Kingstone Press Championship Round 3 Preview

Toulouse Olympique winger Kuni Minga touches the ball down for a try.

Saturday..

Toulouse Olympique v Dewsbury Rams – Toulouse Olympique return to Stade Ernest-Argeles for round three of the Kingstone Press Championship following their loss to Sheffield Eagles last weekend. Dewsbury Rams, with two defeats from as many games, will need to put in a great performance to overturn their French opponents who taught Batley a lesson on the opening day.

Last Time Out

Toulouse Olympique were beaten 32-14 by Sheffield Eagles at Beaumont Legal Stadium in Wakefield. Rhys Curran opened the scoring for Toulouse before the Eagles struck 20 points without reply to go into half-time with a comfortable advantage. Sam Hopkins, Matt James and Matty Fozard all touched down and the hosts also kicked a penalty goal to further their lead. Menzie Yere got on the scoresheet for Sheffield in the second half before Bastien Ader and Kalausa Leha both responded with a try apiece for the visitors. However, any chance of a late fightback was extinguished by Garry Lo who scored the final try of the contest on 78 minutes before Dane Chisholm found time to add an extra two points to his side’s total with a penalty goal.

Dewsbury Rams were condemned to a second straight defeat to start the 2017 season as Swinton Lions beat the West Yorkshire side 8-6. The Rams went into half-time without a point to their name, extending their barren run to two hours while Swinton could only muster a penalty goal from Chris Atkin as they led 2-0. James Glover registered Dewsbury’s first try of the year after 54 minutes but Paul Sykes couldn’t convert. The former Wakefield utility back did make amends soon after as he kicked a penalty goal to extend the hosts’ lead. With three minutes remaining, Swinton kicked from a scrum and Liam Forysth profited as he slid into the in-goal area with the ball stuck to the mud. Atkin coolly converted to win the game for John Duffy’s men.

Key Battle

Toulouse’s centres were rather quiet against Sheffield last weekend as the team failed to adapt to the awful conditions in Wakefield. Bastien Ader got on the scoresheet while the usually lethal centre-wing partnership of Gavin Marguerite and Kuni Minga couldn’t force their way over for a try. Compare that to their efforts in the first match of the season against Batley – when they combined for five tries – it goes to show that their home form, similar to that of Catalans, will not be where their problems lie. Dewsbury need to be on guard this weekend and start the game well as they won’t want the game to get away from them in the early stages. Spreading the ball wide and getting their danger men involved will be how they can cause Toulouse problems. Jason Crookes and Hamish Barnes were the centres for Dewsbury in their last match but the conditions didn’t suit any sort of expansive rugby so chances for the outside backs were limited.

Prediction

It’s always going to be hard to tip against Toulouse on home turf this year. They’ve built a solid squad under coach Sylvain Houles and even though they were beaten by Sheffield in their last match, the French side are still fancied to have a good year. Their away form will always be questioned until they string together a decent run of results but as long as they keep winning at home then they can expect to have a respectable season. Dewsbury are the lowest scorers in the league thus far with just six points to their name. All of those points came in last week’s match against Swinton. It might not be time to panic just yet but if they receive a hammering similar to the one Rochdale handed to them in the first round, then there may be a bit of anxiety creeping in –  Toulouse by 18

Sunday..

Batley Bulldogs v Featherstone Rovers – The two part-time teams who made the Qualifiers last year go head to head with each other on Sunday at the Fox’s Biscuits Stadium. Batley Bulldogs had to battle in the mud to overcome Halifax last weekend while Featherstone crept past Oldham to make it two wins from two. With the Bulldogs and Rovers both aiming for a second consecutive appearance in the Qualifiers, expect a high quality match at the weekend between two clubs who have strengthened well in the off-season.

Last Time Out

Batley Bulldogs beat Halifax 24-6 to secure their first win of the campaign. Batley led 18-0 at half-time thanks to tries from former Halifax pair Sam Smeaton and Dane Manning as well as Alex Bretherton. Joe Chandler extended the hosts’ lead to four converted scores with a try on the hour mark before James Saltonstall scored Halifax’s only try of the contest with five minutes remaining. A good day for Batley coach Matt Diskin, who picked up his first competitive victory.

Featherstone Rovers had Chris Ulugia to thank as the West Yorkshire side beat Oldham 8-6 at the Big Fellas Stadium. Ulugia grabbed a try either side of half-time to help Featherstone over the winning line after Scott Turner had opened the scoring for Oldham in the eighth minute. Featherstone held on to their two point lead from the 46th minute onwards but they could count themselves lucky as Scott Leatherbarrow missed a penalty goal in the dying embers of the match.

Key Battle

Pat Walker and Dom Brambani lined up in the halves for Batley last weekend while Featherstone went with Anthony Thackeray and Matty Wildie to lead them around the park. Both sides, however, called upon a half-back from the bench as Cain Southernwood and Kyle Briggs started the match from the sidelines. It will be interesting to see if Diskin and Sharp decide to use the same strategy once again after wins for their respective teams last weekend. Both sides have good strength in depth and having to use creative players from the bench definitely highlights that point. The kicking game is always pivotal and the likes of Walker and Brambani have changed games in the blink of an eye because of it while Thackeray and Wildie’s running game has caused problems for teams in the past. In arguably the tie of the round, the battle of the halves is definitely an intriguing one.

Prediction

Batley will go into this game with confidence after beating a fellow top four contender last weekend. Featherstone will be battle-hardened following their tight victory against Oldham. It’s hard to see either team dominating in this one as both sides are evenly matched. A tough one to call but home advantage may swing it, with Walker and Brambani at the forefront of the Bulldogs attack – Batley by 8

Halifax v Sheffield Eagles – Halifax play host to Sheffield Eagles this weekend as the West Yorkshire club look to find their first win of the 2017 season. After losses to Featherstone Rovers and Batley Bulldogs, Richard Marshall’s men are in a slump following on from last season’s Championship Shield semi-final loss against this weekend’s opponents, the Sheffield Eagles. However, it’s not all doom and gloom for Fax as they have been boosted by the loan signing of Huddersfield hooker Adam O’Brien. The Eagles got off the mark with a convincing victory against Toulouse Olympique last weekend and they will be travelling to the MBi Shay with new signing Liam Johnson on board from Huddersfield Giants. Dual-registered trio Sam Hopkins, Lachlan Burr and Jamie Acton all feature in Leigh Centurions’ squad this weekend so their availability is in doubt.

Last Time Out

Halifax were defeated 24-6 by Batley Bulldogs in a mud bath at Fox’s Biscuits Stadium on Sunday. With dreadful weather wreaking havoc, Fax’s fluent attack was nowhere to be seen and the hosts took full advantage. Batley had an 18-0 lead at the interval after tries from Sam Smeaton, Alex Bretherton and Dane Manning. The next try came on the hour as the Bulldogs sealed victory thanks to a try from Joe Chandler. James Saltonstall registered a consolation score five minutes from time but that meant next to nothing to the travelling fans, who will want to see a major improvement this weekend.

Sheffield Eagles made amends for their opening day defeat to Oldham by beating Toulouse Olympique 32-14 at the Beaumont Legal Stadium. The visitors got the first try of the afternoon courtesy of Rhys Curran before Sam Hopkins, Matt James and Matty Fozard all got on the scoresheet for the Eagles. A penalty goal also gave Sheffield breathing space as they led 20-4 at the break. The second half saw Menzie Yere barge over for his first try of the season to extend his side’s lead to 22 points. However, Toulouse were threatening a comeback with tries from Bastien Ader and Kalausa Leha but Sheffield managed to see the game out as Garry Lo touched down before Dane Chisholm added a penalty goal to add some gloss to the scoreline.

Key Battle

Both forward packs will not be at full strength at the weekend due to suspensions to Adam Tangata and Mark Mexico. Tangata picked up a one game suspension while this weekend’s tie will be the second of Mexico’s four game ban. Despite this, it will still be a great contest in the middle of the park when former Castleford duo Ryan Boyle and Scott Wheeldon go head to head as well as the likes of Jacob Fairbank and Will Hope in the back-row. Ed Barber and Luke Ambler both came off the bench for Fax in round two while Sheffield called upon Kyle Trout, Sam Scott and the dual-registered Sam Hopkins to make an impact. Hopkins did just that as he scored the Eagles’ first try of the contest. Halifax and Sheffield have had some great matches in the past where the forward packs have ripped into each other and it shouldn’t be a surprise if the same happens once again. 

Prediction

Halifax will need to start picking up points soon or they’ll have a game of catch-up to play if they have any aspirations of finishing in the top four. With two defeats from as many games, fans may start to get a bit restless if they have to wait another week for a chance to see their side get points on the board. Sheffield will travel to the MBi Shay with good memories after the end of last season and they will be wanting to write another chapter as they look to move up the table. The Eagles will be wanting to get the ball in the hands of Dane Chisholm, who really showed off his skills while playing in the unfamiliar position of full-back against Toulouse. Halifax’s defence will need to keep an eye out for the former Bradford Bull if they’re to get anything out of the game – Sheffield by 10

Oldham v London Broncos – Oldham came close to beating Featherstone Rovers last weekend but were narrowly defeated by the West Yorkshire club while London Broncos competed well against Hull Kingston Rovers but ended up on the wrong side of the scoreline. Who will bounce back to win their second match of the season?

Last Time Out

After beating Sheffield Eagles in their opening match of the season, Oldham gave Featherstone Rovers a scare at the Big Fellas Stadium in round two. Scott Naylor’s men lost 8-6 and were unfortunate to not get any reward from the match following Scott Leatherbarrow’s late penalty miss. Scott Turner broke the deadlock for the Roughyeds before Chris Ulugia responded for the hosts. Leatherbarrow added the extras while Ash Handley was off target with his conversion attempt. Oldham led 6-4 at the break but the final try of the match came on 46 minutes as Ulugia crossed the whitewash for what turned out to be the winner. Leatherbarrow’s missed penalty goal in the latter stages of the tie meant that Oldham returned to Bower Fold with nothing to show for their efforts.

London Broncos showed their promotion credentials as they ran Hull Kingston Rovers close at Trailfinders Sports Ground. The capital club lost 28-22 and were 16-6 down at the interval. Tries from Jordan Abdull, Jamie Ellis and Kieren Moss gave the Robins a healthy lead while Jarrod Sammut registered London’s only try of the half. Sammut and Andrew Heffernan swapped scores for the Broncos and Rovers respectively before Ryan Shaw extended the visitors’ advantage. London bounced back though and they scored twice to set up a tense finish with just four points between the sides at 26-22. Kieran Dixon and Adrian Purtell both got on the scoresheet prior to Ellis calming any nerves with a penalty goal which sealed the Robins’ second win from as many games.

Key Battle

Oldham will need to meet London’s props with vigour at the weekend as the capital club have a lot of talent in their front-row. Tom Spencer and Eddie Battye have a lot of Championship experience between them while the likes of Mark Ioane and Sadiq Adebiyi bring good versatility from the bench. But the Roughyeds aren’t to be underestimated. They pushed Featherstone all the way last weekend and the starting props of Adam Neal and Phil Joy will want to get out of the blocks quickly and not let the Broncos settle into their game plan. With three props on the bench last weekend – Michael Ward, Nathan Mason, Joe Burke – the options are there for coach Naylor who will be happy with how his side have started the season thus far. 

Prediction

Oldham got off to a flying start with a victory over Sheffield in their first home game of the season and now they will be looking to pick up another win, but this time against the promotion-chasing Broncos. London coach Andrew Henderson will know the strengths of Oldham, who have built up a reputation as a dangerous side to play against. The Broncos have a lot of weapons in their arsenal with Jarrod Sammut and Andy Ackers both starring from stand-off and dummy-half respectively. London’s troubles away from home seem to be in the past, their gutsy win over Swinton being a prime example of that – London by 14

Rochdale Hornets v Hull Kingston Rovers – A top of the table clash at the Crown Oil Stadium. Both Rochdale and Hull KR have picked up two wins from their opening two matches and now the recently promoted Hornets face the recently relegated Robins. Anything can happen in the Championship with every team capable of a shock. Can the Hornets make it three victories from as many games?

Last Time Out

Rochdale Hornets travelled to the Provident Stadium and by the end of the afternoon, they were still top of the Championship. A 22-14 victory against Bradford Bulls will have delighted coach Alan Kilshaw and the travelling Hornets fans, who will now be eagerly anticipating the visit of Hull KR. It was the Bulls who opened the scoring thanks to Oscar Thomas after two minutes. Miles Greenwood responded for the Hornets before Lewis Palfrey added a penalty goal soon after. James Bentley then restored Bradford’s advantage prior to Jo Taira being sin-binned for a late tackle. Thomas kicked the following penalty goal to give Bradford a 12-8 lead at the break. Another penalty after the restart made it a six point game before Rochdale scored two tries and converted two penalties without reply to win the match. Former Bull Samir Tahraoui and Danny Bridge both crossed the whitewash while Palfrey was on target with three of the four goal attempts.

Hull Kingston Rovers beat London Broncos 28-22 at Trailfinders Sports Ground in a game which really tested the Robins. It was never going to be easy but the East Yorkshire side did well to keep their cool and come away from the capital with the win. The visitors were 16-6 up at halftime following tries from Jordan Abdull, Jamie Ellis and Kieren Moss. Jarrod Sammut notched London’s only try of the first half. In the second period, Sammut completed his brace before Andrew Heffernan and Ryan Shaw bagged a try apiece for the Robins. Consecutive scores from Kieran Dixon and Adrian Purtell put London in striking distance of their opponents but an Ellis penalty goal made sure of the victory for Hull KR. 

Key Battle

The battle at dummy-half should be a good one with in-form Rochdale hooker Ben Moores going up against the experienced Shaun Lunt. Moores has two tries to his name this season and his contribution has been one of the many reasons why Rochdale have started so well in the Championship. Lunt marshals his team around in a professional manner and everyone associated with the Robins knows how much of a class act he is and how much he means to the team. Ryan Maneely has come off the bench for Rochdale in both of their matches this season while Rovers back-rower George Lawler also offers an option at hooker.

Prediction

Rochdale won’t make it easy for the Robins on Sunday. The Hornets have a lot of team spirit and a work ethic which is a credit to coach Kilshaw. However, Hull KR will be favourites and the quality they have in their locker is unquestionable. The likes of Thomas Minns and Mitch Clark have played in the Championship before and they are now a key part of the setup in East Yorkshire. Coach Sheens will be asking for more of the same from his side even though they’ll be aiming for an easier ride than last week – Hull KR by 16

Swinton Lions v Bradford Bulls – Swinton Lions play host to Bradford Bulls this weekend as the latter aim for their first win of the season. The Lions got off the mark in round two as a late Liam Forsyth try – his third of the season already – gave John Duffy’s side an 8-6 victory. Meanwhile, the Bulls tasted defeat for the second time in as many weeks when Rochdale toppled Leigh Beattie’s men at the Provident Stadium. 

Last Time Out

Swinton Lions won their first league match of 2017 in dramatic fashion as they beat Dewsbury Rams 8-6 at the Tetley’s Stadium. The Lions were 2-0 up at half-time, with Chris Atkin’s penalty goal the difference between the two sides. In the second period, James Glover put Dewsbury in front before Paul Sykes kicked a penalty goal to make the score 6-2 to the hosts. That scoreline stayed the same up until the 77th minute when Liam Forysth touched down in a muddy in-goal area. Atkin was successful with his conversion which ultimately won the game.

Bradford Bulls finished round two with -12 points still to their name after losing 22-14 to Rochdale Hornets. The Bulls scored the first try of the match in the opening stages thanks to Oscar Thomas but experienced full-back Miles Greenwood responded with a try of his own for Rochdale soon after. Lewis Palfrey’s conversion put Rochdale in front and he extended his side’s lead with a penalty goal later on in the half. However, a try from James Bentley and goal from Thomas gave Bradford a 12-8 half-time lead while Rochdale went into the sheds with a man less due to Jo Taira’s sin-binning. After the restart, Thomas kicked another penalty but that proved to be Bradford’s final scoring act as the Hornets took control and sealed the win with 14 unanswered points. Samir Tahraoui and Danny Bridge both registered four pointers before the trusty boot of Palfrey kicked a penalty on the hooter.

Key Battle

Swinton Lions’ signing of hooker Sean Kenny seemed to have gone under the radar at the time but the former Salford man is turning out to be a great addition to the squad. After helping the Red Devils to safety in the Million Pound Game last year, coach Duffy decided to take a punt on the dummy-half and it’s paying off. With great determination as well as an eye for a killer pass, Kenny brings a lot to the table but he will put to the test this weekend. Bradford have brought ex-Wakefield dummy-half Scott Moore to the club on a four game trial. He will be playing for a permanent contract over the next month and his experience will certainly help the likes of Joe Lumb and other youngsters who are in and around the squad. If Moore is selected for the game at the weekend, it’s to be expected that he’ll lead from the front as he has a point to prove.

Prediction

Swinton’s home form will go a long way to any success they will have this season and wins against the likes of Bradford, who are struggling to get off -12 points, wouldn’t go amiss. The Lions did the dirty work to seal a good win against Dewsbury last week and I’m sure everyone associated with the club will settle for the same performance on Sunday if it guarantees a win. Bradford need to start winning matches and they’ve started to add to their squad with the signings of Scott Moore, Kevin Larroyer and Rugby Sevens star Phoenix Hunapo-Nofoa. The Bulls will be hoping they start cutting the gap on the teams above them this weekend – Swinton by 8