Hemel Stags v London Skolars (2.30)
Despite losing 32-14 at Rochdale Hornets, Hemel Stags coach Troy Perkins felt it was an improved performance from his side. “Ten minutes before half-time we conceded three tries but I thought there wasn’t a lot between the two teams for 70 minutes,” he said. “That’s a big improvement from my point of view.
“Defensively, apart from that 10-minute period, I thought we were good. Attacking-wise I thought our backs did extremely well. So overall I wasn’t overly disappointed with the result considering the performances we have been putting in.
“If we can put a performance like that together this week and improve in some areas we’ll give ourselves a big chance of getting the result.
“Skolars will be looking to hit back after last weekend’s loss. All the games against Skolars are tight. It doesn’t matter where both teams are on the table; form goes out of the window. I won’t be looking too much at their previous results. We need to improve a little bit but are heading in the right direction.”
London Skolars became the first team to lose to South Wales Scorpions last week, which didn’t please their coach Jermaine Coleman: “We had a nice little patch in the first half where we should have posted points but ultimately we weren’t clinical enough,” he said. “Reflecting on the season as a whole that’s probably been one of our downsides; we don’t score enough points.
“We’re missing a player who knows how to score a try out of nothing or from an opportunity. If we then score another try or two then we probably win the game quite comfortably. But credit to Mike (Grady) and South Wales, they had confidence from having beaten Skolars twice before and knew that if they stuck in the game they had an opportunity to win it and to their credit they did. I wouldn’t go as far to say we gifted them the game, but we weren’t far off it.
“I don’t think we could have asked for a better game this week. The team and the club were disappointed with Sunday. With the number of players who have crossed between the clubs, including me, if we can’t get up for this one, then there are a lot bigger problems than we first thought.”
There is a doubt over centre Aaron Small, who picked up a knee injury.
Coventry Bears v North Wales Crusaders (3.00)
Coventry Bears coach Tom Tsang was frustrated with his side’s 24-20 defeat at Oxford last week: “We were very good in terms of performance and did some really good things throughout the game,” he said. “In certain patches, it was as good as we’ve played but having said that, the 15-minute period when Oxford came back into it was probably the worst we’ve played.
“You’ve got to give Oxford a lot of credit, their defence was nothing short of sensational at times but 18-6 up with 25 minutes to go, we should be winning those games. But we’ve got a young team and it’s those game management type elements that inexperienced guys don’t necessarily have. But as long as we can use that as a learning process we will get something out of it.
Looking ahead to the game against North Wales Crusaders he said: “Their position in the league isn’t probably a reflection of where they’re going to end up. They came into the league as one of the favourites and I think that’s deserved. They’ve got good players across the park, are clearly well-coached and have done it in the big games having won the iPro Sport Cup.
“It’s going to be a good test for us but if we can replicate some of those really good things we did against Oxford and iron out those bits and pieces we didn’t do so well, we think we can give ourselves a chance.”
Andy Unsworth is a doubt with a knee injury, half-back Billy Sheen picked up an Achilles tendon injury while wing Jamahl Hunte has an ankle problem. Prop Jack Francis is unavailable
North Wales Crusaders had a fine win over Keighley Cougars last week. Coach Anthony Murray said: “I was really pleased with the result. Keighley aren’t at the top of the league for nothing. They’ve been the most consistent team to date, but all credit to our players, if we stuck to our structures and completed our sets I knew that we’d cause Keighley problems and would be in with a shout of a win and we were.
“Coventry are a team who are new to this standard of rugby. They’ve been up and down with their performances but they are more than capable of competing and causing an upset and I’m sure they’ll want to get their season back on track after the defeat against Oxford. They probably felt they should have got more out of that game. We’ll have to be at our best to beat them and we won’t be taking them lightly.”
Keighley Cougars v Oxford (3.00)
Tim Rumford, the Oxford coach, said his side’s win over Coventry Bears last week was one for character and desire: “It was very hot and we only had one prop on the bench through injuries and unavailability, which was the biggest challenge we had to overcome.
“I wasn’t looking forward to it to be honest but we showed a lot of character in managing that situation. It was a pretty tough win and we came through in the end
“This week, on the back of a good win, it gives us a chance to measure ourselves against one of the best sides in the competition in Keighley. They had a bit of a touch up last week so they’ll wanting to get back and probably will be looking forward to putting some points on us.
“It’s up to us to go up there and stand up and be counted. I’ve always said that at some time this season a southern team will beat one of the northern teams. I’ll be telling the boys, ‘why can’t it be us’. That’s our motivation.”
Second row Josh Nathaniel could be out for up to two weeks with a wrist injury and there is a doubt over centre Andy Hoggins with a calf problem.
Newcastle Thunder v Rochdale Hornets (3.00)
Reflecting on the 16-4 loss to Barrow Raiders last week, Newcastle Thunder coach Stanley Gene said: “We were pretty disappointed with last week’s performance. It was out of character from my team. On the day things just didn’t click for us.
“It was a shame because one of the kids in the halves, who had been training with us all week, got called up to play first-team for Hull KR.
“We’ve got a big week against Rochdale and it’s a must-win game for us.”
Rochdale Hornets got back to winning ways last week with their 32-14 victory over Hemel Stags, but head coach Ian Talbot knows there is room for improvement.
“We needed to put in a performance after the disappointment of the week before,” he said. “Despite the win last week, we’re not happy with the level of performance that we put in against Hemel.
“It’s really tight at the top end of the table. As well as winning week-in week-out, it’s important that you pick up points against the teams who are around you in the league.
“Newcastle came to our place earlier on in the season and beat us, so we’ll be looking to go there and pick up two points on their own patch.”
Oldham v York City Knights (3.00)
Oldham went back to the top of the league after a tough win at University of Gloucestershire All Goldslast week. CoachScott Naylor said: “We’ve had two really tough games against Gloucester, they have scored 60 points against us in two games. Sometimes there are teams who have a little bit of a thing on you and Gloucester seem to be that team for us.
“After the win over Swinton, there was always the chance that we could come down a little bit. The first half went well and we probably had a mental edge but in the second half looked a bit flat and tired. It was warm and the journey took us quite a while. It was one of those games where we had to get a win and fortunately we kind of crept over the line.
“York are playing really well and are creeping up the table slowly – they go under the radar. I’ve watched a couple of their games and they play really nice rugby.
“They are one of the teams that we don’t play away so this is the only time we’ll play them this year. We need to be at our best and it’s a game we could do with winning. After the Swinton and Gloucester wins, it would be nice to have a bit of a run of wins and get through this midway part of the season where we’re playing week-in week-out. It’s about picking up as many points as we can.”
York City Knights’ 26-16 win over Swinton Lions saw them move up to third and they are now unbeaten in their last four games. Looking ahead to the match against Oldham, coach James Ford said: “Every game is important. If you look at the table, it’s really close.
“There’s not a lot between the top eight teams so it’s important to pick up wins, especially back-to-back wins like we have done.
“Oldham is a massive game this weekend. They are a very good team who are well coached and are very physical. It’ll be a very different type of test than Swinton and it’s one we’re eagerly anticipating.”
South Wales Scorpions v Gloucestershire (3.00)
South Wales Scorpions got their first win of the season at London Skolars. Coach Mike Grady said: “In the last couple of weeks we’ve been struggling to win a game. We were in it against Oxford and started well against Coventry but we needed to play for the full 80 minutes and we did against London last week.
“We had a couple of experienced lads missing as well in Neil Dallimore and Connor Farrer but the lads who came in put their hands up. It was away as well, which was even more pleasing, it shows that we can do it if we concentrate for the full 80.
“It would be good to put in another performance this week. It’s a local derby against Gloucester and they’ve got a number of ex-Scorpions in their side, so it’s one that all the lads are desperate to play in. Hopefully we can put in a good performance.”
Full-back Jonny Leather is doubtful with an ankle injury centre Paul Edwards is definitely ruled out following his head injury.
University of Gloucestershire All Golds were competitive against Oldham last week despite losing the game. Coach Lee Greenwood said: “We were well down at one point, then came back and had a go and showed good character in the second half. We got to within a score, then Oldham scored to take the game away from us.
“Given the players we had out, before the game we would have probably been satisfied with a 12-point defeat, but at the end of the day it doesn’t bring you any points. We need to learn to be not that far behind before we start playing.
“I’m not sure it’s a good thing or a bad thing that South Wales won their first game last week. They’ve taken some hammerings but they’ve stuck at it and won at Skolars, so fair play to them. It’s going to be hard for us for sure. I know they’ve earmarked Skolars and us as wins for them so they’re obviously going to go into the game confident after winning on Sunday. I guess we’ll go in as slight favourites for this one, so it’s a bit of pressure for our lads and it will be interesting to see how they cope.”
Swinton Lions v Barrow Raiders (3.00)
Swinton Lions go into the game against Barrow Raiders having lost their previous two matches to Oldham and York City Knights. With the Lions currently sitting in eighth spot, coach John Duffy sees this weekend’s clash as a must-win game.
“We got off to a bad start against York last week and that’s the second week running we’ve done that,” he said. “It’s something that we’ve addressed this week in training and the players, to be fair to them, have held their own meeting as they know the importance of it for us.
“It’s a massive task for us this weekend against Barrow. They’re travelling really well at the minute. They’ve got some good players and they throw the ball about a bit.
“We’re going to have to be really up for it to try and get the result to keep us in the mix at the top.”
Barrow Raiders’ winning streak was extended to three with their 16-4 victory over Newcastle Thunder. With the Raiders now up to fourth, coach Paul Crarey is pleased with his side’s progress.
“It was a very important win for us last week because it keeps us in the mix. We want to be at the top end of the table come the back end of the season, so it’s important we win our home games.
“It’s another step up this week playing Swinton. They’ve probably not hit their straps at times this year but they’re a very capable team with good players and a good coaching staff.
“They’ve lost games by small margins this year but sometimes when you start losing by small margins, you start winning by small margins.
“We’re focused on ourselves and we’re looking to put some points on the board early but we can’t be complacent against a team like Swinton who we know are capable of beating anyone on their day.”