Bradford Bulls v Halifax – Bradford Bulls welcome Halifax to the Provident Stadium on Good Friday as Leigh Beattie’s men aim for their sixth win to eradicate their -12 points deduction. The Bulls’ last gasp loss to Oldham in round eight was put to the back of everybody’s mind on Sunday as the West Yorkshire club beat Sheffield Eagles 48-16. Halifax defeated the winless Dewsbury Rams at MBi Shay to move into the top four after London Broncos’ loss to Featherstone Rovers.
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James Bentley was the star of the show for Bradford Bulls against Sheffield Eagles as the young back-rower scored four tries to help his side to a 48-16 win. Ethan Ryan and Bentley got the ball rolling for the Bulls with a try apiece inside ten minutes before Will Hope responded with a four pointer of his own for Sheffield. Menzie Yere was sin-binned for a dangerous tackle on Johnny Campbell and Bradford took advantage with two tries before the break. Ross Oakes and Bentley both touched down as the Bulls held a 24-6 lead. In the second period, Daniel Murray showed great strength to touch down despite heavy pressure from the Eagles. A Ben Blackmore double cut the deficit to 14 points but Bradford didn’t panic and ended up scoring three more tries before the end of the tie. Bentley notched a second half brace before Campbell finished the scoring off with the final try of the contest.
Halifax beat Dewsbury Rams 34-6 but didn’t have things go all their own way, especially in the first half. Dom Speakman broke the deadlock after five minutes for the Rams, who held the lead for most of the opening 40. James Saltonstall’s converted try levelled matters in the final minute of the first half. After the restart, Halifax took control as Simon Grix touched down to give his side the lead and they didn’t look back from there. A Steve Tyrer brace, as well as tries from Rob Worrincy and Adam Tangata, made sure that Fax would go into the Easter period in the division’s top four.
Oscar Thomas had a great game for Bradford in round nine and his current form sees him playing some good rugby. In the past, Thomas has played in the halves but now he looks to have found his best position as his energy and sharp passing from full-back causes problems for defences. Thomas will go up against a tricky customer on Friday, in the shape of Will Sharp. Sharp was electric on the wing for Featherstone Rovers before making the move to Halifax last season, where he has found a starting spot at full-back although Ben Johnston is also capable of playing there. At full tilt, Sharp is one of the fastest backs in the league and he has the ability to break tackles and score breakaway tries in an instant. If he can show the confidence he had when playing for Rovers, then Fax have a superb player on their hands.
A tough one to call with both teams looking in good shape and raring for a tough Easter schedule. Bradford weren’t at their best against Sheffield but still managed to come out on top quite convincingly while Halifax had to work against the Rams before the floodgates opened. Bradford’s young contingent will go into the game with confidence while the likes of Leon Pryce and Scott Moore will play a big part in keeping their feet on the ground – Bradford by 10
Dewsbury Rams v Batley Bulldogs – The first Heavy Woollen derby of the season has a different feel to it this season. Dewsbury have had eight straight league defeats and are desperate for a win. The Rams parted company with coach Glenn Morrison and replaced him with Neil Kelly, who did wonders for the Rams in his last stint between 1996-2001. Meanwhile, Batley sit fifth in the table and go into this match after a superb comeback against Rochdale Hornets on home turf. Despite contrasting fortunes between the clubs, when derby day comes around who knows what may happen?
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Dewsbury Rams lost 34-6 against Halifax in round nine, despite a good effort in the first half which saw the sides go in all square at 6-6. In the opening arrears, Dom Speakman put Dewsbury ahead with the opening try and their lead stayed intact right up until the last minute of the half when James Saltonstall’s converted try levelled matters. In the second half, Simon Grix put the hosts in front for the first time before Rob Worrincy extended the lead in the final quarter. Steve Tyrer bagged a brace before Adam Tangata touched down for the final try of the contest soon after.
Batley Bulldogs performed a near miracle job to beat Rochdale Hornets 38-36 at the Fox’s Biscuits Stadium. At 36-12 down with with just over 20 minutes to play, the game looked over and done with until the Bulldogs – attacking down the slope in the second half – found a few extra gears which certainly caught the Hornets off guard. The Bulldogs scored three tries in the first period but were 22-12 down at the break. Macauley Hallett scored twice while fellow centre Sam Smeaton also got on the scoresheet. Dom Brambani was off target with all of his conversion attempts. Rob Massam, Harvey Livett, Benjamin Jullien and Lewis Galbraith all touched down for the visitors, who ended the first half with 12 men after Jono Smith was sin-binned. The second half saw things get even better for Rochdale when Matty Hadden crossed before Livett kicked a penalty following a high tackle from James Brown. The Bulldogs forward was sin-binned and he was off the field when Jack Johnson scored Rochdale’s sixth try of the game to make it 36-12 after 55 minutes. Smeaton and Will Maher started to cut the deficit with four pointers either side of the hour mark before Hadden was sin-binned for a professional foul with eight minutes to go. At this point, Batley were still 36-22 down but a quick-fire double from Shaun Ainscough put Matt Diskin’s men within striking distance. And they did strike. Tom Lillycrop bundled his way over the whitewash to draw the sides level and Brambani added the two points, which proved to be the difference.
Paul Sykes and Ashley Gibson were the centres for Dewsbury against Halifax at the weekend, and neither were able to breach the Halifax try-line. Sykes kicked one goal as the Rams fell to another defeat. The match against Halifax was Gibson’s first on dual-registration from Wakefield and whether or not Neil Kelly will select him for the derby remains to be seen. Whoever is picked in the centre slots will have a tough afternoon against Batley’s Macauley Hallett and Sam Smeaton. Hallett had a brilliant season with Swinton in 2016 and that caught the eye of the Bulldogs, who snapped up the former Hull KR junior and he has impressed so far. Smeaton is a seasoned campaigner in the Championship and after playing in successful teams at Featherstone and Sheffield, it certainly helps Batley to have such a player in their ranks. Both Hallett and Smeaton scored twice in the Bulldogs’ comeback win over Rochdale and they’ll be hoping to bring more of the same to the table against Dewsbury.
Neil Kelly’s return to the Rams is a timely boost for the club who were in need of some good news. Now they have their former Grand Final winning coach on board, the attention turns to the pitch as the Rams aim to retain their Championship status for another season. A win against Batley Bulldogs, their nearest rivals, would certainly lift confidence and spirit around the club. The Bulldogs will have to keep their eye on the ball for 80 minutes and that will be the call from Matt Diskin, who was unhappy with his side despite the comeback against Rochdale – Batley by 18
Hull Kingston Rovers v Featherstone Rovers – It’s first v third at KCOM Craven Park on Friday as Hull Kingston Rovers take on Featherstone Rovers. Hull KR have won all nine of their matches so far this season while Featherstone have only lost twice and are on the same amount of points as second-placed Toulouse. This will be a good acid test for both teams and it may well be one of the top games of the Easter period.
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Hull Kingston Rovers beat Swinton Lions 52-18 at Heywood Road. James Donaldson starred for the Robins with a hat-trick from second-row, taking him to the top of the division’s try charts. The visitors led 26-12 at the break thanks tor tries from David Hodgson, Jordan Abdull, Jamie Ellis, Zach Dockar-Clay and Donaldson. Ben White bagged a brace for the Lions before Mike Butt crossed the whitewash. In the second period, Hull KR sealed the win in style as they scored five tries without reply. Donaldson scored a second half brace to complete his hat-trick while Will Oakes, Nick Scruton and Ryan Shaw all touched down as the Robins ran away with the win. Anthony Bate provided a consolation for the hosts in the last minute.
Featherstone Rovers beat fellow Qualifiers-chasing rivals London Broncos 38-18 at the Big Fellas Stadium. Even though Featherstone were 18-6 up at the break, they didn’t get off to the best of starts as Anthony Thackeray was sin-binned for a trip on Api Pewhairangi. Jarrod Sammut capitalised on his side’s numerical advantage by scoring the opener. Thackeray returned to the fold and made an instant impact as he assisted a John Davies try. Chris Ulugia put the hosts ahead for the first time in the match on 29 minutes before Cory Aston kicked a penalty goal, making amends for missing the conversion. Aston, who has had a great start to life at Featherstone after joining on loan from Leeds Rhinos, notched a converted try of his own to make the half-time score 18-6. In the second half, Junior Roqica cut the deficit to six points before Featherstone restored their healthy advantage thanks to an Andy Bostock four pointer. Ulugia and James Cunningham exchanged tries for Rovers and Broncos prior to a penalty goal from Aston. In the dying embers of the game, London’s Lewis Foster was sin-binned and Featherstone’s Luke Briscoe crossed for the final try.
Zach Dockar-Clay made a perfect start to his Hull Kingston Rovers career by scoring a try on debut against Swinton Lions on Sunday. The former junior Kiwi came on in place of Shaun Lunt and his powerful running out of dummy-half was evident from the off. A lovely dummy saw him cross the whitewash in front of the visiting Robins fans and he will be wanting to provide more of the same on Friday. Featherstone have talent in their hooking ranks too, with former Hull KR man Keal Carlile a regular fixture in the side. Matty Wildie was on the bench for the Rovers against London and he brings another good option at dummy-half, or even in the halves if needed.
Hull KR have been on fire throughout the start of this season and it will take a mammoth effort for them to be stopped in their tracks. The strength in depth they have in their squad is the best in the league and you won’t get many doubting that. Moving on to their opponents, Featherstone have that mix of youth and experience which many teams wish for. Jon Sharp’s recruitment in the off-season was terrific and the likes of Richard Moore, Frankie Mariano and Michael Knowles have bolstered the forward pack. The West Yorkshire club will travel to KCOM Craven Park and really fancy themselves against a KR side who have been too strong for many teams this season – Hull KR by 18
London Broncos v Toulouse Olympique – London Broncos will be looking to get back on track against Toulouse Olympique at Trailfinders Sports Ground on Good Friday. The Broncos are on a rough patch at the minute after two losses in a row and things don’t get much easier, with second-placed Toulouse visiting the capital. Sylvain Houles’ men kickstarted the action in round nine with a 58-18 win over Oldham at State Ernest Argeles. Their home form is impeccable and they’re starting to get results on the road too. Will they inflict more misery on the Broncos?
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London Broncos were beaten 38-18 by Featherstone Rovers at the Big Fellas Stadium. The visitors got off to a good start as Jarrod Sammut opened the scoring for the Broncos, minutes after Featherstone’s Anthony Thackeray was sin-binned for a trip. Thackeray returned to the fold with his side 6-0 down but he started to make amends immediately as he laid on a try for John Davies. Chris Ulugia put the West Yorkshire side ahead on 29 minutes before Cory Aston, who missed the conversion, kicked a penalty goal. Aston then scored a converted try of his own to send Featherstone into half-time 18-6 up. After the break, Junior Roqica notched the first try of the second period before Featherstone started to take control. Aston kicked a penalty goal before Andy Bostock touched down to make it a three score game. Ulugia and James Cunningham swapped scores for the hosts and visitors respectively before Aston added another penalty to his tally. Broncos loanee Lewis Foster was sin-binned soon after, leaving Luke Briscoe to capitalise for the final try of the afternoon.
Toulouse Olympique secured yet another comprehensive home victory, this time against Oldham. Stan Robin, Johnathan Ford and Greg White all notched braces as the French side triumphed 58-18. Sylvain Houles’ side were 36-0 up at the break thanks to braces from Robin and Ford as well as tries from White and Mark Kheirallah. Kheirallah converted all six tries. Oldham started to cut the deficit with two tries without reply to start the second half in great fashion. Kieran Gill and Joe Burke were the try-scorers but the Roughyeds were unable to stop Toulouse down the other end as they also scored twice before the hour mark. Paul Marcon and White both crossed the whitewash before Oldham claimed their last try of the game through Richard Lepori. Prop forwards Clement Boyer and Bastien Canet helped themselves to a try apiece before the end of the game as Toulouse ran away with two more competition points.
London Broncos will face arguably the most dangerous half-back partnership in the league on Friday. Stan Robin and Johnathan Ford have scored a total of eight tries this year, the same as Jarrod Sammut alone, but they both have something special which makes Toulouse such a hard team to play against. Robin had a brief glimpse of Championship rugby when on loan at Sheffield Eagles last season and his running game, including some dazzling footwork, is a defence’s worst nightmare. The overly used phrase ‘game management’ is where Ford fits in. He leads the team around the park well and he oozes quality so it’s no wonder he won League 1 Player of the Year in 2016. However, as previously mentioned, the Broncos have some lethal weapons in their arsenal too. Sammut is a maverick half-back who knows his way to the try-line better than most. He is similar to Robin in that way but he has had a range of players alongside him this year, including William Barthau and Api Pewhairangi. Injuries are bound to happen in the sport so when they come in such an important area, it’s hard to get consistency and this has been the case with London. Although they’re still in touching distance of the top four, they need to start getting more points on the board.
The Broncos will know that Toulouse had trouble playing away from home at the start of the year but they do seem to have settled down a lot more. If London can play to their potential and throw the ball out to the three-quarters with intent then they can beat anyone on their day. Toulouse will look forward to playing on the artificial surface in Ealing as it suits their style of play. With Stan Robin and Johnathan Ford pulling the strings, they’re a hard team to stop in full flow. Will the Broncos be able to halt Toulouse? It’ll be worth going to watch it to find out, that’s for sure! – Toulouse by 16
Oldham v Swinton Lions – After they both stayed up in their first season back in the Championship, Oldham and Swinton Lions currently sit outside of the relegation zone once again heading into the Easter period. Oldham are ninth while Swinton are tenth, the former being three points ahead and also having a game in hand. For the Lions, this is an ideal tie as they look to cut the gap on the Roughyeds while moving further away from Dewsbury Rams and Bradford Bulls, who occupy the bottom two spots.
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Oldham were taught a harsh lesson by Toulouse Olympique at Stade Ernest Argeles. Scott Naylor’s men were beaten 58-18 and went into half-time 36-0 down. Stan Robin and Johnathan Ford both scored first half braces while Greg White and Mark Kheirallah also got in on the act with a try apiece. In the second half, Oldham came out of the blocks well and notched the opening two tries through Kieran Gill and Joe Burke. There were still four scores between the sides and any hope of a comeback was put to bed when Paul Marcon and White crossed the whitewash within minutes of each other. Richard Lepori bagged Oldham’s third try of the match before Clement Boyer and Bastien Canet rounded the game off nicely for Olympique by scoring a try each.
Swinton Lions lost 52-18 to Hull Kingston Rovers at Heywood Road. The Lions scored three tries in the first half and were leading for a short time before the Robins crossed the whitewash three times themselves. David Hodgson and Jordan Abdull scored a try apiece to give their side a great start to the match before Swinton responded. Ben White notched a brace before Mike Butt touched down to put the Lions ahead. Three missed conversions from Chris Hankinson didn’t help Swinton’s cause and their slender lead was eradicated with tries from Jamie Ellis, Zach Dockar-Clay and James Donaldson. Hull KR were 26-12 up at the break but had their backs against the wall early in the second half as Swinton applied pressure to their defensive line. Unfortunately for John Duffy’s men, they couldn’t break through and their East Yorkshire opponents capitalised with five consecutive tries. Donaldson crossed for a second half brace to complete his hat-trick while Will Oakes, Nick Scruton and Ryan Shaw all added four pointers. Anthony Bate scored a consolation effort in the dying embers of the tie for Swinton.
Both forward packs had a tough time of it in round nine against the current top two teams in the division. Oldham started with Jack Spencer and Adam Neal in the front-row against Toulouse, whose starting props of Clement Boyer and Bastien Canet ended up on the scoresheet. Michael Ward and Joe Burke were the front-row replacements off the bench for Oldham, and the latter crossed the try-line in the second half. Swinton selected Andy Bracek and Josh Barlow as the starting props against Hull KR, who went with Nick Scruton and Josh Johnson. Rob Lever and Anthony Bate provided backup from the bench for the Lions, who will be wanting to make amends for their defeat last weekend. Both Oldham and Swinton have good front-row options and the battle between the packs should be entertaining and rather well-matched.
Oldham return to home turf for the first time since their brilliant win against Bradford Bulls in round eight. Kieran Gill’s last gasp try stole the win for Scott Naylor’s side, who won’t be wanting to leave it as late this time around. Swinton have one victory to their name but have been on the receiving end of some tough results. They have lost by ten points or less on five occasions this season which shows they’re not far off where they need to be. If they can just get on the right side of the scoreline against Oldham, maybe their fortunes will take a good turn? – Swinton by 12
Rochdale Hornets v Sheffield Eagles – Sheffield Eagles travel to the Crown Oil Arena on Friday as they take on Rochdale Hornets, who have impressed critics in their first season back in the Championship. Alan Kilshaw’s men currently sit seventh, one place above Sheffield, and they had a great chance to improve on their points tally last weekend but ended up letting a large lead slip against Batley Bulldogs. Meanwhile, Sheffield were beaten by Bradford Bulls in a game where the South Yorkshire club were indecisive in attack with forward passes and knock-ons constantly halting them.
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Rochdale Hornets suffered a 38-36 loss against Batley Bulldogs at the Fox’s Biscuits Stadium despite being 36-12 up in the final quarter. The Hornets had two men sin-binned during the game and conceded 18 points while they were off the field. Late on in the game, Batley notched three tries in the space of as many minutes to turn the game around completely to the delight of the home crowd. The Hornets were 22-12 up at the break after tries from Rob Massam, Harvey Livett, Benjamin Jullien and Lewis Galbraith. Macauley Hallett scored a double for the hosts and Sam Smeaton also got on the scoresheet but Dominic Brambani couldn’t add the extras to any of the three scores. Hallett’s second try came while Jono Smith was in the sin-bin for a high tackle. In the second half, Matty Hadden extended Rochdale’s advantage with his side’s fifth try of the game before Batley’s James Brown was sin-binned for a high shot. Livett kicked a penalty goal to make it 30-12 to the Hornets prior to Jack Johnson and Smeaton exchanging tries for both sides. In the final 20 minutes of the contest, Batley scored four tries to steal the victory. Will Maher started the comeback by crossing the whitewash on 62 minutes and when Hadden was sin-binned for a professional foul in the latter stages of the game, Batley were smelling blood. Shaun Ainscough registered a quick-fire double to cut the deficit to just four points and the hopeful Batley fans didn’t have to wait long to see the winner. On the next set, Tom Lillycrop powered down the Mount Pleasant slope to touch down next to the sticks. Brambani’s third conversion of the match proved decisive, to the heartbreak of the Hornets.
Sheffield Eagles had a bad day at the office as they were defeated 48-16 by a James Bentley inspired Bradford Bulls. Second-rower Bentley scored four tries, one more than the Eagles team, to help the Bulls move closer to a positive point total in the Championship. Ethan Ryan and Bentley both scored inside the opening ten minutes to get the hosts off to a flying start. The Eagles didn’t collapse after the early pressure, though, and they got on the scoresheet through Will Hope. When Menzie Yere was sin-binned for a dangerous tackle on Johnny Campbell, Bradford seized the initiative. Ross Oakes and Bentley touched down in quick succession to give Leigh Beattie’s men a 24-6 half-time lead. After the restart, Daniel Murray muscled his way over the line to extend Bradford’s advantage and that ultimately put the game beyond doubt although the Eagles responded well. Ben Blackmore scored twice without reply but there was still three scores between the teams and the Bulls never looked like relinquishing their strong position. Bentley added two more tries to his tally before the final hooter sounded and Campbell also got in on the act as he raced away after the hosts made another break.
Benjamin Jullien was called upon by Rochdale last weekend, as part of the dual-registration deal in place with Warrington Wolves. The centre, who can also play in the back-row, scored a try against Batley but was unable to help the Hornets keep hold of their lead. In the other centre slot, Lewis Galbraith also crossed the whitewash so despite the defeat both players, if selected, are in decent attacking form. Jake Spedding and Menzie Yere were the centres for Sheffield in their last match and neither got on the scoresheet. Spedding has played a part in the Eagles’ recent upturn in form, striking up a decent partnership with Ben Blackmore who scored twice against Bradford. Everybody knows about Yere’s quality as he’s been the thorn in many defences side for a good number of years now. His power from short range speaks for itself and every side will have a plan in how to deal with the PNG international.
Both sides will be wanting to improve on their league positions over the Easter period and with one position separating the pair, this match should be a good one. Rochdale have not won in their last five matches in all competitions, which includes a 26-20 defeat to York City Knights in the Challenge Cup. Last weekend’s defeat will have been a massive sucker punch for the players to deal with but they will be striving to come back stronger and get back on track. Sheffield will be hoping their loss to Bradford was just a blip after going into the game with two consecutive victories under their belt – Sheffield by 8
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