Betfred Championship news round-up

BRADFORD BULLS coach John Kear has challenged his players to build on the “positives” from the first half of their game at Leigh, who turned up the heat after the break to win 38-4.

That meant the Bulls, who had winger David Foggin-Johnson sent off for a late hit, have won only one of their first three Championship games, 46-16 at Dewsbury in their opener.

Kear, whose side are out to repeat last year’s feat of making the play-offs, insisted: “I don’t think the scoreboard really reflected the level of effort we produced or our performance.

“There were positives, particularly in the first half, and we need to build on them while fixing the other things.”

Leigh were only 8-4 up at the break, and Kear continued: “I was delighted with the first half, I thought we really challenged them.

“But they changed how they played in the second half, and credit to them. They really rolled us back up the middle of the field and took advantage.

“Leigh have a very big and very mobile interchange bench, and that helped them keep up incessant pressure.

“As the game wore on, they wore us down, and once the dam started to leak, it soon broke.”

A calf injury for halfback Billy Jowitt, who set up Kieran Gill to score the sole Bradford try, compounded Kear’s disappointment.

“Billy said he couldn’t carry on because he felt he was costing the team on that right edge, so we had to bring him off,” he explained.

“We had a lot of players unavailable, (on-loan) Corey Johnson got called back by Leeds just before the game, Dan Fleming was suspended, and we had Muizz Mustapha, Elliot Kear, Elliot Hall, Jordan Lilley, Aaron Murphy and Ebon Scurr all injured. That’s a fair whack of the squad.”

The Bulls visit London Broncos in the fourth round the the Challenge Cup on Sunday.


DEWSBURY RAMS coach Lee Greenwood says Paul Sykes will make more appearances this season – possibly against Widnes in the Premier Sports-screened clash at the Tetley’s Stadium tonight (February 21) – but is unlikely to feature week in, week out.

The former international halfback, whose squad number (40) is the same as his current age, turned out for the first time this season at home to Sheffield last time out, and helped the Rams to their first win, 12-10.

“I just felt we needed that bit of experience,” explained Greenwood of the former Bradford, London Broncos, Wakefield and Featherstone man, who has been with his hometown club since 2016 and was making his 129th appearance for them after moving into a player-coaching role over the closed-season.

“With Liam Finn retiring and Paul at the stage he is, we need to look to the future, but none of our three younger halves, Matty Beharrell, Alex Smith and Jake Sweeting, are what you’d term Championship-seasoned.

“I want and need them all to get experience, and they will do, but I’m also responsible for doing everything I can to get wins, so there’s always going to be a balancing act.

“We’ll assess the way each of them is playing and look at the opposition and what we expect from them, and take things match by match.”

Dewsbury have announced a new partnership with local community club Shaw Cross Sharks.

There will be a series of regular curtain-raiser games involving junior players.

Rams chairman Mark Sawyer said: “It’s absolutely vital for the success of our game that clubs at all levels work together to promote it.

“We need to encourage more young people to come along as well as promoting ourselves to others interested in the game but who may not necessarily see themselves as Rams supporters.

“Our discussions with Shaw Cross Sharks have been very positive and there are huge benefits for both clubs.”


FEATHERSTONE ROVERS chief executive Martin Vickers says the ambitious club are rolling forwards on the back of bumper gates – and he’d like to see the 4,562 figure for the visit of Leigh bettered as the season continues.

“I’ve been knocked over by our core supporters,” said the former Salford and Toronto official, who succeeded Davide Longo in April.

“Many of them brought mates for the Leigh game, and we’d love to see that repeated, because good support really does make all the difference.”

After suffering a second Million Pound Game defeat in three years in October, when they went down 34-12 to Toulouse in France, Featherstone brought in Brian McDermott as coach and made a string of additions to their squad, including star centre Joey Leilua from the NRL.

And Saturday’s 30-12 home win over London Broncos in front of 2,796 made it four wins out of four after seeing off York, Leigh and Workington.

Featherstone recorded an average attendance of 2,282 in 2019 and the figure for the eleven games which fans could attend last season was 2,167.

And Vickers says every additional person through the gate has an effect.

“It’s clear something has sparked around our club, and it’s not by chance,” he added.

“There’s been a shrewd recruitment policy and strong campaigning off the field.

“It was great to see that level of attendance against Leigh, because the club needs supporters more than ever. We’d love to have 4,000-plus every home game, and it would put us in an even stronger place.

“The more people who come through the gate, and perhaps buy a pint or a golden gamble ticket, the more we can do when we come to the business end of season and want to bring in a new face or make the matchday experience even more exciting.”

Rovers visit Halifax in the fourth round of the Challenge Cup on Sunday.


HALIFAX PANTHERS winger James Saltonstall would have swapped his first try of the season for a win over Widnes.

The Panthers went down 9-8 at home to the Vikings, who gained revenge for a single-point defeat at The Shay in July.

Matty Smith’s field-goal, after Halifax fought back from being 8-0 down at half-time, condemned the Yorkshire side, who reached the play-off semi-finals last year, to a second defeat in three.

Italy international Saltonstall was his team’s top scorer with eleven tries from 21 appearances in 2021.

“It’s always good to score – that’s why we play the game – but we were gutted not to get the win,” said the 28-year-old.

“We got ourselves back into it in the first 20 minutes of the second half, and we were putting pressure on their line.

“But we let them off, they ended up coming back up to our end and we gave away a couple of sloppy penalties which turned it back in their favour.

“It’s obviously not the start we would have wanted, and everyone is disappointed, but it’s early and we know we’ve got the ability to come back.”

Panthers coach Simon Grix said: “We had it won, to be honest. They were kicking from deep, and had we got it right, it would have been try, try, try.

“But it ended up being penalty, penalty, penalty and they got that field position back. We’ve got to make sure it’s a lesson learned.”

Grix is preparing for successive meetings with Featherstone, in the fourth round of the Challenge Cup on Sunday and away in the league seven days later, March 6.

But he’ll be without experienced centre Greg Worthington, who has been ruled out for four months with a fractured foot.

Forward Brad Knowles, signed from Sheffield over the closed-season, is also out long-term because of a damaged hip and hamstring.


LEIGH CENTURIONS coach Adrian Lam says there’s lots more to come from star signing Nene Macdonald – and his team as a whole.

Nine-times-capped Papua New Guinea international and former NRL threequarter Macdonald, who helped Norths Devils win the Queensland Cup Grand Final against Wynnum Manly Seagulls last year, claimed a hat-trick on his Centurions debut at home to Whitehaven, who were beaten 50-4, then grabbed the consolation try in the 28-6 setback at Featherstone.

And the Port Moresby-born 27-year-old, who also played for Sydney Roosters, Gold Coast Titans, St George Illawarra Dragons, North Queensland Cowboys and Cronulla Sharks Down Under, was back on the scoresheet as Leigh chalked up a 38-4 Premier Sports-televised valentine’s night win over visitors Bradford.

Lam said of his compatriot Macdonald: “Nene will get better still. At the moment, I’d give him a low seven out of ten.

“There are parts of his game he needs to work on and over time, he will better understand how we are as a group.”

Leigh chalked up 30 unanswered points after the break, and Lam added: “The second 40 minutes were more like how we want to be.

“The instructions were to complete our sets and kick for the corners from the outset, but in the first half, we were far too clunky and just not connected as a team.

“There were a few changes from the previous game, we’ve got a lot of new players and we haven’t had that much time together.

“It’s like we’re looking for perfection early, but it’s not happening for us yet, so we get frustrated quite easily.

“We didn’t have that toughest or directness about us, but there was a bit of honesty at half-time, and we improved afterwards. It’s an ongoing process for us.”

Leigh host Widnes in a Premier-screened Challenge Cup fourth-round tie next Monday, February 28.


WHITEHAVEN coach Jonty Gorley has no worries about playing a string of successive away games.

After clinching a first win of the campaign at London Broncos, the Cumbrians were beaten 40-24 at Newcastle on Saturday, and visit Doncaster in the fourth round of the Challenge Cup on Sunday.

Their second home game of the season, after an 18-4 defeat by Barrow in round two of the Championship, isn’t until seven days after that (March 6), against Dewsbury.

By that time, Gorley hopes the rain will have relented and the LEL Arena pitch will have dried out.

“We’ve had it a bit rough weather-wise, and there have been times we’ve not been able to train on the pitch, he explained.

“We’re hoping that by the Dewsbury game, it will be in better nick, and a drier track will also help us with the way we want to play.”

Gorley says the London trip provided more than a very welcome two points after the loss to Barrow and an opening-round 50-4 setback at Leigh for his new-look side.

“It was an overnighter, and it was a chance for the lads to spend some time together and get to know each other better,” he explained.

“That’s why Super League clubs go on training camps, but it’s not something we can easily do, so this was a mini version, if you like.

“Getting the win topped it all off, and it was a happy return journey.”

Gorley says far better set completion, allied to resolute defence, was the key to victory.

“We were closer to where we wanted to be,” he explained. “It wasn’t always pretty, but we kept hold of the ball better and got ourselves into good attacking positions.”

Whitehaven will keep Kieran Hudson, the prop they signed from Newcastle in October, on loan for the remainder of this season after he joined Castleford on a two-year contract.


WIDNES VIKINGS coach Simon Finnigan says fan power can help propel his side forwards as they start a trio of Monday-night matches on the back of a 100 percent record so far.

The Vikings ended round three of the Championship at the top of the table after victories at London Broncos and Halifax either side of a home success over Workington.

After visiting Dewsbury tonight, Widnes head to Leigh for a Challenge Cup fourth-round tie before hosting Barrow as league action resumes.

Finnigan wants three Premier performances in front of the satellite television channel’s cameras, and says the supporters have a big part to play.

“We have a great fanbase, and we appreciate every one of them who gets behind us,” he said.

“We had a great turn-out at Halifax, and they really spurred us on, particularly during the tough periods.

“I know Monday nights can be difficult because of work and family commitments, especially when it’s an away game, but if they can make it, that’s great, because they are very much valued.”

Finnigan is expecting tough test at the hands of a Dewsbury side fresh from picking up their first win of the campaign, 12-10 at home to Sheffield.

“I’m really happy at how we have started, but we’re not getting carried away, because there’s never an easy game in this division. Dewsbury beat us twice last year and did well against Sheffield,” he pointed out.

“And we know the conditions could be difficult, just as they were at Halifax.”
Former Super League star Matty Smith’s 68th-minute field-goal thwarted Halifax, who had fought back from an 8-0 half-time deficit to level at The Shay.

“Matty took the plaudits, and he’s a clever player who did well alongside Danny Craven and Matty Fozard, but I thought we managed the game well across the board,” added Finnigan.

“When we needed to be smart, we were.”


BARROW RAIDERS chairman Steve Neale says a bright start to the Championship campaign reflects stability at board level and the hard work put in throughout the club over recent years.

Last season’s League One champions made it three wins from three this term by beating Newcastle 14-6 at the Matt Johnson Prestige Stadium, where an encouraging 1,744 braved the wet weather.

Paul Crarey’s squad includes a string of locally-produced players, with Barrow having formed a partnership with the nearby Furness College.

And the Raiders have also set up a women’s team while establishing stronger links at both senior and junior level with local amateur clubs and expanding engagement with primary schools in the area.

Neale told local newspaper The Mail: “I know in the distant past there have been different factions and disputes within the boardroom.

“But most of our decision making and departmental plans are managed through a series of sub-committees.

“It is very rare that we vote on any issue though we often have deep discussions and respect different points of view.”


BATLEY BULLDOGS are looking forward to a BBC Sport appearance when they host The Navy in the fourth round of the Challenge Cup on Sunday.

The tie against the services side, through to this stage for the first time, starts at 1pm and will be streamed live on the website.

Batley were the first Challenge Cup winners in 1897, and also lifted the trophy the following year and in 1901.

Craig Lingard’s side will aim to avoid a shock defeat by a team who beat Bridgend Blue Bulls and The Army before seeing off York Acorn, of the National Conference League, 22-8 at the United Services Ground in Portsmouth.


LONDON BRONCOS coach Jermaine Coleman says his players must start doing the basics better as they try to climb the table.

His reshaped side ended their first block of Championship games ahead of Sunday’s home Challenge Cup fourth-round meeting with divisional rivals Bradford having lost all four games – against Widnes and Whitehaven at their new Wimbledon home and away to Halifax and Featherstone.

Coleman, who has taken charge after six-and-a-half years at the helm of neighbours London Skolars, has had to deal with the transition from full to part-time status and a string of player absences through injury and Covid issues.

“Players returning from injury or isolation have been thrown straight into games because of low numbers, and the squad’s cohesion has been hindered,” he said.

“Developing those key partnerships is difficult when the beginning of our campaign has been so disrupted.

“But we’re not getting to the right parts of the field and we’re not applying pressure the way we should be doing.

“We’re working on this in training and hope to accelerate our development as more players return.”


NEWCASTLE THUNDER director of rugby Denis Betts says better discipline will help the club as they head into their second block of Championship fixtures after Sunday’s Challenge Cup fourth-round tie at York.

The ambitious North-East side finished their first four league games on four points after beating Workington and Whitehaven but losing to Batley and Barrow.

While heavy pitches are not a concern at home games given the artificial surface at Kingston Park, Betts believes Thunder players were too easily niggled in the muddy conditions at Barrow, who won 14-6.

“In those kind of attritional games, you’ll get those little niggles and some decisions which don’t go your way, and we let them bother us too much,” he explained.

“We got more and more frustrated as the game got further and further away from us, and that’s not a good cycle to be in.

“We need better discipline, which will help us stay more focused.”


SHEFFIELD EAGLES hooker Vila Halafihi says he’s enjoying the step up to Championship level and the responsibility handed to him by coach Mark Aston.

Now the 28-year-old hooker, who switched during the closed-season after three years at League One Hunslet, is aiming to help his new side rack up some wins.

The Eagles managed that at Bradford, where Halafihi scored a try against the club he represented between 2015 and 2018.

But either side of the 28-14 success were defeats at Barrow and Dewsbury, who were 12-10 victors despite having Reiss Butterworth red carded after 48 minutes.

“It was a tough one to take, especially with us playing against twelve men for so long,” said the Leeds development system product who is the son of former Sheffield forward Nick Halafihi.

“We should have been able to take advantage, but we weren’t smart enough, and it was really disappointing not to build on that win at Bradford.

“I’m enjoying my time here, it’s great to be playing plenty of minutes and I feel my partnership with Izaac and Thacks (halfbacks Izaac Farrell and Anthony Thackeray) is coming together.

“But the defeats are frustrating, and we all know we can do better.”

Halafihi is eyeing a return to familiar territory on Sunday, with Sheffield’s Challenge Cup fourth-round tie against NCL team Hunslet Club Parkside taking place at Hunslet’s South Leeds Stadium.


WORKINGTON TOWN coach Chris Thorman says he has “tremendous belief” in his players as they try to adapt to the second tier following last season’s promotion.

Town went into their round-four game at home to Halifax having suffered three defeats – 20-6 at home to Newcastle, 70-18 at Widnes and 26-10 against Featherstone at a damp Derwent Park.

Rovers coach Brian McDermott had words of encouragement for the Cumbrians, saying: “It was the hardest game we’d had up to that point in the Championship. Workington really made us work for it.”

Thorman added: “I am very proud of my group. I have tremendous belief in them and if anything. I was a little disappointed we didn’t run them closer.”

Town will be hoping to make the most of home advantage in their next two games – against Dewsbury in the fourth round of the Challenge Cup on Sunday and Sheffield in the league seven days later.


YORK CITY KNIGHTS coach James Ford believes the first win by a minster-city side at Batley in more than 20 years bodes well for the ambitious club.

Tries by on-loan Huddersfield prop Ronan Michael and winger Will Oakes plus a Jamie Ellis goal sealed a 10-4 City Knights victory in the third-round Championship clash.

The last York win at the West Yorkshire ground was by a 33-10 margin in May 2000, when the second tier was known as the Northern Ford Premiership.

“I was really proud of the boys,” said Ford. “Batley are a good team and everyone knows what a tough place it is to take something away from.

“Halifax were the third-best team in the competition last year, and Batley turned them over earlier this season.

“In the conditions, every player on the field could hold their heads high because everyone of them looked a tough competitor.

“Thankfully, my players were tougher and competed harder. That and some outstanding defence got us home.

“Hanging in and fighting right to the finish are where teams are born.

“We are already very together and I think these boys will become an even stronger unit on the back of that.”

Sunday’s home Challenge Cup fourth-round clash with Newcastle will be live on The Sportsman website.

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