Kingstone Press Championship Round 18 Preview

Saturday..

Toulouse Olympique v London Broncos – One of the most notable games of the year in the Championship comes at Stade Ernest Argeles on Saturday as Toulouse Olympique plays host to London Broncos. The Broncos head to France following eight wins on the bounce while Toulouse are in a rich vein of form too thanks to four straight victories.

Last Time Out

Toulouse Olympique beat Rochdale Hornets 56-16 to extend their unbeaten run at home. Sylvain Houles’ men were 34-4 up at the break thanks to a hat-trick from Bastien Ader as well as four pointers courtesy of Con Mika, Stan Robin and Mark Kheirallah. Rob Massam notched Rochdale’s only try of the half. Toulouse kept their foot on the gas in the opening minutes of the second period as Clement Boyer touched down. Anthony Marion soon followed over the whitewash as Olympique edged closer to 50 points but Rochdale did offer a bit of resistance in the shape of two tries of their own. Declan Kay and Miles Greenwood were the try-scorers but the Hornets were unable to hold Toulouse out for long as Paul Marcon and Rhys Curran ended the match with a four pointer apiece.

London Broncos showed their full prowess by comfortably seeing off Dewsbury Rams 52-8 at Trailfinders Sports Ground. Api Pewhairangi and Alex Walker notched a hat-trick and a brace respectively as the Broncos cruised to victory. London had five different try-scorers in the first period as they went into the sheds 30-0. William Barthau, Walker, Andy Ackers, Ben Hellewell and Michael Channing all touched down while Kieran Dixon was on target with every conversion attempt. In the second half, Pewhairangi bagged his first of three scores before Dewsbury responded through Gareth Potts and James Glover. Walker notched his second try of the game in the final quarter before Pewhairangi’s quick double-salvo completed his hat-trick while adding gloss to the final scoreline.

Key Battle

Mark Kheirallah has been a key figure in Toulouse Olympique’s success this season and the full-back will be aiming to become a club legend by leading the French side to promotion. The goal-kicker is one of the leading points scorer in the Championship and he may well add more against the Broncos but his team will be put to the test. Alex Walker is one of the most improved players in the division and has become a regular fixture in Andrew Henderson’s selection this year. His nous of catching high kicks and then setting up tries is a great sight while he also has pace on his side to finish off moves. With five tries to his name, he will be aiming for double figures ahead of the Qualifiers.

Prediction

It’s a tough one to call as London are on a great run while Toulouse haven’t lost at home all season in the league. Both teams like to play an entertaining brand of rugby and if this game was live on TV, it would definitely be intriguing for the neutral as both teams fancy their promotion chances through the Qualifiers. Due to Toulouse’s strength on home turf, I can see them edging this one but it wouldn’t be classed as a ‘shock’ to see London come away with the spoils – Toulouse by 10

Sunday..

Batley Bulldogs v Sheffield Eagles – Sheffield Eagles will be aiming to bounce back from their disastrous defeat to Halifax by getting the better of Batley Bulldogs at the Fox’s Biscuits Stadium on Sunday. The Eagles put in their worst performance of the season in round 17 while Batley beat Swinton Lions in a hard-fought contest at Heywood Road. There’s just two points separating the Eagles from the Bulldogs so a close match is to be expected despite Sheffield’s capitulation last weekend.

Last Time Out

Batley Bulldogs beat Swinton Lions 26-12 to edge closer to sixth-placed Sheffield Eagles in the Kingstone Press Championship. The West Yorkshire club led 16-0 at the break thanks to tries from Shaun Ainscough, Brad Day and Alistair Leak. Pat Walker kicked two conversions. The scoring in the second period started thanks to Swinton prop forward Anthony Bate, who cut the deficit to 10 points after Chris Atkin added the extras. The Bulldogs needn’t worry though as centres Danny Cowling and Sam Smeaton both registered four pointers to seal the win despite Andy Bracek’s consolation for Swinton in the dying embers. Bate and Batley forward Tom Lillycrop both ended the game in the sin-bin due to fighting.

Sheffield Eagles suffered the afternoon from hell as Halifax triumphed 54-0 at the Beaumont Legal Stadium. The visitors were 32-0 up at the break after braces from James Woodburn-Hall and Conor McGrath as well as four pointers courtesy of Steve Tyrer and Ben Johnston. After the restart, Matt Wilkinson touched down before Elliot Morris and McGrath rounded off a superb day’s work for Richard Marshall’s men with a try apiece. Eagles stand-off Simon Brown was sin-binned for dissent following the final score of the game from McGrath.

Key Battle

Simon Brown and Elliot Minchella were unable to gain a foothold in the Halifax game on Sunday and they will be wanting to right the wrongs, along with all the other Eagles players, against Batley. Remy Marginet gives Sheffield another option after his arrival from Lezignan. Marginet has had Championship experience before with Featherstone Rovers back in 2015 so Eagles coach Mark Aston will be wanting him to hit the ground running. Pat Walker made a successful return from injury for Batley as he led the team to an important win against Swinton. The stand-off/loose forward partnered Cain Southernwood in the halves due to Dom Brambani’s one-game suspension. Whether or not Matt Diskin decides to change his winning team remains to be seen but Brambani will be hoping to go straight back into the fray and help the Bulldogs complete a double over his former side.

Prediction

It’s hard to see the Eagles playing as badly as they did against Halifax for quite a while but they will know if they’re not on their game, the result could get quite ugly. Eagles boss Mark Aston will not have been easy on the players during the week but with recent injury problems for the three-quarters, things don’t get much easier. Batley’s victory over Swinton, coming off the back of a decent performance against Toulouse on home turf, will have returned a bit of the feel-good factor. It’s not been an easy road thus far for Matt Diskin, who had big shoes to fill following John Kear’s impact at the Bulldogs, but the former Bradford assistant will have his fingers crossed that a difficult corner has been turned – Batley by 16

Hull Kingston Rovers v Dewsbury Rams – Hull Kingston Rovers were made to work for their victory against Oldham in round 17 while Dewsbury Rams were beaten by London Broncos. The Robins have had indifferent results over the past three weeks and after a slow start against Oldham, they had just enough quality to edge past them. The Rams went to the Broncos after two straight wins but the capital club overpowered Neil Kelly’s men en route to two competition points.

Last Time Out

Hull Kingston Rovers survived a shock against Oldham as Tim Sheens’ men beat the Roughyeds 32-24 at Bower Fold. The hosts scored the first three tries of the contest inside eight minutes thanks to Joe Burke, Dave Hewitt and Sam Wood. Scott Leatherbarrow landed three conversions for an early 18-0 lead. The Robins cut the deficit to two points ahead of the second half as Shaun Lunt, Jordan Abdull and Joe Wardill all touched down. Jamie Ellis kicked two from three goals. Hull KR hit the front in the second period courtesy of a Ryan Shaw try. The Cumbrian-born winger completed his brace later on in the match, as did Wardill, but that didn’t deter Oldham who were three scores down. The part-timers notched the final four pointer of the game through dual-registered winger Darnell McIntosh.

Dewsbury Rams lost 52-8 against London Broncos at Trailfinders Sports Ground as the 11th-placed side were unable to shock Andrew Henderson’s men. The hosts were 30-0 up at the break after five different players scored tries. William Barthau, Alex Walker, Andy Ackers, Ben Hellewell and Michael Channing all touched down, with Kieran Dixon kicking five conversions. Api Pewhairangi kept up the attacking intensity after the restart as he crossed but the Rams did respond in good fashion. Gareth Potts and James Glover both notched four pointers for the West Yorkshire club. Walker and Pewhairangi combined for three tries in the final quarter as they completed their brace and hat-trick respectively.

Key Battle

Many Hull KR fans will have been happy to see the return of Mitch Clark to the match day squad against Oldham. After tough luck with injuries, the former Doncaster powerhouse came off the bench against the Roughyeds and he will now be looking to put in a claim for a regular place in the team. With the likes of Lee Jewitt yet to make his debut, there’s a lot of choice for Tim Sheens who knows his team has what it takes to make a return to Super League at the first time of asking. Rob Mulhern and Josh Johnson were the starting front-rowers for the Robins, while Clark was the only recognised prop to come off the bench. However, Chris Clarkson and Ben Kavanagh both played in the back-row and they have both played at prop during their careers. Meanwhile, Dewsbury had a tough job to keep tabs on London who have quality all over the field including in the pack. Jode Sheriffe and Jack Teanby were the starting props for the Rams, with Toby Adamson and Aaron Ollett giving forward options from the bench. It will be another difficult game for the Rams this weekend but Neil Kelly has instilled some belief into the club since his arrival and games against the likes of KR bring the perfect opportunity for the Rams to show their worth to the division.

Prediction

Despite scoring a healthy amount of points against Oldham, Hull KR still shipped too many points for Tim Sheens’ liking. Having a mean defence is something that every successful side strives for and that’s the same for the Robins. Back on home turf after a three-week absence, they will be wanting to entertain the home crowd as they move closer to sealing top spot in the league. Dewsbury will know they have to keep the Robins’ pivot players quiet if they’re to steal a win at KCOM Craven Park. It is easier said than done but the West Yorkshire clubs have shown good signs over the past few weeks despite a heavy loss against the Broncos – Hull KR by 28

Oldham v Halifax – Oldham will be wanting to work upon their strong performance against Hull Kingston Rovers when Halifax come to town this weekend. The Roughyeds got off to a superb start against the Robins but were unable to keep hold of their lead. Halifax were in ruthless form against Sheffield Eagles as Richard Marshall’s men posted 54 points without reply away from home.

Last Time Out

Oldham put up a great fight against Hull Kingston Rovers but came out on the wrong end of a 32-24 scoreline at Bower Fold. Scott Naylor’s side started the match in perfect fashion with three quick tries in the space of eight minutes. Joe Burke, Dave Hewitt and Sam Wood all touched down for the hosts, Scott Leatherbarrow was successful with every conversion. The visitors cut the deficit to two points by half-time after three scores of their own thanks to Shaun Lunt, Jordan Abdull and Joe Wardill. Three more tries for the Robins after the restart gave them enough breathing space to relax as Ryan Shaw and Wardill completed their respective braces. However, the final say went to Oldham as Darnell McIntosh crossed the whitewash.

Halifax kept their top four hopes well and truly alive with a convincing performance against Sheffield Eagles. The West Yorkshire club went into half-time 32-0 up after braces from James Woodburn-Hall and Conor McGrath as well as singles courtesy of Steve Tyrer and Ben Johnston. After the break, Matt Wilkinson poached a try as the visitors kept their foot on the gas. Elliot Morris and McGrath both added four pointers in the final quarter, the latter completing his first professional hat-trick.

Key Battle

If Oldham are to have any success against Halifax this weekend, they will need to calm the impact of James Woodburn-Hall and Conor McGrath to name just two. Last weekend Woodburn-Hall and McGrath outplayed two of the most dangerous players in the Championship – Menzie Yere and Garry Lo – and they will be wanting to replicate the form they showed against the Eagles. Both players have previously been in the reserve grade, highlighting its importance to Halifax and the potential the system has for many other clubs. The more experienced duo of Steve Tyrer and Rob Worrincy were on the other flank for Halifax against Sheffield, with the former notching one try. Sam Wood and Darnell McIntosh, both on dual-registration from Huddersfield Giants, scored a try apiece for Oldham against Hull KR as the part-timers came close to pulling off a big shock. Adam Clay and George Tyson were on the other wing for the Roughyeds and both of those players have what it takes to make a big impression in this weekend’s contest.

Prediction

Halifax were on fire against Sheffield in round 17 and if they put up a performance half as good as that, they should have enough to get over the line. However, Oldham showed what they were capable of against Hull KR and after going over what went wrong against the Robins, they will be eager to put things right. Should be a good game, this – Halifax by 18

Rochdale Hornets v Bradford Bulls – A big game for Rochdale Hornets as they look to push Bradford Bulls further into the mire while improving their own chances of survival. The Hornets return from Toulouse Olympique after a heavy defeat, an understandable result considering their injury crisis and having to give debuts to five players. Bradford Bulls had a slender lead at half-time of their game against Featherstone Rovers but fired blanks in the second period as their fellow West Yorkshire counterparts cruised to victory.

Last Time Out

Rochdale Hornets were beaten 56-16 by Toulouse Olympique at Stade Ernest Argeles last Saturday. The French club led 34-4 at the break after a hat-trick from Bastien Ader alongside tries from Con Mika, Stan Robin and Mark Kheirallah. Rob Massam bagged Rochdale’s only four pointer of the first half. After the break, Toulouse scored twice without reply courtesy of Clement Boyer and Anthony Marion. However, the Hornets did strike back with two tries of their own thanks to Declan Kay and Miles Greenwood. Toulouse ended the match in fine fashion though, as Paul Marcon and Rhys Curran both touched down for Sylvain Houles’ men.

Bradford Bulls lost 36-12 against Featherstone rovers despite a decent first half performance which saw Leigh Beattie’s men go into the break two points up. Colton Roche and James Bentley both touched down for the Bulls while Anthony Thackeray and Kyle Briggs both notched four pointers for the visitors, however the latter’s score wasn’t converted. Quick-fire tries from Josh Hardcastle and Jack Ormondroyd gave Featherstone their first lead of the afternoon and they weren’t going to let go of it. Briggs kicked a penalty goal before Matty Wildie and Hardcastle added a try apiece to end the game on a high for Featherstone, who face Leeds Rhinos in the Challenge Cup on Friday night.

Key Battle

In what was a makeshift Rochdale team against Toulouse, full-back Declan Kay – on dual-registration from Warrington Wolves – impressed with a try on debut. With a great running game, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Hornets coach Alan Kilshaw use Kay in the team more regularly from now on although Chris Riley will be waiting in the wings. The Rochdale side was praised for their efforts against Toulouse and now their aim is to use that confidence and get a good result out of Sunday’s game against the Bulls. Bradford youngster Brandon Pickersgill was at full-back against Featherstone but didn’t get on the scoresheet. It was the academy product’s first start for the Bulls in the league after making a substitute appearance earlier on in the campaign. Whether or not Geoff Toovey will give Pickersgill another shot remains to be seen due to the likes of Oscar Thomas and James Mendeika also having the ability to take up the role.

Prediction

With Dane Chisholm looking to be out for a while, Bradford will need to cope without their star half-back and whether they have enough quality to make up ground on the teams above them is a big question. Games against the likes of Rochdale, who were tipped to struggle in the Championship this season, are massive for Bradford’s hopes of Championship survival and if they can’t pick up points here then it’s dark times for the club. The Hornets will be rubbing their hands at being able to condemn the Bulls to more misery, and if they can stop Bradford’s forward pack from rolling forward in midfield, they have every chance of picking up a vital win – Bradford by 10