Northern Rail Cup previews
Northern Rail Cup previews
Saturday February 18
Northern Rail Cup
Toulouse Olympique v Keighley Cougars (7.00pm CET)
Toulouse Olympique centre Greg White is in confident mood ahead of Saturday's Northern Rail Cup match with Keighley Cougars.
White said: “Keighley have a better team than last year, but they've not played many games and I'm confident we can win.”
Cougars' 19 man squad includes Oliver Pursglove, who missed last week's opening game against Batley Bulldogs due to an ankle injury.
Pursglove was expected to miss another week but Keighley coach Jason Demetriou confirmed he will be part of the squad flying to France as the Cougars aim to secure a first win in this year's Northern Rail Cup.
A 22-16 home defeat against Batley was not an ideal start to Keighley's campaign, but Demetriou insisted: “There were definitely some positives to come out of it.
“For 60 minutes we were the better team in a very physical game, although we faded quite badly at the end. But for a first competitive hit out, there was plenty to be happy with.”
He added: “Going to Toulouse will be a new experience for a few of our boys, and there's been a fair bit of excitement since the fixtures came out.
“The trip comes at a good time. Having so many new players at the club spend some time together can only be a good thing.
“We're looking forward to the trip, but it's not a holiday. Our job is to play rugby and get results. That's what we're going there for.
“If you win three out of four group games then you've a very good chance of going through. You could possibly do it with two wins, but we don't want to leave it to chance. One of our goals is to get through to the knockout stage, so that means we're going all out for the points on Saturday.”
Sunday February 19
Northern Rail Cup
Barrow Raiders v Workington Town (2.00pm)
Barrow Raiders coach Darren Holt remains without Andy Bracek (personal commitments) and Jack Pedley (shoulder) for Sunday's all-Cumbrian clash with Workington Town.
But Holt has promised to make changes for his side's second Northern Rail Cup group game after last week's 48-16 defeat at Leigh Centurions.
Holt said: “I promised everyone that they'd get some game time during the Northern Rail Cup so that they could stake a claim for a starting shirt in the league campaign. I'm sticking with that.”
He added: “Last week we were unlucky to be down at half time. Our first half performance was very good, our intensity and application was spot on, and there were lots to take from the game. We're not going to be playing opposition as good as Leigh every week.”
Holt is now preparing to face his old club Workington, where he spent the last two years as a player.
“They're a big, physical side – probably the most physical in our division,” he said.
Town could be boosted by the returns of Jarrad Stack, Marc Shackley, Kris Coward and Graeme Mattinson for the trip to Barrow.
However, Peter Lupton (wrist) and Marc Bainbridge (ankle) will not be fit enough to face their Cumbrian rivals.
Joint Town coach Gary Charlton said: “We fronted up very well against a strong Sheffield team last week. For 60 odd minutes there didn't seem to be a lot between the teams, and we'll need to be physical again this week.
“Barrow will be very committed and they'll be determined to prove something, especially with it being their first competitive home game of the year.
“We know it's a tough ask. They've got some good players, but so have we. It should be a close, exciting game to watch.”
Batley Bulldogs v London Skolars (2.30pm)
Johnny Walker (back) is one of “three or four” Batley Bulldogs players being monitored ahead of Sunday's Northern Rail Cup fixture with London Skolars.
Bulldogs coach John Kear said: “We've got a big squad, so if anyone's feeling sore or under the weather, they won't play. I want to have a look at everybody during these first few weeks of the Northern Rail Cup campaign.
“I don't think I'll know my strongest 17 until halfway through the season, because the players are all putting it in at training. I've got to pay credit to them for that.”
Kear was left impressed by both his side and Keighley Cougars after last week's 22-16 win at Cougar Park.
He said: “We completed at 80 per cent plus, and so did Keighley. The pleasing thing for me was how we finished the game, and it's the second time we've done that when you include the pre-season game against Wakefield.”
However, the former Hull, Wakefield and England coach admits facing London Skolars is making him “twitchy” this week.
“I've been trying to get as much information as I can about them. If they'd have played against Toulouse I'd have endeavoured to get a DVD, but they didn't.
“I'm a little twitchy about it because of that element of the unknown. Like most coaches I'm a control freak and I like to know what we're up against it. This week I'm not so sure.”
Skolars captain Dave Williams said: “Batley have recruited well, they'll be a quality team.
“We've not got an easy run of games to ease ourselves into the season, but it will be good to see where we are.”
Doncaster v York City Knights (3.00pm)
Doncaster’s star signing Paul Cooke is set for his home debut after playing for 50 minutes during Wednesday's 48-10 win at Gateshead Thunder.
York City Knights’ only injury absentees are dual-registered pair Chris Green and Laurence Pearce.
James Houston, Waine Pryce, Matt Garside and James Haynes are all expected to be fit after being doubtful for last week's postponed fixture against Swinton.
Knights coach Chris Thorman said: “We've got a couple of selection issues to deal with because we've got a relatively strong squad, but at the same time we're now playing Sunday, Thursday, Sunday, so some people may get a chance earlier than they expected.
“Playing three times in a week isn't ideal, but it's got to be done. We just have to deal with it as best we can.”
Doncaster's midweek win proved to Thorman that they will pose plenty of threats on Sunday.
He said: “The obvious thing is the signing of Paul Cooke. He's a really intelligent, good ball-player, and he'll be directing them around the field very well.
“We're also aware of Lee Waterman's threat. He scored four tries on Wednesday, and he'll want to prove a point against his old club.
“I also really like Liam Cunningham as well. He's very intelligent, so they've got plenty for us to deal with.”
Featherstone Rovers v Dewsbury Rams (3.00pm)
Featherstone Rovers coach Daryl Powell is likely to check on the fitness of his squad after their midweek trouncing of Oldham Roughyeds.
Featherstone emerged 68-0 winners at the Whitebank Stadium, but now face a much sterner test in Sunday's Northern Rail Cup clash with Dewsbury Rams.
Rams coach Warren Jowitt hopes to be boosted by the return to fitness of five players, but Pat Walker (broken cheekbone) is expected to miss the next fortnight.
Jowitt said: “Hopefully we'll have Ed Barber, Scott Spavin, Billy Harris, John Davies and George Flanagan all back this week.”
Dewsbury lost 36-6 against Halifax in their opening Northern Rail Cup fixture, but Jowitt remains positive.
He said: “The pleasing thing about playing Halifax and Featherstone in our first two games is that they'll test us and expose our weaknesses early in the season. Rather than playing lesser teams where those weaknesses might not be shown up, we find them out from the beginning of the season and it gives us plenty of time to work on them and put them right.”
He added: “Featherstone have got quality all over the park. They spend money and they're a well-coached side. It's a massive test for us, but hopefully we'll take something out of it.
“Against Halifax we had seven try-scoring opportunities, but we took the wrong option. We created the chances, we just didn't finish them off. Hopefully we'll create some chances against Featherstone, and finish them this time.”
Halifax v Rochdale Hornets (3.00pm)
Winger Rob Worrincy could return for Halifax after being sidelined by a knee injury, but Sunday's Northern Rail Cup clash with Rochdale Hornets is likely to come too soon for Lee Paterson (knee) and Sam Barlow (ankle).
Long-term absentees James Haley, Mick Nanyn and Makali Aizue are still missing, although Aizue has returned to light training.
Halifax coach Karl Harrison was encouraged by his side's 36-6 win at Dewsbury.
He said: “We looked very much like a team, and we're a team that will get better as the season goes along.
“It's going to take time before we fully click into gear, but I was very pleased with what I saw.”
However, Harrison has insisted there will be no easing off against Championship One opponents Rochdale.
“We need to win three out of the four games in this group stage,” he said. “Going to Rochdale will be very tough.”
Fully-fit Hornets travel to the Shay having had last week's scheduled fixture against South Wales postponed due to the bad weather.
Coach John Stankevitch said: “We've had another tough week in training as a result. We've not approached things any differently and we've got a lot of conditioning work done.”
On Halifax, he said: “I know a lot about them as I've coached a lot of their players in the past. Karl has recruited a team that to me says they're going to approach every game with an attacking frame of mind.
“They've got some very exciting players. They're not the biggest, but they look like they'll enjoy throwing the ball around.”
He added: “We're not going there to make up the numbers, but we know it's going to be a very tough game. From our point of view, we want to get the little things right.”
Sheffield Eagles v Leigh Centurions (3.00pm)
Sheffield Eagles coach Mark Aston has urged his team to back up last week's Northern Rail Cup victory over Workington Town with another strong display against Leigh Centurions – but he's warned that it will not be easy.
On last week's 28-14 win at Workington, Aston said: “We got a win, and that was the most important thing – particularly after not having the best preparation leading up to the game.”
Now all attention turns to the Centurions, who under new coach Paul Rowley racked up an impressive 48-16 triumph over Barrow.
“I'm highly delighted they've given Paul the head coach's job,” said Aston.
“They've had some really good games in pre-season. They set off with a strong performance against Barrow last week and some of the players they can put out are very, very strong.
“They're a quality team and we've to make sure we're good this week or we'll come unstuck.”
Centurions forward Ricky Bibey could miss up to the next six weeks after suffering a groin injury against Barrow, but James Taylor returns for Leigh in Sunday's trip to south Yorkshire.
New Leigh coach Paul Rowley last week watched his side win 48-16 against the Raiders.
He said: “I don't think Barrow will concede 48 points again all year, so from that point of view it was a fantastic result for us. Barrow are no mugs.
“The pleasing thing was that our defence was very good. We let in a late try, but other than that we were pretty solid.”
He added: “We've got a massive job on this week, and the challenge when we face Sheffield is to back up last week's performance with another good display.”
South Wales Scorpions v Oldham Roughyeds (3.00pm)
Tom Morgan remains South Wales Scorpions’ only absentee as he battles to overcome a knee problem ahead of the Scorpions' first competitive game of 2012.
Oldham Roughyeds suffered a 68-0 defeat against Featherstone Rovers on Wednesday, but South Wales coach Dave Clark believes that will be irrelevant come Sunday afternoon.
Clark said: “I’ll be telling our players, as I’m sure that Tony Benson will tell his, that that result will have no meaning when it comes to Sunday.
“We start with a blank slate and they will be just as determined to kick-start their season as we are.”
Oldham coach Benson is hoping to regain some pride after his side's midweek loss.
But despite the heavy scoreline, Benson believes there were plusses to emerge from the defeat.
Benson said: “We were actually good in the first half. It was only 14-0 at half time and we'd had three tries disallowed. We were up there with them for the first half.
“In the second half they got repeat sets on us and scored from them, so we had a 10-minute period where we were just tackling. We had a bit of a collapse then. In the second half we only 10 sets, while they had 26. We just tackled the whole time.”
Benson is unaware of any major injuries to have emerged from the midweek fixture, although the Roughyeds' squad will be assessed over the next 48 hours ahead of the trip to South Wales.
Benson said: “They're an unknown at the moment. They're like us in that they've not had many games, but every team is a threat.
“Jamie Rooney is there so they'll be well-organised, and a six-hour bus ride is a leveller for anyone. We've just got to get on with it.”
Swinton Lions v Hunslet Hawks (2.00pm)
Swinton Lions coach Steve McCormack has warned his men to expect a thorough test in Sunday's Northern Rail Cup clash with Hunslet Hawks.
McCormack said: “They have a new coach in Barry Eaton who is vastly experienced in this division.
“He has done a lot of work with the Welsh squad and any team prepared by Barry will be well-drilled and very difficult to beat.”
He added: “It will be a decent bench mark for us because they got promoted the season before us. They have done well and knocked some good teams off over the years.”
Hunslet coach Barry Eaton will give late fitness tests to Richard Blakeway (back) and David March (calf), while Dennis Tuffour (hamstring) is almost certainly out of Sunday's fixture.
Tuffour came off during Wednesday's 34-18 win over Whitehaven, and Eaton expects him to be unavailable for the trip to Leigh Sports Village.
Eaton said: “We've got some fitness checks to make. At this part of the season players are feeling bumps more than they will do in a couple of months' time. They're not battle-hardened just yet, so it's a tough ask to have a four day turnaround, but we're looking forward to the challenge.”
He added: “We were good for large chunks of Wednesday's game against Whitehaven. We started well and finished strongly, but we had a switch-off period in the second half and there are some lessons to be learned there because we made it more difficult than it should have been.
“We can't do that on Sunday. Swinton won last year's Championship One at a canter. They cruised to the title and they've since strengthened very well. They'll be fresh and hungry to get out there and perform. We've to be ready for that.”
Whitehaven v Gateshead Thunder (3.00pm)
Whitehaven coach Don Gailer has blasted his team after Wednesday's 34-18 defeat at Hunslet Hawks.
'Haven's new Australian coach was far from impressed with what he witnessed in his side's first competitive game of the year.
Gailer said: “We were dreadful and there's no hiding that. Our execution left more than a lot to be desired. We were all very, very disappointed.
“Our ball retention was disgraceful. We only had a 49 per cent completion rate, and that's not going to win you an U14s match, never mind one at this level.”
Chris Fleming suffered a shoulder injury during Wednesday's game and will be monitored later in the week before any decision is made on his fitness for Sunday's Northern Rail Cup clash with Gateshead Thunder.
Gailer added: “I'm actually pretty glad we've got a short turnaround, because the pain of Wednesday night will still be fresh in the memories of our blokes.
“You get a chance to dust yourself off, stand up and do it all again – and hopefully put a few things right.”
Thunder coach Kevin Neighbour must prepare his side without hard-hitting forward Tabua Cakacaka.
The Fijian prop has a foot injury that is likely to see him sidelined for two to three months.
Neighbour will be looking for a huge response from his players after a 48-10 midweek defeat against Doncaster.