It’s the second ‘official’ week of pre-season this weekend with another large slate of games to follow last weekends set of fixtures and this weekend we have Friday, Saturday and Sunday action to get stuck into featuring clubs from all tiers.
We covered earlier in the week the exact fixtures of who, where and what, as reported here, but this preview will take one game from each day that will teach us something important heading into the 2023 campaign or simply that we’d want tickets to watch.
As a reminder the weekend schedule is as follows.
Friday 20th January
London Skolars vs London Broncos: 2pm at New River Stadium – Capital Challenge
Featherstone Rovers vs Hull KR: 7.45pm at Millennium Stadium – Craig Hall testimonial
Saturday 21st January
Leigh Leopards vs Leeds Rhinos: 3pm at Leigh Sports Village – Bev Risman Trophy
Sunday 22nd January
Bradford Bulls vs Huddersfield Giants: 2pm at Odsal
Barrow Raiders vs Workington Town: 3pm at Craven Park
Doncaster RLFC vs Newcastle Thunder: 3pm at Eco-Power Stadium
Hunslet RLFC vs Halifax Panthers: 3pm at South Leeds Stadium
Keighley Cougars vs Castleford Tigers: 3pm at Cougar Park – Jake Webster testimonial
Oldham vs Widnes Vikings: 3pm at Whitebank Stadium
Sheffield Eagles vs Hull FC: 3pm at Olympic Legacy Park
St Helens Reserves vs Swinton: 3pm at Totally Wicked Stadium
Whitehaven vs Wigan Warriors: 3pm at The Recreation Ground
York City Knights vs Batley Bulldogs: 3pm at LNER Stadium
With two games today there’s limited choice for the game of the day with the Capital Challenge taking place between London Skolars and London Broncos kicking off in the afternoon however the pick of the day has to be the clash of the Rovers.
Featherstone Rovers will host Hull KR at their Millennium Stadium for a 7.45pm kick off in Craig Hall’s testimonial match with the home side anticipating their ‘largest crowd in years’ as both sets of fans will pack out to pay respect to the veteran winger.
Willie Peters takes charge of the Robins for the first time and has named a youthful team but the presence of star signing, Tom Opacic, in the centres is one that KR fans will get very excited about.
Outside of Opacic and a couple of other first-team backs such as Ethan Ryan it’s a squad that will highlight the depth of the Robins with presumed starters Ryan Hall, Shaun Kenny-Dowall, Lachlan Coote, Mikey Lewis and the other two NRL signings Rhys Kennedy and Sauaso Sue not featuring.
— Hull KR (@hullkrofficial) January 18, 2023
As for Featherstone, Sean Long has named a very strong side that features eight new signings including World Cup star McKenzie Yei of Papua New Guinea.
Obviously Hall also features but the squad in general looks very strong and the game is set to be incredibly competitive if we’re to believe Featherstone are as strong as they look on paper.
Our Team List has been released ahead of Craig Hall's Testimonial game this Friday! 👊
— Featherstone Rovers (@FevRoversRLFC) January 18, 2023
Former Salford captain Elijah Taylor will also bring plenty of experience to a game that could genuinely be a win for the home side, the fact that both coaches are still imprinting philosophies on their squads is another angle that adds interest to the game.
Prediction: Featherstone Rovers 22 – 28 Hull KR
Onto Saturday and there’s only one game that’s played professionally, although the BARLA Cup (British Amateur Rugby League Association) kicks off for plenty of clubs.
What we’ve got professionally is Super League new boys Leigh Leopards hosting Leeds Rhinos with the two sides competing for the Bev Risman Trophy, Risman being a dual-international who also represented both sides.
Rohan Smith gets his second taste of pre-season and has named a less experimental side than on Boxing Day but six new signings do feature including Sam Lisone who missed the Boxing Day clash.
— Leeds Rhinos (@leedsrhinos) January 19, 2023
Leeds will have what is presumed to be their starting spine with Myler, Austin, Sezer and Leeming all playing with the squad looking close to what Smith will imagine as his first choice team, barring centres Harry Newman and Nene Macdonald, who misses out against his old club.
As for Leigh they get their first run out and there’s probably more attention on their kit than their team with the freshly rebranded ‘Leopards’ set to appear for the first time since securing promotion to the Super League as the Centurions.
The Leythers are delayed in announcing their squad for the game meaning as yet we don’t know which of their star signings will feature for them.
Leigh have overhauled their squad with a handful of signings ranging from Super League veterans, youngsters and international talent as well including former Rhinos’ Zak Hardaker and Tom Briscoe.
Former Wire captain Jack Hughes and Huddersfield sparkplug playmaker Ricky Leutele also join the side but it’s uncertain how many will feature.
Prediction: Leigh Leopards 16 – 32 Leeds Rhinos
Sunday offers up the most games and also some of the hardest games to call on which will be best. A trip to Cougar Park for Jake Webster’s testimonial will be special, especially with the Luke Gale factor as well.
Huddersfield will travel to Odsal in a game that’s got plenty of crossovers with Giants’ legend Michael Lawrence kicking off his career elsewhere and plenty of Huddersfield players having come through at Bradford.
In non Super League action there’s the Cumbrian derby between Barrow and Workington and then a top-half of the Championship clash between York Knights and Batley Bulldogs.
Despite the depth of quality on show it has to be the game at Cougar Park that is the pick of the Sunday games and both teams have announced strong squads for Australian, Webster’s, testimonial.
Keighley were eager to confirm that star signing Gale would play but outside of that announcement they weren’t forthcoming with a squad list, whilst Castleford have named a strong squad to face off against their former legendary duo.
𝔗𝔥𝔞𝔱'𝔰 𝔫𝔬𝔱 𝔞 𝔭𝔯𝔢𝔡𝔦𝔠𝔱𝔦𝔬𝔫, 𝔦𝔱'𝔰 𝔞 𝔰𝔭𝔬𝔦𝔩𝔢𝔯
🙌 Be there and don't miss out!
— Keighley (C)ougars (@Cougarmania) January 20, 2023
✊ 𝗦𝗤𝗨𝗔𝗗 𝗡𝗔𝗠𝗘𝗗 𝗙𝗢𝗥 𝗞𝗘𝗜𝗚𝗛𝗟𝗘𝗬 𝗙𝗥𝗜𝗘𝗡𝗗𝗟𝗬
Sponsored by @GeoShieldUK 🤝
Lee Radford has selected a 28-man Tigers squad for Sunday’s pre-season contest at @Cougarmania!
Full details ⤵️#COYF
— Castleford Tigers (@CTRLFC) January 20, 2023
The Castleford side makes a huge change from the squad that lined up on New Year’s Eve against Featherstone with a very young team led out by Andy Last, head coach Radford was in Samoa celebrating their World Cup campaign.
With both teams set for their second run-out and with both teams featuring more star power than their previous games this could be a high-scoring affair although the weather may literally dampen spirits.
Prediction: Keighley Cougars 20 – 28 Castleford Tigers