With the Championship set to start this coming week the pre-season fixtures that remain before the season starts are where iron sharpens iron and the elite face off with each other, as 10 Super League sides match up against one another and an 11th faces a specially selected opposition.
The reigning champions’ St Helens are the only Super League side who won’t be in action as they have journeyed down under in preparation of their World Club Challenge contest against NRL champions’ Penrith Panthers.
That leaves all 11 other sides with games to play however the odd team out are Catalans Dragons as they won’t face a Super League rival, travel and logistics preventing them from having an ordinary pre-season so they instead are set to face France B or what is a selected squad from the French Elite One division.
Friday 3rd February
Hunslet vs Salford Red Devils Reserves: 8pm at the South Leeds Stadium
There’s only one game to look out for today and it sees League One Hunslet take on a Salford Red Devils Reserves side.
Paul Rowley is utilising this as a game to stretch the squad and get every player game time with the first team also set to play on Sunday meaning Salford could have 40 players in action over the weekend.
They played almost 40 against Swinton with Rowley utilising a huge subs bench to bring in youngsters having seen his side go up 16-0 in just 10 minutes.
Meanwhile Hunslet are looking to prepare for their League One campaign following a 20-12 loss to Batley at the weekend.
Saturday 4th February
Workington Town vs Bradford Bulls: 2pm at the Recreation Ground
Catalans Dragons vs France B: 2:30pm at the Gilbert Brutus Stadium
Warrington Wolves vs Leigh Leopards: 5:30pm at the Halliwell Jones
Saturday sees three games with Catalans facing a representative French side, Warrington hosting Leigh in Ben Currie’s testimonial and Workington hosting a Bradford Bulls ‘select squad’.
For Catalans they’ll face a 21-man squad from the Elite One that has been named already and it features young French talents who are plying their trade in the division that now features the likes of Tony Gigot, James Maloney, Morgan Escare and James Segeyaro to name a few.
🏉 𝗟𝗘 𝗚𝗥𝗢𝗨𝗣𝗘
Steve McNamara a dévoilé son groupe pour le match de préparation face à la sélection Elite 1 samedi
🇬🇧 https://t.co/laBpITr58r pic.twitter.com/AtH0m7h4Lx
— Dragons Catalans (@DragonsOfficiel) February 2, 2023
Strangely enough Catalans will even face some of their reserve team players with St Esteve Dragons, their feeder club, sending six players to face Steve McNamara’s side including two players who he has granted squad numbers in Bastien Scimone (25) and Leo Laurent (27).
Two other games take place on Saturday and despite the Championship kicking off on the same day Bradford Bulls are set to send a ‘B’ team of kinds to face League One Workington.
It was a late addition to their pre-season schedule and one made to ensure that Mark Dunning gave all players gametime during the off-season, as reported here.
The remaining game on Saturday sees Ben Currie get to feature in his testimonial and it’s a chance for fans to not only celebrate his brilliant career but also to see their new-look Warrington Wolves for the first time this pre-season.
Warrington face Leigh Leopards at the Halliwell Jones in an evening 5:30 kick-off and it’s the first chance for Wire fans to see the likes of Josh Drinkwater, Josh McGuire and even the re-signed Matty Russell.
Leigh will be looking to defeat Super League opposition for the second time having defeated Leeds a week ago, and former Wire skipper Jack Hughes will make his return to the Halliwell Jones with Leigh having named a strong side.
Sunday 5th February
Wakefield Trinity vs Hull FC: 2pm at Belle Vue
Hull KR vs Leeds Rhinos: 3pm at Craven Park
Wigan Warriors vs Salford Red Devils: 3pm at the DW Stadium
Castleford Tigers vs Huddersfield Giants: 3:30pm at the Jungle
Sunday is where we see the chunk of the action and we get to see Huddersfield for the first time given that their fixture against Bradford fell through due to the weather.
Ian Watson’s men travel to the Jungle for Nathan Massey’s testimonial and it’ll be a chance for Giants’ fans to see lots of youth as well as new signings Sam Halsall and Jake Bibby, with Watson taking a 25-man squad.
🟠 𝗦𝗤𝗨𝗔𝗗 𝗡𝗘𝗪𝗦@j_mcgillvary is included in this weekend's squad after injury, alongside Sam Halsall and @jakebibby who joined us in the off-season!
👉 https://t.co/CIs3SmhAcO#CowbellArmy🐮🔔 pic.twitter.com/39QtlocGBD
— Huddersfield Giants (@Giantsrl) February 3, 2023
As for Castleford they’re fresh off the back of a trip to Cumbria and a big win in good fashion over Whitehaven and they’ll be keen to give the veteran Massey a day to remember.
A second testimonial takes place that day with Wigan’s hooker Sam Powell set to lead his side out against Salford, both teams having featured last weekend against Championship opposition although with differing results.
Wigan will look to get back in the win column following a loss to Barrow and to do so they’ve named a full strength squad.
📋 𝙎𝙦𝙪𝙖𝙙 𝙉𝙚𝙬𝙨
👊 Here is your 25-man squad for the @Pow9Rl Testimonial game this Sunday!
Read more 👉https://t.co/o3WEEjdRlk#WWRL pic.twitter.com/xrIdsqz0q8
— Wigan Warriors 🍒⚪️ (@WiganWarriorsRL) February 3, 2023
Salford will look for more of a test than against Swinton when they ran out 16-0 leaders after 10 minutes before Paul Rowley blooded some youth and oversaw a 26-22 win.
Paul Rowley has named what’s almost a full strength side, the exceptions being wingers Joe Burgess and Ken Sio, to undertake that task of spoiling the party and defeating Wigan during Powell’s testimonial.
🚨 Paul Rowley has named a 21-man squad to face @WiganWarriorsRL, in Sam Powell's testimonial!
💪 #TogetherStronger | 🔴👹 pic.twitter.com/gaF6WQbUBQ
— Salford Red Devils 👹 (@SalfordDevils) February 3, 2023
Hull KR are looking to bounce back from their thrashing against Featherstone, to do that Willie Peters has given a strong indication of what his first choice 17 will be.
Here's your squad for our first home game of 2023! 💪#UpTheRobins🔴⚪️ pic.twitter.com/fL05pNLChp
— Hull KR (@hullkrofficial) February 3, 2023
They host Leeds Rhinos who will feature for a fourth time this pre-season and have named their strongest squad of the pre-season so far with almost all of their stars on show.
Leeds Rhinos Head Coach Rohan Smith has named the strongest squad of the pre-season campaign so far for this Sunday’s trip to Hull KR, kick off 3pm.
➡ More here https://t.co/j2KFujLRrC pic.twitter.com/vQfFES1EXO
— Leeds Rhinos (@leedsrhinos) February 3, 2023
Another team set to feature for a fourth time and looking for a fourth win are Wakefield Trinity with Mark Applegarth’s men hosting Hull FC having been arguably the most impressive side all pre-season thus far.
They have confirmed their line-up though and the stars get given a rest with halves Mason Lino and Lee Gaskell not in the squad whilst full-back and winger Max Jowitt and Lewis Murphy also miss out. That leaves an experimental side with Corey Hall at full-back and Samisoni Langi at the six spot seemingly.
Mark Applegarth has named his team for our final pre-season hit out against @hullfcofficial on Sunday afternoon, KO 2pm. ✔️
Tickets are available at https://t.co/UZP1g9h2JJ and in the Ridings Club Store. 🎫#UpTheTrin ⚜️ pic.twitter.com/LJRhWqkqDe
— Wakefield Trinity (@WTrinityRL) February 3, 2023
It looks set to be a brilliant weekend of rugby league, not forgetting that the Championship also gets underway outside of these friendlies.
One final game from the Championship that is worth giving a nod to is the game that kicks off next week, with the Monday evenign fixture between 2022 League One champions Keighley and 2023 Championship favourites, Featherstone Rovers.
Rhys Lovegrove’s Keighley squad has been named and it features some Super League level talent, notably Luke Gale and Ben Crooks whilst Dane Chisholm and Brad Walker also feature.
📢 | Rhys Lovegrove has named his 21 man squad to take on Featherstone Rovers on Monday night!
👁️ | Who are you looking forward to seeing play?
🎟️ | Tickets > https://t.co/ObHQ3F1YEc pic.twitter.com/VrcLYZWdK2
— Keighley (C)ougars (@Cougarmania) February 3, 2023
Hunslet 22 – 18 Salford Red Devils Reserves
Workington Town 24 – 14 Bradford Bulls ‘B’
Catalans Dragons 28 – 10 France B
Warrington Wolves 26 – 20 Leigh Leopards
Wakefield Trinity 22 – 26 Hull FC
Hull KR 16 – 20 Leeds Rhinos
Wigan Warriors 26 – 22 Salford Red Devils
Castleford Tigers 22 – 26 Huddersfield Giants
What about Barrow raiders v Toulouse ???