We’re three games down in the Championship so far, and the fourth is on its way! So with time to waste until the next round, why not have a delve into our preview of the upcoming round’s action, and decide wherever you agree with the predictions given?
Bradford Bulls v Hunslet Hawks – An all West Yorkshire clash at the Provident Stadium this Sunday when Barry Eaton’s resurgent Hawks take on a Bradford side who will be hoping to carry on their form that’s given them two wins from their last two matches.
In Round Three..
Bradford Bulls recorded an emphatic 40-4 victory over Featherstone Rovers in the last round of matches. Unfortunately for Andy Hay’s men the opening of their highly impressive, volunteer-built stands wasn’t marked with a victory. James Lowes’ side were 18-0 up at the break, thanks to tries from Lee Gaskell, Adrian Purtell and Chris Ulugia. Ryan Shaw converted all three scores and breathing space was created for the visitors as they went into the sheds. Even more of that space came about within eight minutes of the game restarting, Adam O’Brien and Jean-Phillipe Baile increased their sides advantage handsomely. James Lockwood got the hosts’ only points of the match on the 48th minute, a very proud day for the Rovers off the field but they didn’t cover themselves with glory on it. Gaskell and Ulugia confirmed their braces before the hooter sounded on a marvellous performance from the former Super League side.
Hunslet Hawks got their first points of the 2015 Championship on the board with a win over Dewsbury Rams. The 18-6 victory was well needed for the Hawks who suffered defeats to Featherstone and Batley in their first two matches. Simon Brown kicked three penalty goals to put his side 6-0 to the good, before George Flanagan edged his way over from dummy-half with not much time remaining in the first half. Vinny Finigan scored his first in Hunslet colours after the restart, collecting a Brown bomb and touching down to the delight of the Hawks supporters. Ryan Hepworth barged his way over for the visitors to give them a fighting chance, but Brown, yet again, nailed a penalty goal to seal a much needed victory.
There’s many positions on the field where Bradford will be highly backed to see off their opponents, but I’ll be focusing on the wing positions. Bradford’s Chris Ulugia and Etu Uaisele both have experience of Australian rugby, with Uaisele even playing in the NRL for a few seasons. Ulugia and Uaisele were on the respective wings for the Featherstone match, with the former notching a brace. James Duckworth and Vinny Finigan were Hunslet’s two wingers for the match against Dewsbury. Both have played limited Super League games but Barry Eaton has taken a chance on the duo and they’ll be wanting to repay his faith with top performances against the Bulls. It’ll be hard for the Hunslet wingers to handle Bradford’s, especially when the Bulls have Lee Gaskell and Jake Mullaney, to name just two, supplying their flyers.
Bradford seem to be finding their feet in the Championship now, especially after two wins on the spin following their opening round defeat to Leigh. Hunslet will be going into the game wanting to upset the full-time side but they’ll have to pull a simply sublime performance out of the locker to even threaten – Bradford by 24
Dewsbury Rams v Whitehaven – Both teams suffered defeats in the last round of games, Dewsbury lost to Hunslet while Whitehaven were beaten by Sheffield.
In Round Three..
Dewsbury travelled to the South Leeds Stadium looking to win their second game of the season. Their round two game with Workington was called off so the Rams were tipped to be a bit undercooked. Hunslet ran out 18-6 victors with Simon Brown scoring ten of their points. Six of his first ten came from first half penalty goals as the Hawks kept the scoreboard ticking. George Flanagan scored from dummy-half for Hunslet before half-time which gave them even more of a lift. Minutes after the restart, Vinny Finigan extended the hosts’ lead after taking a Brown bomb. Ryan Hepworth scored Dewsbury’s only try of the match on 59 minutes, then Brown popped up again to slot over another penalty goal which ended the point scoring for the match.
Whitehaven welcomed Sheffield to The Recreation Ground last Sunday, hoping that they could earn their first two points of the season. Unfortunately for the Cumbrians, it wasn’t to be as they were outscored five tries to one by Mark Aston’s side. Sheffield went into half-time 12-6 up after two tries from Scott Turner and one from Quentin Laulu-Togagae, Whitehaven’s only try of the match was scored by Danny Craven. Turner recorded his hat-trick during the second half while Menzie Yere got a score too. The scoreline didn’t look as bad as it could have been for the hosts, considering the Eagles missed every conversion attempt.
This all depends on what prop forwards are available for Whitehaven to use, for my intended ‘key battle’ to take place. Paul Johnson is on loan at ‘Haven from Widnes Vikings while fellow starting prop (against Sheffield) Macgraff Leuluai is only on dual-registration. Dewsbury, however, have a more settled base in the forwards with Super League-bound Matthew Haggarty and Ryan Hepworth being their two props that started against Hunslet. Hepworth even got over for a try in the round three clash. Momentum ebbs and flows in many ways and the forwards provide the heavy hits that get the crowd going. With Widnes hammering Wakefield at the weekend, James Coyle may have some good players to pick from on dual-registration from the Select Security Stadium this weekend.
Glenn Morrison, and everyone associated with the Rams, will have been bitterly disappointed with their loss to Hunslet last weekend. Whitehaven will be needing a win as they’ll be playing a game of catchup before long if they lose again. I said it in one of my previous previews that the Cumbrians aren’t the best travellers and they’ll be a lot of teams who’ll come away from Tetley’s Stadium with their tails between their legs. Will Whitehaven be doing exactly that on Sunday evening? – Dewsbury by 16
Doncaster v Leigh Centurions – The first game of the regular Keepmoat double-header sees Doncaster host Leigh Centurions. Last year’s match saw Paul Cooke’s side defeat the Centurions, which was the only loss Leigh had in the 2014 campaign. Doncaster go into the game after a pummelling up at Workington while Leigh soundly beat a resolute London side last week.
In Round Three..
Doncaster made the journey up to Workington looking for their first win of the season. Despite only being 8-6 down after 40 minutes of play, they lost the game emphatically in the second half as Town put on the burners. Sam Forrester and Dom Manfredi put the hosts in the lead with tries in the 12th and 18th minute but Pasqualle Dunn scored his first of the season for the Dons on the 30 minute mark. The second half was one way traffic though as Workington posted four more tries courtesy of Callum Phillips. Perry Whiteley, Karl Olstrum and Carl Forber. Jamie Doran complied more misery on the Dons as he looped over a drop goal before the hooter had sounded.
Leigh Centurions kept their perfect start to the season alive as they defeated London Broncos 25-12. Four tries in the first half for the Centurions gave them a healthy lead, and one they wouldn’t relinquish at any stage of the match. Kurt Haggerty, Liam Kay, Tom Armstrong and Ryan Brierley all helped themselves to four points apiece while Erjon Dollapi scored the Broncos’ only try of the first half. The try stakes finished at one each in the second half after Armstrong bagged his brace and Rhys Williams kept up his good scoring form for the capital side. Martyn Ridyard kicked a last minute drop goal to add gloss to the scoreline.
It has been mentioned a lot, but veteran Paul Cooke is a key part to any of Doncaster’s successes on the field. The way he directs and dictates play can win games outright but he’ll need some help from his fellow half-back if the Dons are to spring another surprise on the Centurions. Stuart Howarth was player-coach Cooke’s half-back partner at Workington and if the same partnership reunites against Leigh, they will have to improve immensely if they’re to challenge the established Martyn Ridyard and Ryan Brierley. Brierley has the x-factor and Ridyard has the kicking ability to really pen teams in their own half. Stopping the dynamic duo from playing their normal games will help Doncaster’s cause a lot.
I can’t see past a Leigh win in this one, but it won’t be as straightforward as some may think. However, a thoroughly improved performance needs to happen for Doncaster to beat the Centurions for a second successive season at the Keepmoat. Can the South Yorkshire side pull it off? – Leigh by 16
Halifax v Featherstone Rovers – The second all West Yorkshire matchup in round four, as Halifax host Featherstone. Halifax come into the game after a gritty 6-2 win over Batley whilst Rovers will be aiming to recover from a 40-4 hammering against Bradford.
In Round Three..
Halifax got the better of Batley Bulldogs at Fox’s Biscuits Stadium. A slender 6-2 victory has left Halifax in 5th position in the league, with four points from three games. Matt Place’s try was all that separated the sides come the end of the game. Scott Leatherbarrow kicked Batley’s only points of the matchup. Halifax’s solid defence was a massive plus point for Richard Marshall, only conceding two points at a tough place like Batley is a big feather in their cap.
Featherstone had a nightmare first home game at Post Office Road in 2015, a 40-4 loss to James Lowes’ Bradford Bulls wasn’t the way anyone had the game planned. James Lockwood scored Rovers’ only try of the match after 48 minutes but at the time, they were already 30-0 down so the game was ultimately over. Bradford’s tries came courtesy of Chris Ulugia and Lee Gaskell who both recorded braces, along with singles from Adrian Purtell, Adam O’Brien and Jean-Philippe Baile.
Ben Kaye and Andy Ellis were the starting hookers for Halifax and Featherstone respectively last week. The matchup between Kaye and Ellis should be a good one, as both have been consistent in their ways at the start of the season. The momentum that’s gained from a quick play-the-ball and a scoot from dummy half is integral to any side’s attack, both of the hookers will be hoping to gain that momentum for their respective side during the weekend’s clash. Sam Irwin has been playing at scrum-half for Rovers, but he was primarily bought to play at hooker. Whether or not the loss for Featherstone at the weekend will coincide with Irwin going back to dummy half remains to be seen. Ryan Maneely is usually the interchange hooker for Halifax, he was an off-season signing from Warrington and already has a try this season which came against Leigh Centurions.
After Halifax’s scrappy win in round three, it isn’t out of the question that they’ll go from strength to strength now. Featherstone will have to show some major character to come back from such a beating against the Bulls. Will Andy Hay’s side get back on track this weekend? – Halifax by 10
London Broncos v Workington Town – London will be hoping to keep their unbeaten record at The Hive going when they get a visit from Workington Town at the weekend. Broncos have lost their last two matches against Sheffield and Leigh, whilst Workington have only played two out of their scheduled three games. Town beat Doncaster last time out but had their round two game with Dewsbury called off due to a waterlogged pitch.
In Round Three..
London had the daunting task of trying to get two points from Leigh Centurions. The Broncos were odds against to come away from Leigh Sports Village with a win, and the bookies were right with their assumption as the capital club were downed 25-12 by the current Championship champions. Andrew Henderson (now interim head coach after Joey Grima’s departure) had taken the Broncos reins for the match, and he witnessed his side go into half-time 20-6 down after a glut of Centurions tries. Erjon Dollapi recorded the Broncos’ only try of the half after swift work from hooker Brad Dwyer. The hosts’ scores came from Tom Armstrong, Liam Kay, Kurt Haggerty and Ryan Brierley. A little bit of good news for the visitors came in the second half as they outscored their opponents by six points to five. Rhys Williams scored a try, which was converted, while Leigh’s only try of the second 40 came from centre Armstrong. Martyn Ridyard kicked a drop-goal in the dying embers of the match as Leigh made it from three wins from three. The Broncos have a won one lost two record going into round four.
Workington posted their first win of the Championship season last Sunday, hammering Paul Cooke’s Doncaster side 33-6. In a memorable game for Town’s half-back Carl Forber, who brought up 1000 individual points for Workington, the hosts outscored their visitors six tries to one. The procession started in the 12th minute as Sam Forrester went over the whitewash. Minutes later, dual-registered Dominic Manfredi doubled his side’s lead. Pasqualle Dunn replied for the Dons after half an hour, the former Leicester Tigers player looks a shrewd re-signing for Doncaster. The second half was all Workington from start to finish, with four tries for the Zebra Claims Stadium side sealing the deal. Callum Phillips, Perry Whiteley, Karl Olstrum, and Forber all made their way over the line while Jamie Doran notched a late field goal to add salt into the Dons wound.
The two starting second rowers for both sides in round three were of high quality. For the Broncos, they had two of their off-season signings in the second row. Daniel Harrison and Matt Garside were signed from Manly Sea Eagles and Sheffield Eagles respectively, and both have settled in well at The Hive. For Workington, Kurt Horton was signed from Mount Pritchard Mounties in Australia and he paired up with Brett Phillips in the Cumbrians’ second row. It’ll be a key battle as they’ll be some bone-crunching tackles going in, and all four players have good eyes for the try line. The yardage they bring to the team is vital, and the performances that they’ll bring will go a long way into finding out the winner of this match.
London’s full-time status has probably gone unnoticed in the last couple of weeks after their defeats. But they’ll still be very tough to overcome at The Hive this season, despite them nearly slipping up against Doncaster in round one. Phil Veivers has got his Workington side well-drilled and will run the Broncos close, but I think Andrew Henderson will get his first win as interim coach this Sunday – London by 14
Sheffield Eagles v Batley Bulldogs – The Eagles welcome Batley to the Keepmoat Stadium, both teams are currently in the top four so they’ll be wanting to keep up their good early season form. Sheffield beat Whitehaven last Sunday whilst Batley lost out to Halifax.
In Round Three…
Sheffield Eagles travelled up to Whitehaven, a place where the South Yorkshire side never usually do too well. But Mark Aston’s side were better prepared this year in comparison to previous occasions, they stayed up in Cumbria the night before the game, therefore leaving nothing to chance. The professional preparation approach paid off come the end of the match as Sheffield beat the Championship’s early basement side 20-6. A Scott Turner hat-trick helped the Eagles cause significantly, but not being able to convert one of their five tries will have been a bit of a niggle for former goal kicker, now coach and director of rugby Aston. Menzie Yere and Quentin Laulu-Togagae also posted tries to Sheffield’s tally in the match. Positives for the Eagles, discounting the win, include the steel that the Eagles showed in defence when they were under immense pressure from ‘Haven. When focusing on the negatives, coach Aston will primarily focus on the hefty 10-3 penalty count going against them, as well the previously mentioned fact that no conversions were added to the tries.
Batley Bulldogs were going into round three with an unbeaten record in the 2015 Kingstone Press Championship. Unfortunately for John Kear’s side, that record came to an end as they were defeated 6-2 by Richard Marshall’s Halifax. A war of attrition throughout, the Bulldogs edged themselves in front during the first half courtesy of a penalty goal from Scott Leatherbarrow. The penalty was given after Johnny Campbell had a try disallowed due to a forward pass from Cain Southernwood, referee Joe Cobb decided to give the penalty to the hosts for an incident in back-play. With Fax moving down the field, threatening to burst the Batley banks, they did just that when Matt Place burrowed his way over after finding a gap in the hosts’ armoury. The score was 6-2 to the visitors at half-time and that’s how it finished. Similarly to what the Eagles encountered up at Whitehaven, the game was played in a mud bath and the positives for Kear’s men is the fact they only conceded one try in the 80 minutes. However, not quite getting over the whitewash will have left the Bulldogs pretty distraught, more so after going close on a few occasions.
The half-backs have my choice for the key battle. Both sides have rather settled partnerships in the halves, and on the vast playing field at the Keepmoat, open play kicks will be a key part to territorial domination. Kyle Briggs and Dominic Brambani encountered the tough Cumbria conditions head on and played well in both attack and defence. Cain Southernwood and Scott Leatherbarrow had the tough challenge of taking on former Super League half-back Scott Murrell and wildcard Australian Matt Place in Sunday’s game. With Place scoring the winning try and Murrell directing the play with some astute kicks, both Batley half-backs will be hoping to make amends by outshining their opposite numbers in the round four clash with Sheffield. This battle of the kickers is set to be a vital one, the pair that comes out on top will have had a big say in the day’s proceedings.
Sheffield have a very good record when playing Batley, getting the better of their West Yorkshire counterparts on many occasions over the past few years. The Keepmoat Stadium suits Sheffield down to the ground with the large and wide playing surface, and the Eagles’ expansive style of play may just swing the two points their way – Sheffield by 12
Thanks for reading the Kingstone Press Championship Round Four Preview. I hope you can get to a match this weekend as there’s some crackers on show!