Co-operative Championships Game Previews
Neil Barraclough previews this weekend’s Co-operative Championship and Championship One action
Friday 24 July
The Co-operative Championship
Halifax v Featherstone Rovers
Halifax boss Matt Calland could hand a debut to Stephen Bannister after signing the former St Helens, Harlequins and Widnes star until the end of the season.
Dominic Maloney is also in line to make his home debut after impressing during Halifax’s commanding victory at Toulouse last week.
Calland’s side will move seven points clear at the top of the Co-operative Championship if they can overcome fellow play-off challengers Featherstone.
Rovers boss Daryl Powell is also set to reshape his side following the arrival of Dwayne Barker from Fax.
Powell said: “Dwayne’s going to add in a big way to what we’ve got.
“We want players who can add to the team for the rest of the season with potential to be a big part of the future.”
Rovers had last week off and Powell will be hoping the extra rest has benefited his squad as they search for a third successive league victory.
Impressive triumphs over Toulouse and Gateshead have seen Featherstone rack up 88 points but their defence is still concerning Powell.
He said: “Our ability to score points was really pleasing but defensively there are quite a few areas we need to improve on. (Against Gateshead) we dipped defensively from where we’d been against Barrow and Toulouse so we need to step up again.”
Saturday 25 July
Barrow Raiders v Leigh Centurions
New Barrow coach Steve Deakin will have Andy Bracek available for Saturday’s Co-operative Championship clash with Leigh.
Bracek avoided a suspension when he faced the RFL’s disciplinary committee on Tuesday night following a high tackle on Jim Gannon in the Northern Rail Cup Final.
However, Brett McDermott will not feature after suffering broken ribs during last week’s fixture against Whitehaven.
Deakin said: “Hopefully I can bring some fresh blood to the club.
“They say when you bring new players in during the season it can add impetus to a team and perhaps I can do the same.”
Raiders have lost three of their last four games and Leigh boss Paul Rowley believes his side are capable of causing another upset on Saturday.
Rowley said: “They’re second in the league and deservedly so because they’ve probably got strike power that compares with the likes of Halifax.
“They have lots of Super League experience and they’ve got a new coach – it won’t take much for them to be fired up for this weekend. We’re always confident though and we think we know where we can get them.”
Rowley is likely to name the same squad that beat Sheffield last week, having suffered no injuries during Leigh’s 32-24 victory.
Toulouse Olympique v Widnes Vikings
Portuguese-born Carlos Mendes Varela could be included in Gilles Dumas’ squad when Toulouse host Northern Rail Cup winners Widnes on Saturday.
The 25-year-old centre has joined Toulouse from Lyon-Villeurbanne after impressing in France’s Elite 1 competition.
Olympique lost 54-16 in a bruising battle against Halifax last week.
Dumas said: “We’re in a period now where we’re playing against all the top teams. Halifax are a cut above the others, but we must fight back against Widnes.”
Vikings coach Paul Cullen believes that the forward battle will be crucial to deciding Saturday’s winners.
Cullen said: “We will need a big pack to compete against Toulouse and we’ll also have to take into account the weather conditions over there.
“They have certainly improved since we met in the opening game of the season and our defence and discipline will have to improve from last week’s display at Gateshead.”
The Co-operative Championship One
Blackpool Panthers v London Skolars
Panthers coach Martin Crompton will be without Josh Simm for Saturday’s Co-operative Championship One fixture against London.
Simm has returned to Widnes following the completion of his loan deal but in-form Blackpool are still confident are taking three points from the weekend’s clash.
Crompton said: “We’ve got three in a row now and a bit of confidence. It’s all about our attitude and application this week and some of the players will be assessed on that.
“A few players were just strolling about and going through the motions during the first half against Swinton. If we disrespect London then we could end up with egg on our faces.”
He added: “We want to finish as high as we possibly can to give us a better shot in the play-offs. If we finish fourth or fifth then that’s going to happen – our target is to finish in the top five. We’re fifth with a game in hand and if we win against London then we can consolidate that and kick on for the rest of the season.”
French signing Florent Rouanet could make his debut as caretaker boss Jermaine Coleman continues to steer the Skolars ahead of the appointment of a new coach.
Sunday 26 July
The Co-operative Championship
Doncaster v Whitehaven
Mike Coady is expected to miss out when Doncaster play their first home game in eight weeks in Sunday’s Co-operative Championship fixture against Whitehaven.
The powerful centre, who has signed for Leeds but remains on loan at the Dons, has struggled to recover from glandular fever.
However, coach Tony Miller has had some good news with Shaun Leaf and Andy Speak both expected to be available on Sunday.
Miller said: “I’m hoping that every week between now and the end of the season we get a little bit better. We are certainly heading in the right direction.”
Dean Colton is also available for the hosts after work commitments ruled him out of last week’s game against Batley.
Whitehaven boss Ged Stokes insists his team will treat this game no differently to any other despite Doncaster’s lowly league position.
Stokes said: “We’ll prepare for this game as we always do. It makes no difference to us who we’re playing. At the end of the day it’s about our performance and that’s paramount for us.
“Doncaster have got a good young team and with any bunch of youngsters if they get a sniff then they grow another leg. We’ve got to make sure they don’t get that chance.”
Scott McAvoy is Stokes’ only injury concern.
The Co-operative Championship One
Rochdale Hornets v Swinton Lions
Hornets will be without Tommy Brindle (eye), Dayne Donoghue (shoulder) and Tommy Gallagher (back) for Sunday’s mouth-watering clash against Swinton.
Last week Rochdale emerged 62-4 winners at London Skolars but coach Darren Shaw insists there is room for improvement.
Shaw said: “We were a bit hit and miss. We were good in patches and we played some decent stuff, but there are still other things we need to work on.”
He added: “The play-offs is pretty far away from where we are. We cannot do anything other than take things one game at a time and see where we end up.
“We’ve had two tight games with Swinton this year. They’re a tough team to pay and it will be a tight, derby-type game.”
Swinton coach Paul Kidd is hoping that Richie Hawkyard (hip) and Wayne English (knee) can recover from their recent knocks in time to take the field for Sunday’s Co-operative Championship One fixture.
York City Knights v Hunslet Hawks
Knights coach James Ratcliffe has played down the importance of Paul March’s quick return to York.
March, who left the Knights earlier this month, returns to his former club as head coach of Hunslet on Sunday.
Ratcliffe told the York Press: “The fact that Paul has gone to Hunslet, in some people’s eyes, especially the spectators’ and in the press, it’ll make for a fantastic game.
“But we just need to concentrate on what we’re doing. We’re a good enough team to beat all of the last five oppositions we’ve got to play and if we do that we will more than likely finish in second place.”
Hawks boss March insists he is excited by Sunday’s Co-operative Championship One fixture list.
He said: “I’m going to look forward to going back and get a quick return. I hope I get a good reception but I’m sure I probably won’t.”
He added: “We’ve got a lot to improve on, although only letting Dewsbury score three tries was a pleasing thing last week because they’ve been going to town on a few teams.”
Scott Watson (concussion) is doubtful but Neil Lowe and Wayne Reittie are both expected to return.
Dewsbury Rams v Oldham
Rams coach Warren Jowitt has told his squad to keep focussed on Sunday’s Co-operative Championship One clash with Oldham – despite the league title being just two wins away for high-flying Dewsbury.
Jowitt’s men are nine points clear at the top of the table with only five games remaining. Two more victories would secure the title but Jowitt insisted: “We’re just taking things one game at a time. That’s what we’ve said from Day One and that’s what we’re still doing.”
Austin Buchanan and Taron Wildey remain doubtful but Jowitt has an otherwise healthy squad.
Jowitt added: “It’s a big challenge this week and that’s what we need and enjoy. The lads have taken to the challenge this week in training and I’m confident we can do well.”
Tony Benson’s crippling injury list continues to dominate his thoughts as he prepares his Oldham squad for the trip to west Yorkshire.
Benson said: “We went in to last week’s game with no centres but we’re actually worse off this week.
“Paul Reilly twisted his ankle against Keighley and he couldn’t drive to training on Tuesday to see the physio. Andy Ballard is probably in an equally bad way.
“We are struggling for numbers but our motivation and our efforts remains very high.”
Marcus St Hilaire (calf), Paul Highton (knee) and Luke Menzies are Benson’s most worrying injuries, with the rest of his missing players expected to return shortly.