Toulouse Olympique v Halifax – The biggest match of the season for these two teams, without a doubt. Toulouse Olympique, currently in fourth-place, play host to Halifax who are on the same amount of points but one place below the French club. Sylvain Houles’ side have lost three games in a row, two of them albeit away from home, while Halifax bounced back from defeat to Swinton Lions by beating Bradford Bulls at the MBi Shay. It will still take something special for Richard Marshall’s men to come away from France with the spoils but they do have the quality to challenge Olympique for the full 80 minutes.
Last Time Out
Toulouse Olympique suffered a disappointing 14-12 loss away at Oldham in round 20. The visitors were 6-4 up at the break but conceded first thanks to Roughyeds full-back Steve Nield. Sebastien Planas responded with a converted try for Toulouse. George Tyson regained Oldham’s lead after the restart and following the conversion, Dave Hewitt kicked two penalty goals to extend the hosts’ advantage to eight points. Charles Bouzinac’s four-pointer, alongside Mark Kheriallah’s conversion, cut the deficit to just two points but unfortunately for Olympique, they couldn’t find the decisive score as their Qualifiers bid took another hit.
Halifax beat Bradford Bulls 20-18 on a momentous day for Steve Tyrer, who racked up his 2,000th career point. The hosts went into the interval three scores up at 14-0 and the first try of the afternoon went to Josh Wood in the 20th minute. Ben Heaton followed Wood over the whitewash, with Tyrer kicking both conversions and then a penalty goal before the break. Bradford finally got on the scoreboard as the final quarter approached. Vila Halafihi broke through the defence to touch down and get the Bulls back in the game. However, with 15 minutes remaining, former on-loan Bull Daniel Murray crossed for the hosts who would close the gap on Toulouse by the end of the afternoon. Tyrer added the extras as he reached his career landmark. Bradford finished the match on the front foot and came within two points of their fellow West Yorkshire counterparts thanks to tries from Ethan Ryan and Ed Chapelhow.
Toulouse will be wanting to end an untimely losing streak at the weekend when they take on Halifax and they will be hoping their powerful centres Gavin Marguerite and Bastien Ader will step up to the plate. Both have shown their try-scoring prowess this season but neither could get on the scoresheet in a losing effort against Oldham. On home tuf, Olympique are a different animal altogether but they were also on the wrong end of their last result at Stade Ernest Argeles so it’s probably right to question whether the French club have peaked too soon. Halifax will be hoping they have as a lot of money rests on these final three games and the West Yorkshire club have a great opportunity to leapfrog Olympique in the table. Steve Tyrer will be thrilled to have reached 2,000 points for his career but his attention will turn to Toulouse this weekend and both him, and fellow centre Ben Heaton, will know they have a tough job on their hands against the Toulouse three-quarters, Tyrer has been phenomenal for Halifax over the past few seasons while Heaton has covered the centre and back-row roles with ease. It should be a superb match on Saturday, and an entertaining battle on the edges between two teams who have the ability to really cause some damage.
With everything to play for, both sides will be fighting tooth and nail to get the better of each other and have that buffer on the league table heading into the final two matches. Toulouse have lost just twice at home in all competitions this year so the challenge Halifax face cannot be underestimated. However, the French side have had a dip in form recently and Richard Marshall’s men will fancy their chances. Stade Ernest Argeles is still a ground to fear though and after being in and around the top four throughout their first Championship campaign in a number of years, it’s hard to see Toulouse wasting their opportunity now it’s come around – Toulouse by 14
Batley Bulldogs v Dewsbury Rams – Batley Bulldogs will be hoping for their first victory over Dewsbury Rams in 2017 when they face each other for a fourth time on Sunday. The Rams have beaten Batley twice in the league and once in the Challenge Cup so far this season. Neil Kelly’s men are on a roll after winning five of their last seven Championship matches and moving up to eighth place. Batley had their three-game winning streak ended by Featherstone Rovers on Sunday as Matt Diskin’s side were defeated at the LD Nutrition Stadium.
Last Time Out
Batley Bulldogs lost 42-14 against Featherstone Rovers in round 20 as Matt Diskin’s side failed to keep up with their fellow West Yorkshire club in the second period. Brad Day opened the scoring for the Bulldogs before Scott Turner was awarded a penalty try for a push off the ball. Turner completed his brace before Jordan Baldwinson also touched down to give the Rovers more breathing space. Wayne Reittie cut the deficit to one score thanks to a converted try eight minutes from the break. The second period’s scoring started just like the first – with a Bulldogs try. Shaun Ainscough brought Batley closer to the Rovers but four pointers from Jack Ormondroyd and John Davies extinguished hope for the visitors. In-between the Featherstone scores was a sin-binning for Chris Ulugia but there was no panic from Jon Sharp’s men as Ian Hardman kicked a penalty and Andy Bostock touched down for his 100th career try. Dane Manning and Tom Lillycrop were both sin-binned in the space of ten minutes, with time left on the clock for Hardman to grab a try of his own.
Dewsbury Rams’ superb form continued with a comfortable 40-10 win over Rochdale Hornets at the Tetley’s Stadium. Rob Spicer and Macauley Hallett registered braces while on Paul Sykes’ 400th career appearance, he scored his 2,000th point. Spicer opened the scoring for the Rams before Toby Adamson and Dale Morton both joined him. Spicer and Hallett added a four pointer apiece before the break as the hosts went into the break 28-0 up. Rob Massam got Rochdale on the board after the restart with his side’s first try of the game but the influential Gareth Moore responded with a try of his own for Neil Kelly’s men. Sykes converted to reach his great landmark. Lewis Galbraith was sin-binned for the Hornets, and Hallett capitalised by completing his brace. Jordan Case grabbed a consolation effort for the visitors on an afternoon where they were unable to compete with Dewsbury.
The battle of the halves will be a great contest at the weekend as the Bulldogs strive to cut the influence of Dewsbury pair Paul Sykes and Gareth Moore. Sykes reached 2,000 points for his career against Rochdale while Moore carried on his great form since signing for the Rams by picking up a try and also laying on a few. Batley used all their half-back partnerships at the weekend as Pat Walker and Dom Brambani started the game while Cain Southernwood was on the bench. Brambani’s set up a try by kicking to the corner for Wayne Reittie to touch down but ultimately it was a disappointing afternoon for the Bulldogs, who won’t be wanting to receive a fourth straight defeat against the Rams in 2017.
A tough one as the Bulldogs were on a nice bit of form before being beaten by Featherstone while Dewsbury’s good run has been highly documented. A few more wins for the Rams will probably see them safe for another season in the Championship, a remarkable achievement by all considering where they were when Neil Kelly took over. Batley’s last home game saw them end a drought of four straight losses at the Mount by hammering Sheffield Eagles. It will bring back good memories for the Bulldogs and if they play half as well as they did that day, they won’t go far wrong – Batley by 8
Bradford Bulls v Hull Kingston Rovers – Bradford Bulls left it too little too late against Halifax as two tries in the dying embers of the game weren’t enough to steal the spoils. Geoff Toovey’s side will have to regroup for a big performance as they take on League Leaders Shield winners Hull Kingston Rovers at the Provident Stadium. Hull KR’s victory over London Broncos in round 20 meant the East Yorkshire club had sealed top spot ahead of the Qualifiers. They will be heavy favourites coming into this one but they will have to be wary of the Bulls’ influential youngsters, especially the likes of Ethan Ryan and James Bentley.
Last Time Out
Bradford Bulls lost 20-18 against Halifax at the MBi Shay after a first half performance which left Toovey’s men with too much to do. The hosts were 14-0 up at the break following converted tries from Josh Wood and Ben Heaton as well as a penalty goal courtesy of Steve Tyrer. Bradford got on the scoresheet in the second period thanks to Vila Halafihi who scythed through the Fax defence after the initial tackle had not been completed. Oscar Thomas’ conversion cut the deficit to six points but Fax soon answered back through former on-loan Bull Daniel Murray. Tyrer converted to mark his 2,000th point in his career. Late tries from Ryan and Ed Chapelhow gave Bradford the slightest bit of hope with less than ten seconds remaining but unfortunately, the Bulls couldn’t find their own ‘Wide to West’ moment.
Hull Kingston Rovers sealed their inevitable League Leaders Shield win with a 40-22 success over London Broncos at KCOM Craven Park. The Robins were spectacular in the opening half as they went into the sheds 28-4 up after dismantling London. Tim Sheens’ side scored the first four tries of the contest thanks to a Kieren Moss brace, either side of scores courtesy of Lee Jewitt and Andrew Heffernan. Daniel Harrison got the Broncos going on the scoreboard but the final say of the half went to Danny Addy who finished off a nice team move. Zach Dockar-Clay and Daniel Harrison exchanged tries after the break for the hosts and visitors respectively, prior to Jarrod Sammut registering an interception try. Robbie Mulhern and Matty Gee also swapped four pointers later on in the tie as the Broncos outscored the Robins in the second half, although that wouldn’t have mattered much to the fans who had seen their side sweep all before them on their way to the League Leaders Shield.
Bradford will have to be alive around the ruck on Sunday as they take on two of the most talented hookers in the competition. Shaun Lunt is an experienced operator and has looked comfortable all season for the Robins while Zach Dockar-Clay, a signing made during the season, has been phenomenal as his utility value has become apparent. Lunt knows what it takes to win a game and at times he’s looked capable of doing it single-handedly for the Robins. Dockar-Clay’s ability to find a gap and streak through it within a blink of an eye is something that gets the KR fans excited, and rightly so. The Bulls had Sam Hallas at hooker for the game against Halifax while Vila Halifihi made a try-scoring contribution from the bench. With such a young squad, there is no doubt that the potential for something special is there at Bradford but unfortunately there will be many suitors around, looking to take those young guns away. The Bulls have also looked towards Leeds Rhinos for a helping hand this year and they’ve got just that with a number of good players from the Super League club, including Hallas who has also played at loose forward this season.
It’s a massive ask for the Bulls to get anything out of this game on Sunday. These weren’t supposed to be the matches they needed to win as they had chances against the teams around them to wipe that points deduction away and make their way up the table. Unfortunately for everyone involved at Bradford, that hasn’t come to fruition like the plan on paper and now every game becomes a must-win. Hull KR will be wanting to prepare for the Qualifiers in professional fashion and a simple win will do for the Robins here, while trying to put a good amount of points on the board with players that will be eager to have a crack at the Super League clubs – Hull KR by 26
London Broncos v Sheffield Eagles – London Broncos welcome Sheffield Eagles to Trailfinders on Sunday as the capital club look to get back to winning ways after losing to Hull KR in round 20. The Eagles scored 42 points in their last encounter but only just scraped home against Swinton Lions. Sheffield got the better of London earlier on in the season but will history repeat itself?
Last Time Out
London Broncos lost 40-22 against Hull Kingston Rovers at KCOM Craven Park as the East Yorkshire club sealed the League Leaders Shield. The Broncos were blown away in the first half as they went into the sheds 28-4 down, with only a Daniel Harrison try to show for their efforts. Kieren Moss bagged a brace for the Robins while Lee Jewitt, Andrew Heffernan and Danny Addy all touched down for four pointers themselves. After the restart, Zach Dockar-Clay and Harrison exchanged tries before Jarrod Sammut registered an interception score. In the dying embers of the tie, Robbie Mulhern and Matty Gee crossed for KR and London respectively.
Sheffield Eagles brought their three game losing streak to an end by beating Swinton Lions 42-34 at the Beaumont Legal Stadium. In a nail-biting contest, the Eagles managed to pick up an important win as they steered further away from the relegation dogfight. The hosts went 22-0 up with some great rugby. A brace from Ben Blackmore as well as tries from Matt James and Jack Owens gave the Eagles a healthy advantage but the pressure was soon ramped up when Jack Murphy scored a five minute hat-trick for the Lions. Sheffield were still in front at the break but there was a real nervousness around the place ahead of the second half. Blackmore completed his hat-trick with the opening score of the second half after a great break from Jake Spedding. However, Swinton hit back with two tries of their own from Shaun Robinson and Mike Butt as the pressure returned. Chris Atkin and Danny Richardson both kicked penalties as Sheffield maintained their two point advantage before the latter touched down on debut for the Eagles. The conversion made it an eight point game but Atkin kicked another penalty before Rhodri Lloyd touched down. Atkin had the chance to level matters once more but his attempt went wide. In the last minute, Garry Lo notched for the Eagles to seal a hard-fought victory.
The return of Jake Spedding to the Eagles on dual-registration from St Helens delighted the South Yorkshire side’s fans and it’s clear to see why after his latest performance. Alongside Ben Blackmore, Spedding has created a great partnership that defences will start to fear if they keep attacking like they have been doing. On the other wing, Menzie Yere and Garry Lo have had a rough couple of weeks and that has seen chances granted to Ryan Millar and Curtis Wilson. Yere and Lo returned for the game against Swinton and the latter scored the last try of the contest as he put in a decent performance. However, Eagles coach Mark Aston may tinker with the lineup as the team still conceded a shed load of points. Wilson and Millar both have speed to burn and will be viable replacements if Aston sees fit to change things up. Paddy Flynn started on the bench against Swinton so the Eagles boss does have a tendency to use a replacement outside back if things are starting to get a bit nervy. London coach Andrew Henderson selected Rhys Williams, Elliot Kear, Michael Channing and Kieran Dixon in the three-quarters for their defeat against Hull KR. All four players have great ability and will be wanting to help London get back to winning ways this weekend. Williams struck up a great partnership with Ben Hellewell over the last couple of years but the latter has been moved to the back-row, and Henderson seems to have found the formula he wants to run with through the Qualifiers.
London come into the game as favourites but will have to be alert to Sheffield’s potential to pile on the points in quick time. The Broncos have been exceptional at home this season and that does look unlikely to change before the regular season is out. Sheffield know they can go to Trailfinders and play with no fear as they’re not expected to win, and maybe they will put up a great fight but it’ll take a superb effort to overcome the capital club – London by 18
Oldham v Featherstone Rovers – It’s simple for Featherstone Rovers. Win and they’re in the Qualifiers. Thanks to Halifax and Toulouse’s match on Saturday, one team will drop points and that gives Featherstone the perfect opportunity to wrap up their Qualifiers spot and leave the aforementioned teams battling it out for the final place. It won’t be easy for the West Yorkshire side though as they take on Oldham at Bower Fold, the scene of Toulouse’s last defeat. Scott Naylor was delighted with his injury-hit side last weekend and if they can pull off another win here, their bid for survival will receive a massive boost.
Last Time Out
Oldham dented Toulouse Olympique’s hopes of Qualifiers rugby by beating the French side 14-12 at Bower Fold. Steve Nield opened the scoring for the Roughyeds before Sebastien Planas’ converted try put Olympique 6-4 up at the break. George Tyson regained the hosts’ advantage with the first try of the second period before two Dave Hewitt penalties made it a two score game. Charles Bouzinac’s four pointer, improved on by the boot of Mark Kheirallah, cut Oldham’s lead to two points but the Yeds held on.
Featherstone Rovers beat Batley Bulldogs 42-14 at the LD Nutrition Stadium, with the hosts playing a stormer of a second half to seal the win. Brad Day broke the deadlock for the Bulldogs before a Scott Turner brace and Jordan Baldwinson four pointer got the Rovers machine rolling. Wayne Reittie cut the deficit to six points at the break with his try, coming from a Dom Brambani kick. In the second period, Shaun Ainscough brought Batley closer to the Rovers as he touched down but tries from Jack Ormondroyd and John Davies helped calm the nerves for Featherstone. Chris Ulugia had been sin-binned in-between those two tries. Jon Sharp’s men pushed on and thanks to an Ian Hardman penalty and Andy Bostock’s 100th career try, the game was wrapped up. Dane Manning and Tom Lillycrop were both sin-binned within ten minutes of each other, leaving Hardman to finish his afternoon off with a deserved try.
If Oldham are to get anything from the game against Featherstone, they will need to stop the impact of the Rovers’ front-rowers and also keep them off the scoresheet. Jack Ormondroyd, Jordan Baldwinson and Andy Bostock all notched four pointers for the West Yorkshire club against Batley and they will be eyeing up another good performance at the weekend. The Roughyeds face more of an uphill challenge than they first thought as Adam Neal has been ruled out for six weeks with a broken jaw. It is a busy injury room at Oldham currently but the show must go on and the help of the dual-registered Daniel Smith and London loanee Sadiq Adebiyi will be vital. Ben Davies and Liam Bent came off the bench for Oldham against Toulouse and coach Naylor will be wanting them to replicate their heroics.
Oldham’s victory against Toulouse was a shock to most people, especially when you consider their injury worries at this moment in time. It was a superb performance from the Roughyeds against a Toulouse team who, despite their troubling form, still had the players capable of causing Oldham an array of problems. Jon Sharp won’t need to give too much of a team talk to his players at the weekend as they know what’s on the line and what awaits them if they come away from Bower Fold victorious. It has been a great couple of seasons for the Rovers and it may be about to get better – Featherstone by 14
Rochdale Hornets v Swinton Lions – A big game for both teams as Swinton Lions aim to move out of the relegation zone at the first time of asking while Rochdale will be hoping to put three points between themselves and their opponents. Oldham’s shock win against Toulouse, coupled with Swinton’s loss at Sheffield, meant John Duffy’s men slipped into the bottom two. Rochdale aren’t far in front of the Lions by any means and their hammering against Dewsbury won’t have done their confidence any good. It should be a good one at the Crown Oil Arena.
Last Time Out
Rochdale Hornets lost 40-10 against the resurgent Dewsbury Rams at Tetley’s Stadium. The Hornets lost the game in the first half as they were kept scoreless while the hosts notched 28 points. Rob Spicer bagged a brace for the Rams while Toby Adamson, Dale Morton and Macauley Hallett all added four pointers. In the second half, Rob Massam got the ball rolling for the Hornets but their joy was short lived as Gareth Moore got on the end of a Paul Sykes kick to score. Sykes converted to bring up his 2,000th point in professional rugby. Lewis Galbraith was sin-binned with 11 minutes remaining and Hallett capitalised by registering his brace. Jordan Case scored a consolation for Rochdale on a disappointing afternoon for Alan Kilshaw’s men.
Swinton Lions were beaten 42-34 against Sheffield Eagles at the Beaumont Legal Stadium. The Lions were 22-16 down at the break but fought back from 22-0 thanks to a Jack Murphy hat-trick. Ben Blackmore scored a first half brace for the Eagles while Matt James and Jack Owens both crossed as well. In the second period, Blackmore completed his hat-trick before the Lions cut the deficit to two points thanks to tries from Shaun Robinson and Mike Butt. Chris Atkin levelled matters with a penalty but Danny Richardson replied with a goal of his own before scoring a converted try to extend Sheffield’s lead to eight points. Another Atkin goal made it a one score game and the scrum-half had the chance to level the game again after Rhodri Lloyd’s try. Unfortunately for the Lions, Atkin’s shot at goal went wide and, down the other end of the field, Garry Lo sealed the win for the Eagles.
Rochdale will know the battle they’ll have to face in the middle of the pitch on Sunday. Swinton’s forwards are a mean pack to defend against and the amount of times they broke the line against Sheffield typifies that. Andy Bracek and Josh Barlow were the starting front-rowers for the Lions while Caine Barnes, Liam Carberry and Rob Lever all featured from the bench. The support play is also something Rochdale will have to keep an eye on, especially the work of scrum-half Chris Atkin. The Hornets will have to improve tenfold and their starting props against the Rams were Anthony Walker and Gavin Bennion. Jo Taira and Matty Hadden were their replacements from the bench while young back-rower Lewis Hatton also featured. Games such as this can go a long way to securing a team’s Championship status so there may well be some nervy rugby played if the scoreline is tight in the final quarter. Every carry is vital and the forwards will need to step up to the plate and drive their team upfield, giving the backs an opportunity to damage their opponents in the opposite half.
I think by Alan Kilshaw’s own admission, Rochdale haven’t been good enough towards the backend of the regular season. The Hornets got off to a flying start with three wins and a draw in their opening six games but since then they’ve picked up just two victories. However, Swinton sit lower than Rochdale in the table and it’s getting towards a time where every game is as important as the next for the Lions. A victory here will see them leapfrog three teams if Dewsbury and Oldham don’t get a win. It’s all to play for and the pressure is on – Swinton by 12