Bradford Bulls v Toulouse Olympique
After picking up their first win of the season last weekend, Bradford Bulls play host to Toulouse Olympique this weekend at Provident Stadium. The Bulls beat Swinton Lions 35-28 while Toulouse’s dominant home form continued with a 56-2 demolition against Dewsbury Rams.
Last Time Out
Bradford Bulls started to make a dent in their -12 points deduction as they worked hard to defeat Swinton Lions at Heywood Road. A 35-28 victory marks the start of the Bulls’ bid to climb the table and they’ll need to show the same character as they did on Sunday if they’re to catch up to their rivals. The visitors led 22-10 at the break following tries from Ethan Ryan, Oscar Thomas, Ross Oakes and James Mendeika. Andy Thornley and Shaun Robinson grabbed Swinton’s two tries in the first half. Consecutive tries from Thornley and Jack Murphy after the break brought the Lions level with their West Yorkshire opposition. Three sin-bins – two for Swinton and one for Bradford – in the space of three minutes gave the match a bit of spice and it was the Bulls who took the lead by virtue of a penalty goal and they didn’t look back. Jack Higginson and Anthony Bate were the guilty parties for the hosts while Colton Roche was shown yellow for Bradford. Thomas kicked a penalty goal before two tries without reply put the game beyond doubt. Ryan completed his hat-trick as he came up trumps for Leigh Beattie’s men, who also edged further ahead thanks to a Thomas drop-goal. Thornley completed his hat-trick a minute from time with a consolation.
Toulouse Olympique hammered Dewsbury Rams at Stade Ernest Argeles, reinforcing their strength when playing on home turf. Paul Sykes did open the scoring for the visitors with a penalty goal but they were the only points Dewsbury could muster in the match. Tony Maurel and Stan Robin both bagged a try apiece before Kuni Minga registered two tries in four minutes to put the French side 24-6 up at the break. Minga completed his second hat-trick in three games on 44 minutes before Bastien Canet and Rhys Curran crossed the whitewash with the final quarter approaching. The last 20 minutes saw Toulouse add three more tries as they passed the 50 point mark with ease. Constantine Mika, Canet and Bastien Ader all touched down for Sylvain Houles’ side, who bounced back from their defeat to Sheffield Eagles in style.
This season could be a big one for former London Broncos scrum-half Joe Keyes. Keyes is currently playing alongside Leon Pryce and the 21-year-old may come of age thanks to the guidance of his experienced half-back partner. Keyes and Pryce led the Bulls to their first win of the season in round three and now they will be wanting to make it two consecutive victories when Toulouse come to town. The French side suffered a blow ahead of their round two match with Sheffield when it was announced Johnathon Ford would be ruled out due to a foot injury. Ford – the League 1 Player of the Year in 2016 – didn’t play against Dewsbury either but the combination of Constantine Mika and Stan Robin worked a treat. When Ford returns, Toulouse’s attack goes up a gear but on the other hand, if Mika and Robin perform to the standard they did against Dewsbury, it would be harsh to drop one of them from the squad.
Bradford have already lost to one of the newly promoted teams at the Provident Stadium this season and Toulouse will be hoping to add to that. The Bulls have improved their squad once again with the signing of Salford prop Daniel Murray on a one-month loan. You would imagine Toulouse will be coming to West Yorkshire with an unchanged squad but there is still a question mark whether they can replicate their dominant home performances when they play away. The Bulls’ recent additions have certainly gave them a fighting chance but now they need to string a good run of results together – Bradford by 8
Dewsbury Rams v London Broncos
Things don’t get any easier for Dewsbury Rams as they take on London Broncos this weekend in search of their first win of the season. The outlook doesn’t look too bright for Glenn Morrison’s men at the moment, with only eight points scored so far and a heavy defeat against Toulouse Olympique in round three. Meanwhile, London have won two games from three but haven’t looked convincing in either of their victories.
Last Time Out
Dewsbury Rams were beaten 56-2 against Toulouse Olympique at State Ernest Argeles. Paul Sykes broke the deadlock for the Rams with a penalty goal but they couldn’t keep hold of the lead as Toulouse took control of the game and then ran riot. The hosts were 24-2 up at the break after a Kuni Minga double as well as tries from Tony Maurel and Stan Robin. In the second half, Minga completed his hat-trick before Bastien Canet and Rhys Curran both got on the scoresheet prior to the final quarter. Toulouse breached the 50 point mark thanks to four pointers from Constantine Mika, Canet and Bastien Ader.
London Broncos could count themselves lucky to have left Bower Fold with all two competition points intact after a 20-18 victory over Oldham. A late try from Rhys Williams handed the Broncos a slender two point lead before Roughyeds half-back Dave Hewitt hit the post with a penalty goal in the last minute. Sam Wood got Oldham off to a flyer with a try in the opening minute but Jarrod Sammut soon responded for the Broncos as the half-back carried on his good scoring form. Wood and Andy Ackers exchanged tries before a penalty goal gave the hosts a two point lead at the interval. Two more penalties after the restart put a converted score between the teams and with 13 minutes to go, second-rower Daniel Harrison cut the deficit to just a couple of points as he touched down. The conversion was unsuccessful but Williams had the final say in the match as he made a length of the field break to win the match for the Broncos. Hewitt’s last minute penalty miss is Oldham’s second in as many weeks which has denied them a point against two of last year’s top four teams.
If Dewsbury are to keep the game close heading into the final few minutes, they need to keep Jarrod Sammut and William Barthau quiet. Sammut was magnificent for Workington last season and he is looking as good as ever for London this season while Barthau goes about his business well. The Rams have had a different half-back pairing for every game this season and coach Morrison will be wanting some stability in that position sooner rather than later. Paul Sykes and Dom Speakman were the halves against Toulouse but nothing seemed to come off for the Rams as they suffered a heavy defeat.
The best is still yet to come from London and coach Henderson will be aiming for an 80 minute performance against the Rams this weekend as they look to make a statement. Dewsbury need to start picking up results as well as getting some sort of fluidity in attack as eight points scored in three games is a worrying statistic – London by 22
Hull Kingston Rovers v Oldham
Hull Kingston Rovers have won three from three in this season’s Kingstone Press Championship but it hasn’t been an easy road. After being pushed close in their last two matches, the Robins return home; to the scene where they were on the receiving end of one of the biggest shocks in recent Challenge Cup history against this weekend’s opponents. Oldham will have very good memories of KCOM Craven Park and following their close losses to Featherstone Rovers and London in their last couple of matches, they will be quietly confident ahead of their trip to East Yorkshire.
Last Time Out
Hull Kingston Rovers maintained their unbeaten start to life in the Championship as they got the better of Rochdale Hornets at the Crown Oil Arena. The Robins won 28-18 but conceded first thanks to a try from Hornets back-rower Gary Middlehurst. Four consecutive tries then put the Robins 18-6 up, which would be the scoreline at the break. Kieren Moss replied first before Thomas Minns notched a quick double-salvo but Jamie Ellis couldn’t convert any of the three tries. The final try of the half came five minutes from time when Andrew Heffernan crossed the whitewash and Ellis was on target with his fourth conversion attempt of the match. After the restart, Danny Yates cut the deficit to just six points as Rochdale refused to lie down. Ellis kicked a penalty goal to extend the lead to two scores but the Hornets were next to breach the try line through Ben Moores and with 20 minutes to go, the score read 20-18 to Hull KR. Tim Sheens’ side managed to see the game out well thanks to a Shaun Lunt try and Ellis goal in the final five minutes.
Oldham came within inches of picking up a point against London Broncos but a last minute penalty goal attempt from Dave Hewitt hit the post. The Roughyeds led 14-12 as both sides headed into the Bower Fold sheds at the break. Sam Wood bagged a brace and the home side also kicked a penalty which proved to be the difference at the halfway point in the match. Jarrod Sammut and Andy Ackers both registered a try apiece for the capital club. Two more penalty goals put Oldham further in front before Daniel Harrison cut the deficit with the score at 18-16 to Oldham with 13 minutes to go. Rhys Williams’ length of the field effort won the game for London, leaving the Roughyeds players shattered after 80 minutes of solid work without any reward.
Thomas Minns and Andrew Heffernan have been in among the tries in the opening three rounds of the Championship season. Minns was a standout performer for the Robins in Super League so it’s no surprise that he’s managing to find the whitewash on a regular basis in the second tier. Heffernan was an off-season signing from coach Sheens and he has impressed in his first few outings and he will be wanting to add to his tally this weekend. Oldham coach Scott Naylor selected Sam Wood and Danny Grimshaw in the centres against London and the former managed to score a brace. Last season, Kieran Gill was one of Oldham’s best players and now he’s moved from centre to wing, a space has opened up and Wood, on dual-registration from Huddersfield Giants, is a sure-fire bet to fill the gap with confidence.
Hull Kingston Rovers will be wanting to keep their winning run going for as long as possible and they will know all about the threat Oldham pose after last year’s disaster in the Challenge Cup. Sheens will be ordering his side to stay consistent and if they open up a comfortable lead, he won’t want them to put their foot off the gas. Oldham aren’t a side who can be underestimated, as shown by their recent results with Featherstone and London both nearly coming a cropper against them – Hull KR by 20
Rochdale Hornets v Halifax
Rochdale Hornets play their second consecutive home match as they welcome Halifax to the Crown Oil Arena on Sunday. The Hornets gave a good account of themselves against Hull Kingston Rovers in round three while Halifax recorded their first win of the season as they beat Sheffield Eagles at MBi Shay.
Last Time Out
Rochdale Hornets lost 28-18 against Hull Kingston Rovers last weekend but the newly promoted side can be optimistic about the season ahead if they keep playing to this level. The Hornets went in front after five minutes through Gary Middlehurst before Hull KR struck four tries without reply to go into half-time 18-6 up. Kieren Moss and Andrew Heffernan both crossed the whitewash while Thomas Minns bagged a double. After the restart, Danny Yates and Ben Moores scored a try each for Rochdale either side of a penalty from Hull KR half-back Jamie Ellis as the hosts cut the deficit to just two points. However, Alan Kilshaw’s men couldn’t find the decisive score as Shaun Lunt touched down with five minutes remaining and there was still time for Ellis to kick another penalty goal.
Halifax won their first league match of the year with an emphatic 42-16 victory over Sheffield Eagles. The hosts led 18-6 at the break after tries from Adam O’Brien, Scott Murrell and Ben Johnston. Scott Wheeldon, who was sin-binned moments before Murrell’s try, scored Sheffield’s only try of the first half six minutes before the break. Halifax dominated after the restart as James Saltonstall bagged a hat-trick while Luke Ambler and Steve Tyrer both scored a try apiece. The Eagles, who had Dayne Weston sin-binned during the second period, added to their tally in the final quarter thanks to four pointers from Ben Blackmore and Duane Straugheir.
Lewis Palfrey and Danny Yates have struck up a partnership in the halves for Rochdale during the opening three rounds of the Championship. Palfrey is an astute kicker who helped Oldham to safety in the second tier during 2016 while Yates won League 1 Young Player of the Year in Rochdale’s promotion season. The duo have the potential to carry the Hornets away from the relegation zone this season but they are going to come up against two very good players this weekend. Scott Murrell and Ben Johnston have been at Halifax for a number of years now and were integral to the team’s impressive performance in the Qualifiers a couple of seasons ago. Johnston can also play at full-back but playing alongside Murrell should help his overall game as he grows into one of the best players in the second tier.
Now Halifax are off the mark and have racked up a big score against a decent Sheffield Eagles team, I’d expect their confidence to grow as the year goes on and if they can keep hold of Adam O’Brien their top four bid will be in good shape. Rochdale will be wanting to retain their Championship status and after wins against Dewsbury and Bradford, they’ve showed what they’re made of and Halifax will be aware of that – Halifax by 18
Sheffield Eagles v Batley Bulldogs
Sheffield Eagles return to home turf this weekend as they take on Batley Bulldogs at the Beaumont Legal Stadium, Wakefield. The Eagles and Bulldogs suffered heavy defeats in their respective round three matches against Halifax and Featherstone Rovers so both sides will be raring to get back to winning ways and make their way up the Championship table.
Last Time Out
Sheffield Eagles were beaten 42-16 against Halifax at the MBi Shay last Sunday. The hosts went 18-0 up after 23 minutes thanks to tries from debutant Adam O’Brien, Scott Murrell and Ben Johnston. Their cause was helped by Scott Wheeldon, who was sin-binned for tripping in the 19th minute. However, once the former Castleford prop returned to the fray he made amends with the Eagles’ first try of the contest six minutes before the break. Sheffield were 18-6 down at the break but things started to get increasingly worse for Mark Aston’s side after the restart as Halifax outscored them five tries to two. James Saltonstall bagged himself a hat-trick while Luke Ambler and Steve Tyrer both got on the scoresheet either side of the hour mark. Tries from Duane Straugheir and Ben Blackmore proved nothing more than consolations for the South Yorkshire side, who were off the pace to say the least.
Batley Bulldogs’ wretched home league form against Featherstone Rovers continued for another year as the latter triumphed 32-6 at the Fox’s Biscuits Stadium. The Bulldogs had Featherstone on the ropes in the early stages as the visitors conceded five penalties and saw Michael Knowles go to the sin-bin for a swinging arm. Batley couldn’t make the pressure count though and even with a numerical advantage, Featherstone managed to cross the whitewash thanks to Ian Hardman. Knowles returned to the action and kicked two consecutive penalty goals to stamp his authority on the game before Hardman grabbed a try before half-time to make it 14-0. Ash Handley and Dominic Brambani exchanged scores after the break but the game belonged to Featherstone, who scored two more tries and kicked a penalty goal on their way to securing a third straight victory. Luke Briscoe and Keal Carlile both touched down for the Big Fellas Stadium side while Knowles kicked his sixth goal of the match.
Both sides will be wanting to see improved performances from all players this weekend, including those in the back-row. Eagles captain Matt James was joined by Will Hope and Lachlan Burr in the back-row against Halifax while Duane Straugheir and Sam Scott made appearances from the bench. Straugheir has been an ever-present for Sheffield for a number of years and last Sunday was his first game of the season and he will be important to the Eagles’ cause once again. Meanwhile, Batley coach Matt Diskin opted with Alex Bretherton, Dane Manning and Brad Day in the back-row with Joe Chandler coming off the bench against Featherstone. The Bulldogs have a strong squad following their exploits in the Qualifiers last term, the signing of Manning from Halifax typifies their quality. However, potentially their best addition hasn’t played a game yet. Joel Farrell – also a back-rower – was brought in from Dewsbury and he brings a lot of power and steel to the table. The Eagles and Bulldogs have had some great tussles in the forwards, especially in the past few years, so it shouldn’t be any different at the weekend.
Batley make the short trip across West Yorkshire at the weekend and they will be eying up another victory against the Eagles after breaking their long-standing hoodoo a few years ago. Both teams have had shaky starts to the season so it will be interesting to see which way this goes. Sheffield picked up an impressive victory against Toulouse in their opening match but this will be more of a test for Aston’s men – Batley by 10
Swinton Lions v Featherstone Rovers
Swinton Lions welcome Featherstone Rovers to Heywood Road on Sunday as John Duffy’s side aim to end the West Yorkshire side’s winning start to the season. Featherstone have been impressive in their first three matches while Swinton picked up their only win thus far against Dewsbury in round two.
Last Time Out
Swinton Lions were beaten 35-28 by Bradford Bulls last weekend. The Lions were 22-10 down at half-time, with their points coming courtesy of tries from Andy Thornley and Shaun Robinson. Ethan Ryan, Oscar Thomas, Ross Oakes and James Mendeika all got on the scoresheet for the visitors, who were in a good position at the interval. However, Swinton levelled matters with two consecutive tries from Thornley and Jack Murphy as the final quarter was fast approaching. When the match got to the hour mark, it was 11v12 as three sin-binnings – two for Swinton and one for Bradford – were handed out by referee Andy Sweet. Jack Higginson and Anthony Bate were shown yellow while Colton Roche headed to the sidelines for ten minutes. Thomas kicked a penalty to edge Bradford back in front and then Ryan completed his hat-trick with two tries in five minutes to put 12 points between the sides. Thomas kicked a drop goal to seal the win for the Bulls despite a late try from Thornley.
Featherstone Rovers beat Batley Bulldogs 32-6 at the Fox’s Biscuits Stadium to make it three wins from as many games. Michael Knowles was sin-binned after just six minutes but the visitors managed to score in his absence through Ian Hardman. Knowles returned and proceeded to kick two penalty goals to give Featherstone an eight point lead before Hardman completed his brace with a minute remaining of the first half. Ash Handley extended Rovers’ advantage after the restart before Batley got on the scoresheet courtesy of Dom Brambani, who was making his 300th career appearance. But that little setback didn’t knock Featherstone off course as they registered 12 points without reply to seal a convincing win. Knowles knocked over another penalty goal before tries from Luke Briscoe and Keal Carlile added gloss to the final scoreline.
The battle of the packs will be a good one at the weekend as Featherstone go to Heywood Road with some highly rated players while Swinton have the personnel to go head to head with them. Jordan Hand and Andy Bracek were the starting front-rowers for Swinton while a full bench of forwards helped combat the Bulls’ muscle. Romain Navarette, Oliver Davies, Anthony Bate and Ben Austin all came off the bench but were unable to lead their side to victory. Featherstone’s depth is something that makes them stand out and being able to bring in the likes of Jordan Baldwinson on dual-registration from Leeds Rhinos certainly helps. Andy Bostock, Frankie Mariano and Richard Moore all have great experience to bring to the table which will certainly help the rising stars in the Rovers camp including Brad Tagg and Luke Cooper.
After a few years of uncertainty following Daryl Powell’s departure to Castleford, Featherstone now have a team which could rival the one their former coach put together. It’s hard to find any weak links in such a deep squad but Swinton will have been watching the tape and trying to figure out how they can break through the defence. The Lions will know they’ll have to pull out a brilliant performance if they’re to keep the spoils in Sale – Featherstone by 16