Northern Rail Cup Previews
Northern Rail Cup previews
Friday March 2
Sheffield Eagles v York City Knights (7.30pm)
Sheffield Eagles coach Mark Aston looks set to assess the fitness of Aaron Smith and Scott Turner before naming his side for Friday's Northern Rail Cup clash with York City Knights.
But Michael Knowles is definitely ruled out after chipping a bone in his wrist. Victory for Sheffield would extend their 100 per cent record at the start of the season, while York coach Chris Thorman has praised his side's mental strength ahead of their fourth game in 13 days.
Knights saw off Doncaster, Swinton Lions and Gateshead Thunder in an eight-day spell last week and now aim for their fourth win from four games when they travel to South Yorkshire.
Thorman said: “To win three out of three in a normal situation would be great, but to do it in eight days is a fair effort. I can't stress enough how tough it is to play that amount of games in a short space of time.
“Friday is our fourth game in 13 days. It's another tough ask and it will be our hardest game so far against a very good Sheffield side. This period going to tell me a lot about my squad, and so far they've passed most of the tests.”
Waine Pryce (quad) and Paul King (elbow) are likely to miss out for the Knights, who know exactly what's needed on Friday.
“We need a bonus point to get through to the last eight,” said Thorman.
“That's not a bad focus to have. We need to get something from the game, and that's good for us. We go into it knowing exactly what we need to do.”
Saturday March 3
Toulouse Olympique v South Wales Scorpions (7.00pm)
Toulouse Olympique are without Fijian star Eloni Vunakece (knee) as they bid to secure a first win in their Northern Rail Cup campaign.
The clash with South Wales Scorpions comes too soon for new signing Shane Blackett, who is expected to arrive in France next week.
Scorpions travel with a fully fit squad, giving coach Dave Clark plenty of optimism about his side's chances of bouncing back from last week's 38-30 defeat by London Skolars.
Clark said: “This is the first time the Scorpions have been overseas to play anyone, so there's a bit of history making for us this week.
“The boys have been bouncing all week and it will be good for us to go over there and play against a team like Toulouse.”
He added: “They're a competitive team. They've done very well in the French competition, as well as competing with the likes of Keighley Cougars in the Northern Rail Cup.
“We're expecting a physically tough challenge and we're prepared for that.”
Sunday March 4
Dewsbury Rams v Rochdale Hornets (3.00 pm)
Dewsbury Rams coach Warren Jowitt will stress to his side the need to be mentally ready for Sunday's Northern Rail Cup clash with Rochdale Hornets.
Last week Dewsbury were 30-4 up against Oldham but a late collapse saw the Roughyeds get within two points, with Jowitt's side eventually winning 30-28.
“For just shy of 60 minutes we were very good, but at 30-4 I think complacency set in,” said Jowitt.
“That's a mental thing, and we've got to learn that you've got to keep your foot to the pedal.
“It will be full throttle this week for all 80 minutes, and that's how we've got to approach every week.”
Jowitt will make at least one change from last week's team, with substitute John Davies ruled out for a fortnight with a shoulder injury. James Craven (dead leg) and Rob Spicer (broken ribs) are also missing.
Tony Stewart is expected to return for Rochdale, while Chris Baines (sternum) and Dane Donohue (broken nose) look set to feature despite suffering injuries against Keighley Cougars last week.
Hornets coach John Stankevitch said: “It's really important that we use this fixture wisely. We can't qualify for the last eight of the Northern Rail Cup, but this game still carries a lot of meaning to us. We want to polish up a few things.
“I'll be looking very closely at individual performances on Sunday. Our team structure and game plan has been spot on, but last week we were let down defensively by a few individuals.”
Stankevitch will receive the results of a scan on Dean Gorton's shoulder on Thursday.
Featherstone Rovers v Batley Bulldogs (3.00pm)
Featherstone Rovers coach Daryl Powell has set his sights on a trip to Blackpool as Featherstone prepare for their final Northern Rail Cup group game.
Powell saw his men claim a remarkable 34-32 win at Halifax last week. He said: “To show resolve and spirit like we did shows what kind of culture we've got at Featherstone.
“There was fitness, a bit of never-say-die spirit, and a group of people hanging in together and wanting to win.”
He added: “This is one of the two competitions you can win at this level. We've always had a pop at the Northern Rail Cup. We haven't quite made the final yet, but hopefully we will this year.”
Batley Bulldogs duo Alex Walmsley and Johnny Walker are John Kear's main doubts for Sunday's trip to Featherstone.
Kear said: “Alex cut his head against Toulouse. He's had stitches and the doctor is taking them out on Friday, so we're hoping he'll be available.
“Johnny picked up a back injury against Keighley and that reoccurred against Toulouse, so we're having to monitor him as the week goes on.”
Bulldogs have won all three of their opening Northern Rail Cup fixtures. Kear said: “We've a 100 per cent record and you've got to be happy with that.
“Performance-wise we're progressing, but there are also areas to work on. We're still a work in progress and I envisage us continuing to improve as the year goes on.”
On Featherstone, he said: “They're the benchmark for everyone outside of Super League.
“They've only lost four league games in the last two years, so if you're going to beat them you're going to have to play really well. They're the team everybody has to measure themselves against.”
Gateshead Thunder v Leigh Centurions (3.00pm)
Paul Stamp (ankle) is Gateshead Thunder’s only absentee as head coach Kevin Neighbour aims to back up last week's much improved performance against York City Knights with a solid display against Leigh Centurions.
Gateshead claimed a bonus point from their 26-22 defeat against the newly-promoted Knights.
Neighbour said: “It built a bit of belief in the stuff we're doing, and that it's the right way for us to go. There was a realisation that if we keep going with our plan, we will look like a team that is going to win games.”
He added: “Any Leigh team is going to be good, we just see this as an opportunity to test ourselves against players of that calibre and see where we are.”
Leigh coach Paul Rowley expects Gateshead to come out all guns blazing on Sunday.
He said: “Their result at York last week was brilliant for them if you look at their past history and the quality of the opposition they were up against.
“They'll be absolutely buzzing and looking forward to playing again. It's a challenge we've got to face, because the pressure is on us more than them.”
Dean McGilvray (groin) could be ruled out for the next few weeks, but Ricky Bibey should return from his own groin problem.
However, Bob Beswick is unlikely to feature as he struggles to shake off shoulder and knee complaints.
Rowley added: “We've won two out of three games so far. I'm reasonably happy, but we've still got a lot of improving to do.
“The challenge is for us to be consistent, and a lot of credit has to go to the lads for not resting on their laurels when we've got a relatively small squad.”
Hunslet Hawks v Doncaster (3.00pm)
Hunslet Hawks coach Barry Eaton remains in upbeat mood despite last week's 30-12 defeat at Leigh Centurions.
Eaton said: “When you've got players who are applying themselves and working hard, that's always positive. You can tweak things as long as you're getting the effort and commitment.”
However, Eaton's plans have suffered a major blow with the news that Stuart Kain is facing 6-12 weeks on the sidelines after fracturing his jaw during the Leigh clash.
The only boost for Hunslet is the anticipated return on Sunday of Dennis Tuffour from a hamstring strain.
Eaton said: “There are one or two potential permutations this week, but we think if we win that will stack the odds in our favour in terms of progressing to the last eight.
“But Doncaster have still got a chance of progressing too, so they'll certainly be fired up and it's not too long ago that they beat us in a pre-season friendly. We'll certainly give them the respect they deserve.”
Dons coach Tony Miller is hopeful that full back Mick Butterfield will be available for Sunday's trip to Hunslet.
Butterfield was absent for Doncaster's 56-12 defeat by Sheffield Eagles, but his anticipated return could provide a major boost as Miller searches for a second win of the season.
Keighley Cougars v Oldham (2.00pm)
Keighley Cougars coach Jason Demetriou has challenged his squad to maintain the same levels of commitment they showed in last week's 40-16 win at Rochdale Hornets.
Demetriou said: “We acquitted ourselves really well. We scored a few points and things are starting to come together, but most importantly I was pleased with our attitude.
“We went to the level I've wanted us to be at. We've set minimum standards now and we've got to stick with them.”
Keighley are fully fit for Sunday's fixture with Oldham, where victory will almost certainly secure the Cougars' place in the last eight of the Northern Rail Cup.
Demetriou said: “We want to have a really good performance and build for the first game in the Championship.
“We're about improving our performances each week, but in the back of our mind we set ourselves a goal of getting to the last eight and we know this is our chance to do that.”
Oldham coach Tony Benson welcomes back Mark Brocklehurst and Paul Smith, but Paul Ballard (knee), Valu Bentley (ankle), Matt Fogarty (ankle), Mark McCully (knee), Lucas Onyango (Achilles) and Luke Stenchion are all ruled out.
Benson said: “We're always confident when we go out. We'll have a good go at them and see what happens.
“We've been getting better and better each week. We're getting close to a point where everything will click and that will be a quantum leap for us.”
London Skolars v Halifax (3.00pm)
London Skolars prepare for their toughest test this year without the services of Oliver Bloom (shoulder).
Joe Mbu's side will not be short of confidence after last week's 38-30 win against South Wales Scorpions.
But Halifax will be determined to produce a winning performance after suffering a heartbreaking defeat against Featherstone Rovers.
Coach Karl Harrison said: “I'm confident going into every game. I expect and prepare teams to win every single week.”
Victory for Halifax would secure their place in the Northern Rail Cup quarter finals, and Harrison is in confident mood, despite the absence of Iain Morrison (knee).
Harrison added: “London are an unknown force and we'll do a bit of homework on them, but we'll go there and expect to get a result. We need to be in the next round.”
Swinton Lions v Workington Town (2.00pm)
Ian Mort is expected to return to the Swinton team after missing last week's 32-16 defeat at Barrow with a dead leg.
That result – Swinton Lions’ third defeat from three Northern Rail Cup fixtures – means they have nothing to play for but pride on Sunday.
But joint Workington Town coach Gary Charlton is steeling his troops for a fierce test, and could be boosted by the returns of Jarrad Stack, John Patrick and Hull KR trio James Green, Dave Petersen and Nick Johnson.
Charlton said: “Everybody came through last week OK, and we'll have a few more to pick from this week. It gives us a bit of competition, and that's always a good thing.”
Charlton praised the performance of his side's pack after their 44-16 win over Whitehaven.
He said: “We dominated where we had to dominate and that made it easy for the backs. It was pleasing to watch, especially against the old enemy.”
But he expects a tough assignment on Sunday, adding: “Swinton have some genuine quality and Steve McCormack will have them primed up.
“Tactically Steve is very good, so we're going to have to come up with something very special if we're to win down there.”
Whitehaven v Barrow Raiders (3.00pm)
Chris Fleming (shoulder) and Scott McAvoy (knee) are both confirmed absentees from Don Gailer's Whitehaven team this week.
But Gailer expects to make up to nine changes from the side that lost against Workington in a bid to give every member of his squad the chance to stake a claim for a starting spot in the regular league season.
Gailer said: “We've got to bounce back from that Workington game. I think our forwards learned a lesson about passion on Sunday, and this week will see a fresh challenge for us.
“All the guys who haven't had a run so far will get one against Barrow. We can't progress any further in the Northern Rail Cup, so it's a good opportunity to give chances to a few blokes who haven't had them yet.”
Lee Dutton could return for Barrow Raiders, but head coach Darren Holt could rest James Dandy (shoulder).
Holt said: “I've been trying to drill into the boys that at this stage of the year, it's more about performance than result.
“Last week was the first time that we performed and concentrated for the majority of the game. It was our most complete performance so far, and now we've got to back that up.”