Kingstone Press Championship previews
Saturday February 23
Keighley Cougars v Swinton Lions (6.00pm)
Impressed Keighley Cougars coach Paul March is planning to name an unchanged squad for Sunday’s Kingstone Press Championship fixture with Swinton Lions.
March’s troops earned a bonus point at Halifax last week, losing 30-20.
March said: “We were happy with what we did. Our performance was a lot better, and at half time we were well in the game.
“Everybody’s come through OK, so we’ll run with the same 17 again this week, or as close to it as possible depending on any dual registration players.”
Swinton have endured a difficult week following the shock resignation of coach Steve McCormack, but March believes that will make Keighley’s job even more difficult.
He said: “I don’t know who’s taking charge of them, but their players will want to impress whoever’s coming in, whether they’re there as caretaker or on a permanent basis.
“They’ll be a difficult team to crack, and we had some good games with them last year, so it’s up to us to play with the same enthusiasm and intensity as we did at Halifax.”
Swinton trio James Laithwaite (knee), Glenn Riley (hand) and Dan Birkett (hip) will all be assessed after missing last week’s 52-20 defeat by Sheffield Eagles.
Chaz I’Anson (thumb) is definitely missing for the Lions.
Sunday February 24
Kingstone Press Championship
Dewsbury Rams v Whitehaven (3.00pm)
Dewsbury Rams coach Glenn Morrison believes their defensive efforts have been key to their solid start to the Kingstone Press Championship.
The Rams have seven points from their first three games, including a 14-4 win at Hunslet Hawks last week.
Morrison said: “It was our defence that won us the game at Hunslet. We’re still a little bit off in attack, but that will come with time.”
He added: “We know Whitehaven are going to be very strong. They’ve experience in their halves, and in Paul Jackson they have one of the most experienced props in the competition.”
Morrison has two unnamed injury concerns, but insisted: “We’ve got plenty of depth if we need to bring other guys in.”
Whitehaven coach Dave Woods is hopeful that Lee Doran could make his return to action on Sunday.
Woods’ side lost 28-14 against Leigh Centurions last week. He said: “We need to be better. Don’t get me wrong, we’re happy with how we’re going – we’ve got two wins from three in a new division for us – but if we were a little smarter we could have had a bonus point against Leigh as well.
“Our pack is going really well – it’s in attack and in our halves where I want us to be better and more clinical. We need to make our last play options count.”
Featherstone Rovers v Hunslet Hawks (3.00pm)
Featherstone Rovers coach Daryl Powell continues to be without Michael Haley (foot) and Sam Smeaton (knee), but Tim Spears is making good progress following shoulder surgery and could play in Featherstone’s U20s side on Thursday night.
Powell’s men are one of only two teams to have a 100 per cent record in this year’s Kingstone Press Championship, with last week’s 58-12 win over Barrow Raiders helping to give Featherstone a huge points difference less than a month into the new season.
Powell said: “We’re big and mobile, and there are lots of offloads in there which is really strengthening the way we play.”
Hunslet Hawks coach Barry Eaton has doubts over Luke Menzies (shin) and Luke Haigh (shoulder), but expects both to be fit for Sunday’s clash.
Eaton said: “We should be looking forward to going to Featherstone and pitting our wits against the best.
“We certainly won’t be in fear of going there. It’s a place you want to go and enjoy.”
Leigh Centurions v Doncaster (3.00pm)
Matt Gardner is suspended for Leigh, while Centurions coach Paul Rowley also has a minor doubt over Michael Ostick.
But Rowley could make more changes after admitting every member of his squad is staking a claim for selection.
Rowley said: “We’ve got some middle-unit players ready and chomping at the bit, and it’s getting really difficult to not pick some players at the moment.
“We might just put some new bodies in this week, because the pressure from underneath is getting to the stage where I can’t ignore it.”
On Doncaster, he added: “They’re a big, physical side that’s full of confidence, so we’ll have to be tight in the middle and defensively honest.
“They’ve got two wins from three this year, and before that they had a Grand Final win.
“They’ve got team harmony, and all the consistent and winning teams in our leagues have shown that to be a factor in any success.”
Dons coach Tony Miller will check on Mark Castle (back spasms) before naming his squad.
Miller said: “Leigh will be a tough test for us, but there’s no pressure on our guys.”
He added: “Mentally we’ve come a long way. Our main focus this season was to consolidate and keep ourselves in this division, but if we can finish in the top eight then that would be as successful for us as last season.”
Workington Town v Sheffield Eagles (3.00pm)
Workington Town coach Gary Charlton hopes to be boosted by the return of up to three players for Sunday’s game with Kingstone Press Championship champions Sheffield Eagles.
Kris Coward and Marc Shackley will definitely be involved, while Charlton is also hopeful that Jason Mossop can prove his fitness in training after an ankle ligament problem.
He hopes their combined knowledge will help Town become more clinical after claiming just one win from their first three games of the season.
Charlton said: “We’ve got to learn to take our chances when they come around, because we’ll get fewer opportunities in this division than we’re used to.
“Everything you work for and earn, you’ve got to take – and that’ll be exactly the same against Sheffield.”
Eagles coach Mark Aston is aiming to back up last week’s 52-20 win at Swinton, in which Peter Green starred to earn the Premier Sports Player of the Week award, with a third win of the season when Sheffield travel to Workington on Sunday.
Patch Walker looks set for a recall after watching the Swinton fixture alongside Aston.
But Dane McDonald is unlikely to feature again this season, having returned to Australia following a shoulder operation.
Joe Hirst (broken hand) and Scott Turner (ankle ligaments) are also missing from Aston’s squad this week, with Nev Morrison likely to replace Turner.
York City Knights v Halifax (3.00pm)
York City Knights coach Gary Thornton is battling against a mounting injury list just three weeks into the new Kingstone Press Championship season.
Matt Nicholson (shoulder) and Jack Lee (shoulder) are both facing a number of weeks on the sidelines, while Aaron Lyons (hip), Austin Bell (ankle) and Danny Nicklas (shoulder) are also ruled out of Sunday’s fixture.
Dean Hadley (twisted ankle) will face a late fitness test before his availability is decided.
Thornton said: “We knew these three weeks – against Batley, Halifax and Sheffield – would be tough. We got a bit beat up at Batley last week, and it’ll certainly test the strength and depth of our squad.
“Our biggest concern is the front row, and we could have only two recognised props, but I won’t risk anyone that’s not right.
“We’ve got a short turnaround next week and a critical period coming up.”
Halifax coach Karl Harrison could name an unchanged side after reporting no new injury concerns after last week’s 30-20 win over Keighley Cougars.
‘Fax’s preparations for Sunday’s game have included an opposed training session with NRL champions Melbourne Storm.
Harrison said: “We treated it like an intense training session and everybody felt the benefit.
“Being on the same pitch as the Storm players was fantastic for our lads.”