Co-operative Championship previews
Friday April 30
The Co-operative Championship
WIDNES VIKINGS V FEATHERSTONE ROVERS (8.00)
Kirk Netherton could make his Vikings debut after joining the club on loan from Castleford, while Jim Gannon and Scott Yates both face late fitness tests.
Wigan winger Shaun Ainscough has also linked up with the Vikings again on a dual-registration deal, and is likely to go straight into Paul Cullen’s squad.
Thomas Coyle (arm) and Mark Smith (cheekbone) remain sidelined along with Dave Allen and Daniel Heckenberg.
Widnes produced a remarkable 32-24 win at Batley last week despite their incredible injury list, and Cullen is hoping for more of the same.
He said: “This will be the toughest game we have played all year. It is the same backs-against-the-wall mantra.”
Rovers forward Jon Grayshon faces a fitness test after suffering a foot injury during Featherstone’s 76-12 win against Keighley.
Coach Daryl Powell said: “There’s more to come from us in terms of performance, and we need to build consistency. We won’t be getting carried away.”
Powell must steer his team into action just six days after tragedy struck the club when 19-year-old hooker Gareth Swift was killed in a car accident.
Saturday May 1
The Co-operative Championship
TOULOUSE OLYMPIQUE V BATLEY BULLDOGS (8.00)
Gilles Dumas’ side play their first game since their Carnegie Challenge Cup trip to St Helens two weeks ago.
And they will be looking for a similar performance to the one that saw them shock Widnes in the Co-operative Championship earlier this month.
Olympique have recorded three league victories in 2010, meaning they occupy the final play-off spot.
Bulldogs forward Johnny Simpson has returned to training following a broken ankle, but Saturday’s fixture is likely to come too soon for him to feature. Ian Preece (hand) faces another two months out.
Batley coach Karl Harrison has called for his side to improve their basic skills when they travel to the south of France.
Last week they lost to Widnes 32-24, and Harrison was far from impressed.
He said: “Our completion rate was just 52 per cent and you can’t win games with stats like that. At the moment we’ve got an ability to shoot ourselves in the head.
“We’re turning the ball over, and not giving ourselves a chance to win games at the moment.”
Monday May 3
The Co-operative Championship
KEIGHLEY COUGARS V BARROW RAIDERS (3.00)
Jamaine Wray is doubtful for the Cougars after picking up a knee problem, but Scott Law is set to play and Daley Williams returns to the squad after being trapped in Majorca by the recent travel chaos.
Keighley went down 76-12 against Featherstone last Thursday. Coach Barry Eaton said: “We’ve had a long chat about things.
“I’ve spoken to every individual player that played in the game about their performance and the team performance. We owe it to ourselves, the fans and the club to make sure that we don’t have a performance like that again. Regardless of the score, the way we capitulated just wasn’t acceptable.”
He added: “We earned the right to be promoted and to play against these teams. We wanted that challenge as a group, and we’ve got to make sure that every time we get that challenge – which is every week – that we’re embracing it and meeting it full on.”
Richard Fletcher has a strong chance of returning for the Raiders, while Chris Young will be available next week.
However, there is bad news surrounding James Coyle. “We’re waiting for him to see a consultant about a knee injury he picked up against Dewsbury,” said coach Steve McCormack. “We’re pretty concerned but we don’t know the full extent of things yet.”
Jamie Rooney (hamstring) and Rob Roberts (glandular fever) are both doubtful for Monday’s clash.
McCormack added: “Going to Keighley is very difficult, and they’re going into the game following a disappointing performance against Featherstone. They’ll be fired up and we’ve got to be ready for that.
“We’re not where we want to be yet but we’re showing signs of improvement in our performances and that’s encouraging.”
Sheffield Eagles v Whitehaven (3.00)
Sheffield Eagles will be without their captain and prop forward Jack Howieson after he was ruled out for up to six weeks with an arm injury.
Coach Mark Aston has also to find replacements for forwards Mitch Stringer and Sam Barlow, who both start two-match bans following incident in Carnegie Challenge Cup fourth round game against Wigan Warriors.
Richie Barnett (ankle) is struggling to be fit, but Ryan Hepworth, Michael Haley and Ged Corcoran are available after recovering from injury.
Aston said: “Whitehaven are never an easy team to play. We have to work hard, and the bounce of the ball will start going your way and the wins will come along.”
Leroy Joe (calf) is a major concern for Whitehaven but Reece Fox returns after serving his suspension. Dexter Miller and Spencer Miller face late fitness tests.
Whitehaven coach Ged Stokes said: “Sheffield have copped it, like we have. We’ve struck all the top teams first up, but they are a very capable side.
“I’d imagine that they’d be disappointed so far and both teams are desperately looking for a good win.”
Monday May 3
The Co-operative Championship One
DONCASTER V OLDHAM (3.00)
Shaun Leaf remains in doubt for Doncaster after twisting his knee at work, but Craig Fawcett is in contention for a place in Tony Miller’s side.
The scrum half has been given the all clear to resume playing after recovering from a dislocated finger.
Scotland winger Dean Colton is also in the frame, having returned to training this week.
Miller said: “Dean’s a proven try-scorer, a good defender and he’s got bags of experience, so it’s good to have him back on board.”
Marcus St Hilaire (shoulder/neck) is Oldham’s only injury doubt, with Scott Mansfield returning to action after recovering from an ankle injury suffered against Rochdale.
Tony Benson’s side racked up 12 tries during their 64-10 triumph over Gateshead last week. “Our attack is something we’ve been working on for a while,” said Benson. “We created some very good tries, and we had to work hard for them.”
Benson added: “Doncaster are a strong side these days, and they’ve just signed three players from Dewsbury.
“They’re a very good side that are now hitting some form. You’ve got to make sure you start well against Doncaster.”
ROCHDALE HORNETS V GATESHEAD THUNDER (3.00)
Mark Hobson remains sidelined while Dayne Donoghue is unlikely to play in the “foreseeable future” due to work commitments.
However, Steven Roper is set to return for Hornets. Coach John Stankevitch said: “Steven probably won’t start the game, having not had any competitive action for six weeks, but he’s a player that we’ve missed and we want him back as soon as possible.”
Stankevitch added: “We had mixed emotions last week. Bearing in mind that we went up to York without seven players due to work commitments and injury, and the amount of money that York have spent this season, I’d have definitely taken a bonus point before the game.
“At half time I was really disappointed with what we’d produced but by the end of the game I was disappointed not to have come away with three points.”
He added: “The penny still seems not to have dropped with the lads yet. We play some fantastic stuff at times, but sometimes we come up with errors that cost us the ball, field position and points. We’ve got to find that balance between playing expansive rugby and completing our sets.”
Bolu Fagborun (mouth infection) and Andy Saywell are available but not expected to feature, while Damien Reid returns from illness.
Gateshead half back Will Bate has been ruled out for a month with a broken finger, but Jason Payne and James Hall could both return for Thunder in Monday’s Co-operative Championship One trip to Rochdale.
Gateshead director of rugby Chris Hood said: “Jason and James had their first full contact session on Tuesday, and both felt great.
“We will see how they are on Thursday evening and assess the situation from there.”
SOUTH WALES SCORPIONS V BLACKPOOL PANTHERS (3.00)
Paul Ballard makes his return to South Wales on Monday as the Scorpions search for a fourth victory in Co-operative Championship One.
Coach Anthony Seibold said: “Blackpool will pose a big threat to us, though it will be another opportunity to benchmark ourselves against the top couple of teams.”
He added: “We are a very competent team who have shown that we belong in this division in a short space of time.
“Collectively we have worked hard and this has been shown by our performances on the pitch.”
Blackpool coach Martin Crompton has challenged his squad to improve on last week’s 48-12 win over Doncaster.
Crompton said: ““I wasn’t that happy with the performance. I felt as though we lost our way a bit, and the discipline was a big factor for us. We were a bit scrappy for the majority of the game, but Doncaster also gave us a very good game.
“Sometimes we’ve got to put in an ugly performance to get the result, and there’s a lot of self-belief in the team at the moment. We’ve won tough and we’ve won flashy this year. It’s pleasing that we can do that when we need to do, but you want to play that classy football all the time – even if in reality it is impossible.”
Jonny Walker returns to the Panthers’ squad after playing for Wigan last week. Crompton said: “There’ll be a few changes from last week, and getting Jonny back is helpful because I’m expecting a big physical challenge from South Wales.
“They’ve started off very well. They look to be a very tough team to beat, and I’m not expecting anything different on Monday.
“There’s a big motivation for them to beat us as we’ve still got a 100 per cent record in the league.”
WORKINGTON TOWN V HUNSLET HAWKS (1.00)
Jack Pedley and Lee Dutton return for Workington, who will also include new signing Ryan MacDonald. Stewart Rhodes remains another week away from a return to action.
Town coach Gary Charlton said: “Ryan’s a tough, no-nonsense forward, and that’s exactly what we’ve needed. He’ll certainly be in contention for Monday.”
He added: “Hunslet have played some good rugby. They do their jobs well and they’ve got some good players mixed in with some leaders.
“They do the basics right and they’ve been getting results. It’s up to us to put something in place to combat that.”
Wayne McHugh is definitely ruled out for Hunslet after suffering an ankle injury, while coach Paul March rates Stuart Kain’s chances as only 50/50 due to a knee problem.
March said: “Workington away is a tough fixture, but we’re making sure that we’ll have the best possible preparation for it. We’re going up early to prepare for the game, so we’ll have no excuses.
“We’ve then got Barrow away, which is another one we’re looking forward to, and then it’s capped off with York away. We’ve got to win these games if we want to put ourselves in the race for automatic promotion.
“The tough period starts now and our focus is all about these next two league games and the Cup game at Barrow.”
YORK CITY KNIGHTS V SWINTON LIONS (3.00)
Chris Thorman (quad) definitely won’t play for York but Chris Clough, Alex Benson, Brett Waller and Tom Stancliffe are back in contention.
York director of rugby Dave Woods said: “Swinton have a good squad and you’ve got to worry about all their players, but we know that if we play quickly then we’re a good side.
“We’ve got to worry about ourselves. We’ve got to work hard and play for 80 minutes – that’s the key for us.”
Player-coach Paul Smith is set to return along with Wayne Corcoran, while Mick Govin could also feature after verbally agreeing to join the Lions in a move that is set to be completed on Thursday night.
Smith said: “It was pleasing to get last week’s win against South Wales, and now we’ve got to kick on.
“York have done very well this year. This fixture is two teams in a similar position so it’s probably a must win game for both sides.”