Northern Rail Cup Previews
Saturday 19 February
Keighley Cougars v Toulouse Olympique (6:00pm)
Ryan Benjafield could return from a shoulder reconstruction when Keighley Cougars host Toulouse Olympique in Saturday’s Northern Rail Cup fixture. The Cougars’ Australian prop is now fully fit and ready to add some firepower to coach Jason Demetriou’s pack.
Demetriou said: “Benji is fit to play. I’m in two minds about whether he’ll play on Sunday, but he’s definitely in contention. We need him to get some game time ahead of the start of the league season.”
Ryan Smith (knee) is Demetriou’s only injury concern as the Cougars look to get back to winning ways after last week’s 14-0 defeat at Dewsbury.
“Dewsbury played the conditions a lot better than us,” said Demetriou. “Defensively I thought we were excellent, but we didn’t play the conditions very well.
“I’ve watched Toulouse’s game against Dewsbury from a fortnight ago. They like to throw the ball around and they’ve got some quick outside backs. They’ll try to challenge us with a big pack but they also like to play rugby.”
Toulouse coach Gilles Dumas must cope without Ged Corcoran (dislocated elbow) alongside the long-term absences of Rory Bromley, Constant Villeagas and Tim Wynn.
Dumas watched his side lost 44-28 at Widnes last week. He said: “We will learn our lesson that you can’t play for 65 minutes and then switch off.”
Sunday 20 February
Barrow Raiders v Featherstone Rovers (2:00pm)
Barrow Raiders coach Garry Schofield has been dealt a major blow after prop Brett McDermott was suspended for six matches. McDermott was given a two-match ban for punching during Barrow’s fixture against York City Knight and received a further four-match ban for stamping in the same game.
Liam Campbell (foot) is also facing up to two weeks on the sidelines after suffering an injury against Rochdale Hornets.
Schofield said: “We were OK at Rochdale, but the conditions and the heavy pitch didn’t help. Our discipline was good and we scored some attractive tries but we need to be more consistent.”
Sunday’s clash sees Schofield come head-to-head with former Great Britain team-mate Daryl Powell.
Schofield added: “Daryl’s turned Featherstone around and he was very unlucky not to win last year’s Co-operative Championship Grand Final.
“Rovers play very good, attacking Rugby League and it will show us how good we are. If anybody’s not watching Super League this weekend then they should come to Craven Park because they’ll see a great game.”
Featherstone Rovers are expected to field a similar team to the one that beat York last week.
Powell said: “We struggled a little bit to break York down and there were areas of our game we need to highlight and improve.”
Batley Bulldogs v Gateshead Thunder (2:00pm)
Batley Bulldogs coach Karl Harrison will make at least one change for Sunday’s clash against Gateshead Thunder after second-row forward Jason Walton received a two-match ban.
Walton was found guilty of a Grade C dangerous throw during Batley’s defeat against Leigh Centurions a fortnight ago. However, coach Karl Harrison received some good news when scrum half Paul Mennell’s case was deemed to be ‘sending off sufficient’.
Harrison is hoping for an improved attacking display from his side, following last week’s 12-8 win at Hunslet Hawks.
He said: “We defended magnificently, but with the ball in hand we were a million miles away from where we should be.”
Wayne Green is Thunder’s only injury concern, meaning Will Bate could be drafted into Richard Pell’s squad.
Pell said: “This is the same challenge as the one we faced against Sheffield Eagles – on their day, Batley are as good as any side in the Co-operative Championship.
“We’ve had a bit of knock back last week (Gateshead lost 82-0 at Workington), but we’ve just got to believe in what we’re doing and keep working hard.”
Doncaster RLFC v Dewsbury Rams (3:00pm)
Doncaster’s Ryan Steen (work commitments) is unavailable for Sunday’s Northern Rail Cup fixture against Dewsbury Rams, although Carl Hughes could return from an ankle injury.
Doncaster claimed their first win of the season last week, beating London 32-4 in a performance that pleased chief executive Carl Hall.
He said: “What impressed me most was our speed of line on defence. f we can continue to do this when the warmer weather comes, we will give ourselves a big chance.”
Dewsbury coach Warren Jowitt is reporting a clean bill of health, with hooker Luke Blake coming through unscathed from last week’s 14-0 win over Keighley.
Jowitt said “We knew it was going to be a dogged game last week. The conditions played a massive part and these conditions don’t really suit us because we’ve got a fair bit of pace, but I was really happy with how we responded defensively.
“We knew we’d let ourselves down against Toulouse, but we defended very well against Keighley.”
However, Jowitt insists his side still have work to do.
He said: “I wouldn’t say we’re 100 per cent right. There are still areas we need to work on, because if I’m seeing those areas then other coaches are seeing them too.”
Hunslet Hawks v Workington Town (3:00pm)
Hunslet’s Danny Grimshaw (hamstring) faces a late fitness test ahead of Sunday’s Northern Rail Cup clash with Workington Town.
Danny Ratcliffe will replace Grimshaw if he is unable to take his place in the Hawks’ line up.
Hunslet coach Paul March said: “Workington gave us a fright last year. We were quite comfortable in most games, but they made it difficult for us both times we played them.
“As far as we’re concerned, it’s all about our own performance. If we can improve on our Batley performance, then the result will take care of itself.”
March admitted to being frustrated after losing 12-8 against the Batley Bulldogs, despite Hunslet producing “the best defensive display since I’ve been here”, according to the Hawks’ coach.
High-flying Workington top Pool Two in the Northern Rail Cup after beating Whitehaven and then thumping Gateshead Thunder 82-0 last week.
Joint coach Gary Charlton said: “It was a good week for us.
“We’ve played some decent rugby and the Gateshead performance was best since we’ve been in charge. We played some great rugby and kept putting Gateshead to the sword.”
Charlton has no injury problems to contend with. On Hunslet, he said: “It was a good hard game last year, and we’re expecting the same again this season.
“We’ve strengthened in a few areas and hopefully we can go down there and do well.”
Leigh Centurions v Sheffield Eagles (3:00pm)
Leigh Centurions will be at full strength as they look to maintain their 100 percent record in 2011. Leigh have already beaten Batley Bulldogs and Swinton Lions in this year’s Northern Rail Cup.
Assistant coach Paul Rowley said: “We didn’t play as well against Swinton as we did in the previous week and our intensity dropped off, so there’s a new challenge this week for us to maintain the intensity we showed against Batley.
“However, we still scored 42 points and Swinton have recruited pretty well. We’re not over-thrilled with how we played and that probably shows more about where we feel we should be.”
Rowley was quick to acknowledge Sheffield’s strengths. He said: “They knocked us out of the play-offs last year.
“We know they’re a dangerous side and a very difficult side to beat. We’re concentrating on ourselves and what we’re offering rather than the opposition, but we do realise we’ll have to be on the top of our game against them.”
Sheffield Eagles are under pressure to claim a second win of the season if they are to give themselves the best possible chance of progressing past the Northern Rail Cup group stages.
Coach Mark Aston is still without overseas pair Misi Taulapapa and Quentin Laulu-Togagae
The Eagles chief is also promising a change of line-up after last week’s forwards dominated selection against Whitehaven. “We won’t go to Leigh with the same sort of squad,” he said.
London Skolars v York City Knights (3:00pm)
London Skolars coach Joe Mbu is hoping to make it third time lucky as he searches for a first win of 2011.
London have lost 62-18 against Widnes Vikings and 32-4 against Doncaster RLFC in their first two Northern Rail Cup games of the season but Mbu will be confident that Sunday’s home advantage could be enough to inspire his squad to claim their first three points of the year.
Skolars are boosted by the fact York playmaker Jonny Presley could miss out.
Presley suffered concussion during the Knights’ 32-22 defeat against Featherstone and is a major doubt for Sunday’s trip to the capital.
Knights coach Dave Woods said: “We did some good things against Featherstone, but it’s just a matter of getting up to speed to play at that level.
“We’ve got some players that were playing amateur rugby only a couple of years ago, so it’s a big step up.”
On the challenge of facing the Skolars, he added: “You’ve got to be prepared to go there and do the hard work because they can come out and surprise you.
“They’ve got some pretty handy players, and the long bus journey means it’s a tough day.”
Swinton Lions v Oldham Roughyeds (3:00pm)
Recent signing Chris Tyrer could be elevated into Swinton’s starting 13 to face Oldham on Sunday. The talented forward was on the bench for Swinton’s 42-22 defeat at Leigh last week.
But coach Steve McCormack is promising to give each of his first team squad a chance to impress before the start of the Co-operative Championship season.
Oldham coach Tony Benson is set to be without Valu Bentley (concussion), with Ben Wood, Johnny Walker and Martin Roden all being considered as possible replacements.
Ben Heaton (groin) will face a late fitness test after missing Tuesday night’s training session as a precautionary measure.
Last week Oldham lost 50-10 against Halifax, but Benson is remaining upbeat.
He said: “It was just one of those games. It was there for the taking at 14-8 at half time, and I thought we could do it at that stage. However, they kept the ball off us for 15 minutes and scored three tries at the start of the second half, and that was game over.”
On Swinton, Benson said: “They’re the team to beat (in Co-operative Championship One).
“They’ve spent the money and built a quality squad. It’s a good challenge for us and it’ll help us to gauge where we are ourselves.”
Whitehaven RLFC v Halifax RLFC (3:00pm)
Whitehaven RLFC coach David Seeds will check on “a couple” of injuries ahead of Sunday’s Northern Rail Cup clash against Halifax RLFC but he does not expect to be facing any serious fitness problems as ‘Haven search for a first win of the season.
Seeds was encouraged by last week’s 16-16 draw with Sheffield Eagles. Now he wants more of the same on Sunday.
“I was pleased with the performance,” said Seeds. “We wanted a response and a reaction from the disappointment of the Workington game. We’re just looking for improvement each week - that’s our main concern.
“We went toe to toe with a good Sheffield pack. I was very pleased with how the team went and we had a couple of great individual performances. Hopefully that’s set the standard and it’s the standard I expect each week.
“We’ve proven we can go toe to toe with these bigger clubs now. Halifax have got a lot of great players in their squad and it’s going to be a tough game, but there’s no pressure on our lads. We’ll just worry about our own performance.”
Halifax coach Matt Calland has been dealt a major blow after centre Mike Ratu was ruled out for four months after breaking his arm in last week’s 50-10 win over Oldham.
Adam Rudd (shoulder) and Lee Paterson (ankle) are also unavailable this week, although Paterson is expected to miss only a fortnight’s action.
Calland admitted to being impressed by his side’s big win last week. He said: “It was a big improvement and we’re going in the right direction.”
Widnes Vikings v Rochdale Hornets (3:00pm)
Danny Sculthorpe could make his Widnes Vikings debut after being given the all-clear on a persistent back problem. Sculthorpe, 31, has been training with the Vikings in a bid to earn a contract for 2011.
Now coach Denis Betts is set to give him a run in one of Vikings’ two remaining Northern Rail Cup games. However, Betts will be without Steve Pickersgill on Sunday. The prop forward received a one-match ban following a dangerous throw during Widnes’ win at London Skolars a fortnight ago.
Hornets’ coach John Stankevitch is expecting to field a similar side to the one that went down 30-18 against Barrow last week.
Stankevitch said: “We’ve got a couple of people with knocks on thumbs and fingers, but nothing that’s going to keep anyone out.”
The Rochdale coach admitted to being pleased with his side’s performance last week.
He said: “I like coaching lads who want to be coached. I was really disappointed against Keighley because I just felt that I couldn’t coach lads who can’t be bothered being on the field. That was the impression – rightly or wrongly – that some players were giving me.
“I made a statement by bringing some lads in and dropping a few lads, and against Barrow we were fantastic in terms of effort and application. There were always things we were going to get wrong, but we shouldn’t be able to compete anywhere near Barrow. To run them as close as we did makes me feel pretty proud.”
On Widnes, Stankevitch added: “It’s no more of a challenge than last week’s Barrow game.
“We’ve got a pretty determined group this week and I think anything can happen. We’re going to go there and play on them. We can certainly attack and we’re going there to throw the ball around and try to put them under some pressure.”