Batley Bulldogs v Oldham – Both teams go into this weekend’s match after progressing in the Ladbrokes Challenge Cup. Batley got the better of Toulouse while Oldham saw off a plucky Haydock side at Bower Fold. One place separates the two sides ahead of round seven, with the seventh-placed Bulldogs three points in front of the Roughyeds but Scott Naylor’s men have a game in hand.

Last Time Out

Batley Bulldogs avenged their defeat against Toulouse Olympique in the league with a 34-16 victory at State Arnaune. The visitors were 18-6 up at the break thanks to tries from Sam Smeaton. Danny Cowling and Dave Scott. Toulouse’s lone score came courtesy of Nicolas Bianchini. Two consecutive tries for Batley after the restart gave them an unassailable advantage. James Brown and Dane Manning both touched down before Toulouse replied through Maxime Puech and Justin Bouscayrol. Smeaton bagged his second try of the contest with four minutes remaining as the West Yorkshire club added gloss to the final scoreline. Matt Diskin’s men will face Dewsbury Rams in the next round.

Oldham booked their place in the fifth round of the Challenge Cup with a 40-12 victory over Haydock. It was the visitors who got off to a brilliant start with tries from Jordan Gibson and Dean Dollin inside nine minutes. However, four tries on the spin from Oldham gave the Championship side a 20-8 half-time lead. Richard Lepori, Michael Ward, George Tyson and Danny Grimshaw were the try-scorers as the Roughyeds gained a bit of breathing space. Tyson and Grimshaw’s tries were scored while the visitors were down to 12 men after Gibson was sent to the sin-bin. Unfortunately for Haydock, Oldham kept the pressure on after the interval and four more tries went their way. Lepori, Joe Burke, Kieran Gill and Adam Clay all crossed before Haydock registered their third try of the game in the last minute. Steve Jones’ four pointer was met with a great reception from the visiting fans, who will have been happy with how their side performed.

Key Battle

The battle of the prop forwards will be a good one to keep an eye out for as Oldham come to West Yorkshire with a great pack who can cause problems to any side. Adam Neal and Ben Davies were the starting props against Haydock while Michael Ward and Joe Burke were the options from the bench. Ward had a great season for the Roughyeds last season while the club was strengthened in the winter with the signings of Neal and Davies from Sheffield and Whitehaven respectively. Batley will be in good spirits after their win over Toulouse last weekend and James Brown’s return to the team saw him get on the scoresheet from the bench. Adam Gledhill and Alex Rowe were named as the starting front-rowers while fellow prop Tom Lillycrop got an appearance at scrum-half due to injuries. It had the desired effect, obviously!

Prediction

Oldham suffered narrow defeats against London Broncos and Featherstone Rovers earlier on in the season so they will be hoping it’ll be third time lucky against another team who finished in the division’s top four last year. The Bulldogs will know that their home form will be key to replicating their success of 2016 and they can’t afford to be losing these sort of games if they want to do that –  Batley by 12

 

Bradford Bulls v Dewsbury Rams – The two teams who currently sit in the relegation zone go head to head on Sunday as Bradford Bulls welcome Dewsbury Rams to the Provident Stadium. The Bulls were knocked out of the Challenge Cup last weekend by Featherstone Rovers while Dewsbury Rams picked up their first competitive win of 2017 with a 36-8 win over Newcastle Thunder.

Last Time Out

Bradford Bulls exited the Challenge Cup as Featherstone Rovers came out 21-13 winners. There wasn’t much separating the two teams at the break with Featherstone 6-0 up thank to a Josh Hardcastle try in the fifth minute. After the break, Evan Hodgson levelled matters with a converted score before drop-goals from Rovers’ Kyle Briggs and Bradford’s Joe Keyes made it 7-7 in the final quarter. Former Bull Jason Walton put his side back in front before a penalty goal from Briggs made it a two score game. The result was put beyond doubt with five minutes to go as Ian Hardman touched down. A consolation score from Johnny Campbell then followed, with the Bulls already condemned to defeat.

Dewsbury Rams beat Newcastle Thunder 36-8 at the Tetley’s Stadium to set up a fifth round tie with Heavy Woollen neighbours Batley Bulldogs. The Rams led 26-4 at the break after tries from Paul Sykes, Aaron Ollett, Brandon Douglas and Dale Morton. Sykes also kicked a penalty goal as Dewsbury gained full control of the tie. Newcastle’s only try of the first half came with two minutes remaining through Tyler Craig. The second half saw just three tries scored and it was Ollett who got the ball rolling as he completed his brace just before the hour mark. Derrell Olpherts replied for Newcastle before the final try of the contest went the way of Dewsbury’s James Glover.

Key Battle

Two of the division’s most talented full-backs will face each other at the weekend as Johnny Campbell goes up against Josh Guzdek. Guzdek made a brilliant impact in his first season at Dewsbury and was nominated for the league’s Young Player of the Year but lost out to London hooker James Cunningham. The former Hull KR junior has the ability to turn Dewsbury’s fortunes around but he will have a tough afternoon trying to outshine Johnny Campbell. Campbell’s best years came at Batley when he starred in their 2013 side which got to the Grand Final. His ability to go airborne to finish tries provides excellent entertainment and he will be a big part of this Bulls side who are bidding to survive in the second tier.

Prediction

Bradford have won three out of their last four league games and their recent form has certainly gave fans more belief that their side can stay up. Dewsbury are yet to pick up a point in this season’s Championship but last week’s cup win, albeit against lower league opposition, will have sparked some confidence in the camp and they will travel to Bradford with hope of getting off the mark – Bradford by 18

Featherstone Rovers v Toulouse Olympique – It’s second v third at the Big Fellas Stadium on Sunday as Featherstone Rovers take on Toulouse Olympique. Both sides have good starts to their respective campaigns, with the Rovers picking up five wins from six while Toulouse have one less than their English opponents. Featherstone’s victory over Bradford Bulls in the Challenge Cup has set up a tie against Oldham in round five while Toulouse were knocked out of the competition by Batley Bulldogs.

Last Time Out

Featherstone Rovers booked their place in the next round of the Challenge Cup with a 21-13 win against Bradford Bulls at the Provident Stadium. Jon Sharp’s side led 6-0 at half-time thanks to a Josh Hardcastle try but Evan Hodgson levelled matters minutes after the restart. A drop-goal apiece from Kyle Briggs and Joe Keyes made it 7-7 before Jason Walton regained Featherstone’s lead with his side’s second try of the afternoon. A Briggs penalty, followed by an Ian Hardman try sealed the win for the visitors. Johnny Campbell then scored a consolation try late in the day for the Bulls.

Toulouse Olympique’s Challenge Cup stint ended in round four as Batley Bulldogs prevailed 34-16 at Stade Arnaune. Olympique were 18-6 down at the break as Nicolas Bianchini’s try for the French side was overshadowed by four pointers from Batley’s Sam Smeaton, Danny Cowling and Dave Scott. In the second half, a quick Bulldogs double-salvo seemed to put the game to bed as James Brown and Dane Manning both touched down. Tries either side of the hour mark from Maxime Puech and Justin Bouscayrol cut the deficit to 14 points but Smeaton put gloss on the final scoreline with his second try of the game four minutes from time.

Key Battle

John Davies showed off his skill set at the weekend as the back-rower started at hooker, with Sam Day coming off the bench as his replacement. Davies is a model of consistency for Featherstone and is always a safe pair of hands when it comes to taking the ball in. Day has been in the Rovers ranks for a while now and has shown glimpses of quality but in a competitive squad, he hasn’t had extended game time to show his full worth. Toulouse had a weakened team out against Batley but Kane Bentley started at hooker, with Christopher Denis on the bench. Denis has made two appearances in the league so far this season, the same amount as Bentley. Mourad Kriouache has been a replacement hooker for Toulouse while Anthony Marion, who has played five matches, has filled in at dummy-half despite being a scrum-half by trade. Sylvain Houles has an array of options to choose from and whoever is picked needs to be on form to counteract a quality outfit in Featherstone.

Prediction

Toulouse picked up their first away win in controversial circumstances against Halifax in round five before seeing off Swinton in their last league match. Their away form will still be questioned even though they have got that monkey off their back. Featherstone have been far from spectacular in their two home matches this season so they will be vying for an 80 minute performance to please their fans – Featherstone by 16

Hull Kingston Rovers v Halifax – Can Halifax stop the Hull Kingston Rovers juggernaut from picking up their seventh consecutive league victory? Tim Sheens’ side have adapted to Championship life perfectly and they’re sitting pretty at the top of the table. They progressed in the Challenge Cup at the weekend too, with a comfortable win over Sheffield Eagles. Halifax, meanwhile, have won three from their last four in the league and are also through to the next round of the cup despite an unconvincing 20-6 win against Hunslet.

Last Time Out

Hull Kinston Rovers beat Sheffield Eagles 48-10 at KCOM Craven Park to progress in the Challenge Cup. The East Yorkshire club were only 18-10 up at the break and finished the half with 12 men after Ben Cockayne was sin-binned. Tries from Thomas Minns, Shaun Lunt and Adam Quinlan helped the Robins to a two score advantage after Sheffield’s four pointers came courtesy of Dane Chisholm and Garry Lo. In the second half, Lunt completed his brace before Maurice Blair and Cockayne both touched down either side of the hour mark. Two more tries in the final quarter from Jamie Ellis and James Greenwood gave the scoreline a more dominant look as the Robins bobbed on to the next round.

Halifax were made to work for their victory over League 1 side Hunslet at the MBi Shay. Richard Marshall’s men went into half-time 10-0 up thanks to tries from Ed Barber and Chester Butler, the latter’s score causing a few complains to be made by Hunslet players as they claimed James Woodburn-Hall had knocked on into Butler’s hands. After the restart, Steve Tyrer kicked two penalty goals to make it a three score game before Ryan Ince cut the deficit to eight points with a try on 70 minutes. Rob Worrincy’s try moments before the end made sure there wasn’t to be a nervy finish.

Key Battle

Maurice Blair, James Greenwood and James Donaldson have been ever-present for Hull KR this term and the trio have crossed the whitewash eight times between themselves. Donaldson has been the pick of the bunch with five tries to his name and a couple of Man of the Match performances. Greame Horne also made an appearance from the bench for Hull KR and he is another player that typifies the quality and experience that the Robins have in their squad. Halifax went with Shane Grady, Ed Barber and Elliot Morris in the back-row against Hunslet while Luke Nelmes and Chris Cullimore gave the side options from the interchange. Grady made his name as a centre for the Rams but he has been deployed as a back-rower in his short time with Halifax. Coach Marshall’s tendency to give young players a chance has also reared its head with Morris, Nelmes and Cullimore all featuring last week, the latter on debut.

Prediction

After beating London Broncos in their last league match, you’ve got to imagine that Halifax will go into this weekend with confidence. Former KR man Scott Murrell will be excited for a return to East Yorkshire and with the potential to ruin their perfect start to the season, it wouldn’t be much of a surprise to see him roll back the years. However, Tim Sheens has got his side playing well and they’re currently scoring over 42 points per game. Will Halifax find a way to stop the rampant Robins? – Hull KR by 24

London Broncos v Rochdale Hornets – Both of these teams suffered defeats to League 1 clubs in the fourth round of the Challenge Cup but who will bounce back at the first time of asking? London were beaten by Toronto Wolfpack while Rochdale lost to York City Knights. However, this league match is between fourth-placed London and fifth-placed Rochdale. Two sides who are very much on the right track. It has the potential to be a cracking tie, despite their cup misdemeanours.

Last Time Out

London Broncos became the first second tier team to lose to Toronto Wolfpack in a competitive fixture. The transatlantic trailblazers ran out 30-26 winners despite a late fightback from the Broncos. London were 18-6 down at the break, and they faced a 10-0 deficit after just eight minutes following tries from Craig Hall and Liam Kay. Jarrod Sammut responded with a converted score for the capital club but the final try of the half went to former Bronco Jack Bussey. In the second period, William Barthau cut the deficit to six points with a 45th minute try before Toronto claimed the next two tries as they looked to seal the win. Jonny Pownall and Rhys Jacks bagged four pointers either side of the hour mark to put their team 30-12 in front. London then scored three tries without reply but only one of those was converted as they fell short with their comeback attempt. Sammut, Elliot Kear and Kieran Dixon were the try-scorers but it wasn’t meant to be for the Broncos.

Rochdale Hornets suffered a 26-20 loss against York City Knights at Bootham Crescent. The visitors from the Championship were 20-12 down at the break after York came firing out of the blocks to go 14-0 ahead. Ed Smith and Joe Batchelor both notched converted tries inside 18 minutes while Harry Tyson-Wilson, who had a perfect record with the boot, kicked a penalty. Miles Greenwood and Chris Riley both responded with a try apiece for the Hornets as they eased the pain slightly. Two more tries after the restart, from Rob Massam and Riley, levelled the scores at 20-20 on the hour. A moment of magic from Jon Presley to send Bobby Tyson-Wilson to the whitewash ended up separating the two teams as the Knights progressed to face Barrow Raiders in the fifth round.

Key Battle

The Broncos back-row had a tough job last week as they took on Toronto, and their array of talented forwards including Andrew Dixon and James Laithwaite. Daniel Harrison, Jay Pitts and Matty Gee were the back-rowers for London while Matt Garside came off the bench. They will be looking to provide a positive response after their exit from the cup but Rochdale are a team that have kept on surprising their critics and will be aiming to do so again. The absence of Gary Middlehurst will have hit the Hornets hard but the return of Jono Smith is certainly a positive for Alan Kilshaw’s men. Smith starred for North Wales when they were in the Championship and now he has the chance to do the same for Rochdale. Josh Crowley and Jordan Case were also in the back-row against York, and both have played in every league game so far this year. The consistency in the squad is key and some of their eye-catching results have shown that.

Prediction  

Rochdale have kept coming up with impressive performances in the league this season and their current league position is no fluke. The quality they have can test any team in the competition and if London don’t perform to their usual standard, then the Hornets can nick this one. But the Broncos, on home turf, will be the favourites and after losing to Halifax in their last league match they will be eager to get back to winning ways – London by 14

 

Swinton Lions v Sheffield Eagles – Sheffield Eagles take on Swinton Lions this weekend, in hope of finding their second victory of the Championship season. Both sides have one win to their name, with Sheffield in tenth and Swinton one place above them by virtue of points difference. The Lions booked their place in the fifth round of the Challenge Cup with a 40-8 win over London Skolars while Sheffield were beaten 48-10 by Hull Kingston Rovers.

Last Time Out

Swinton Lions safely progressed to the next round of the Challenge Cup as they beat London Skolars. Despite the rather one sided final score of 40-8, the Lions only led 10-0 at the break thanks to a Shaun Robinson double. After the restart, Mike Butt and Grant Gore both got on the scoresheet to extend their side’s lead to 22 points before Sam Nash replied with London’s opening score of the game. Gore, Anthony Nicholson and Andy Bracek all added four pointers in the space of six minutes to seal the win before Nash completed his brace in the latter stages of the contest.

Sheffield Eagles’ stint in the Challenge Cup proved short-lived as fellow Championship club Hull Kingston Rovers triumphed at KCOM Craven Park. The Eagles went down 48-10 but were only eight points down at the break, which will have pleased the visiting fans. Thomas Minns and Shaun Lunt got the ball rolling for the Robins with a try apiece before Dane Chisholm replied for Sheffield on 22 minutes. Adam Quinlan restored the hosts’ two score advantage soon after but the Eagles were proving stiff opposition and when Ben Cockayne was sin-binned for a high tackle, Mark Aston’s men were ready to capitalise. Garry Lo cut the deficit to 18-10 with his side’s second try of proceedings. In the second half, though, all the scoring was one way traffic as Sheffield failed to add any more points while Hull KR registered five tries. Lunt, Maurice Blair and Cockayne all touched down before Jamie Ellis and James Greenwood rounded things off in style with a try apiece.

Key Battle

Chris Hankinson and Mike Butt filled the centre positions for Swinton at the weekend against London, with the former getting on the scoresheet to stake his claim for a permanent spot in the side. Butt and Hankinson both crossed the whitewash against Toulouse and they’ll be hoping to do the same against Sheffield at Heywood Rod on Sunday. There’s been a lot of chopping and changing in the Eagles team over the first few months of the season, with coach Aston looking to find the right formula. Menzie Yere and Eze Harper were the centres against Hull KR, both giving different qualities to the team. Yere has been known for his short range tries while being able to break the line in any part of the field while Harper is a tall presence who can be a threat when targeted with cross-field kicks. It’ll be interesting to see who gets the nod in the centres as the Eagles look to put their bad form behind them and start picking up some good results.

Prediction

Swinton have been competitive in every game they’ve played this season and their home form has seen them come close to victories against London Broncos and Bradford Bulls. If they can play some good rugby, which they’ve shown they’re capable of, for longer periods in a match then it’ll be hard for Sheffield to deal with them. The Eagles have leaked over 40 points in their last five games and that is a worrying stat ahead of this weekend. Everyone knows about the danger men Sheffield have in their ranks but if the defence keeps conceding soft tries then there’s only going to be one winner – Swinton by 12