Betfred Championship news round-up

LEIGH CENTURIONS have swooped to sign former NRL forward Kai O’Donnell, who is expected to arrive at the Leigh Sports Village in the coming days.

Brisbane born O’Donnell, 23, is a British passport holder with family links on his mother’s side from Ashington in the northeast.

He is a backrower or loose forward who made his first-grade debut for the Raiders during the 2020 NRL season, making four appearances and scoring his first try in a victory over Cronulla Sharks.

More recently he has been playing for Burleigh Bears in the Queensland Cup competition, coached by Rick Stone, the former Huddersfield Giants coach who is the father of Centurions forward Sam Stone.

“I’ve already touched base with Caleb Aekins and John Asiata and I’m looking forward to seeing them and meeting my new team-mates and the staff,” said O’Donnell.

“I’m grateful to the Leigh Centurions club for giving me this opportunity. I’m looking forward to getting as many games as possible and helping the club achieve its goals.”

Leigh Head of Rugby Chris Chester revealed he and head coach Adrian Lam had both been tracking O’Donnell’s progress and that club owner Derek Beaumont had backed the signing with additional investment into the club.

“Kai has been on our radar since November and we are delighted to get his signature,” said Chester.

“He is a versatile forward with good all-round skills. He has good leg speed and is a tough defender. He’s heard a lot of good things about our club and he wants to come over here and prove himself. He’s got a great opportunity to do that.

“I’ve spoken to several players in Australia who have played with Kai, including Josh Hodgson and Sammy Williams, who I both used to coach, and they’ve given him strong references.

“We’ve got him at a good age and Adrian and me both felt he was a good fit for our squad, which needed thickening up.

“Once again, I’d like to thank Derek for his great support of the club as we look to achieve our ambition of getting back into Super League.”


FEATHERSTONE ROVERS are to loan out two players to other Championship clubs.

Dane Chisholm and Kyle Trout will join London Broncos and Dewsbury Rams respectively for a two-week loan periods.

Chisholm will join Jermaine Coleman’s side ahead of their Betfred Championship clash with Sheffield Eagles this Saturday, while Trout will join up with the Rams ahead of their derby clash with Batley Bulldogs.

Speaking of the loans, Rovers coach Brian McDermott commented: “We’re in a fortunate position to have a fiercely competitive squad that we’ll need to use as a system for the entire season. All members of the squad will be required to play their part and, in the meantime, it’s important that those who aren’t playing now get good game time elsewhere so that they’re ready to go when called upon.”

Meanwhile McDermott wants his side to learn the lessons of a game of two halves against Sheffield Eagles.

The unbeaten table-toppers, who were 26-4 up at the break, withstood an Eagles fightback to clinch a sixth win in seven league games by a 44-18 scoreline.

Only Batley, who forced a 20-20 draw last month, have so far denied Featherstone victory in the league.

“In the first half, we were really good, but in the second we dropped off dramatically,” said McDermott.

“Sheffield came into the game with a bit of an offload attitude, and at the start of the second half, started to chance their arm, and were very creative.

“They stretched us and rattled us, and we should have handled that period of the game a lot better than we did. We lacked focus, which was disappointing.”

Rovers have loaned Australian forward Ben Mathiou to League One Doncaster for an initial two-week spell.

The former Norths Devils prop joined Rovers during the close-season.


BATLEY BULLDOGS have “firmly denied” allegations of the use of unacceptable language towards Barrow’s Hakim Miloudi during their 30-18 win in Cumbria.

Red-carded France international centre Miloudi faces a potential ban of eight or more matches after being hit with a Grade F charge for contact with an opponent off the ball and moving an injured player.

While the RFL’s compliance department are investigating Barrow’s complaint of unacceptable language, Batley said in a statement: “We have been advised by the RFL of an allegation of unacceptable language in the game at Barrow relating to their player Hakim Miloudi.

“We have not had full details of the allegation but can confirm a firm denial.

“We would also confirm that our club has submitted two complaints for investigation by the RFL.

“Firstly of the same player feigning a head injury in an effort to deflect away from his own behaviour, which resulted in his sending off.

“Secondly, of an assault on our player James Meadows, who was a substitute and off the field at the time the same player was leaving the field, having been sent off.”


NEWCASTLE THUNDER loose-forward Sam Hallas has departed the club – just days after helping Eamon O’Carroll’s side down Widnes in front of the Premier Sports cameras.

The close-season signing from Bradford Bulls was hailed for his contribution to the 12-6 Monday-night victory, Newcastle’s second in a row and fourth in the opening seven rounds.

But the Leeds-produced 25-year-old, who was contracted until the end of next season but hadn’t moved to the northeast, says he will now pursue an opportunity away from the game, which he couldn’t have done as a full-time player.

“Leaving is not a decision I’ve taken lightly,” he explained.

“To have a complete team performance in my final appearance was the ideal finish for me and I wish all coaches, players and backroom staff every success.”

Coach O’Carroll said: “Sam has been a great player for us both on and off the field and I’d like to thank him for everything he has done.

“He is a good person and has contributed massively to the group. While we’re naturally disappointed that we won’t be able to call on him going forward, we understand his decision and support him in making it.”

Thunder director of rugby Denis Betts said: “Sam was great against Widnes, and (ex-St Helens hooker) Josh Eaves was good too.

“We were disappointed to concede a try, but we had a bloke down, so we were working with twelve, and over the whole game, our defending was excellent.

“That’s the kind of standard we want to hit and it shows how hard Eamon has been working on those effort areas that many people don’t talk about or care about but are so important.”

Newcastle are next in action at York on Easter Saturday, April 16, and will monitor Australian Jesse Dee, who aggravated a shoulder problem when trying to prevent Widnes’ Adam Lawton scoring.


Injury-hit WHITEHAVEN have made two loan signings – Hull back Marcus Walker for a month and Wigan forward Jack Bibby for a fortnight.

The pair were both available for Saturday’s 1895 Cup play-off clash with Sheffield, which was played at Featherstone.

Whitehaven’s next Championship game is the home derby against Workington on Easter Sunday, April 17.

That match is being screened by Premier Sports with a 7pm kick-off.

Versatile Walker has made one competitive first-team appearance for Hull, at centre in last season’s 31-16 defeat by Catalans in France.

And the 19-year-old was at stand-off in January’s pre-season match at Bradford, who were 42-18 victors, and centre in the following month’s warm-up game at Leeds, who won 38-6.

Walker will help provide cover for Australian halfback Alex Bishop, who has had surgery on a knee injury and could be sidelined for the remainder of the season.

Coach Jonty Gorley explained: “With the injury to Alex, I’ve felt the need to move Karl Dixon to halfback.

“With this and (centre) Chris Taylor likely to be out for a lengthy spell, we need cover in the outside backs.

“Marcus will give us this. I spoke to (Hull coach) Brett Hodgson. who said he is a talented centre, who he’s hoping will thrive in the Championship with us.”

Bibby, who was capped by England at youth level, played for Wigan in their 42-12 win over Newcastle at Kingston Park in pre-season.

The 20-year-old had a two-match loan spell at Oldham last year, scoring a try in the 38-24 loss at London Broncos.

Gorley added: “He’s a good young frontrow forward with plenty of size and skill, who’s been going well in the reserves.”

Whitehaven already had Huddersfield hooker George Roby, 19, on a short-term loan. He played in the 46-24 Championship defeat at Halifax.


YORK CITY KNIGHTS coach James Ford says his play-off-chasing team’s togetherness was a key element in their latest win.

Having run up a 20-0 lead by half-time at Workington, the Knights were only eight points ahead at 26-18 after an hour.

Home hopes were dashed as York scored three further tries for a 44-18 victory, their fifth in seven league matches after triumphs over Dewsbury at home, Batley away, London Broncos away and Widnes at home.

York, who made the play-offs in 2019 following promotion from League One the year before, are eager to improve on a disappointing ninth-place finish last season, when it took them 14 games to reach five wins.

“Workington had a solid spell and asked some good questions of us, so credit to them,” said Ford.

“We had some disruption around that time as Matty Marsh and Kriss Brining had head-injury assessments.

“But we didn’t deal with that well enough. We gave away soft penalties and didn’t complete the possession that we had.

“What pleased me was the reaction to the ten to 15-minute period where Workington were the better side.

“A weak team might have fallen to pieces but we showed great togetherness and composure to manage the game and get back on track.”

York host Newcastle on Easter Saturday, April 16, seeking a second home win over Thunder this season after a 42-13 Challenge Cup fourth-round success.

Ford will run the rule over scrum-half Jamie Ellis, who missed out at Workington because of a hamstring problem, and winger Will Oakes, absent from the last three games because of a groin injury.York’s game at Featherstone in July has been put back from Saturday 23rd to Sunday 24th.

It provides extra recovery time after the home Championship round-19 meeting with Batley, which has been selected by Premier Sports for live coverage and now takes place on Monday 18.


HALIFAX PANTHERS prop Titus Gwaze is looking forward to the big Easter trip to Bradford Bulls on Good Friday evening.

The Panthers will be seeking three straight league wins after beating Cumbrian duo Workington and Whitehaven.

Gwaze, the former Wakefield player who was a close-season signing from London Broncos, played his part in both wins, and grabbed his first try for the club as Whitehaven were downed 46-24 at The Shay.

Halifax trailed 24-10 at half-time, and Gwaze’s 63rd-minute score nosed the Yorkshire side in front.

“It felt especially good, because it cane at a time when we needed it,” said the Zimbabwe-born 22-year-old, who came through the Wakefield development system and represented the club five times before his switch to London, for whom he scored three tries in 20 games last year.

“I’d had a similar chance in the first half but passed the ball. This time I decided to go straight and I got through.”

Gwaze, who had loan spells at Oldham in both 2019 and 2020, is enjoying his time at Halifax.

“I’m learning a lot and trying to get into the side as often as I can,” he explained.

“Every chance I get, I just try to do my best, and I’m hoping to be involved at Bradford.

“It’s a derby on a tight pitch, so it should be pretty intense, and the boys say our fans turn out in good numbers, so the atmosphere should be good.

“We’ll need a better start than we managed against Whitehaven, because if they get a lead, it will be tough to pull back.”

Coach Simon Grix concurred, saying: “We were all a bit shocked at the half-time scoreline against Whitehaven and what we had seen.

“We can celebrate our second-half performance to a degree, because we showed a bit of character, but there’s been a lot to look at.”


BARROW RAIDERS coach Paul Crarey has reminded his players of the importance of clear thinking as they prepare to continue a series of seven successive clashes with Yorkshire opposition.

The Raiders, having been beaten when hosting Huddersfield in the Challenge Cup and Batley in the league, headed to Bradford on Sunday for a rearranged Championship round-four fixture, the original being postponed amid the February storms.

They then visit Featherstone on Good Friday (April 15) and Halifax on Sunday week, April 24, before hosting York before the Premier Sports cameras on Monday, May 2 and Featherstone in an 1895 Cup semi-final on Sunday, May 8.

It’s the continuation of a busy campaign for last season’s League One champions, who had four league wins and a draw going into the round-seven Batley meeting.

Crarey admits it was difficult backing up after the big Challenge Cup clash with Huddersfield, who were pushed hard before winning 30-16 in front of the BBC cameras.

Barrow had star centre Hakim Miloudi sent off for a late challenge on 29 minutes, then skipper and second rower Jarrad Stack was yellow-carded for dissent after Batley added two points from the resulting penalty to go 20-0 up.

Crarey’s men responded positively to get the scoreline back to 26-18 with eleven minutes remaining through tries by Ryan Shaw, Danny Morrow and Salford loanee Morgan Escaré, but the Bulldogs crossed again for a 30-18 victory.

“Batley came with purpose, which we knew they would, and we didn’t handle the start of the game,” said the coach.

“You have to grind it out and we didn’t compete in the right areas. We could have defended better and we missed a couple of chances.

“We responded positively and showed some character, which was heartening, but we have to learn how to manage games.

“You have to be smart and think all the time, and we weren’t quite on it.”


WIDNES VIKINGS coach Simon Finnigan isn’t pressing the panic button after a 12-6 defeat at his former club Newcastle.

But he admits that his charges, who started the season with four wins from four, need to pick up the pace after their fourth straight loss and third in the league.

“It’s been a disappointing spell, but we had a strong start and we’re still in a relatively good position,” said Finnigan, who is targeting a play-off place in his second season at the helm.

“We didn’t get over-excited when we won four and we’re not getting too downbeat now, but we do need to get back to where we were.”

Having been beaten at Leigh in round four of the Challenge Cup, Widnes suffered defeats at home to Barrow and at York before their setback in front of the Premier Sports cameras up in the northeast.

“We weren’t quite on the right side of a good game against Barrow, while our defence was disappointing against York,” added Finnigan.

“I questioned our intent, because it’s an attitude thing, and we didn’t quite get it right against York.

“We worked on that area of our game ahead of Newcastle, and the improvement was a huge positive of the performance. We had a bit of aggression about us, and we got stuck in and it was clear the lads had bought into what I said.

“But our completion rate averaged only 50 per cent, and with a statistic like that, you’re never really going to be in a game.

“With the amount of ball we dropped, we had no right to expect to win, and because of those errors, we put ourselves under pressure.”

Widnes are back in action at home to Leigh on Good Friday, April 15, and Finnigan pledged: “We’ll use the break before that match to reflect and continue working on the areas we need to work on.”


BRADFORD BULLS coach John Kear dedicated the club’s 8-6 victory at London Broncos to the young travelling supporter who suffered a seizure while watching the game at Wimbledon.

The fan, named as Harry Foster, was rushed to hospital after the incident 17 minutes into the game, when he was attended to by other spectators and medical staff from both clubs.

“It looked quite serious, and our thoughts were with the person who was suffering from the medical emergency,” said Kear to the Telegraph and Argus newspaper.

“Although it can be hard to forget about an incident like that, we tried our best to put it to one side.

“We achieved that and got what we wanted and that victory is dedicated to the Bradford fan.”

Kear continued: “It was a different type of win. For the defence, character and resilience, that was our biggest performance of the season up to that point.”

Having played Barrow at Odsal in a rearranged Championship round-four game on Sunday, Bradford are now building up to their home derby against Halifax on Good Friday, April 15.


DEWSBURY RAMS coach Lee Greenwood says his side fell short of the “near perfection” they would have needed to have any chance of winning at Leigh in their most recent Championship match.

The powerful Centurions ran out 44-0 winners against the injury-hit Yorkshire side, who fielded Hull KR fullback Will Tate on dual-registration.

While it was a sixth win in seven league games for Leigh, the Rams have suffered six defeats, with their sole victory coming at home to Sheffield.

“Leigh are a really strong team with no real weaknesses,” said Greenwood.

“They’re full-time with some really good players and they’ve invested heavily.

“But we didn’t help ourselves. I thought in parts we defended quite well and we should have had a try early on, but there were too many mistakes at key times.

“We were down to the 21 we selected for the squad, and we’re having no luck at all with injuries.”

Greenwood will hope for more selection options by Good Friday, April 15, when he takes his team to Batley for the latest Heavy Woollen derby.


LONDON BRONCOS coach Jermaine Coleman is working hard to improve the “small margins” that have thwarted his side’s bid for a first victory of the season.

The capital side take on Sheffield Eagles at the Eco-Power Stadium, Doncaster on Easter Saturday, April 16, aiming to bounce back after the frustration of their most recent 8-6 home defeat by Bradford Bulls.

Coleman, whose charges drew 18-18 at Barrow un their previous game, said: “We didn’t create enough to challenge Bradford in the first half, which was possibly down to the changes we made to our formation.

“I was really encouraged by our ball control; we completed 80 per cent of our sets, which is where I want us to be.

“We’ve made improvements, and the work we’ve done in training has paid off in that respect.

“But it was another defeat. We’re not where we want to be, and everyone is frustrated and disappointed.

“It’s small margins that are costing us. We’re not far off, but we need to get over that line now.”


SHEFFIELD EAGLES milestone man Kris Welham says reaching 350 career appearances against his former club Featherstone Rovers was “something special”.

It was Welham’s eighth outing for the South Yorkshire side, who signed the 35-year-old from Rovers in November.

Welham’s 16th appearance for Featherstone came in the Million Pound Game defeat by Toulouse in France in October.

He started out at home-city club Hull KR, playing 191 times for them between 2006 and 2015.

Welham also made an appearance for England Knights against France in 2011 and had a two-game dual-registration spell at Newcastle in 2014.

He played 30 times for Bradford in 2016 before a three-season stint at Salford, for whom there were 102 appearances.

“It’s been a long journey from where I started, but I’ve loved every minute and I can’t thank Rugby League enough for what it’s given me and for what I’ve been able to do in the game,” he said.

The Eagles take on London Broncos at the Eco-Power Stadium, Doncaster on Easter Saturday, April 16.


WORKINGTON TOWN coach Chris Thorman earned praise from opposite number James Ford after York’s 44-18 victory at Derwent Park left the Cumbrian club bottom of the table without a point after seven games.

It’s been a tough start for promoted Workington, where the 41-year-old took over in May 2019, with their sole win, against Newcastle, coming in the Challenge Cup.

But Ford, who played under Thorman when the Geordie was in charge at York in 2012, believes his experience could prove crucial as Town, who head to neighbours Whitehaven on Easter Sunday, April 17, try to climb away from the danger zone.

“Chris hasn’t got a regular Rugby League story; he’s from Newcastle, which isn’t a traditional area for the game, but he’s come through and played Super League, in the NRL and for England,” he explained.

“On top of that, he’s become a coach, at York then at Huddersfield, where he was in caretaker charge of a Super League team, so he should be really proud of his journey.”

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