RL Championship Previews


Sunday 23 February

Kingstone Press Championship

Barrow Raiders v Leigh Centurions (2.00pm)

Barrow Raiders coach Anthony Murray looks set to make three changes to the forward pack that lost to North Wales Crusaders last week.

Dan Toal is struggling to face Leigh Centurions due to a dead leg, while Craig Briscoe and Joe Bullock are both unavailable.

Murray said: “Leigh are probably tipped to be in the top three or four, if not at the top, but we’ve got to raise our game and meet that challenge head on.

“We’ve got home advantage and we’ve got to get amongst them and see what we can do.

“Our commitment and enthusiasm was never in question (last week), but we picked a few wrong options. That’s something we need to change on Sunday.”

Leigh coach Paul Rowley will pick from a fully fit squad as he aims to back up a 52-12 win over Batley Bulldogs with another convincing display.

Rowley said: “Everyone was casting an eye across the league to see how everyone started, and I’m sure that result raised a few eyebrows. Now and again you get days where everything goes for you.

“We’re obviously happy, but our feet are on the floor. We know it’s a tough year ahead and we’ll need to be even better to achieve our goals.”

Batley Bulldogs v Workington Town (2.00pm)

John Kear insists Batley Bulldogs are capable of bouncing back from last week’s 52-12 defeat against Leigh Centurions.

Batley host Workington Town on Sunday, with both teams aiming for their first win of the Kingstone Press Championship season.

Kear said: “As a coach you’ve got to look at what we did well, which wasn’t that much, and what we did badly, which was plenty, and then attempt to rectify it in a short time.

“It’s a bad start, but there are 25 other rounds to put it right. We know we’re better than that.”

Town have been rocked by the shock resignation of coach Gary Charlton, with Craig Barker and Peter Lupton taking charge for Sunday’s trip to West Yorkshire.

But Kear is urging Batley’s players to keep the focus on themselves.

Kear said: “Sometimes when a coach leaves, and it’s Gary who’s decided to leave, sometimes that can have a bit of a dampener on things. Conversely it can fire them up, but this isn’t about Workington, it’s about us and how we respond to last week.”

Workington winger Elliott Miller is set to miss Sunday’s clash after suffering a knee injury.

Doncaster v Keighley Cougars (3.00pm)

Doncaster coach Paul Cooke has set his sights on starting the Kingstone Press Championship season with back-to-back victories.

Doncaster won their opening match of the campaign, beating Workington Town 22-12 despite trailing 12-0 inside the first 10 minutes.

But Cooke said: A performance as gritty as that is no good if we put a poor one in at the Keepmoat this weekend.”

Doncaster are without long-term injury absentees Brett Waller and Lee Waterman, while Ash Lindsay and Lewis Graham could both return to action for Keighley Cougars, who started their season with a 36-14 triumph over Whitehaven.

Keighley coach Paul March said: “We took our opportunities when they came along and hopefully we can do the same again this week, but we can’t get carried away.

“The big teams always take their opportunities and we need to be doing that if we want to compete. On paper our squad is good enough to compete at this level, and we’re definitely looking to get into the second tier of 12 in 2015.”

On Doncaster, March added: “It’s all about what we do; as long as we’ve got our own house in order we shouldn’t be worrying about anything else, but we know Paul Cooke is a major part of what they do.”

Featherstone Rovers v Halifax (3.00pm)

Matt James is Featherstone Rovers’ only injury concern ahead of Sunday’s Kingstone Press Championship showdown with Halifax.

Rovers are aiming to bounce back after a shock defeat to Dewsbury Rams last week. Featherstone coach John Bastian said: “We need to be a little bit smarter, and we’ve discussed that as a group.

“We defended really well throughout the game, but with the ball we missed too many opportunities, particularly in the first half. Some decision-making on the last pass cost us some points.”

On Halifax, Bastian added: “They’re a side that are going to threaten teams this year.

“They’ve a very physical pack and good halves that will be expansive when they get the opportunity.”

Halifax coach Karl Harrison is expecting a tough battle in the forwards, and has urged his team to improve from their opening day 28-18 victory over Swinton Lions.

Harrison said: “We were scratchy, but three points is three points.

“We need to be better than what we were in terms of finishing our chances, but I’d be more concerned if we weren’t creating the chances.

“We’re not where we need to be at the moment, but we still won the game and that’s what it’s about.”

He added: “Sunday is going to be another dog-fight. It’s bashathon-season with the grounds being so heavy and slow. We’ll pick the correct team and hopefully take our opportunities when we get them.”

Rochdale Hornets v Dewsbury Rams (3.00pm)

Rochdale Hornets are without Alex McClurg for their season opener, while Dewsbury Rams coach Glenn Morrison could name the same side that secured an 11-10 win over Featherstone Rovers last week.

Morrison said: “We’ve built momentum over the pre-season and we’ve got a good result last week, but it’s only one win.

“We’ve got to keep that same intensity each week because there are no easy games in the Kingstone Press Championship.”

Morrison admits he is taking a step into the unknown ahead of Sunday’s clash with Rochdale.

He said: “It’s a hard one. They didn’t get their game in last week against Sheffield, but they’ve got a dual registration agreement with St Helens and there’s talk of a few Saints boys playing for them, so it’s hard to work out a plan to break them down.

“We just have to concentrate on ourselves and be ready to go whoever they put in front of us.”

Swinton Lions v Sheffield Eagles (3.00pm)

Richie Hawkyard could return for Swinton Lions, but Freddie Walker and Ben Warrilow are both still battling against shoulder injuries.

Swinton earned a bonus point at Halifax last week, with two late tries from Andy Ackers narrowing the gap to just 10 points by full time.

Lions coach Ian Watson said: “We were pleased with our performance – our attitude and commitment was really good – but we weren’t pleased with the result.

“If we put things right, we can compete with the top-end teams. We want to set high standards within our group.

“Facing Sheffield Eagles straight after playing Halifax is a great challenge for us, and we want to be playing in the big games.

“Their game was cancelled last week but they’re still a champion team and quite a settled team. They’ve got continuity and they’ve got the base. We know we’re in for a battle.”

Sheffield coach Mark Aston is expected to pick from a fully fit squad, although the club have been dealt a blow after Alex Szostak confirmed he is unavailable for 2014 due to work commitments.

Whitehaven v North Wales Crusaders (3.00pm)

Whitehaven centres Stephen Fox and Scott McAvoy face late fitness tests, but coach Dave Woods expects both to be passed fit for Sunday’s Kingstone Press Championship clash with North Wales Crusaders.

Woods is aiming to make the most of home advantage on Sunday, when he hopes to steer Whitehaven to their first victory of the new campaign.

Woods said: “We had a lot of individual errors against Keighley, and I’m sure North Wales will travel with plenty of confidence.

“They’ve a very experienced side and they’ll come here thinking they can get the points, but we’ve got to make it very difficult for them.”

Crusaders duo Rob Massam (ankle) and Gary Middlehurst (knee) will both be assessed before Clive Griffiths finalises the North Wales team.

Griffiths said: “Whitehaven is a tough place to go and it’s not going to be a dry track. It’s going to be a war of attrition, but I’m confident we’ve got the players to handle that.

“It’s an intimidating place, particularly with 1,000 Cumbrians shouting down at everybody, but having said that we’ve grown since the last time we were there. We’re not cocky by any means, but we’re confident we can get a job done.”



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