Kingstone Press Championship Round 17 Preview

Saturday..

Toulouse Olympique v Rochdale Hornets – Toulouse Olympique return to home turf after a successful couple of weeks in England. The French club beat Halifax at Summer Bash before grinding out a tough victory against Batley Bulldogs in round 16. They’ve won their last three matches and they’ll be looking to extend that run to four when Rochdale Hornets come to Stade Ernest Argeles on Saturday. The Hornets’ last visit to Toulouse saw them gain promotion at the first time of asking as they produced a stunning performance to beat Olympique. Will we see a repeat?

Last Time Out

Toulouse Olympique were made to work for their 28-20 victory over Batley Bulldogs at the Fox’s Biscuits Stadium. Despite both sides coming into the game with contrasting fortunes following the Summer Bash, it was the Bulldogs – who had lost to local rivals Dewsbury in Blackpool – who led 14-6 at half-time. Stan Robin opened the scoring for Toulouse before Matt Diskin’s men hit back thanks to a brace from Wayne Reittie and a penalty goal courtesy of Dom Brambani. In the second half, Toulouse took the lead for the second time in the match as Paul Marcon and Anthony Marion struck in quick succession. But with only a two point lead, it was always going to be dangerous and Batley regained their advantage through a Shaun Ainscough try in the final quarter. However, four pointers from Con Mika and Kane Bentley sealed the two competition points for Olympique.

Rochdale Hornets lost 38-14 away at Sheffield Eagles as Garry Lo starred for the hosts with five tries. It was Lo who opened the scoring on six minutes before doubling his tally later on in the half. Both tries went unconverted, meaning Jono Smith’s four pointer – improved on by Lewis Palfrey – saw the Hornets go into half-time 8-6 down. But in the second period, the Eagles scored three tries in the space of nine minutes to create some much needed breathing space. Lo completed his hat-trick before Menzie Yere and Jack Owens both crossed the whitewash. Elliot Minchella extended the Eagles’ lead soon after but Rochdale did find a response – two of them in fact – as Rob Massam scored a quick-fire brace. But quite fittingly, the final say went to Lo who scored two tries in succession to compound the Hornets’ misery.

Key Battle

Rochdale Hornets may miss six players for their trip to Toulouse, five due to injuries and Jo Taira who can’t travel because of visa issues. Gary Middlehurst, Lewis Palfrey, Chris Riley, Miles Greenwood and Ryan Maneely are all doubts for the game while Matty Blythe is expected to feature in Warrington Wolves’ squad. It will be a tough match for the Hornets pack, who are expected to challenge Toulouse’s boisterous forwards from first minute to last. Gavin Bennion started alongside Jo Taira in the front-row against Sheffield while Lee Mitchell and Matty Hadden were on the bench. Toulouse went with a bit more muscle in their pack against Batley, as prop forward Clement Boyer started at loose forward while Maxime Puech and Bastien Canet started in the front-row. Justin Sangare, Andrew Bentley and Kalausa Leha were the forwards on the bench but the star of the show for Toulouse was back-rower Con Mika, whose 64th minute try put Olympique back in the lead. If Rochdale can match the Toulouse forwards, they will have done a superb job as the French side have an array of fine players in the pack who may gain interest from Super League clubs.

Prediction  

Toulouse Olympique haven’t lost a home game in the league so far and that is something which will stand them in good stead ahead of the Qualifiers, should they make it. Sylvain Houles’ men will be wanting to keep up their stellar form at State Ernest Argeles and with Rochdale’s injury situation, it’s expected they will do just that – Toulouse by 26

Sunday..

 

Bradford Bulls v Featherstone Rovers – Bradford Bulls suffered a costly defeat against Dewsbury Rams in the last round of matches and things don’t get any easier for Leigh Beattie’s men as Featherstone Rovers are next up. The Rovers claimed a draw against Hull KR in their last game as they responded well from their Summer Bash loss to London Broncos

Last Time Out

Braces from Sam Day and Shaun Squires helped condemn Bradford Bulls to their 11th defeat of the Championship season as Dewsbury Rams triumphed 38-12. Day opened the scoring for the Rams before Bradford replied with two tries of their own thanks to Iliess Macani and James Bentley. Squires and Day added a four pointer apiece for the hosts, who went into half-time 16-12 up. Lucas Walshaw touched down to get the ball rolling again for Dewsbury before James Glover kicked a penalty goal in the aftermath of sin-binnings for the Rams’ Dale Morton and Bulls’ Oscar Thomas. Squires, Glover and Macauley Hallett all crossed the whitewash in the final quarter for Neil Kelly’s men.

Featherstone Rovers surrendered a 16-0 half-time lead to draw 20-20 against Hull Kingston Rovers at the LD Nutrition Stadium. Misi Taulapapa broke the deadlock for the West Yorkshire club after the Robins had Ben Kavanagh sin-binned for a late tackle. Michael Knowles kicked a penalty goal for the Rovers to put them 6-0 up before Jason Walton was sent through a gap in the defence to extend his side’s lead. Knowles was off target with the conversion but kicked another penalty to make amends. Featherstone’s Darrell Griffin and Hull KR’s Robbie Mulhern were both shown yellow cards before the half-time break and there was still time for the hosts to further their advantage through James Duckworth. Kieren Moss and Jordan Abdull both helped cut the deficit to just one score with quick-fire tries after the restart. Kyle Briggs stopped the bleeding for a short time as he kicked a penalty goal but Moss soon completed his brace and it was game on. With nine minutes remaining, Tim Sheens’ Rovers went ahead for the first time courtesy of Zach Dockar-Clay. However, their two point lead didn’t stay the course as Briggs kicked another penalty as the spoils were shared.

Key Battle

Injuries to Dane Chisholm and Joe Keyes have come at an awful time for Bradford Bulls, who are struggling to get off -2 points. Jordan Lilley and Keyes were the halves for Bradford against Dewsbury Rams, until the latter was taken off the field after a late tackle by Lucas Walshaw. Leigh Beattie had a decision to make with Oscar Thomas, a competent half-back. playing at full-back while Vila Halifihi, a hooker who could cover in the halves, was in at second-row. What decision the Bulls interim coach makes this weekend remains to be seen but they do need some creative spark in the halves or Featherstone’s defence will deal with any meagre attack easily. Anthony Thackeray and Matty Wildie were paired together for Featherstone’s draw against Hull KR, while Kyle Briggs made a return to action from the bench. Cory Aston and Thackeray had been playing some great rugby until the Summer Bash defeat to London Broncos, so Rovers boss Jon Sharp decided to shake up the team selection and it almost paid off to the tune of two competition points. The halves can certainly cause some damage and the Bulls will have to be on guard to stop the likes of Thackeray, who can mix up his kicking game by taking the ball to the line and piercing the defence with pace.

Prediction

Featherstone coach Sharp will have been disappointed at his side failing to work upon a brilliant first half performance against Hull KR. The Rovers have certainly shown what they’re capable of doing this year and with a Challenge Cup quarter-final against Leeds Rhinos to look forward to, it’s certainly a good time to be at the club. Meanwhile, Bradford are in need of a good stretch of results. It’s getting towards the backend of the season and if Swinton and Dewsbury keep picking up wins, the chance of Championship survival becomes bleaker for the Bulls – Featherstone by 20

 

London Broncos v Dewsbury Rams – London Broncos go into round 17 of the Kingstone Press Championship on the back of seven consecutive victories which has helped the capital club move four points clear of fifth-placed Halifax. Dewsbury Rams head to Trailfinders Sports Ground after picking up a vital victory against Bradford Bulls. However, Neil Kelly’s side are still two points adrift of safety, and tenth-placed Swinton Lions.

Last Time Out

London Broncos beat fellow top four contenders Halifax 34-6 at Trailfinders Sports Ground. Andrew Henderson’s men led 22-0 at the break after tries from Kieran Dixon, William Barthau, Andy Ackers, Rhys Williams and Jay Pitts. After the break, Ben Johnston registered Halifax’s only try of the game but it gave them some hope of a comeback at the time. However, Dixon and Mark Ioane bagged a four pointer each to seal the win for London who are in stellar form.

Dewsbury Rams won their second match on the spin by beating Bradford Bulls 38-12 at Tetley’s Stadium. Sam Day and Shaun Squires both notched braces and it was the former who broke the deadlock for the Rams. Iliess Macani and James Bentley responded for Bradford before Day and Squires both crossed the whitewash to put Dewsbury 16-12 up heading into the sheds. After the restart, Lucas Walshaw extended the hosts’ lead before both sides went down to 12 men thanks to sin-binnings for Dewsbury winger Dale Morton and Bradford full-back Oscar Thomas. James Glover kicked the resulting penalty before the final quarter, in which the Rams added three more scores. Squires and Glover touched down prior to Macauley Hallett marking his first game in Dewsbury colours with a try.

Key Battle

London’s forward pack has started to become more dominant as the season goes on. The introduction of Lewis Bienek to the match day squad has been a superb decision by Andrew Henderson, with the youngster impressing on every outing. Overseas forwards Mark Ioane and Junior Roqica have been big hits while Wales international Ben Evans has been solid. The Broncos have a talented squad of players, both in the pack and the backs, and no side has been able to stop them in the past seven weeks. Dewsbury have been improving and their pack stood up to a tough test against Bradford at the weekend. Similar to Bienek at London, Jack Teanby has come through the ranks at Dewsbury and is now a fixture in the Rams first team, and deservedly so. He partnered Jode Sheriffe in the front-row against the Bulls while Aaron Ollett, Toby Adamson and Billy Hayes were the forwards on the bench for Dewsbury. The battle of the forwards will be a good one to watch at the weekend as these two teams won’t be wanting their respective runs of form to end.

Prediction

Dewsbury have shown signs of life in the past couple of weeks, with a well-fought victory against Batley before putting the Bulls to the sword in round 16. London are in great shape and their patchy form earlier on in the season looks to be well and truly behind them. Neil Kelly will have his players up for the challenge in Ealing on Sunday and I expect the West Yorkshire club to challenge their full-time opposition for most of the match – London by 16

 

Oldham v Hull Kingston Rovers – Oldham welcome Hull Kingston Rovers to Bower Fold on Sunday as the Roughyeds look to end an unwanted streak of four league games without a victory. Tim Sheens’ Robins have had a sub-standard couple of weeks by their standards, with a one point win over Bradford Bulls followed by a draw against Featherstone Rovers in round 16. They still lead the Championship by five points but will be looking to put in a more convincing display against Oldham.

Last Time Out

Oldham lost 26-4 against Swinton Lions at Heywood Road, with the Roughyeds’ only try in the final few minutes. Scott Naylor’s men were 12-0 down at the break courtesy of tries from Rhodri Lloyd and Chris Hankinson. Chris Atkin extended the Lions’ lead after the restart with a penalty goal before Jack Murphy and Hankinson sealed the win with a try apiece. Josh Barlow and Murphy were both sin-binned during the dying embers of the game, and in-between those yellow cards came Oldham’s only four pointer of the match through Richard Lepori.

Hull Kingston Rovers had to settle for a 20-20 draw against Featherstone Rovers after coming from 16-0 down at half-time. Misi Taulapapa opened the scoring for Featherstone following Ben Kavanagh’s sin-binning for a late tackle. Michael Knowles kicked a penalty to make amends for his earlier conversion miss, and he did the same again after Jason Walton crossed the whitewash. The yellow card was put to use once again as Darrell Griffin and Robbie Mulhern were both sent to the sin-bin prior to James Duckworth’s try. Quick-fire tries from Kieren Moss and Jordan Abdull gave the Robins some much needed hope after the restart and although Kyle Briggs restored Featherstone’s two score lead with a penalty, Hull KR were looking dangerous. Moss completed his brace before the East Yorkshire club took the lead for the first time thanks to Zach Dockar-Clay’s quick thinking from dummy-half. However, Tim Sheens’ side couldn’t keep hold of their two point advantage as Briggs levelled matters thanks to another penalty.

Key Battle

Oldham will be hoping to keep Hull KR’s powerful centres quiet at the weekend, as Featherstone did in round 16. George Tyson and Danny Grimshaw were unable to lead their side to victory against Swinton Lions and a big job lies on their shoulders this week when Andrew Heffernan and Jake Butler-Fleming come to Bower Fold. Heffernan has had a superb debut season for the Robins while Butler-Fleming has started to find his feet after being sidelined with an injury. Tim Sheens’ side will be wanting to pile on the points this weekend, with Jordan Abdull and Jamie Ellis aiming to orchestrate proceedings in the halves. Oldham will be motivated to unsettle the Robins and capitalise on any possible underestimation from their East Yorkshire counterparts.

Prediction

Hull KR have put up big scores in the Championship this year but their last two games haven’t been straightforward. They struggled against bottom of the table Bradford while Featherstone held them to a draw. Coach Tim Sheens will be expecting a professional performance against Oldham, who will be coming into the match without any pressure – Hull KR by 28

 

Sheffield Eagles v Halifax – Sheffield Eagles will be looking for revenge against Halifax this weekend following the West Yorkshire side’s triumph over Mark Aston’s men earlier in the season. The Eagles have won their last two matches and look to be on the up while Halifax are three points adrift of the top four after a disappointing couple of weeks. With just four points separating Halifax and Sheffield, the latter will be eying up another victory to move them closer to fifth-place.

Last Time Out

Sheffield Eagles beat Rochdale Hornets 38-14, with Garry Lo starring for the South Yorkshire side thanks to a five-try performance. Lo notched the opening two tries of the contest before Jono Smith cut the deficit to two points by crossing the whitewash with moments of the first half remaining. At 8-6 up, Sheffield needed a quick start in the second half to create some breathing space and they got just that. Lo completed his hat-trick prior to Menzie Yere and Jack Owens both touching down for the red and golds. In the final quarter, Elliot Minchella dotted down a grubber from Simon Brown to all but seal the win despite Rob Massam’s double-salvo for the Hornets. Lo finished the match in style with two more tries to his name, taking his tally to 21 for the league season.

Halifax, for the second week in a row, were beaten by a current top-four side as London Broncos posted a 34-6 win on home turf. Fax were 22-0 down at the break after tries from Kieran Dixon, William Barthau, Andy Ackers, Jay Pitts and Rhys Williams. After the restart, Ben Johnston notched the visitors’ only try of the game but the effort was in vain as Dixon and Mark Ioane added four pointers for the capital club.

Key Battle

Garry Lo is causing quite a stir in the Championship at the moment. The former PNG Hunters flyer is having a spectacular season for the Eagles, who may well be struggling without his contribution. With a perfect mix of pace and power, Lo is a hard player to stop and with countryman Menzie Yere  on the inside the Eagles have a dynamic duo. The injury to Ben Blackmore may hamper Sheffield slightly but Paddy Flynn and Ryan Millar are both good wingers in their own right while the likes of Perry Whiteley can fill in at centre. The talk of Lo and Yere shouldn’t take away from the fact that Halifax also have a quality backline, starring James Saltonstall and Steve Tyrer who have scored 27 tries between themselves this season. Fax were rather under-strength against London with Connor McGrath handed a debut on the wing while Ed Barber and James Woodburn-Hall started at centre and half-back respectively. The impact of Ben Johnston from the bench did bring a try and Eagles coach Mark Aston will know about his capabilities from when the Fax full-back/half-back has played internationally for Ireland.

Prediction

As previously mentioned, the Eagles have shown some signs of progression over the past few weeks despite defeat against Toulouse Olympique. All their good work will count for nothing if they don’t beat Halifax at the weekend and it’s fair to expect Richard Marshall’s men to come fast out of the blocks as they try to make amends for two consecutive defeats. They will be looking for good performances from Mitch Cahalane, Shane Grady and Jacob Fairbank in the forwards while Scott Murrell will be aiming for a dominant kicking performance. It should be a good contest at the Beaumont Legal Stadium – Sheffield by 14

 

Swinton Lions v Batley Bulldogs – These two sides are separated by four points in the table and Swinton Lions will be looking to cut into that gap when Batley Bulldogs visit Heywood Road on Sunday. The Lions picked up a rather straightforward victory against Oldham in round 16 while Batley fought hard but were beaten by Toulouse Olympique.

Last Time Out

Swinton Lions beat Oldham 26-4 at Heywood Road as John Duffy’s men bounced back from two consecutive losses in style. The hosts led 12-0 at the break thanks to tries from Rhodri Lloyd and Chris Hankinson, with Chris Atkin converting both. Atkin’s boot was put to good use after the restart as he extended the lead to three scores courtesy of a penalty before Jack Murphy and Hankinson sealed the win by crossing the whitewash for a try apiece. Murphy, as well as fellow Lion Josh Barlow, ended the game in the sin-bin and Oldham’s Richard Lepori notched the visitors’ only try of the contest in-between the two sin-binnings.

Batley Bulldogs put up a good fight but narrowly lost out to Toulouse Olympique at the Fox’s Biscuits Stadium. In a rather contrasting performance to the one against Dewsbury Rams at the Summer Bash, the Bulldogs led 14-6 at the break as Wayne Reittie bagged a brace while Dom Brambani kicked a penalty. Stan Robin crossed for Toulouse’s lone try in the first period. Four pointers from Paul Marcon and Anthony Marion put the French side in front until Shaun Ainscough regained the Bulldogs’ advantage in the final quarter. However, Batley couldn’t hold on to what would have been a great victory as tries courtesy of Con Mika and Kane Bentley wrapped up the victory for Olympique.

Key Battle

Swinton’s outside backs came up with the goods against Oldham in round 16 as Chris Hankinson and Rhodri Lloyd combined to score three tries. Hankinson, who has also kicked goals for the Lions during the season, notched a brace while Lloyd crossed the whitewash for a lone four pointer. The Lions will be wanting to work upon their rather convincing victory against Oldham but it will be a test against the Bulldogs who, despite not having the best of form, are still a dangerous side. Sam Smeaton and Danny Cowling were the centres for Batley against Toulouse but it was the wingers who took charge of the scoring as Wayne Reittie and Shaun Ainscough also combined for three tries. Both players have a decent amount of pace and can make good metres from dummy-half if they come and take a few carries in the middle of the field. Their try-scoring nous has been there for years and has been shown for a number of different clubs. If it’s a dry track at Heywood Road on Sunday, expect the outside backs to receive a lot of ball while giving the defence a hard time.

Prediction

Both sides have scored 22 points a game this season but Batley have conceded more with an average of just over 30. Bulldogs coach Matt Diskin will be wanting his side to put in a more disciplined display on Sunday, especially in the final quarter when Swinton have been known to be at their most dangerous. With three home games remaining of the regular season, the Lions will be targeting maximum points against their West Yorkshire opponents of Batley, Halifax and Dewsbury.  At this stage of the campaign, it’s all about looking up and not down for John Duffy’s side despite the Rams’ resurgent form. A victory against Batley would be timely to say the least as the club aim to move away from a relegation dogfight – Swinton by 8