GARETH WALKER of League Express anticipates a thrilling Summer Bash today and tomorrow
RUGBY League fixture planners aren’t always at the top of everybody’s Christmas lists, but you can’t fault their selections for this weekend’s Summer Bash fixtures.
Every single one of the seven matches has plenty at stake. They all look evenly-matched contests, with the RFL hoping for a bumper crowd at Bloomfield Road.
Toronto Wolfpack v Toulouse Olympique
The Championship’s top two played out a remarkable clash in France back in March.
The Wolfpack looked in control when they led 16-6 at the break, in a match played in front of 6,000 fans in the city’s rugby union stadium.
But Sylvain Houles’ men then ran in 40 unanswered points after the restart, with Stan Robin and Mark Kheirallah both collecting doubles.
They’ve been the best two teams in the competition so far this season, and with both adopting an attractive style of play, it should be the perfect opening match for the weekend.
Rochdale Hornets v Swinton Lions
Two local rivals that have played out some thrilling contests in recent seasons now face a game that could be crucial to this year’s relegation scrap.
The two coaches are also familiar with each other – Matt Calland and Stuart Littler faced each other as opposing centres and then pitted their wits in charge of leading college teams in recent year’s.
Calland’s Hopwood Hall side won a Grand Final in golden point extra time against Littler’s Wigan/Leigh College team, but this time the Lions will start as favourites.
Expect a full blooded affair that could go right down to the wire.
Featherstone Rovers v York City Knights
Two teams with eyes set firmly on the top five should produce a fascinating clash.
Knights boss James Ford admits his team were “embarrassed” at their 42-12 Good Friday defeat at Featherstone – a rare blip in what has been an excellent overall start to life at this level.
Featherstone have been playing catch-up ever since a disrupted pre-season, but now seem to be finding their feet under Aussie coach Ryan Carr.
Their recent signing Dane Chisholm scored a thrilling try at Bloomfield Road for Bradford against Hull KR in 2017 and will be one of several to keep an eye on.
Bradford Bulls v Halifax
A big local derby brings the curtain down on day one, with Halifax keen to make amends for their Good Friday defeat to the Bulls.
Fax have since had a change of coach with Simon Grix taking over from Richard Marshall, but it’s the same group of players that will have clear memories of Bradford’s late comeback.
How the Bulls back up from their big Challenge Cup tie with Leeds could also be a factor, although Halifax also played Dewsbury the night before.
It should be a cracker.
Barrow Raiders v Sheffield Eagles
Paul Crarey’s Barrow still haven’t won since their opening day victory at Batley, but the possible return of several key players should aid their prospects in Blackpool.
Sheffield started the season on fire, but will have been disappointed with narrow recent defeats to Halifax and Leigh.
When the two sides met at Craven Park back in February it took a controversial late Pat Walker penalty to win it for Mark Aston’s men and it could be just as close again.
Batley Bulldogs v Dewsbury Rams
The Heavy Woollen rivals have had some fierce encounters on the west coast in recent years.
When they met on Good Friday, Batley overcame the first-half dismissal of winger Wayne Reittie to record a much-needed win.
Both sides will be keen to put some more distance between themselves and the battle at the bottom. This is possibly the most unpredictable game of the weekend.
Leigh Centurions v Widnes Vikings
There should be plenty in attendance to watch the final game of the weekend when Leigh take on Widnes.
Almost 6,000 watched their Easter clash at the Halton Stadium, when Kieron Purtill’s Vikings recorded an impressive 30-12 win.
Purtill faces his former club again, but the Centurions should provide a sterner test this time and have won their three matches since that Good Friday defeat.
They enjoyed a weekend off while the Vikings faced Super League Wakefield in the Challenge Cup, which could be a factor.
For the best reports of this weekend’s Summer Bash, be sure to order the new edition of League Express, available in the shops on Monday and online from Sunday night at 9.30pm.