University of Gloucestershire All Golds v Newcastle Thunder
Date: Saturday 8th August
Venue: Prince of Wales Stadium
Gloucestershire All Golds go into their clash with Newcastle Thunder off the back of two defeats, the latest of which was a 38-20 loss away to North Wales Crusaders.
The score line will have shocked a lot of people as Crusaders were expected to put a big score on their opponents last week, and All Golds coach Lee Greenwood was impressed with his side’s effort despite being big underdogs.
“There were some encouraging signs in the game,” he commented. “In the first half you couldn’t really tell which team was which if you were watching as a neutral or a newcomer.
“We were in the lead just after half-time but Crusaders probably stepped up a level and we went away from what was working for us, which was completing our sets and defending well and that’s what cost us.”
Although he was happy with the effort from his players he feels that it is now time that they started worrying about results rather than settling for being competitive.
“We need to get a winning mentality in those games rather than being happy just to be competitive. It’s very easy to be happy what we’ve done there but I’m trying to encourage them to be winners and be disappointed we’re losing.
“There’s still a way to go but there are encouraging signs, we’re not far off.”
Gloucestershire are currently the highest placed Southern side in the division in ninth and come up against the lowest ranked Northern side this week in Newcastle, with one place and eight points separating the two.
Although they are underdogs again this week, Greenwood thinks his team could be the first Southern side to turn over a Northern opponent this season.
“I don’t know which way Newcastle will be looking at this week’s game, whether they’ll want to get back to winning ways against a southern team or whether they’ll be nervous. No southern team has beaten a northern team this season and there’s only five games left. No northern team wants to be the one that gets turned over. That’s up to us, we’ve got to start well, stick in the game and make sure that they feel a bit nervous. We want to be in the game with 15/20 minutes to go, then we might have a chance.”
All Golds second rower Edwin Okgana-Ajwang is doubtful with a groin injury.
Newcastle Thunder are a side out of sorts themselves with only one win in their last five outings meaning that their top five hopes are all but over.
They suffered a third straight defeat last week as Swinton Lions beat Thunder 30-18 on their own patch and coach Stanley Gene has been disappointed with the way his side have been performing of late.
“It is frustrating, it’s been the same for the last six weeks; we’re giving the other team the opportunity to score two or three quick tries and then we’re playing catch-up football,” he said.
“We’ve still got five games, we’ll give it a crack and see where we are at the end of the year. We just need the win now.”
Gene will be hoping for a repeat of their round 10 victory over All Golds when they were 38-6 winners at Kingston Park.
Newcastle could be without loose forward Sonny Esslemont who is doubtful with an ankle injury.
Prediction: Newcastle by 16.
Barrow Raiders v Coventry Bears
Date: Saturday 8th August
Venue: Craven Park
Barrow Raiders kept their top five hopes alive with a second straight win last week, seeing off Hemel Stags 44-22 at Craven Park.
Despite the win Paul Crarey wasn’t impressed with his side’s first half performance and their mentality of trying to score with every play.
“We were poor in the first half, our errors were high and completions were low but we addressed it at half-time,” he said. “In the second half we were round about 80 per cent completion and we scored 26 points so we got to tidy ourselves up a little bit. We’re getting the mind set of wanting to score on every play and it’s not working for us.”
With just one point separating the seventh placed Raiders from fourth spot they will be out to emulate their 22-4 win over Coventry in round eight.
Crarey admitted that it wasn’t all plain sailing in their previous meeting though and is expecting another tough encounter this time out.
“Coventry caused us a few problems, they’ve got a big middle and quite a bit of pace on the edges so it was real tough down there. Clubs like Coventry are improving massively and are getting some quality players. We’ve got to go and look after ourselves a bit more and cut out the mistakes. We need to get a good win and prepare for what will be a tough end of the season.”
Barrow could be without second rower Craig Briscoe who is doubtful with an ankle injury while prop Andrew Dawson has a knee problem.
Coventry Bears lost for the sixth week running as they went down 38-10 to York City Knights at Butts Park Arena last week.
Coach Tom Tsang thought that his side were in the game for large periods but their indiscipline late in the first period cost them dearly.
“It was pretty similar to how we’ve been,” he said. “We did OK through the early parts of the game and for the first half an hour it was tit-for-tat but our discipline in that last 10 minutes of the half cost us and we conceded three tries just before half-time.
“We dug in in the second half, York threw a lot at us and the score line got a little bit away from us towards the end but we scored two late tries so we’ll take some positives out of it.”
That defeat saw the Bears slip to second bottom, with London Skolars leapfrogging them on points difference, however they are just two points behind Gloucestershire All Golds in ninth.
With a long trip to Barrow ahead Tsang is hoping they can improve on last week’s performance and go close against their opponents this week.
“With it being a late kick-off against Barrow we’ll take a leisurely trip up there. The travel can play a part if you let it, but hopefully we can prepare well enough so that won’t be a reason for a bad performance.
“Over the last few weeks we’ve been in the games against these top teams so if we fix up our attack and the discipline, we’re there or thereabouts.”
Hooker Richie Hughes was concussed last week and will be checked ahead of their trip to the Raiders.
Prediction: Barrow by 20.
Hemel Stags v Oldham
Date: Sunday 9th August
Venue: Pennine Way
Hemel Stags have been in good form of late, winning two of their last three games, however they came undone last weekend away to Barrow as they went down 44-22.
Despite the score line coach Troy Perkins felt his side were competitive against their much fancied opponents and was happy with their performance.
“There wasn’t much between the teams for probably 60 minutes,” he said. “They scored just on half-time to go in front and in the second half we battled hard against a big pack. Defensively it takes its toll in the end and in the last 20 minutes we were only 10 points behind.
“I was really pleased with our performance. We probably conceded a couple more tries than I would have liked but overall to go to Barrow and have a good go at them was pleasing.”
This week they face the league leaders Oldham and Perkins is under no illusions as to how tough it will be for his men.
“We haven’t played Oldham this season, they’re a tough team. We played them twice last year, we won one and drew one but they’re the team to beat. They’ve been a consistent team for the last couple of seasons and I don’t think they’ve changed their personnel too much, so they know each other’s game inside out.
“Their strength is their big pack, who get them on a good roll. Our forwards have got to match them up the middle to give our backs a chance to score some points. It’s a tough test but in the last four games we’ve been pretty decent so we’ll be looking to build on that.”
Second rower Alex Ingarfield is doubtful for the Stags with a thigh strain.
Oldham made it eight wins in a row last week as they brushed aside Keighley Cougars 38-8 at Whitebank to strengthen their grip on top spot.
They are now four points clear of York City Knights and Keighley with just five games remaining this season and Scott Naylor was impressed with the way his side saw off the Cougars.
“We played real well on Sunday,” he said. “We didn’t play well at all when we played Keighley away so it was like the lads had a point to prove. It meant a lot to them to win on Sunday. We all knew how big the game was and there was that little bit of added spice to it. Keighley are the only team, apart from Hemel, that we hadn’t beaten this year.”
Their trip to Hemel is the first meeting of the teams this season and if they come away with the two points they will have registered wins against all of the 13 clubs in the division this season.
Naylor wants his players to approach every game as though it is the most important game of the season between now and the end of the year, and is hoping they can keep their momentum going in the last five matches.
“Hemel is now our biggest game of the season, that’s how we’ve got to look at it. We’ve put ourselves in a position to finish in the top two hopefully, that was the main aim before the season started because of the way the play-off system is this year.
”We’re kind of on a bit of a countdown now because we haven’t got that many games left. We got some extremely tough games and it starts with Hemel away on Sunday. We work hard and we’ve played well and we’ve put ourselves in a strong position. It would be a shame now to make uncharacteristic mistakes and not finish the season the way we’ve been playing for the last two or three months.”
Wingers Adam Clay and Jack Holmes are doubtful with broken ribs and an injured foot respectively for the Roughyeds.
Prediction: Oldham by 30.
Rochdale Hornets v North Wales Crusaders
Date: Sunday 9th August
Venue: Spotland Stadium
Rochdale Hornets go into their crucial clash with North Wales Crusaders off the back of a 74-4 hammering of South Wales Scorpions.
They have won three of their last five games in pursuit of a top five place but if they are to make the play-offs coach Ian Talbot knows his side have little room for error.
“Our lads stuck at it and kept their discipline (against South Wales),” he said. “It’s a big game this weekend. We take each game as it comes and we know this is going to be one of the toughest of the season.”
In the last meeting between the two sides the Hornets were on top in a tight encounter, with a late Dale Bloomfield try securing a 14-12 victory at the Rock.
Talbot is aware that their opponents are one of the top sides in the competition and if Rochdale are to come away from the game with a vital two points they will need to be at their best.
“They’ve beaten us once and we’ve beaten them once this season so we know we need to be at our best to give ourselves any chance. They are a quality team and their recent successes have been well-deserved.”
North Wales Crusaders had to battle hard to victory over Gloucestershire All Golds last, eventually coming out on top in a 38-20 home win.
That was their fourth win in their last five games and coach Anthony Murray admitted that he expected a tough test against the All Golds.
“I didn’t anticipate anything less,” he said. “They’re a real big outfit. Lee Greenwood spent a lot of time under Karl Harrison so we knew it would be very physical round the middle, where they would be quite strong, and they were. They got stuck into us and gave us a bit of a scare but all credit to our players, we stuck to our guns. We muscled up and eventually played some good rugby and ran out quite worthy winners.”
Murray is anticipating another tough test when his side travel to Rochdale on Sunday and has been hampered with a number of injuries and suspensions.
He is hoping the men he has left to work with can get a result and keep the Crusaders in the top five for another week and close in on second spot, with just a point separating North Wales from York.
“We’re really struggling with six or seven first teamers on the injury table and with suspensions as well, our squad is really thin at the minute. It’s going to be a really tough game against Rochdale, they are one of the sides pushing to be in that top five. They beat us at our spot, so we’re anticipating a real tough challenge. Hopefully we can go there and give a good account of ourselves.”
Prediction: Rochdale by 8.
South Wales Scorpions v Keighley Cougars
Date: Sunday 9th August
Venue: Mountain Ash
South Wales Scorpions were on the wrong end of another heavy score line last week as they went down 74-4 away to Rochdale Hornets.
It is now five straight defeats for Mike Grady’s men and he was disappointed with how his side lost their discipline late on and let in some soft tries.
“Discipline got the better of us in the end,” he said. “We had one sent off and one yellow card. I think it was a bit of frustration more than anything.
“We had a couple of spells where we did OK but the floodgates opened at the other times. We were poor and let in some soft tries.”
They face Keighley Cougars this week and after their 66-6 loss away to the Cougars in round 10 Grady is well aware of how tough it will be for his side this weekend.
“We know it will be tough against Keighley, it was tough at their place. Some said that points difference are the new bonus points and I think all the top teams are looking to put as many points as they can on teams like us. I think we’ll go better than last week. We’ll be fixing it up this week and looking for a better performance.”
Keighley Cougars were disappointing last week as they went down 38-8 away to Oldham and slipped down to third in the table, four points behind the league leaders.
They have won three of their last five games but of their last three outings have only won once with coach Paul March calling for his men to regroup ahead of their final push late in the season.
“We didn’t start the game well but I thought their tempo and go forward caused us a lot of problems and the better side won on the day,” he said.
“It’s up to us now to re-group and get a bit of consistency going into the final bit of the season.”
Travelling to Mountain Ash can be tough for some of the Northern sides as it is a long journey, however March is taking his players down to South Wales the day before to take away the pressures of travelling.
He knows that a win is important if they are going to force their way back into the top two and challenge Oldham for the title.
“Obviously it’s going to be a long trip this weekend but we’re going to do it professionally. We’re going down on Saturday and train on Saturday night down at the Scarlets so we’re taking the journey out of the equation. We need to go there and get back to winning ways. Hopefully we can do that and get a bit of momentum.”
Centre Hamish Barnes is back in the squad this week for Keighley’s trip to the Scorpions.
Prediction: Keighley by 60.
Swinton Lions v London Skolars
Date: Sunday 9th August
Venue: Sedgley Park
Swinton Lions made it five straight wins with their 30-18 victory at Kingston Park over Newcastle Thunder last week.
That win kept John Duffy’s side in fifth spot, the final play-off place, and was impressed with his side’s performance against Stanley Gene’s men.
“Newcastle are a good team and Stanley’s done a great job with them this year,” he said. “They’ve got some big players with lots of experience so it was good to go up there and get a result.”
They face London Skolars this week and with only two points separating second from sixth a win is crucial for Duffy’s men.
“Jermaine’s been doing a fantastic job having taken on the role early on in the season. Confidence is high and we’ll go into it with our strongest team and are going to have to perform at our best to get the win.”
Winger Chris Rothwell is doubtful for the Lions after picking up a neck injury.
London Skolars are one of the form sides at the moment in League 1 and made it back-to-back wins with a 42-12 win at home to Oxford last week.
It was their third win in their last five games and coach Jermaine Coleman is happy with how things are going for the club in recent weeks.
“Things are OK at the moment,” he said. “I was pleased with our first half performance last week. I thought for once we came out and were pretty clinical in the first half and really put Oxford to the sword. Testament to Oxford, they came back at us in the second half and made it more of a contest. That put us under some pressure and they had a good few opportunities to score tries and did post a couple.
“I was disappointed with that, one of the goals we set for the second half was to keep them scoreless but overall I was happy with the performance. We’ve not been in that position all year where we’re sitting comfortably at half-time and I thought we were pretty good to close out the game.”
The win moved Coleman’s side above Coventry into 12th and within two points of Gloucestershire in ninth, and he is looking for his side to put in a good performance away to Swinton and continue their good momentum of late.
“We go to Swinton with everything to gain and nothing to lose from a league perspective. From our own perspective we want to go up there, put in a good showing and not let ourselves down and keep that momentum going that we’ve built up over the last three or four weeks.”
Prediction: Swinton by 20.
York City Knights v Oxford
Date: Sunday 9th August
Venue: Heworth ARLFC
York City Knights leapfrogged Keighley Cougars and moved into second spot following their 38-10 win against Coventry Bears at Butts Park Arena.
It was a fourth straight win for James Ford’s men and despite picking up the two points there were parts of the performance which disappointed their coach.
“We were pleased to get the two points last week and parts of the performance were pretty good but there were parts that we need to improve on and we’ll be trying to do that this week against Oxford,” he said.
Only four points separate the Knights from the league leaders Oldham and they also have a game in hand, however Ford insists that his side aren’t looking at the table and instead are full focused on the visit of Oxford.
“We’re not really looking at the league table, it doesn’t matter until the last round. We’re focusing on ourselves and our performance. We were a little bit annoyed at how we played down in Oxford at the start of the season, we didn’t give a fair representation of our ability and we want to set the record straight, so we’re keen to perform to an outstanding level this week.”
Oxford are out of form in recent weeks and slumped to a fifth straight defeat last week as they lost 42-12 away to London Skolars.
Their coach Tim Rumford was very disappointed with the defeat and felt that his players let themselves down with their performance.
“In this league the week-in, week-out rigours on part-time players is pretty tough, there are no free weekends and it is a factor,” he said. “We expected to do better at London and we let ourselves down, particularly our attitude to defence.
“We gave a lot of penalties away and just invited London Skolars to attack in our half. We’re in a bit of a slump, but we know it doesn’t last forever. It’s how we respond. We’ve picked up a few injuries and lost our dual-reg players, it’s all a factor but it’s not an excuse for us to put the cue on the rack.”
This week they travel to York and after their 44-20 defeat to the Knights in round two Rumford knows it won’t be easy for his players.
He admitted though that he will be happy if they can compete with their opponents and stay in the game for the full 80 minutes against one of the competitions best sides.
“We’ve got York this week and it doesn’t get any easier. I think with the squad they’ve got they could challenge some Championship teams. But we can’t respect them with regards to what they might do, we’ve got to go there and treat this game as a bit of a cup final. Being competitive for 80 minutes would be a big plus for us.”
Prediction: York by 36.