Betfred Championship news round-up

BARROW RAIDERS coach Paul Crarey was more than happy with Jake Carter as the Raiders marked their first second-tier outing since 2019 by beating Sheffield.

The 23-year-old wasn’t due to feature against the Eagles until star halfback signing Jarrod Sammut pulled out late on.

The Australian, who has joined from London Broncos, was unable to prove his recovery from an ankle problem.

Carter stepped in at stand-off to partner Ryan Johnston and help his club claim a 22-10 win at the Matt Johnson Prestige Stadium.

It was a 26th club appearance for the former Barrow Island amateur, who like Johnston, came through the Furness Academy system.

He was signed ahead of the 2019 campaign, when Barrow suffered three losses at the hands of Sheffield as they were relegated.

Last season, Carter made 15 appearances and scored six tries as the Raiders won promotion as League 1 champions.

He signed a new two-year contract in October, but faces competition from former NRL and Super League player Sammut and fellow 23-year-old Johnston.

“I thought the lads handled the game really well, and handled the situation well when we had to pull Jarrod out,” said Crarey.

“Young Jake Carter stepped in, and he and Ryan controlled the game really, really well.

“Jake is proof that our academy system is working. He is still only young and learning and was in the 17 for most matches last season.”

Crarey continued: “We managed the Sheffield game well and kept the scoreboard ticking over with some kicks.

“The weather was brutal and our defence was brutal.

“I think they had four repeat sets on our goal-line, but we held them out and played really well in that second half.

“We’re working so hard as a group, for the fans and for the sponsors.

“I thought it was great to start at home and get a win against a side that is only going to get better.”


HALIFAX PANTHERS prop Dan Murray wants to be more of a minute man this season as he aims to help lead from the front row in his club’s promotion bid.

The former Salford and Hull KR player’s performance provided a positive for coach Simon Grix after a tough opening game at Batley.

Not only were the Panthers beaten 30-18 (after leading 16-0), they also lost forward Brad Knowles with a torn hamstring.

The ex-Sheffield man was among seven new signings on show, while former Shay player Joe Martin featured as a trialist fullback in the absence of James Woodburn-Hall (broken finger).

Murray, 25, played 23 times in all competitions last season as Grix’s side finished third in the table and made the play-off semi-finals.

“I played longer than I expected against Batley,” he said. “That was a big thing, because last season, my first-stint minutes weren’t what I wanted.

“To have some half-decent minutes gave me something to build on. Now I’ve set that standard, I want to keep to it. I’m looking to be a consistent performer.”

Grix says the setback against the Bulldogs should act as a wake-up call.

“We were humbled,” he said. “We didn’t perform at the level we needed to to get a result against a very good team.

“In pre-season, there was a bit of positive chat about us. We finished third last year and we’ve made a few signings.

“I hoped we’d be ready to go at Batley, but we didn’t do our jobs to the level we need to to be successful at Championship level.

“It might take some time to gel and get rugby fit, but there are always excuses if you look for them.”

Halifax have agreed a dual-registration partnership with neighbours Huddersfield while fullback Liam Whitton, signed from Siddal over the closed-season, has returned to the community club.


FEATHERSTONE ROVERS hooker Connor Jones should be playing in Super League.

That’s the view of York coach James Ford after his side were beaten by Rovers in the first match screened live as part of Premier Sports’ new two-year agreement to cover the Championship, mainly on Monday nights.

Featherstone are back in front of the cameras tonight (February 7) when they host Leigh – tipped as their main rivals for promotion this season.

And Ford is anticipating another bright performance from Australian ace Jones, the former Canterbury Bulldogs development player who is in his second spell at Rovers after a stint at Salford in 2020.

“He’s playing in the wrong division,” said Ford of the 26-year-old, who Featherstone first signed from Queensland Cup side Northern Pride midway through 2019 and who scored 13 tries in 23 games last year.

“If he was English, he’d be playing in Super League.”

Ford, whose team lost 30-12 at the LNER Stadium, said Rovers, who signed scrum-half Morgan Smith from York over the closed-season, have power all over the pitch.

“They’ve got two really strong boys in Luke Briscoe and Josh Hardcastle in backfield, they are so hard to handle,” he added.

“Morgan had a great game, and (loose-forward) Jack Bussey did really well. He is very hard to put down, and leaves the ruck disrupted, and players like Connor run off the back of that.”

Featherstone coach Brian McDermott picked out props James Lockwood and Luke Cooper for praise and said: “The two laid down a marker for our offensive game.

“We got the win, scored a few tries and were given a very good work-out.

“York were in the contest for a long while, and at this early stage of the season, you want to be exposed a little bit so you can see what needs to be fixed up.”

Rovers lost newly-signed secondrow Jesse Sene-Lefao with a shoulder injury.


LEIGH CENTURIONS loanee Tom Nisbet has his sights set on a second home appearance for the club after marking his first with a two-try show.

Papua New Guinea international Nene McDonald grabbed the headlines with a hat-trick as Adrian Lam’s first match as coach of a much-changed side brought a 50-4 home win over Whitehaven.

As supporters in a 3,334 crowd marked the death of Des Drummond, a league-title winner with Leigh 40 years ago, with two minutes of applause, current wingers Nisbet and Kieran Dixon also made the scoresheet.

Along with St Helens teammate Aaron Smith, who started at hooker, Nisbet, 22, is on a season-long loan as former Wigan coach Lam aims to guide his new club back to Super League at the first attempt.

It was only a fourth senior appearance for former England Academy international Nisbet after his debut for Saints in 2020, and two out on loan last year – one for Oldham and the other for Leigh.

“This is a great place to play,” he said. “And it was great to score in front of our fans, who create an amazing atmosphere.”

After visiting Featherstone tonight (Monday, February 7), when Lam could field St Helens prop Dan Norman on dual-registration after a renewed agreement between the clubs was confirmed and Wigan centre James McDonnell, who is on a month’s loan, Leigh host Bradford next Monday (February 14).

Nisbet, Smith and McDonald, who helped Norths Devils win the last season’s Queensland Cup with a 16-10 Grand Final victory over Wynnum Manly Seagulls, were among nine new signings in Leigh’s starting side against Whitehaven.

Caleb Aekins, Kieran Dixon, Keanan Brand, who had a spell on loan from Warrington last year, Chris Green, Ed Chamberlain and John Asiata were the others.

“The off-season went pretty quickly,” said Lam. “We were building the squad weekly, but it was clear they were connected and together, which is a priority.”


WIDNES VIKINGS coach Simon Finnigan has praised the work of performance manager Ryan O’Brien and strength and conditioning chief Bob Beswick.

O’Brien is approaching ten years of involvement at the club in a variety of coaching roles. He took his current post in November.

And former Vikings hooker Beswick, who played alongside Finnigan for Ireland, returned the same month.

That was after calling time on an 18-year playing career which also took in spells as Wigan, Halifax, Leigh, Toronto and, for the past two seasons, Newcastle, where Finnigan was coach for the first of them.

Widnes, desperate to improve on last season’s eighth-placed finish, kicked off the current campaign by winning 34-12 at London Broncos.

And Finnigan pointed out: “We looked fit and that’s down to the work of Ryan and Bob, who have got the boys in terrific shape.”

Widnes ran in seven tries, four of them from Ryan Ince, the ex-Oldham winger who was one of nine new signings on view, avoiding what the team chief felt was a potential banana skin.

“It was a new London team playing at a new ground (the Cherry Red Records Stadium at Wimbledon) in front of a good crowd (2,182),” he said.

“They were up for it, and it’s the kind of game we might have lost previously, but it was a professional performance.

“There are some areas we need to fix, but it’s early days. Overall, I thought we were good.

“Ryan Ince produced some outstanding finishing. For a couple of his tries wide out, he jumped a couple of metres, but to be fair, all the boys on debut did well.”

Widnes were forced to make a late change after Jack Owens was withdrawn with a leg problem the day before the game.

Lloyd Roby played fullback, and Finnigan continued: “He did really well, especially as he only found out he was playing at 2.30 the previous afternoon.”


WORKINGTON TOWN coach Chris Thorman reckons his close relationship with Dec O’Donnell was key to Town reeling in the Ireland hooker for a third time.

As far as the Cumbrian club are concerned, the 23-year-old, who helped them win promotion last year, is the one who hasn’t got away.

Wigan product O’Donnell, who featured in the Warriors’ 2018 Academy Grand Final win, first signed for Workington from Leigh in 2019, initially on loan before the move was made permanent.

Having made three appearances from the bench for the Centurions, where he learned from veteran Mickey Higham, he played 16 times for Town that season, scoring six tries.

That attracted the interest of Ottawa Aces, who in August 2020, snapped him up when planning for their proposed maiden League 1 season.

But when their entry to the semi-professional game was scuppered because of the knock-on effects of the pandemic, and all agreed contracts were declared null and void, O’Donnell returned to Workington for the 2021 season.

He scored five tries in 13 appearances, including the play-off final victory over Doncaster in October, before signing a two-year contract at London Broncos.

But after failing to settle in the capital, he agreed his release with the Broncos, and is now back at Workington, although Evan Simons, who started, and Matty Henson, who came off the bench, were the hookers involved in the 20-6 opening-round home defeat by Newcastle.

“Dec and myself have always had a close player-coach relationship,” explained Thorman.

“It became clear his move to London wasn’t going to work out, mainly because it’s a long way from his northern roots, and when he was released, we acted quickly.”

Versatile back Elliott Miller, who was in his second spell at Workington after spending the 2016 and 2017 seasons at Whitehaven, has retired on medical advice.

A back problem meant the 31-year-old hadn’t played since 2020.


YORK CITY KNIGHTS coach James Ford says Brett Delaney is proving to be a great right-hand man.

The ambitious club appointed the Australian, who was a four-time Super League and two-time Challenge Cup winner with Leeds, as Ford’s assistant back in November.

Delaney played in the NRL for Parramatta Eels and Gold Coast Titans before spending nine seasons at the Rhinos, where he cut his coaching teeth in the club’s development system.

The 36-year-old, nicknamed Frog, also had a stint assisting his old Leeds coach Brian McDermott at Oldham last year.

“Frog has a lot of intensity about him, and he’s willing to challenge standards,” explained Ford, who began his eighth season in charge of York as they were beaten 30-12 at home to Featherstone in front of the Premier Sports cameras.

“He has been around some world-class organisations both here and in Australia.

“He’s doing a great job for us and I’m really enjoying working with him.”

Ford, forced to switch Matty Marsh from fullback to stand-off against Featherstone because of injuries, is confident York will get stronger as the season goes on.

“There were times it was obvious we had only one recognised halfback, and we didn’t ask the questions that we practised asking,” he said.

“Featherstone hit us with plenty of intent, putting us in difficult places to attack from. Jamie (Ellis) had to kick from far out, and was put under pressure when doing it.

“Once we got a bit more territory, it allowed him to kick more effectively.

“On another day, Jack Logan or Marshy might have scored, and we might have pinched the game, but we wouldn’t have deserved to.

“But I feel we can improve tremendously, and maybe trouble Featherstone at the back end of the season.”

Debutant centre James Glover chalked up his 100th career appearance after 32 for Sheffield, one for Hemel Stags and 66 for Dewsbury.


BATLEY BULLDOGS coach Craig Lingard hopes to have new signings Josh Hodson and James Meadows and long-serving hooker Alistair Leak back for Sunday’s round-three visit of York.

Centre Hodson and halfback Meadows, who have both moved north from London Broncos, and hooker Leak, now in his tenth season with the Bulldogs, all picked up head knocks during the opening-round win at home to Halifax.

It took the gloss off an encouraging performance, with Lingard’s side responding to being 16-0 down to win 30-18, the comeback starting with Johnny Campbell’s try just before the break.

“It’s obviously something we could have done without, especially given we have a few other ongoing injury issues,” said the team chief, who guided his side to the play-offs last year.

“But there’s no point moaning, and while that win won’t define our season, the positive is we showed a bit of steel to get back into what was a strange kind of game, because we didn’t really deserve to be so far behind.”


BRADFORD BULLS coach John Kear wants his side to carry on grafting.

They might have run in eight tries as they kicked-off their campaign with a solid 46-16 win at Dewsbury.

But Kear was equally pleased with the less-glamorous side of the Odsal team’s performance at their old stomping ground of the Tetley’s Stadium, where they groundshared for a spell.

“While we conceded a couple of soft tries, we were good defensively for the majority of the match,” he said. “But the big thing was our effort-based stuff, which was top class.

“Some things aren’t trendy, but you’ve still got to do them. To be a good team, you have to do the muck and nettles, and we were doing the basics well.

“On top of that, the skill execution was good and there were some really good tries.”

The Bradford line-up included four new signings and two Leeds loanees, hooker Corey Johnson and secondrow Muizz Mustapha.

The Bulls have extended star former Super League halfback Dec Patton’s contract until 2023.


DEWSBURY RAMS coach Lee Greenwood admits his reshaped team were given a rude awakening as they slumped to a 46-16 home defeat by Bradford in their first game of the year.

And while it’s very early days for a squad which includes eleven new signings, six of whom featured against the Bulls, their boss says it’s crucial that lessons are quickly learned.

The Rams, who finished tenth last season, were 12-0 down inside ten minutes at the Tetley’s Stadium, and Greenwood said: “We never really had the ball in that period, so it wasn’t anything like the kind of start we wanted.

“But you will always get periods of matches like that, and the more disappointing thing was the way we responded, because instead of staying patient, we tried to force things far too early.”

Greenwood added: “We played two Super League sides, Huddersfield and Hull KR, in pre-season, which was a great exercise.

“But the Championship is a totally different thing, more physical for a start, and we didn’t deal with that.”


LONDON BRONCOS will be keeping a close eye on the attendance as well as the performance of Jermaine Coleman’s new-look side when Whitehaven become the second team to visit the Cherry Red Records Stadium on Sunday.

A 2,182 crowd watched the capital club kick-off a new era at the home of football club AFC Wimbledon against Widnes, who won 34-12.

The Broncos’ highest gate at their former Ealing Trailfinders base last year was 555 for the visit of Featherstone, and they averaged 378.

The club’s long-term aim is to average 5,000, and chief executive Jason Loubser said:

“Wimbledon is steeped in sporting excellence and it’s wonderful Rugby League is now going to become part of the area’s proud history.

“From its prime location to the overall capacity (9,215), the corporate and hospitality facilities and fresh engagement opportunities, our new home has everything we could ask for.”

The Broncos have signed 25-year-old Australian hooker or halfback Calum Gahan, who played for Queensland Cup side Norths Devils last year.


NEWCASTLE THUNDER coach Eamon O’Carroll says his side’s opening-game win at Workington should provide plenty of confidence.

The visitors trailed 6-4 at the break against a Town team including a number of former Thunder players.

But Newcastle scored 16 unanswered points in the second half and O’Carroll felt the game swung on a 53rd-minute score by prop Nathan Wilde, which with Jake Shorrocks’ conversion, edged his side four points ahead.

“We knew it would be tough, with them at home in their first game after promotion as well as having a lot of our former players,” he said.

“While we were trailing at half-time, we knew that if we stayed calm and patient and kept getting to the end of our sets, we’d get one of our big blokes on one of their little blokes at close range and he could fall over the line.

“That’s how it worked out and it was a big try from Wildey, because from there, we started to believe and take a little bit of control.”


SHEFFIELD EAGLES winger Ben Jones-Bishop says the club can pick positives from a generally-disappointing opening-round defeat at Barrow.

The Jamaica international who has joined from York was among nine debutants for Mark Aston’s side, who lost 22-10.

Another, prop Liam Kirk, made his 100th career appearance after 83 for Bradford and 16 for Oldham last season.

Wind and rain made conditions difficult at the Matt Johnson Prestige Stadium, where Barrow kicked three penalty-goals.

Jones-Bishop scored a fourth-minute try for Sheffield, who led twice, and explained: “We started really well and it was great to get the try after we rolled down the field nicely.

“But we got drawn into a bit of a slug-fest, and became pretty erratic and let ourselves down with our discipline and let them get a grip.

“We broke them down a bit in the second half, but struggled to find that last pass to score the try.

“We went well in the last 15 minutes and forced a few drop-outs, and we will build on that.”


WHITEHAVEN coach Jonty Gorley says improved discipline and ball control is crucial in what he predicts will be a tougher-than-ever division this year.

The Cumbrians crashed to a 50-4 loss at Leigh, the widest of the opening round, after narrow pre-season defeats by Workington and Swinton.

At one stage, they had only ten players on the pitch following yellow cards for Joe Moore, Andrew Bulman and Callum Phillips.

As a result, the Cumbrians were 38-0 down by the time Australian recruit Will Evans got their sole try.

“We need to improve in obvious areas,” said Gorley, who stepped up from assistant coach to replace Gary Charlton after last season’s charge to the play-offs.

“We need to start performing like I know we can, because it’s no good doing it in fits and starts as the other team will usually come out on top.

“It was tough last year and everybody’s now improved their squads.

“We saw that against Leigh, so the players now know that’s what we’re up against.”

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