Sunday 16 February
Kingstone Press Championship
Keighley Cougars v Whitehaven (3.00pm)
Keighley Cougars duo Lewis Graham (broken hand) and Gavin Duffy (ankle) both look set to miss Sunday’s Kingstone Press Championship fixture against Whitehaven.
But Cougars coach Paul March is hopeful Ash Lindsay will recover from a dislocated shoulder before Sunday’s match.
March said: “We’re already fighting injuries and this year, with the new structure coming, we need to be raring to go.
“It’s going to be a tough start for us, but I’m hoping Ash will come through and be there come Sunday to hopefully help us get off to a winning start.”
March added: “We underachieved last year. We lost our first seven games on the bounce, and we need to be more consistent this year. If we can make the play-offs and then challenge some of the big boys, that will be a good season for us.”
Whitehaven travel with Shaun Ainscough (suspended), but coach Dave Woods can otherwise pick from full strength.
Woods said: “There’s a lot riding on this year. You need to make you’re finishing games and killing teams off if you’re ahead, and if you’re getting beat you need to do everything to get a bonus point.”
He added: “We’ve had a bit of a look at Keighley. They’ve a very good hooker in James Feather, a smart half-back in Paul Handforth and plenty of big forwards, too. They’ll be very difficult opposition, especially at Cougar Park.”
Sheffield Eagles v Rochdale Hornets (2.00pm)
Sheffield Eagles look set to include Jon Ford and Will Hope when they open their Kingstone Press Championship campaign on Sunday.
The pair joined the Eagles on season-long loan deals from Salford Red Devils and will now try to help Sheffield defend their title, but Rochdale Hornets coach Ian Talbot is hopeful of causing a shock result on Sunday.
Talbot said: “Hopefully Sheffield will underestimate us. It’s probably the toughest start we could imagine, but what a fantastic scalp it would be. If we could get a win, that would be a brilliant way to start the season.”
He added: “This year is a massive challenge for us. We’re everybody’s favourites to finish bottom, never mind be relegated. We go into the season under no illusions, but we’re also under no pressure.
“We’re not throwing a massive budget at finishing top of the table. We’re playing pressure free, and hopefully we’ll pick up some points and see where we are come the end of the season.”
Talbot has no major injury concerns and will select a Rochdale team from a fully fit squad.
North Wales Crusaders v Barrow Raiders (2.30pm)
North Wales Crusaders forward Jono Smith is battling to be fit for Sunday’s Kingstone Press Championship opener against Barrow Raiders.
Smith has a knee problem and will be assessed by coach Clive Griffiths before a final decision is made on his availability.
Griffiths said: “The hard part will be picking a team to start against Barrow. Now it gets serious and we’re looking forward to the start.”
Barrow are set to be without Aaron Lloyd, who broke his hand in last week’s friendly win against BARLA Great Britain, and Chris Rowe, who has also suffered the same injury.
But Raiders coach Anthony Murray still has plenty of choices to make, with players across his squad impressing during last week’s convincing victory.
Murray said: “I’ve got a massive (selection) headache for this first game, but it’s nice to be in that position.”
Dewsbury Rams v Featherstone Rovers (3.00pm)
Dewsbury Rams coach Glenn Morrison will check on the fitness of Jobe Murphy (ankle) and Callan Beckett (hamstring) before finalising his team for Sunday’s opening Kingstone Press Championship fixture against Featherstone Rovers.
Morrison said: “We’ve had a good pre-season, we’ve got some good games under our belt and we’re going into this match with a bit of confidence.
“With five teams getting relegated this year you don’t want to drop any points, and even a bonus point could be the difference between a top-eight finish and a relegation spot.”
He added: “Featherstone have got a new coach and some new players, but judging by their pre-season results they look like being the team to beat. We’ve got to make sure we’re ready to go come Sunday.”
New Featherstone coach John Bastian is without Matty Nicholson (knee) and Liam Walmsley (broken arm).
But Bastian remains confident ahead of the start of the new campaign.
Bastian said: “We’ve had some good results against some good quality teams in pre-season, but the real stuff starts this week.”
Halifax v Swinton Lions (3.00pm)
Halifax coach Karl Harrison has stressed the need for his side to start the new season with a win, despite winger Rob Worrincy being ruled out with a quad injury.
Harrison said: “It’s an important season and we can’t afford to mess about. We need to hit the ground running.”
Swinton Lions are likely to be without Richie Hawkyard (concussion), Freddie Walker (shoulder) and Ben Warrilow (shoulder) for the trip to The Shay.
Lions coach Ian Watson said: “We’ve got a nice start to the season, facing Halifax and then Sheffield, but these games will be a bit of a benchmark for us. We want to be playing against those types of teams, and for us it’s probably a good thing.
“We’re going straight in against one of the top teams and we’ve got to be ready from the first minute.”
Last week Watson watched the Lions narrowly lose their only pre-season friendly, falling 24-18 against Oldham.
But Watson insists: “That game was invaluable to us in terms of having a hit out and getting some things in place. We’ll be much better for it.”
Leigh Centurions v Batley Bulldogs (3.00pm)
Leigh Centurions coach Paul Rowley says his team could not have faced a more difficult opening fixture to the new Kingstone Press Championship season.
Rowley said: “It couldn’t get any tougher. Batley have got a good record at Leigh Sports Village, they enjoy coming to us and they’ll be looking forward to it as much as we are.
“This will probably be the most interesting game of the opening round. It’s a tough game for us to start with, but a good one.”
He added: “They’ve had a few changes in their squad, but they’ll be very similar in terms of their style and approach.”
Batley Bulldogs have been dealt a blow on the eve of the new season after Ben Black underwent a knee operation that will keep him out of action for the next three weeks.
But Bulldogs coach John Kear is adamant his side can start the season well on Sunday.
Kear said: “Our attitude and application during pre-season has been first class.
“We’ve been slightly hampered because we’ve had such a turnover of players and training hasn’t been the easiest due to the weather, but we’ve improved in each trial game and we’ll go to Leigh ready for the formidable challenge.
“They’ve a strong squad and that’s been boosted by some good signings, but we’ll be confident too.”
Workington Town v Doncaster (3.00pm)
Workington Town trio Jason Mossop (hamstring), Elliott Miller (knee) and Brett Carter (dead leg) will all be assessed before Sunday’s Kingstone Press Championship fixture against Doncaster.
Town coach Gary Charlton has warned his players not to relax at any point during the coming season.
Charlton said: “If you’re down by 10 per cent in any game this year then you’ll get a touch up. That’s how good the teams are in this competition.
“Every week will be a challenge, and every point will matter come the end of the season.
“There’s going to be so much fighting to keep out of that bottom five, but we’ve trained hard and we’re looking forward to getting going.”
Doncaster coach Paul Cooke also has plenty of injury concerns ahead of the trip to Cumbria.
He said: “We’ve picked up some injuries last week (against North Wales). We’ll have to make checks on Brett Waller, Lee Waterman, Kyle Kesik and Scott Spaven to name just four. It’s not ideal for us because they look like being medium-term injuries.”
But Cooke has praised his squad’s commitment and effort during the off-season.
He said: “We’ve changed a great deal as a club. We’ve brought in a new play-book and brought in new calls and different set-plays. The players have been very receptive to that, and we’ve also worked very hard on our defence.”
He added: “We know we’re in for a battle on Sunday. It’s not going to be the greatest pitch, it’ll be nice and tight and we know they’re going to give it to us. Mentally we’ve got to be well-prepared and physically we’ve got to take that into the game.”