Co-operative Championship Previews
Saturday April 10
THE CO-OPERATIVE CHAMPIONSHIP
Barrow Raiders v Batley Bulldogs (6.30)
Zeb Luisi (ribs) and Brett McDermott (knee) will be given until Saturday morning to prove their fitness to Barrow coach Steve McCormack.
But Chris Young (hamstring) and Richard Fletcher (ankle) both remain “a few weeks” away from contention, according to McCormack.
The Barrow coach said: “Our Easter period was very pleasing - we ground out a performance at Whitehaven and then we really turned in a decent performance on Monday against Sheffield.
“However, there’s still a lot of improvement left in us. We had a good score against a good Sheffield side but we’re still a long way off.
“We adapted to suit both conditions over the Easter weekend but we still lack a bit of composure and it’s important we make strides in that area.”
On Karl Harrison Bulldogs’ outfit, McCormack admitted: “They offer lots of threats.
“They’re a very aggressive team and they’re very well organised. They’ve had some good results this year and it should be a tremendous game.
“The scoreline didn’t reflect their game against Leigh and we know they’re well drilled and they’ve got threats at half back that we’ll have to contain.”
Craig Potter (neck) and Mark Toohey (groin) will be monitored before Harrison makes a final decision on his Batley team.
Lee Greenwood could return to the Bulldogs squad after being rested for Monday’s trip to Leigh.
Widnes Vikings v Toulouse Olympique (6.00)
Steve Pickersgill (neck), Dean Gaskell (hip), Gareth Haggerty (knee) and Dave Allen (ankle) are definitely missing for the Vikings.
Thomas Coyle looks set to be assessed as the week progresses after suffering a badly cut and dislocated finger against Dewsbury last month.
Paul Cullen’s side have recorded victories over the Rams and Whitehaven in their last two games while Toulouse have suffered heavy defeats against Leigh and Halifax.
Despite that, Olympique coach Gilles Dumas remains relatively upbeat and believes that his side is putting too much pressure on itself by making a number of unforced errors.
Dumas said: “If we had an attack as strong as our defence then we would worry our opponents. We have to lift our heads.”
Sunday April 11
THE CO-OPERATIVE CHAMPIONSHIP
Dewsbury Rams v Whitehaven (3.00)
Dewsbury coach Warren Jowitt has been hit by another injury blow after Rob Spicer was ruled out for six weeks – just as the forward was meant to be approaching full fitness.
“He had another x-ray on Tuesday and things haven’t gone as we’d hoped,” said Jowitt.
However, Alex Bretherton, Luke Menzies and Austin Buchanan are all closing in on playing returns. Jowitt added: “The players we’ve got out there are still more than good enough and they’ve got to grab the bull by the horns.
“We’ve got injuries but I’m not using that as an excuse. Our squad is good enough but we didn’t perform to our potential against Keighley – my job is to get us back up and ready for this Whitehaven match. It’s game on.”
Howard Hill and Carl Rudd are both in contention to feature for Ged Stokes’s Whitehaven side but centre Scott McAvoy faces two months out after breaking his jaw against Barrow.
Stokes does not expect an easy task in West Yorkshire. He said: “Dewsbury have been tough every time we’ve played them, even in the season they went down.”
Sheffield Eagles v Featherstone Rovers (3.00)
Sheffield Eagles make their Bramall Lane bow on Sunday – but full-back Jonny Woodcock will definitely not feature after suffering a knee injury against Barrow on Easter Monday.
Ashley Thackeray (shoulder), Alex Rowe (head), Jack Howieson (arm) and Ryan Hepworth (hand) are also doubtful for Sunday’s showdown with Co-operative Championship leaders Featherstone.
Eagles went down 50-4 at Barrow and have only won once in this year’s league campaign.
Coach Mark Aston is promising a new approach. He told the Sheffield Star: “A number of players out there at Barrow and a number in training are not hitting the levels we need. If you don’t train well then you don’t play as far as I am concerned.
“We’ll see how people perform in training but there are likely to be changes for the Featherstone game.”
Jamie Field (back) should be fit to return to action for Rovers, whose last outing was a 44-4 triumph over West Yorkshire rivals Halifax.
THE CO-OPERATIVE CHAMPIONSHIP ONE
Gateshead Thunder v Doncaster (3.00)
Joe Brown is rated as only 50/50 after missing Gateshead last game – a 72-14 reverse against York – with a groin strain.
Director of Rugby Chris Hood said: “It was another lesson about ball retention and winning the ruck, but there were some good things to emerge.
“Dan O’Sullivan had a great game and Will Bate was top quality at hooker. Those lads deserved a pat on the back.”
Hood added: “The mood here is still buoyant, but we know Doncaster are going to be tough. Tony Miller has got a tight-knit bunch that work really hard for each other.
“However, it’s a long journey up here and it’s not a traditional rugby league stadium. It’s a different environment for players when they come up here and we’ve got to play on the fact that our guys are more used to that.
“We’ve got fantastic fans here and that’s who we’re playing for.”
Doncaster Director of Rugby Carl Hall said: “If we turn up with the wrong attitude then we will get beat – it’s as simple as that.
“If we turn up with the right frame of mind and everyone is focused then we can beat anybody.”
Hunslet Hawks v Swinton Lions (3.00)
Darren Robinson returns for Hunslet after completing a three-match ban.
Hawks coach Paul March said: “We wanted two wins out of two over Easter – and we achieved that. We had some players back from suspension on Monday and that freshened us up.
“David March and Richard Chapman had a massive influences, as did Adam Sullivan. We got a few niggles but everyone came through OK and we’re reasonably healthy.”
He added: “At the beginning of the season I thought Swinton had signed very well. They’ve got some big names in there but they’re underachieving at the minute.
“Having a new team takes time to gel and hopefully that won’t happen by Sunday.
“Ian Watson and Graham Holroyd are quality halfbacks while having Paul Smith out on the field will give them a big influence. They’ll be looking for a good performance against ourselves because we’re also a team tipped to be fighting for promotion.”
Bruce Johnson, Dave Hull, Tommy Grundy and Danny Heaton are ruled out for the Lions while Phil Joseph (personal reasons) and Gavin Dodd (work commitments) are also unavailable.
Lions coach Paul Smith said: “It’s a bit of a backs-against-the-wall situation for us.
“We need to show some character, especially after our last performance.
“Hunslet are probably the form team at the moment. They’re in a similar situation to us with them having a player coach and they’ll be playing with a lot of confidence.”
Rochdale Hornets v London Skolars (3.00)
Liam McGovern (ruptured Achilles tendon) will not play again for Rochdale this season while Danny Fleming (concussion) and Steven Roper are also ruled out of Sunday’s game with London.
Hornets coach John Stankevitch has “question marks” over the fitness of 10 more players. “We’re just not having any luck at all,” he said. “We’ve had a key player taken off the field in each of our last four games.”
He added: “We’re hoping we get a bit of luck this week but I’m confident the players we put out are good enough.
“London have got nothing at all to lose. They’ve got a pretty long losing run and there’s no pressure on them whatsoever. They’ll look to take the game to us and they’ve got experience in Paul Thorman and Gareth Honor.
“I’ve seen them a couple of times on video and they’ve got some big forwards and talented outside backs.
“We won’t underestimate them at all. It’s a challenge for each of individuals to win their own personal battle with their opposite number.”
London trio Jason Cook (thigh), James Simon (dislocated shoulder) and Steve Ball (shoulder) are all ruled out of the weekend’s trip north, with Cook and Simon facing a number of weeks on the sidelines.
Chad Isles (groin) and Ollie Purslow (ankle) will both be assessed as the week progresses.
Skolars coach James Massara said: “In equal measures our Easter weekend was encouraging and frustrating. We had one full game’s performance, but unfortunately it was spread over the two games we played.”
He added: “I know and I’ve known all along that this group of people can compete at this level.
“We can’t keep giving ourselves the same excuses every week. There needs to be a line drawn under it. It’s not acceptable and it’s a concentration thing. It’s a great challenge for all of us, players and coaches alike.”
South Wales Scorpions v Oldham (2.00)
Scorpions stars Gil Dudson, Ben Flower, Barrie Phillips and Lee Williams all face late fitness tests to determine their availability. Joe Burke’s performance against Hunslet means he is likely to keep his place in the team for this weekend.
South Wales coach Anthony Seibold said: “This year is about learning from one game to the next. We are showing some improvement individually and collectively.
“I knew at some stage our lack of experience at this level would hurt us if we weren’t on our game and the lessons we have been taught from Hunslet will hold us in good stead as teams like them, Oldham and Blackpool are the benchmark in the competition. “
He added: “Preparation and individual performance needs to improve but this is something that the players are learning, having come from varied backgrounds and having various rugby league playing experience.
“I’m really positive and upbeat on how far we have come in such a short time as a group and we are looking forward to playing Oldham who are undefeated and at the top of their game in this division.”
Jamie I’Anson, Ian Hodson and Danny Whitmore could return for Oldham, while coach Tony Benson continues to monitor the fitness of Craig Robinson (dead leg), Lucas Onyango (knee and ankle), Wayne Kerr (ankle), Mick Fogerty (dead leg) and Matty Ashe (groin).
Benson said: “We will have to be on our game down there, and there will be no excuses.”
Workington Town v Blackpool Panthers (3.00)
Lee Dutton (knee) and James Finch (work commitments) are unavailable for Town but Jarrad Stack returns to the Workington squad.
Joint coach Gary Charlton said: “Our game against Oldham (on Easter Monday) was the worst we’ve played offensively this year.
“Our main playmakers didn’t play as well as they have been doing and we didn’t play to the game-plan. You can’t take anything away from the lads’ effort, but it was probably misplaced for large parts of the game.”
Charlton added: “Blackpool have brought in some good experienced players and they’ll be very good at the basics. They’ll work us over where they think we’re weak and we’ve got to come up with something to counter that.”
Dave Best, Simon Svabic (knee), Casey Mayberry (hamstring) and Tom Woodcock (shoulder) are all ruled out for the Panthers.
“We’re fortunate that we’ve got a big squad,” said coach Martin Crompton, “especially with the dual-registered lads from Wigan, because those two extra bodies make a big difference.”
Crompton continued: “We showed a lot of character against York and we’ll need that again. It was the second game in a row where we’ve been losing at half time – it would be good for my blood pressure if we can be in front on Sunday!”