Kingstone Press Championship Round 1 Preview

Dom Brambani guides a kick down the field for the Batley Bulldogs.

Saturday

Toulouse Olympique v Batley Bulldogs

Toulouse Olympique’s first game back in the second tier will be a tough one as they take on last year’s success story Batley Bulldogs. Toulouse were dominant in League 1 last season but have only made one new signing with Stan Robin coming in from Catalans after impressing on loan at Sheffield Eagles in 2016. Batley go into the new season with a new coach at the helm. Former Bradford assistant Matt Diskin is the man in charge at the Fox’s Biscuits Stadium and he has strengthened the squad with eye-catching signings including Macauley Hallett and Dane Manning.

Last Time Out

Toulouse Olympique beat compatriots Catalans Dragons 22-6 at the Stage Ernest Argeles. The hosts were 6-0 up at the break after a try from second-rower Sebastien Planas on 14 minutes. The full-strength Super League side couldn’t get going against Toulouse and they fell further behind in  the second half courtesy of tries from Kuni Minga, Bastien Ader and Rhys Curran. The Dragons’ only try of the game came a minute from time when new signing Sam Moa touched down.

Batley Bulldogs completed their pre-season schedule with a 38-12 win over a youthful Castleford Tigers side. The Championship club raced into a 20-0 lead inside 15 minutes following a brace from James Harrison prior to Dave Scott and Wayne Reittie touching down. The Tigers fought back after the Bulldogs blitz though, as Kieran Gill and Dec Sheehan both got on the scoresheet. After the restart, with the score at 20-12 to Batley, Diskin’s men notched three tries to seal the win. Alex Rowe, Scott and Brad Hill were the try-scorers for the Bulldogs, who will travel to France hoping to make a statement of intent from the off.

Key Battle

Mark Kheirallah and Dave Scott are two of the most talented full-backs outside of Super League and they will be looking to put on a show for their respective supporters on Saturday afternoon. Kheirallah, who has NRL experience after a lone match with Sydney Roosters, is a dead-eye goal kicker who has nerves of steel. His running game is impressive and the Bulldogs will need to keep him under wraps if they’re to get a result from this match. Scott has been around the Championship for a number of years now, constantly improving and being a central figure to any success. The Scottish international will be wanting to flourish under new coach Diskin, especially as the Bulldogs now have a talented backup in Mikey Hayward.

Prediction

These two teams have the quality to be fighting for a place in the top four come the end of the season. Toulouse’s home form will be vital to any push for the Qualifiers while Batley will be striving to pick up points against rivals, and if they can do it away from the Mount Pleasant slope, another great season could be inbound. Can see the Bulldogs nicking this one – Batley by 12

Sunday

Halifax v Featherstone Rovers

Two Championship stalwarts go head to head at the MBI Shay as Halifax play host to Featherstone Rovers. Both sides will be wanting to get off to a good start and there will be a lot of focus on this game, as well as Hull KR v Bradford Bulls. Richard Marshall’s men were disappointing in last year’s Championship as they failed to make the Qualifiers but the same couldn’t be said for Featherstone. The Rovers made the middle eights and after recruiting well in the off season, it’s fair to say they’ve got a great chance of making it once again.

Last Time Out

A well-contested match between Halifax and Salford Red Devils saw the latter come out on top 13-6 at the MBI Shay. The half-time score was 6-6 and the two tries in the first period came inside the first nine minutes. Ben Johnston broke the deadlock on three minutes before Craig Kopczak responded not long after. The second half could have gone either way but Kris Brining’s early try and a drop goal from Michael Dobson was the difference between the teams at the end of the tie.

Featherstone Rovers fired a blank in their last pre-season game as they were beaten 24-0 by Leeds Rhinos at the Big Fellas Stadium. Leeds scored three of their four tries in the first half through Jack Ormondroyd, Matt Parcell and Liam Sutcliffe. The game then petered out and it wasn’t till the 78th minute when the scoreboard was put into use once again. Jimmy Keinhorst bagged the final try of the match as preparations for the new season stepped up a gear.

Key Battle

The loss of key back-rower Dane Manning to Batley Bulldogs will have hit Halifax hard but they’ve still got a pack to fear, without doubt. Shane Grady, Simon Grix and Adam Tangata were the starting back-rowers against Salford in their last match while Featherstone went with the trio of Michael Knowles, Frankie Mariano and Brad Tagg. The likes of Richard Moore and John Davies on the bench typify Featherstone’s strength in depth while Halifax had rising stars Luke Nelmes and Elliot Morris to call upon. Matches between these two teams sometimes have a tendency to be a bit feisty and things may spill over again to set the season off with a bang.

Prediction

Featherstone’s recruitment in the off-season has been impressive and they’ve managed to bring in some well known names. Keal Carlile and Michael Knowles have been ever-presents for Sheffield over the past couple of years while Frankie Mariano and Richard Moore bring grunt to the pack. Halifax will know they’ll be in for a tough challenge at the weekend and a victory against the Rovers will be a brilliant way to start the year. Halifax had Featherstone’s number last year with two wins to one but things have changed since then with new players added to both clubs – Featherstone by 14

Hull Kingston Rovers v Bradford Bulls

The difference between Hull Kingston Rovers’ pre-season and Bradford Bulls’ pre-season is quite astonishing. The Robins have been on a warm weather training camp in Tenerife ahead of their return to the Championship while Bradford have been in limbo, not knowing whether they’ll have a club at all. The Bulls have survived thanks to the investment of Andrew Chalmers and Graham Lowe but the West Yorkshire club start the season on -12 points and a rather unbalanced squad. Geoff Toovey, even though he has been announced as the new coach, is still unable to take charge of the Bulls due to visa complications.

Last Time Out

Hull Kingston Rovers couldn’t back up their derby day win over Hull FC as they were defeated 30-4 by Leeds Rhinos in Ryan Hall’s testimonial game at Headingley. The visitors were 12-4 behind at the break after tries from Jamie Jones-Buchanan and Rob Burrow. Ryan Shaw registered the Robins’ only try of the match. The second period saw Leeds take the game away from Hull KR as Danny McGuire, Mitch Garbutt and Jimmy Keinhorst all touched down to wrap up the win for the Rhinos.

Bradford Bulls fell to a 25-24 defeat at the hands of Keighley Cougars. Matty Beharrell kicked the winning drop goal two minutes from time as the new-look Bradford team couldn’t hold on to a draw. Leigh Beattie took charge of the Bulls and things got off to a good start for the Championship club as they went 12-0 up thanks to tries from Colton Roche and Joe Lumb. Sean Hesketh and Nathan Kitson responded with converted tries of their own to level the game before Ross Oakes notched for the Bulls, who led 18-12 at the break. Iliess Macani extended the lead to two scores on 52 minutes but Keighley fought back once again with two tries in four minutes from Andy Gabriel and Emmerson Whittel. All that was left for Beharrell to do was to strike over the drop goal to send the Cougar Park crowd into celebration.

Key Battle

Ryan Shaw and David Hodgson were the starting wingers for Hull KR in their match against Leeds Rhinos. Shaw has had experience in the Championship with a number of clubs while Hodgson, who came out of retirement for the 2017 season, will be looking to turn the clock back and terrorise a few defences. Ethan Ryan and Iliess Macani were on the flanks for Bradford’s last match and the latter got on the scoresheet in the second half. Ryan had a breakthrough season in 2016 with 16 tries in 14 games and he will be hoping to provide more of the same for the Bulls fans. Macani was bought in the off-season from London Broncos and he has pace to burn and once he’s in open field, he’s hard to stop.

David Hodgson scoring the winning try for Hull KR at the 2012 Magic Weekend.
David Hodgson scoring the winning try for Hull KR at the 2012 Magic Weekend.

Prediction

It’s hard to see anything other than a Hull KR victory in this match. Bradford have been in turmoil off the pitch and will need to start picking up results from the off if they’re to claw back their points deduction but this seems a few steps too far for them. Tim Sheens’ men have had perfect preparation for the tie and if there’s a few early scores, things could turn ugly for the visitors – Hull KR by 22

Oldham v Sheffield Eagles

Sheffield Eagles travel to Bower Fold on Sunday for their opening Kingstone Press Championship tie against Oldham. Both sides took part in the Championship Shield last season, with the Roughyeds retaining their second-tier status while the Eagles got to the final where they were beaten by Bradford Bulls. The hosts signed four players from Sheffield in the off-season as Dave Hewitt, George Tyson, Adam Neal and Nathan Chappell all signed on the dotted line in Stalybridge. Tyson will be unavailable at the weekend after receiving a red card after the final whistle of Oldham’s last pre-season match against Rochdale Hornets. Sheffield have slowly been rebuilding their squad after a turbulent few months, and the recent signing of Dane Chisholm caught everyone off guard. New signings Jordan Cox, Simon Brown and Perry Whiteley could all prove important for the Eagles in 2017 too.

Last Time Out

Oldham were beaten 24-12 in their Law Cup clash with fellow Championship side Rochdale Hornets at Bower Fold. It was the hosts who opened the scoring after 15 minutes through Phil Joy but Rochdale responded soon after through Chris Riley. There was nothing to separate the two sides at half-time but Rochdale soon put breathing space between themselves and Oldham thanks to three consecutive tries courtesy of Jordan Case, Gary Middlehurst and Lewis Galbraith. In the dying embers of the contest, Gareth Owen posted a consolation try prior to George Tyson being shown his marching orders after the game had finished.

Sheffield Eagles suffered a 50-6 defeat at the hands of Wakefield Trinity at the Beaumont Legal Stadium last Sunday. The early exchanges were rather even as Sam Williams and Garry Lo both got on the scoresheet for Wakefield and Sheffield respectively. Unfortunately for the Eagles, though, they couldn’t keep up with the intensity of the Super League outfit and the hosts soon piled on the points. Tries from Reece Lyne, Jacob Miller and Williams saw Trinity go into half-time with a 22-6 lead. Wakefield started the second half as they meant to go on with Matty Ashurst scoring on 42 minutes before Tom Johnstone also crossed the whitewash just a few moments later. Max Jowitt got in on the act with the final quarter approaching, and that’s when Johnstone took over. The ever-impressive winger notched two more tries to complete his hat-trick which rubber stamped an emphatic victory.

Key Battle

In pre-season, Sheffield coach Mark Aston opted to start Simon Brown and Elliot Minchella in the halves with Irish international James Kelly coming off the bench. Now the signing of Dane Chisholm provides a healthy competition for places in the Eagles ranks, and the Australian will go straight into contention for a spot in the Eagles squad this weekend subject to RFL approval. Chisholm was a big hit at both Hull Kingston Rovers and Bradford Bulls in his time at both clubs so Sheffield fans should be excited to see the half-back take to the field. As for Oldham, they have had to deal with Lewis Palfrey exiting the club for Rochdale Hornets and coach Scott Naylor has done a good job with the signings of Hewitt and Scott Leatherbarrow. Hewitt’s best rugby in the Championship has been at Bower Fold while Leatherbarrow, who gained Championship experience at clubs such as Keighley, Batley and London, is competent at marshalling his team around the field. The battle of the half-backs will be vital this Sunday and it should prove to be an entertaining one with four talented players wanting to lead their side to an opening day victory.

Prediction

The Eagles are notorious slow starters in the league but with two pre-season games under their belts, there shouldn’t be too much rustiness about them. Mark Aston has got a decent mix of youth and experience in his squad while Oldham have kept key figures from last year on board and also acquired some good players. Two evenly matched squads will go head to head but who will come out on top? – Oldham by 8

Rochdale Hornets v Dewsbury Rams

Newly promoted Rochdale Hornets play host to Dewsbury Rams on Sunday at the Crown Oil Arena. The Hornets beat Toulouse in the first v second League 1 playoff final last year to win promotion to the second tier and coach Alan Kilshaw has strengthened the team since then. Four new signings from Oldham have caught the eye as well as the electric Miles Greenwood who will be looking for an injury free season so he can flourish. Dewsbury’s depth has taken a hit in the week as winger Donald Kudangirana was suspended after failing a drugs test. Glenn Morrison signed seven players in the off-season with four of those coming from League 1 clubs. The loss of Joel Farrell to neighbours Batley is a striking blow and it’ll be interesting to see how the Rams cope without the back-rower in their side.

Last Time Out

Rochdale Hornets, after winning the Law Cup against Oldham the week before, suffered a 24-22 loss against Warrington Wolves. Miles Greenwood opened the scoring on 23 minutes before Daryl Clark and Matty Blythe replied with a try apiece for Warrington. Jake Eccleston put Rochdale in front on the stroke of half-time, the Hornets led 12-8. After the restart, Toby King and Brad Dwyer touched down in the space of three minutes but the fight was far from over. Rob Massam cut the deficit to just two points on the hour and Rochdale then hit the front six minutes from time through Jordan Cella. However, there was one last twist in the tale as Ryan Jones scored in the last minute which left Harvey Livett with a chance to win the game. Livett stepped up and slotted the conversion over to seal a well earned victory against a Hornets side who look in good shape ahead of the Championship season.

Dewsbury Rams lost 30-28 to the touring Yowies RL side in the Championship club’s final pre-season game. Glenn Morrison’s men were 22-10 down at half-time, with Robbie Ward and Gareth Potts getting on the scoresheet for Dewsbury. Richie Roberts, Tristan Lumley, Aden Ryan and Darcy Etrich were the try-scorers for Yowies. The second half saw Dewsbury strike first through Donald Kudangirana while Etrich was sent to the sin-bin for retaliation. There was no points scored in the hooker’s absence and he marked his return by doubling his tally for the game and giving his side more breathing space at 28-16 up with 13 minutes remaining. The uphill battle for Dewsbury got steeper when Tony Tonks was sin-binned but this seemed to revitalise the hosts and they levelled things up through Jack Teanby and James Glover. But the final say went to the visitors as AJ Davis kicked a penalty in the dying embers to seal a great win for the touring team.

Key Battle

The battle of the front-rowers should prove to be an exciting one to mark the season getting underway. Gavin Bennion and Samir Tahraoui were the starting props for Rochdale in their match against Warrington with Matty Hadden, Jack Francis and Luke Fowden all providing fresh legs from the bench. Dewsbury went with Toby Adamson and Jode Sheriffe in the front-row against Yowies, Tony Tonks and Jack Teanby gave extra muscle from the bench. Teanby got on the scoresheet while Tonks showed a bit too much aggression as he got sin-binned for fighting 11 minutes from time. Mitch Stringer didn’t take part in the final pre-season game but once selected, the former Championship Player of the Year will be one of the key men in Dewsbury’s squad.

Prediction

Home form is always key for the promoted sides in the Championship and games like this will have been targeted by Rochdale coach Kilshaw as ones his team need to win. Dewsbury have been lingering around the mid table area in the Championship for quite a few years now and Morrison’s side will be wanting to make their way up the ladder and shock a few people this year. Can they start the season with a victory over the Hornets? – Rochdale by 10

Swinton Lions v London Broncos

Swinton Lions face a tough test in their opening match of the Championship campaign as London Broncos pay a visit to Heywood Road. The Lions managed to retain their second tier status last year after winning promotion from League 1 and John Duffy’s men will be wanting to push on now and not have any sort of second season syndrome. Meanwhile, London have kept a large part of their squad from 2016 and added to it with brilliant  signings including the mercurial Jarrod Sammut and Kieron Dixon. Andrew Henderson’s side are undoubtedly a force to be reckoned with.

Last Time Out

Swinton Lions defeated a Wigan Warriors Select XIII side 44-6 at Heywood Road. The Lions had too much strength for the young Warriors team to deal with and the hosts notched the first try of the contest through Shaun Robinson after six minutes. Ben White furthered Swinton’s lead soon after but Wigan responded with a try of their own courtesy of Joe Brown. However, the Warriors didn’t score another try after that and Swinton took over as they led 26-6 at half-time. Chris Hankinson, White and Sean Kenny all got on the scoresheet before the interval. Four tries in the second half sealed a comfortable win for Duffy’s men. Matt Gardner, Robinson, Chris Atkin and Mike Butt were the try-scorers for the Championship club who have a competitive squad for 2017.

London Broncos beat York City Knights 48-22 last weekend as the capital club finished their pre-season schedule with a fluent attacking performance. Andy Ackers starred for London with four tries to his name. Ed Smith broke the deadlock for York on nine minutes prior to Ackers scoring twice in as many minutes. Brad Hey levelled things at 12-12 as half-time approached but it was to be London who went into the sheds with a slender advantage. Jarrod Sammut crossed the whitewash in the latter stages of the half and he converted his own score. Elliot Kear and Ackers made sure the visitors came out of the blocks all guns blazing and a try apiece saw the Championship side go 30-12 to the good. To their credit, York stuck around and cut the deficit through Ben Dent after 52 minutes. Ackers and Hellewell then extinguished any hope of a comeback for the Knights as they both touched down either side of the hour mark. Harry Carter and Matt Garside swapped tries for the hosts and visitors respectively as an entertaining clash came to an end.

Key Battle

Swinton picked two new signings in the centres for their match against Wigan Warriors XIII. Former Leigh pair Chris Hankinson and Matt Gardner have experience of the Championship and will be hoping to contribute in the same way Macauley Hallett did before he left the club to join Batley. Both players will have their work cut out at the weekend as London are known for their expansive play which gets the three-quarters involved a lot. Ben Hellewell and Adrian Purtell were selected by coach Henderson to fill the centre slots against York City Knights. The former got on the scoresheet as he has done many times in a Broncos shirt. Purtell is a handy signing for the Broncos as he brings a wealth of experience to the club and will give good advice to up-and-coming stars such as Kam Pearce-Paul.

Prediction

Swinton aren’t to be underestimated at all this year. Coach Duffy has got a good structure in place at Heywood Road and signings such as Matt Sarsfield prove that the club is going places. They will certainly want to make life tough for London on Sunday and if they could pick up a result against a club who will be around the top four this year, confidence will be high to say the least. The Broncos have strength in depth, something that all teams need if they’re to succeed. The talent they have at their disposal is unquestionable but will they get their campaign off to a winning start against Swinton? – London by 14