Co-operative Championships previews
Previews from this weekend's fixtures in the Co-operative Championships.
FRIDAY 12 MARCH
CO-OPERATIVE CHAMPIONSHIP ONE
BLACKPOOL PANTHERS v ROCHDALE HORNETS - 8pm
Panthers are set to give debuts to two dual-registered players after reaching an agreement with Engage Super League club Wigan Warriors.
Prop Neil Holland and second row Chris Tuson will be thrown straight into Martin Crompton’s squad.
Crompton said: “It’s absolutely remarkable for a little club like Blackpool to link up with the most famous club in the game. I’ve got to say a big ‘thank you’ to those who’ve made it happen because it looks like it will be an ongoing relationship.”
Damian Munro (hamstring) and Martin Ainscough (hamstring) will both miss out this week but winger Tom Woodcock comes back following a slight calf strain.
But Crompton has been dealt more bad news after prop Dave Best had a scan on his shoulder injury on Monday. Crompton said: “It’s not good. He’s got to have an operation and he’s looking likely to be out for three months.”
On Rochdale, Crompton added: “John Stankevitch has got some good players there and they’re very well drilled. It’ll be a good test for us.”
New Hornets signing Liam McGovern will not play on Friday after his registration was not completed in time, although Rochdale coach John Stankevitch is hopeful he will be ready for next week.
Stankevitch said: “We’ve signed him from Waterloo rugby union. He’s a really prolific kicker and a different type of halfback with lots of experience.”
Chris Hough is facing four to six weeks out with a torn thigh muscle but Bolu Fagborun (ankle) is fit to play on Friday. Paul Raftery (suspected broken cheekbone) is doubtful following a knock he suffered during Rochdale’s Challenge Cup tie against Lezignan.
Stankevitch said: “I think Blackpool are under massive pressure this week.
“It’s their first league fixture of the year and their chairman has openly said that they want to win the league this season. All the pressure is on them and we’ll just go and enjoy the game.”
HUNSLET HAWKS v OLDHAM – 8pm
Waine Pryce will make his Hunslet debut when title-chasing Hawks host last year Grand Finalists Oldham.
Hunslet coach Paul March said: “With players of Waine’s capabilities, you’ve got to put them in and let them show what they can do. I’m looking forward to him hopefully having a good debut and making a real impact for us.”
March also confirmed that he now has a fully fit squad to choose from. Richard Knight came through last week’s Carnegie Challenge Cup tie unscathed while Nico Slain will play in Thursday night’s reserve fixture with a view to possibly forcing his way into March’s thoughts for Friday’s first team game.
March said: “There’s still a lot for us to improve. We’re behind schedule compared to where I’d like to be but we’re not that far behind and we’re going in the right direction.”
Lucas Onyango (knee), Danny Whitmore (ankle), Dave Ellison (calf) and John Gillam (shoulder) will all face fitness tests on Thursday before Oldham coach Tony Benson settles on his team.
Definitely missing are Kashley Watkins, Chris Clarke (both broken wrists) and Mark Brocklehurst (suspended).
Benson said: “We were on a high before our game against Blackwood but we were very pleased with that performance. We maintained our mental composure throughout so we’re in a positive frame of mind for this game against Hunslet.”
SATURDAY 13 MARCH
WHITEHAVEN v TOULOUSE OLYMPIQUE – 6pm
Props Ryan McDonald (arm) and David Ford (illness) are both facing up to three weeks out of action, with McDonald still awaiting results to find out whether he suffered a broken arm that would sideline him for six weeks.
Whitehaven coach Ged Stokes has doubts over six other players and is battling against a mounting injury list.
He said: “It’s going to be a major challenge for us.”
He added: “Toulouse are a good team - they showed that last year. They took a while to get used to it but they had a really strong middle part of the season.
“We know a bit more about them this time, which is a benefit, but they haven’t really got any weaknesses as far as I can see. We’re up against it but we always put in a good show when we’re facing adversity.”
Toulouse coach Gilles Dumas is likely to be boosted by the return of Constant Villegas (ankle) and Simon Worrall (groin), while Mathieu Griffi (shoulder) will be given a late fitness test.
However, hooker Martin Mitchall (dislocated elbow) is facing four weeks on the sidelines.
SUNDAY 14 MARCH
DEWSBURY RAMS v FEATHERSTONE ROVERS – 3pm
Rams coach Warren Jowitt will demand a major improvement from his troops when they host Featherstone Rovers on Sunday.
Last week Dewsbury beat amateurs Drighlington 42-10 in the Carnegie Challenge Cup but Jowitt was unimpressed.
He said: “I’m quite sure the players will improve. After the game they were brassed off with themselves.
“I wasn’t happy as a coach, and they weren’t happy as a group of players. We’ll need to be a lot better against Featherstone but I’m sure we’ll get a response.”
Alex Bretherton, Rob Spicer and Scott Watson are all two to three weeks away from returning to first team action.
Kyle Briggs (dead leg) and Iain Morrison will both be given a late fitness test before Featherstone coach Daryl Powell names his side.
The pair suffered minor knocks during Rovers’ 74-0 romp against Workington but Powell is hopeful that both will be fit to play on Sunday.
Powell has asked his team to continue their recent good form. He said: “We’ve got bags of self belief, and so we should have. It will stand us in good stead in the coming weeks.”
KEIGHLEY COUGARS v LEIGH CENTURIONS – 3pm
Brendon Rawlins remains sidelined for the Cougars while full back Dan Belcher faces more tests on his ankle injury.
Cougars lost 62-18 against Barrow in midweek but ran Toulouse close in the Carnegie Challenge Cup.
Coach Barry Eaton said: “We have to understand we’ve made a step up in class and if you give the ball away cheaply against Championship sides, they’ll punish you for it.”
Leigh travel to Cougar Park with no injury concerns. Assistant coach Paul Rowley said: “We’re fully fit and we’ve got nobody suspended, so Ian (Millward) is going to have some tough decisions this week on who he leaves out.
“We’ve also got the dual-registered players back so there are going to be some good players who don’t get in the side.”
He added: “I don’t know too much about Keighley but we’ll be doing a lot of video work on them on Thursday and that should give us a good idea.”
SHEFFIELD EAGLES v WIDNES VIKINGS – 3pm
Jack Howieson could feature for the Eagles after tests revealed he had suffered less damage than initially feared in a bicep injury.
Alex Szostak also has a chance of playing in Sunday’s Co-operative Championship thriller, but forward Alex Rowe will definitely miss out after being the victim of an assault in Leeds city centre.
Sheffield coach Mark Aston is demanding more from his squad, despite their 54-0 victory over Thatto Heath Crusaders in the Carnegie Challenge Cup.
Aston said: “I wasn’t particularly happy with the performance.
“We kept our line intact, and respect to the boys for that, but I’m still not happy. We’ve got to be better than that.”
Toa Kohe-Love, James Webster, Jim Gannon, James Ford, Dean Gaskell and Steve Pickersgill will all be assessed before Widnes finalise their team selection.
Assistant coach Stuart Wilkinson said: “Sheffield are a real threat. They have a certain way of doing things and we’ll have to be ready for that.
“We’re improved recently but we’ve still got a lot more that we can do better.”
CO-OPERATIVE CHAMPIONSHIP ONE
DONCASTER v SOUTH WALES SCORPIONS – 3pm
Under-strength Doncaster will be without four key players as they look to get back on track with a victory this week.
Dons coach Tony Miller will be without Nathan Anderson (hamstring) and Aaron Henry (cheekbone) for a month each, while Grant Edwards (two months – knee) and Craig Fawcett (six weeks – finger) are also sidelined.
Doncaster lost 26-0 against amateurs Siddal in last week’s Carnegie Challenge Cup game but Miller is calling for his troops to rally against adversity.
Miller said: “The players' pride was dented by the defeat, as was mine.
“We have to stick together and work hard to try and put thing things right… only ourselves can dig us out of the hole that we’re in.”
Scorpions will have Gil Dudson, Lewis Mills and Lee Williams back from the Crusaders on the dual registration rule. Former Blackwood Bulldogs’ full-back David James will make his Scorpions debut following the Bulldogs’ Carnegie Challenge Cup exit last week. James was the star man for Bulldogs throughout the Cup run and impressed against Oldham last week. Neil Dallimore will have a fitness test on his ankle. Anthony Seibold said: “It’s going to be a big challenge as this is our first away trip and we’re travelling on the day of the game. Doncaster will be more determined to bounce back after last week’s unexpected loss to Siddal in the Cup so we’re expecting a very difficult game as they will have a point to prove. “I’m very excited to see David James making his debut. He was outstanding for Blackwood last season when they won the Welsh League and I know he’s performed very well this season in their Challenge Cup run, scoring a hat-trick of tries against Edinburgh and scoring again against Oldham last week, a team of course that the Scorpions are due to meet this season.”
LONDON SKOLARS v SWINTON LIONS – 3pm
Austen Aggrey could make an earlier than expected to return from his broken hand, with Skolars’ coach James Massara believing Aggrey to be only “two or three” weeks away from action.
Jermaine Coleman will also be monitored before any decision is made on his involvement this week after Massara revealed that the stand-off “has a reaction around his knee every time he plays”.
Massara said: “The Northern Rail Cup has been very tough for us but it’s stood us in good stead. We’re looking at this next block of games and things could be very different in a few weeks’ time. There’s a real belief here.
“We take a lot of confidence going forward. We’ve got a big and competitive squad and we’re looking forward to playing some Co-operative Championship One opponents.”
Swinton coach Paul Smith will be forced into reshuffling his line up after loose forward Aaron Smith and scrum-half Ian Watson were both given one match suspensions earlier this week.
Smith himself is struggling with an ankle injury while Tommy Grundy (broken nose) is also doubtful, but Graham Holroyd returns to action.
Smith said: “We need to be professional. It’s a long trip but hopefully we can put in a similar performance to the one we managed at Workington after a three-hour coach trip.”
WORKINGTON TOWN v YORK CITY KNIGHTS – 3pm
Dean Bragg (neck) is out for Town but Workington coach Gary Charlton is hopeful that Kris Coward will be available for selection after missing last week’s game with a sternum injury.
Workington lost 74-0 at Featherstone Rovers in their third round Carnegie Challenge Cup tie.
Charlton said: “The boys are disappointed with the performance they put in. They know it wasn’t up to scratch but we’re expecting a big turnaround this week.
“It will be a great test for us because York will be up there at the end of the season. Having said that, it’s a home game and we’ve targeted all our home games as fixtures we want to win.
“If we get beat by a better side, then so be it – as long as our lads go out there and give their best shot then we can’t ask for anything more. We’ve had a good video session on last week’s game and pinpointed a lot of the areas that we fell down in.”
Knights player-coach Chris Thorman could come back into contention after being rested for Wednesday’s Northern Rail Cup game against London Skolars.
Danny Hill (wrist) is also expected to return to action while Steve Lewis is now “fully fit” according to Thorman after recovering from a hamstring injury.
Thorman said: “From my experience when you go to Cumbria you always expect a tough, physical game.
“Cumbrian teams always seem to play better at home, which is understandable.”
He added: “I want us to be focussed on the things we’ve been doing right and the things we can improve on. We’ve worked really hard on that and it’s concentration more than anything.
“If we can stick an 80-minute performance against someone then it’s going to be very impressive.”