Kingstone Press Championships previews
Saturday August 30
Leigh Centurions v Workington Town (3.00pm)
Leigh Centurions coach Paul Rowley insists there is “no pressure” on his team as they prepare for the final two regular league fixtures of the Kingstone Press Championship campaign.
The Centurions have already secured the League Leaders’ Shield.
Rowley said: “We’ve celebrated long and hard about winning the Shield.
“The guys have had some time off since then. A few have been away to take in some sunshine, and they’ve earned that.
“Now this fixture against Workington will kick-start the next phase of the year.
“We want to go into the play-offs with everybody fresh and raring to go. There’s no pressure on us at the minute.”
Rowley has a full-strength squad to pick from, but is likely to make changes to his forwards.
He said: “We won’t risk anyone who’s not 100 per cent fit, but we’ll be putting a very strong team out. Our backline will be at its strongest, while there might be one or two changes in the pack.”
On Workington, he added: “On paper they’re the form team in the Championship. They’re in a buoyant mood and they’ve plenty of players doing a good job. They’re a dangerous team.”
Jason Mossop is back for Town following a neck injury, as coach Phil Veivers searches for a ninth win in his last 10 league games.
Veivers said: “We know we can beat Leigh on our day.”
Sunday August 31
Kingstone Press Championship
Barrow Raiders v North Wales Crusaders (3.00pm)
Bobbie Goulding is preparing for his final home match in charge of Barrow Raiders – and will be desperate to go out on a high.
Raiders, whose relegation has already been confirmed, have lost their last 11 league matches.
But North Wales Crusaders, fresh from a victory over Keighley Cougars, insist they will travel with plenty of confidence.
Prop forward Jonny Walker is available, and coach Anthony Murray expects to be picking from a full-strength squad.
Murray said: “It will have done our players the world of good to have a rest last week, and hopefully we can now finish the year strongly.
“It was great for everybody at the club to get a result last time out, but now we’ve got to move on and focus on Barrow.
“It’s going to be a very tough game. It’s their last home game of the season, and Bobbie’s too, and I’m sure he’ll want to finish well.
“But our focus is on ourselves. We’ve prepared as best we can, and if we can get things right from our end then we should be able to compete on Sunday. It’s a game we’re looking forward to.”
Batley Bulldogs v Swinton Lions (3.00pm)
Batley Bulldogs cannot afford any mistakes as they prepare for two crucial games that will determine which division they play in next year.
The Bulldogs are currently three points behind Whitehaven with only two games remaining.
Defeat against Swinton Lions, coupled with a Whitehaven victory over Rochdale Hornets, could see the Bulldogs relegated this weekend.
Coach John Kear said: “I’m confident of staying up… but the players need to remain focused on doing their jobs and winning games.”
Bulldogs are without Ben Black, while Swinton coach John Duffy is aiming to halt an eight-match losing streak.
The Lions lost their last match 62-6 against Leigh Centurions, but have taken points from 14 of their 24 league fixtures so far.
Dewsbury Rams v Keighley Cougars (3.00pm)
Dewsbury Rams coach Glenn Morrison is still without a number of players as he prepares to take on in-form Keighley Cougars.
The Rams have won four of their last five matches, while Keighley have won three of their last four.
Callan Beckett, Stephen Nash and Ewan Dowes are all expected to miss the rest of the season after scans on their respective knee injuries delivered bad news.
Wayne Godwin and Makali Aizue are also ruled out for the short-term, but could feature in the play-offs.
Morrison said: “Keighley are a good team with a lot to play for, so we know it’s going to be tough.
“We’ve probably got the same squad as we had last time. We’ve got a few wins under our belt while players have been busted, so hopefully we can continue with that momentum.
“But Keighley have got some big, powerful forwards, and Paul March is also a big part of what they do.
“He’ll have them fired up, but we’ve got to just focus on our own performance.”
Keighley need a single point to confirm their Kingstone Press Championship status for 2015.
The Cougars are currently six points above 10th placed Batley Bulldogs with two league fixtures remaining.
Doncaster v Halifax (3.00pm)
Doncaster coach Paul Cooke expects to face a backlash from third-placed Halifax when the two sides meet on Sunday.
Halifax recently lost against Featherstone Rovers, and Cooke believes Karl Harrison’s men will be desperate to make amends.
Cooke said: “I’ve just watched that Halifax-Featherstone game, and the first 20 minutes killed Halifax. But both teams were strong, and it’s certainly a tough game for us this weekend – even more so after Halifax’s loss.”
He added: “It’s in our own hands to finish in the top four. If you’d said at the start of the season that we could be in this position with two games to go, we’d have snapped your hand off.
“But we’ve now got two big games to finish the season, at home against Halifax and Batley.
“The players have had eight days off completely, where they’ve done whatever they wanted to do.
“It was their first weekend off since February 2, and they certainly deserved the break. Now we’re all looking forward to getting stuck in again.”
Cooke has no new injury concerns, while Luke Ambler (wrist) and Callum Casey (ankle) are both expected to be available for Halifax.
And Halifax coach Karl Harrison is refusing to give up hope of a top-two finish.
Harrison said: “It’s far from over, and I still believe it will go down to the very last minute of the last game.”
Featherstone Rovers v Sheffield Eagles (3.00pm)
Featherstone Rovers coach Andy Hay could play Will Sharp at full-back following his excellent display against Halifax.
Sharp made the shock switch at The Shay, but impressed in both attack and defence.
Tim Spears could return for the hosts after missing 11 matches with a bicep injury, but Gareth Moore is ruled out through suspension.
Rovers face Sheffield Eagles and Keighley Cougars in their final two games, knowing that victory in both would secure a second-placed finish ahead of the Kingstone Press Championship play-offs.
Hay said: “It’s in our hands. We’re capable of winning both those games if we perform to our best.”
Matt Garside, Michael Knowles and Dominic Brambani are all expected to be available for Sheffield coach Mark Aston.
But Eagles won their last match, against Rochdale Hornets, 48-0 – leaving Aston pondering whether to keep faith with the same players or include his returning trio.
Whitehaven v Rochdale Hornets (3.00pm)
Tom Carr (knee) is Whitehaven’s major doubt ahead of Sunday’s crucial Kingstone Press Championship clash with Rochdale Hornets.
Two wins for Whitehaven in their final two league fixtures would secure their position in the second tier in 2015.
Coach Dave Woods said: “We’ve just got to concentrate on our own performance. We need to be confident and get three points.”
Hornets, who are one point above Swinton Lions and 10 points clear of Barrow Raiders, are determined to finish in 12th position.
Coach Ian Talbot said: “We’ve got a target now of trying to stay out of the bottom two, and a result this week would go a long way to us doing that.
“We can then say that it’s the restructure that’s relegated us, because in a normal year we’d have survived if we stayed out of the bottom two.”
He added: “We want to finish on a high, and get some confidence for next year.
“We’ve moved on from our Sheffield defeat, but we also know that any game up at Whitehaven is always tough.
“They need one or maybe two wins from the last two games to stay up, so they’ve got it all to play for.
“Brett Seymour is one to watch, they’ve some experience in the pack, and dangerous outside backs in guys like Jessie Joe Parker. It’ll be a good test for us.”
Talbot has no new injury concerns ahead of the trip north.
Kingstone Press Championship One
Hemel Stags v Gloucestershire All Golds (2.30pm)
Hemel Stags coach Troy Perkins insists his team is just one defeat away from their season being over.
Sixth-placed Stags are a point behind Gloucestershire, with just two games remaining until the end of the season.
Perkins said: “It’s sudden death for us now, and I spoke to the players about that on Tuesday.
“If we lose a game, our season’s finished. If it’s this week, the week after, or in a few weeks’ time, if we get beat our season’s over.
“It starts this week against a team that’s in the same situation as us. It’s a mini Grand Final, but the good thing is that our destiny is in our own hands.”
James Howitt (hand) and Stephen Bannister (knee) both look set to be fit for the Stags, giving Perkins a major boost ahead of Sunday’s match.
Perkins said: “We’re pretty hard to beat at home, and Gloucestershire have never beaten us yet. That’s a positive. We’ve played them five times and got five wins, and we want that to continue.
“We’ve got to be pretty confident that we’ve got a team that can win this week, and make an impact in the play-offs.”
All Golds coach Steve McCormack is set to have half-backs Matt Bradley and Ben White available for a match that could secure Gloucestershire’s place in the top five.
McCormack said: “If we win and make sure Hemel don’t get a bonus point, then we’re in the play-offs.”
Gateshead Thunder v Oldham (3.00pm)
Gateshead Thunder coach Stanley Gene has been dealt a major blow with the news that prop Ryan MacDonald could miss the rest of the season.
MacDonald suffered a dislocated shoulder against South Wales Scorpions, and now looks set for up to six weeks on the sidelines.
In contrast, Oldham coach Scott Naylor will select from a full-strength squad as he aims for a win that would push his side into second place in the Kingstone Press Championship One table.
Naylor said: “Thunder have crept up to fourth in recent weeks and, given their results and performances, they fully deserve to be there.
“They’ve got a good coach in Stanley Gene and they’ll give us a tough challenge. At the very least we’ll have to play as well as we did against Hemel.”
He added: “We’re capable of beating both Gateshead and Gloucestershire to finish second, but I can’t emphasise enough that we’ll have to be at the peak of our form.”
Oxford v South Wales Scorpions (3.00pm)
Callum Mulkeen and Alex Thompson are both available for Oxford, despite failing to finish their last match against London Skolars.
Oxford emerged 31-24 winners in that clash, and coach Tony Benson wants a second successive win to help finish the year on a positive note.
Benson said: “Our performance against London was very encouraging.
“We played well as a team, and everything we’ve been practicing came together.
“Since then we’ve had a week off to freshen up, and I’m just hoping we can nail it like we did last time.”
On South Wales, Benson added: “They’re always tough. You’ve got to play well against them, no question.”
Connor Farrer is available for the Scorpions, but Phil Carleton is a major doubt as he continues to struggle with a knee problem.
Young centre Paul Edwards could also keep his place after impressing in his last appearance.
Scorpions coach Mike Grady said: “It’s within our reach to get a result this week, it’s just a case of belief and playing for 80 minutes.
“Jimmy Rowlands does well for them, and if we can close him down then that’s a bit of the battle won – but there are 12 other players we need to worry about as well.”
Scorpions travel without suspended Barrie Phillips, while Ash Bateman is in line for his 100th club appearance.