week, but all three are definitely missing from Sunday’s match.
Benson said: “You cannot take Gateshead lightly. You never know what’s going to turn up and they can be a very good side.
“We’re not exactly on our game at the moment, so it’s going to need some patience and concentration from our blokes.”
Thunder coach Richard Pell is in talks with a half-back in a bid to bolster his attacking options.
Pell said: “Steve Coutts did a good job for us last week, and we’ve got Scott Woods available for Oldham as well, but we’re trying to get another half-back – we’re just speaking to his agent at the moment – and if we can get him we’ll be a lot stronger.”
On Thunder’s 2011 campaign so far, Pell reflected: “We’ve had some good results and some bad results.
“The games against Sheffield and Milford were highs, but we suffered real lows against Workington and Swinton. I didn’t expect us to be that low, but it’s gone now and we have moved forward.
“As a group of 17 players and the coaching staff, there’s only ourselves that can change things.
“Oldham have been in the last four grand finals, and they’ll be up there again this year, but that’s our league. We’re in it, so let’s get on with it.”
Swinton Lions v Workington Town (3.00pm)
Tommy Gallagher returns for Swinton Lions’ opening Co-operative Championship One fixture, but Richie Hawkyard (hamstring) is definitely ruled out.
Lions coach Steve McCormack said: “We’ve still got a lot of improvement to do, but this is what we’ve been building up to.
“We were disappointed not to go through in the Northern Rail Cup, and we’ve got a tough start to the league season, but it’s something we’ve been working towards and looking forward to.”
Swinton are one of the early-season favourites for the Co-operative Championship One fixture.
McCormack is confident his new-look side can produce the goods in 2011. “We’ve showed at times already that we can play well together.
“If we can just be a bit more consistent and play for the full 80 minutes, then we’ll be OK.”
However, the Swinton coach is not expecting an easy ride against Workington Town. “They’ve strengthened really well, and they’ll be one of the favourites this year,” he said.
Marc Jackson (arm) is Workington’s major injury doubt after last week’s 22-20 Carnegie Challenge Cup defeat at Rochdale.
Town have lost their last three games but joint coach Gary Charlton, who saw his side establish a 20-4 half time lead at Rochdale before collapsing in the second half, believes good results are just around the corner.
Charlton said: “If we can play to that level for 80 minutes then we’ll take some stopping. It’s just a case of getting the fellas to concentrate for the whole match rather than just parts of it.”
Charlton is now asking for a response from his squad when they travel to Swinton.
“It’ll be a great test for us and I expect us to be up for the challenge,” he said.
“We’ve got a few things to prove to ourselves after that last 40 minutes against Rochdale.
“We’re capable of going down there and doing something – it’s just whether the boys are ready to concentrate for the full 80 minutes.”
Whitehaven RLFC v Rochdale Hornets (3.00pm)
Whitehaven coach David Seeds will give a late fitness test to Howard Hill (quad) before finalising his team to face Rochdale Hornets in Sunday’s Co-operative Championship One opener.
‘Haven have won just one of their four competitive fixtures in 2011, but Seeds said: “We’re two games down on what we’d anticipated after our friendly against Leeds was called off and our Northern Rail Cup game with Halifax was postponed.
“It would have been nice to get those under our belts, but we were up against a very good Lezignan side last week and our effort and commitment was great.”
Seeds has been doing his research as Whitehaven prepare for life after relegation from the Co-operative Championship.
“I’ve seen Swinton in the flesh against Barrow, we’ve played Oldham twice, and we’ve been beaten by Workington twice.
“We know the standard of the rugby we’re playing, and we know that if we don’t turn up on any given Sunday we’ll come away with our tails between our legs.
“The physicality is the big difference (between Championship One and the Championship). Championship One is a very level competition - Swinton, Oldham, Keighley, Rochdale, Workington and Doncaster are all going to be there or thereabouts.”
Rochdale’s Paul Crook is expected to play despite carrying a dead leg through last week’s Carnegie Challenge Cup win over Workington.
But prop Dave Newton is suspended after being found guilty of striking an opponent with his forearm during a recent match with Doncaster.
Hornets coach John Stankevitch said: “History shows that travelling to Cumbria is always a big task.
“Whitehaven are going through some big changes at the minute, and they’ve had a bit of disruption, but they’ve still got some quality players.
“Sice at nine, McAvoy in the centre… and Tane Manihera has loads of experience. They’ve got some talent in there, but we’re going up with a load of confidence from last week and we know we’ve got the players to score points.”