Friday July 26
Kingstone Press Championship
Sheffield Eagles v Keighley Cougars (7.30pm)
Sheffield Eagles coach Mark Aston has challenged his team to bounce back from successive defeats by starting a busy period with a win that would take them back to the top of the Kingstone Press Championship.
Sheffield face three games in 10 days after defeats against London Broncos and Leigh Centurions.
Aston said: “I don’t want pity. Let’s move on, dust ourselves down and be better.”
James Haley could have played his last game of the season as Keighley Cougars coach Paul March waits on news of the extent of Haley’s shoulder injury.
March said: “He dislocated his shoulder last week and he’s probably looking at a few weeks out.
“It could even end his season, depending on what ligaments and muscles have been damaged.”
Gavin Duffy and Richie Barnett will compete for Haley’s place in the three-quarters, while Daley Williams faces a late fitness test.
March added: “We’ve spoken all year about trying to get an 80-minute performance together.
“When we do that, people will see we’re a team that can dominate along with the top five, but until then we’re scraping down where we are.
“We’ll need to be good on Friday because Sheffield will punish everything, and they’ll want to start well after last week.
“It’s up to us to be stand up and be counted. It’s a big game and I’m sure the players will be ready come Friday.”
Sunday July 28
Batley Bulldogs v Workington Town (2.00pm)
Bulldogs coach John Kear is set to check on Ash Lindsay ahead of a match that Batley are desperate to win.
Kear’s men have suffered five consecutive defeats since their last triumph – a 30-4 victory over Workington Town in the Northern Rail Cup.
Since then Sheffield, Leigh, Featherstone, Whitehaven and Doncaster have all got the better of Batley – and Kear has been left fuming.
He said: “In the first half (against Doncaster) it appeared as though we made no effort.”
Workington coach Gary Charlton is preparing for a difficult eight days, with three games against top five opposition starting with Sunday’s trip to Mount Pleasant.
Town look likely to be without Shaun Briscoe (knee), but Jamie Thackray could force his way into contention.
Charlton said: “It’s going to be tough, but hopefully we’ll have a few blokes back on the field.
“We just have to man up, go down there and try our best, and see where that takes us.”
Doncaster v Barrow Raiders (3.00pm)
Doncaster coach Tony Miller is aiming for a third consecutive win after steering his side to victories over Batley Bulldogs and Hunslet Hawks in the last fortnight.
Miller’s side could move into the top eight on Sunday if other results go in their favour.
And the Doncaster coach will be hoping for more of the same after last week’s impressive demolition of Batley.
Miller said: “We were very impressive and everybody worked hard for each other.”
Barrow Raiders coach Darren Holt will give late fitness tests to Kurt Haggerty (wrist) and Dan Toal (head), and is hopeful both will be cleared for action at the Keepmoat Stadium.
But Holt has sent out a warning message to his troops, despite last week’s 28-26 win over Hunslet.
Holt said: “There are some players who… have just done the wrong things at the wrong time and that can’t keep happening.
“They either learn from their mistakes, or they simply won’t be playing. It has to be that way from here on in.”
He added: “If we ever manage to get an 80-minute performance on the pitch, then I feel sorry for whoever we are playing against.”
Halifax v York City Knights (3.00pm)
Halifax coach Karl Harrison is preparing to be without influential stand-off Scott Murrell for Sunday’s Kingstone Press Championship fixture with York City Knights.
Harrison’s men are four points off league leaders Featherstone Rovers and need a win to keep in touch with the top two.
But Harrison rates Murrell, who suffered a broken hand three weeks ago, as having only a 20 per cent chance of facing the Knights.
Harrison said: “It is all a question of how much pain Scott feels with the injury. We’ll assess him nearer the time.”
Matty Nicholson remains sidelined for York, but is edging closer to a return from shoulder surgery and could feature within the next three weeks.
James Ford (knee) is also missing as coach Gary Thornton aims to bounce back from last week’s 20-4 home defeat against Whitehaven.
Thornton said: “It was a very, very frustrating performance. We tried hard defensively, but we just couldn’t crack them open.”
Hunslet Hawks v Leigh Centurions (3.00pm)
Paul McShane could make his debut for Hunslet Hawks after joining on a dual-registration deal from Leeds Rhinos.
And Hunslet coach Barry Eaton looks set to be given another major boost with the probable return of Andy Yates. David March (hamstring) is the Hawks’ only doubt.
Eaton, whose side lost 28-26 at Barrow on Sunday, said: “Our composure with the ball is affecting our defence.
“We’re conceding tries on the back of poor ball control. We’re scoring enough points to win games, but if you’re making errors in your own half you’re giving teams ammunition.
“If we can maintain possession better, we’ll probably defend better. That’s our challenge for the rest of the season.”
Leigh Centurions travel without Sam Hopkins, who faces a number of weeks on the sidelines with an ankle injury, as they prepare for a hectic fortnight.
Coach Paul Rowley said: “We’re entering a tough period of four fixtures – against Hunslet, Halifax, Swinton and Sheffield – in 12 days, so we need to be strong both mentally and physically.
“We’ll give Hunslet plenty of respect because we know their capabilities, but we also know what we’re capable of.”
Swinton Lions v Featherstone Rovers (3.00pm)
Swinton Lions coach Gary Chambers will be without Ian Watson (suspended) for Sunday’s Kingstone Press Championship fixture with Featherstone Rovers.
The Lions have not won in over a month, having lost against Sheffield, Keighley and Workington since securing an away victory at Hunslet.
They are currently bottom of the table, but hope to draw inspiration on Sunday from celebrations marking the 50thanniversary of Swinton winning the title in 1963.
And Featherstone coach Ryan Sheridan is refusing to underestimate the Lions, despite their league position.
Sheridan said: “Swinton will be another tough match.
“It’s been a bit of a rocky road getting back to the top of the table, but our performances have been building and we’ve worked hard to get there.
“The key for us now is applying a big-game mentality to each match we play from now on.”
Sam Barlow could make his Featherstone debut after joining on loan from Halifax.
Kingstone Press Championship One
South Wales Scorpions v Gateshead Thunder
David James (back) is South Wales Scorpions’ only injury absentee as they prepare to host Gateshead Thunder in Sunday’s Kingstone Press Championship One clash.
Scorpions coach Dave Clark said: “We’ve still an opportunity to make the play-offs and we know we have to win the next few games.
“We picked up a bonus point in our last home game but we wanted, and should have had, more. It wasn’t good enough and we know we can do a lot better.
“Gateshead will be be full of enthusiasm and confidence. We’ve never lost to them, but games have been getting closer all the time.
“Gateshead will be going all out for victory and we’ve got to be good enough on the day to get all three points. I can’t underestimate the importance of this Sunday’s match.”
Thunder coach Kevin Neighbour could give a debut to Jared Stewart, who has had spells with Newcastle Falcons and Leeds Rhinos during the early part of his career.
Captain Jason Payne is also set to return to action after recovering from a recent ankle problem.
Rochdale Hornets v Oxford (3.00pm)
Rochdale Hornets coach Ian Talbot could give a debut to loan signing Ruairi McGoff, who has joined on a one-month deal from Barrow Raiders.
Talbot said: “He’s a hard worker with bags of experience at the top of this league, and will give us an extra option during the run in.”
Oxford coach Tony Benson faces a number of selection headaches as he tries to maintain his side’s position in the top four.
Johnny Leather (hamstring) and Valu Bentley (ankle) both face late fitness tests, with Benson assessing their chances of playing at about 40 per cent.
Dave Ellison (broken jaw) and Lucas Onyango (knee) are both out, while Andrew Hoggins is missing due to an international call-up from Germany.
However, Benson admits he has been delighted by the progress his side have made in their debut year.
Benson said: “We assess things by the number of players who’ve played confidently having come from the local scene, and those numbers are good.
“I really can’t separate them from the more established players now, and some of them are first on the team sheet. That’s a really good sign for next year and the year after.”
Benson is hoping to collect at least two wins from Oxford’s final four league fixtures, with his side due to face Hemel, North Wales and London Skolars after Sunday’s clash with Rochdale.
Gloucestershire All Golds v London Skolars (3.00pm)
Gloucestershire All Golds coach Brad Hepi is setting his sights on a third successive win after seeing off Oxford and South Wales in the last month.
And Gloucestershire’s chances look set to receive a major boost with the inclusion of on-loan winger Nev Morrison, who has joined on a short-term deal from Sheffield Eagles.
Victory for Hepi’s men could lift them off the foot of the Kingstone Press Championship One table, but London Skolars will be in confident mood despite last week’s Northern Rail Bowl final defeat.
Skolars coach Joe Mbu could hand a debut to high-profile signing Gareth Raynor.
Former international winger Raynor, 35, scored the final try in Great Britain’s famous 2006 win against Australia in Sydney.
Raynor said: “I’m excited to be putting my boots back on and the opportunity to come to London and help Skolars push for promotion is a challenge that appealed to me greatly.”
Raynor is likely to replace Ade Adebisi, who suffered an injury during last week’s loss against North Wales.
Andy McLean (quad) is also a major doubt, while Michael Worrincy will be assessed after suffering a dead leg against the Crusaders.
Oldham v North Wales Crusaders (3.00pm)
Oldham coach Scott Naylor has been given a treble boost ahead of Sunday’s top-of-the-table showdown with North Wales Crusaders.
Oldham currently lead Kingstone Press Championship One by two points, but have played two games more than second-placed Crusaders.
Victory on Sunday would give Oldham more breathing space at the top of the table, and their chances have been boosted by the news that Jason Boults, Liam Gilchrist and Matthew Haggerty are all fully fit.
Crusaders’ only absentee is Owain Brown (personal reasons) as coach Clive Griffiths urges his squad to enjoy the last few weeks of the season.
Griffiths said: “We’re in another massive game and the winner will be in the box seat. That’s why you play the game – to test yourself. We need to enjoy it.
“There shouldn’t be a hangover from last week. We’ve had a couple of days to reflect and it’s now business as usual.
“And we’ll certainly pay Oldham the respect they deserve. They’re top of the league and favourites to win it – they always have been.”