Northern Rail Cup previews
Northern Rail Cup previews
Sunday February 12
Dewsbury Rams v Halifax (3.00pm)
Dewsbury Rams’ coach Warren Jowitt says places are still up for grabs in his first choice 17 – and the next four weeks of Northern Rail Cup action will help him to finalise his strongest squad.
Rams have brought in 15 new faces since the end of last season, including Nick Fozzard, Dwayne Barker and Jonathan Schofield.
Jowitt said: “The next few weeks will decide my strongest team. We want to build and get better and better ahead of the start of the league season, so the players have got plenty to play for.”
The Dewsbury chief insisted he had been pleased with his squad's current progress.
“All the new signings have settled in really well,” he said. “We've just got to get them gelling together on the field, and only game time can do that, but the early signs from our friendlies with Batley and Bradford were very encouraging.
“We're straight into the thick of it this week. Halifax will be front-runners and they'll be tipped for this competition along with Featherstone.
“There's been a massive turnaround of players at both Halifax and ourselves, and they've also got a new coach in Karl Harrison. I'm not expecting anything less than a big, tough old game.”
Harrison must cope without experienced centre Mick Nanyn, who has been ruled out for the entire season after being told he needs a knee reconstruction just days before Sunday's big kick off.
Lee Paterson could be an outside chance to take Nanyn's position, although Sunday's clash is expected to come a week too soon in his own recovery from a knee reconstruction.
Sam Barlow (ankle) is also set to miss out, while Rob Worrincy's availability (knee) is believed to be doubtful.
Gateshead Thunder v Doncaster (3.00pm)
Gateshead Thunder coach Kevin Neighbour says Thunder's focus for 2012 is centred on changing their reputation.
Neighbour said: “We want to get rid of the perception we've had over the last couple of years of a team that's going to be a walkover.
“We want teams to know they're going to be in a game for an entire 80 minutes, whether they come here or we travel to them.”
A deal for Scottish international Callum Cockburn could be agreed in the coming days, with Neighbour admitting Gateshead will “look at the options for Callum” following his attendance at training later this week.
And former Thunder star Neighbour has been impressed by his entire squad's approach to pre-season.
He revealed: “I've an idea at the moment as to what I think is my strongest team – but that could change over the next few weeks depending on performances.”
On Northern Rail Cup opponents Doncaster, he added: “I've had a look at a couple of videos of them, but you can't read too much into what teams are going to be like at this stage of the year.
“It's only when you get to three or four weeks after Easter that you've got a genuine idea as to who's going to be pushing and who's going to be struggling.”
Doncaster coach Tony Miller looks set to give a competitive debut to star signing Paul Cooke, the former Hull FC and Hull KR stand-off.
Cooke is one of a long list of new faces at the Keepmoat Stadium, including Kyle Bibb, Lee Waterman and Hull FC youngster Liam Cunningham.
Hunslet Hawks v Whitehaven (3.00pm)
Three Hunslet Hawks players are expected to miss Sunday's Northern Rail Cup clash against Whitehaven due to knee problems.
Neil Lowe, Liam Welham and Jack Bradbury are all set to be sidelined, while Richard Blakeway faces a late fitness test – also on a knee problem.
New Hunslet coach Barry Eaton said: “At the moment it's probably difficult to gauge where we are. We've got 16 new faces, the other boys from last year, and there's probably only two or three guys that I've worked with previously.
“It's new for both the players and myself, and we've been getting used to each other over the last couple of months. Time will tell as to whether we've got to where we want to be.”
He continued: “We've had five pre-season friendlies and I've got the basis of what's probably a 22-man squad. There are also four younger players who I expect to come through as the year goes on.
“In terms of Whitehaven this week, we'll do our homework as best we can – but it will probably be around individuals rather than how they play as a team, because they've also got a new coach and we don't know much about how they'll approach things.”
Whitehaven coach Don Gailer, another new addition to the coaching ranks outside Super League, has already settled into life in Cumbria.
Australian Gailer said: “It's great, we really like the area and the people have been fantastic since we got here. We've only been here eight weeks, but it feels like two years.
“Rugby-wise, I couldn't be happier with the attitude and commitment I've seen. There's a good mix of experience and youth in the squad.
“During the pre-season friendlies we've tried different people in different positions, and now we start to put it together for good.
“At this stage it's about making sure we stick to what we do well, rather than adapting our game for whichever opposition we're facing.”
Peter Bewsher (ankle) is set to miss the first week of the season, but is likely to come into contention for next week's game against Gateshead.
Keighley Cougars v Batley Bulldogs (2.00pm)
Ben Sagar (knee), Ollie Pursglove (ankle), Jonny Simpson (Achilles) and Ryan Smith (groin) are all missing for Keighley's opening Northern Rail Cup game against the club Jason Demetriou wants the Cougars to model themselves on.
Keighley coach Demetriou said: “Batley are the benchmark club of where we want to be at the end of the season.
“Featherstone are the front-runners for all of us outside Super League, but for our progression at Keighley, if we can consolidate ourselves in the Co-operative Championship and have a good run in the Northern Rail Cup, that would be a very successful season. That's what Batley did last year and it's what we're modelling ourselves on.”
He added: “There's a lot of talk about our recruitment, but all we've got at the moment is some good names on a piece of paper. We need those blokes to turn up with a good attitude, but I know their characters well and they're all blokes that want to achieve something.
“We're probably still another four or five games away from getting to where I want to be, but we're looking good and everyone is buying into what we want to do.”
Sunday's game will see Demetriou come head-to-head with his former Wakefield coach John Kear, now in charge of the Bulldogs.
Demetriou said: “John will be massive for them. He knows all about getting players up for one-off games, and they've got a really tough team.”
Ian Preece (hamstring) and Gareth Frodsham (ribs) will miss out for Batley, as new coach John Kear prepares his men for their first competitive fixture of 2012.
Kear said: “With who they've signed, Keighley have been the Manchester City of the Championship. They've got Michael Korkidas, Semi Tadulala, Sam Obst, Paul March and Richie Barnett to go alongside some good players who were already there. On top of that there's Jason Demetriou, who made a big impression last year, so we're fully aware of the task we're facing.”
Kear believes an expanded squad will be crucial to Batley's hopes of success this year.
He said: “First of all, we've attempted to maintain the Batley ethos and spirit – that's why we've got 16 players who were here last year.
“It hasn't been a massive clean out, and we're delighted with the players we've brought in.
“As I analysed Batley's season last year – and you have to pay full respect to Karl and his players – they did seem to hit a wall towards the end of the season. I think that was probably down to them not having too many numbers in the squad to keep everyone fresh and on their toes, and that's something we've tried to address.”
Leigh Centurions v Barrow Raiders (3.00pm)
Jimmy Taylor (wrist) and Michael Ostick look set to miss out for the Leigh Centurions as new coach Paul Rowley takes charge of his first competitive game since signing a two-year contract with the club.
Rowley said: “We'd like some more numbers, but without having an U23s side it's a fine line.
“We'll have to run a relatively small squad, and that will bite us when injuries do come, but we're just looking forward to the challenges and building as the year goes on.”
He added: “I've had a sneaky look at Barrow, but they've played a lot of different personnel during their pre-season friendlies, so it's hard to get a real idea of where they are.
“They're a bit like ourselves: they've come back from the brink of extinction, they've signed a lot of local, quality players, and there will be a lot of pride in the shirt. I'm expecting a very physical challenge from them.”
Jack Pedley (shoulder) and Andy Bracek (personal commitments) are missing for Barrow, whose new coach Darren Holt has been delighted with his squad's off-season.
Holt said: “I've been very pleased, especially with the number of guys we've managed to bring in. We've got a 28-man squad, and that's better than I probably expected.
“There's a good mixture of experienced lads and younger blokes. I want to give the best of the local amateurs a chance of making a claim for the jersey, and some have really impressed me.”
However, he admits his side face a huge challenge on Sunday. “Realistically, we're going away to Leigh, who are one of the teams who perennially challenge for the Championship, so it's a tough ask. I'm more both about our application and approach than anything else.”
London Skolars v Toulouse Olympique (1.00pm)
Jermaine Coleman is London Skolars' only absentee as coach Joe Mbu starts his second season in charge of the Londoners in a confident mood.
Skolars struggled during large parts of 2011, but Mbu is hopeful that there will be more to smile about during the coming year.
Mbu said: “What's been particularly encouraging from our three warm-up games has been that there is a healthy competition for places.
“We've also got cover in key positions, which will be important as it's inevitable that injuries will happen at some stage.”
He added: “I'm fairly confident in the personnel we've got in place. The new guys have fitted in well.
“The main thing for me is getting the boys to bond – the rest will come by playing games. The team has come together well and that's what has pleased me so far.”
Toulouse star Damien Couturier said: “Skolars can be a very strong side, depending on the players they've got available.
“We'll be very wary of them and certainly won't be taking this game lightly.”
He added: “The guys in our team are mature enough to know how to prepare.”
Oldham v Featherstone Rovers (3.00pm)
Luke Stenchion (broken thumb) and Shaun Robinson (hip) are Oldham's only injured players as the Roughyeds prepare to host Featherstone in Sunday's Northern Rail Cup opener.
Oldham coach Tony Benson has been encouraged by his side's displays in pre-season friendlies against Whitehaven and St Helens.
He said: “We've played quite different teams in each game and performed well in both. The important thing is that we're managing to do in the pressure of a game what we've been working on in training.
“Starting with Featherstone couldn't get much tougher, but we're looking forward to it. At worst we'll get knocked down a peg or two, but at best we might surprise a few people.
“We've got nothing to lose: we'll go into it all guns blazing and see what comes. From a coaching point of view, we'll get the ultimate test in terms of trying to do in a match what we've been doing in training.”
Roughyeds have recruited six players in the off-season and promoted six more from their reserve team. “The squad's looking good,” said Benson.
Rovers coach Daryl Powell could include Kyle Briggs as Featherstone launch another assault on the Northern Rail Cup.
Powell said: “We take the Northern Rail Cup very seriously. We're looking to get to the final and we want to win it, but we recognise there are some tough challenges in our way.”
Rochdale Hornets v South Wales Scorpions (3.00pm)
Fully-fit Rochdale Hornets are now raring to go after having their pre-season friendlies disrupted by the weather, says coach John Stankevitch.
“In terms of our training ,we've had a really good pre-season – the best since I've been at the club – and we've covered every base,” said Stankevitch.
“The problem has been that we've not been able to put it into practice. We've had four games called off and one game abandoned due to an injury. From a first-team point of view, the longest anyone's played so far is 40 minutes.”
Stankevitch will look to hit the ground running against South Wales. He said: “We'll be approaching every game in the Northern Rail Cup as a game we want to win.
“Our full focus is on our performances and getting everything into place that we've worked on over the last three months. We'll be looking to run our strongest team in every game.”
On South Wales, he added: “They've recruited some good players and they've got a coach (Dave Clark) with a proven record at this level. Steve Parry at nine is a really good player, and we know enough about them in general to be on our toes.”
Cross-code convert Tom Morgan is South Wales' only absentee, having suffered a knee injury against Wigan in a recent pre-season friendly.
New South Wales coach Dave Clark said: “We've been a club in transition, with a new coach and a new philosophy. That's meant all the players have been experiencing new things, but everybody's jumped on board and come with a very positive attitude.
“I've been quite impressed with the skill level of the players, and we've advanced pretty quickly in terms of where we are.
“The players have shown their commitment to some of the protocols we've brought in, and hopefully the supporters will soon see what we're about this year and they'll enjoy it.”
Workington Town v Sheffield Eagles (3.00pm)
Workington Town pair Peter Lupton (wrist) and Marc Bainbridge (ankle) are set to miss Sunday's Northern Rail Cup clash with Sheffield.
Workington coach Gary Charlton said: “They're both struggling. We haven't yet ruled them out for definite, but it's looking more likely that they won't play than they will.”
He added: “We'll give everybody an opportunity to stake a claim for a shirt over the next few weeks. We'll try to give people as much game time as possible.
“We think we've got a decent squad, although we're still looking to add a few players because we think we're a bit short on numbers. But we're heading in the right direction.
“Our first priority is to look after our own game. Once we get that in order, which will take two or three weeks at least, then we'll look at the opposition. But this week it's all about us.”
Mitchell Stringer (knee) and Alex Rowe (arm) are both doubtful for Sheffield, while Dane McDonald (shoulder) is definitely ruled out.
Eagles coach Mark Aston has added depth to his squad in the off-season, losing only Danny Mills, Johnny Woodcock and Jamie Cottie while recruiting eight players including Liam Higgins and Dominic Brambani.
Aston said: “We have a big first team squad and the focus will be on them in the Northern Rail Cup. I want to know by the first home game in the league what is my best team.”
York City Knights v Swinton Lions (3.00pm)
York City Knights coach Chris Thorman has reported pleasing progress on the fitness of four main injury worries.
James Houston (hand), Matt Garside (foot), Waine Pryce (knee) and James Haynes (hamstring) could all have outside chances of playing in Sunday's opening Northern Rail Cup fixture against Swinton.
Thorman said: “Everybody is in much better shape than we first feared.”
Former Huddersfield ace Thorman insists places are still up for grabs in his first choice 17, and has challenged his squad to push themselves forward.
He said: “I probably know 15 of our strongest 17, but we're still looking at performances in training – it's really important you have a high standard in training, and competition for places is always a good thing.
“We know how strong Swinton are. They had a great season last year, they've made some additions since then and they're very well coached.
“You can only do so much homework at this stage, but we've certainly done that. We've watched a couple of their games and seen some footage from last year, so we've some idea what we're up against.”
Andy Gorski (Achilles) is Swinton's major doubt ahead of Sunday's trip to North Yorkshire.
Lions coach Steve McCormack said: “York are a quality side. We will need to show improvement if we are going to beat them.”