Betfred Championship news round-up

BARROW RAIDERS stalwart Shane Toal is aiming to help resurrect his side’s Championship challenge as he closes in on 100 appearances for the club.

The 26-year-old who has played three times for Scotland – including in the 14-14 draw with Samoa at Cairns during the 2017 World Cup – reached the three-figure career tally as Paul Crarey’s side were beaten 30-18 at home by York in front of the Premier Sports cameras last Monday.

It was a third successive loss for promoted Barrow, who began the campaign with six straight wins, four of them in the league, but ahead of their home 1895 Cup semi-final against Featherstone, had suffered five defeats in seven in all competitions.

Toal and Co are preparing for Sunday’s home derby against Workington, who were promoted alongside them last season and whom they beat 32-18 at their Matt Johnson Prestige Stadium base in the fifth round of the Challenge Cup.

“The 100 milestone should have come quicker, but of course I missed out like everyone else for most of 2020 through Covid, and I also had nearly a season out with a knee ligament injury,” explained the Ulverston product who moved up to the professional ranks with Barrow in 2015.

“I’ve got two years left on my contract, so hopefully I can pile on a few more appearances for the club.”

Experienced coach Crarey, whose side remain in the play-off positions despite the recent dip in results, says his team must slash their error count.

“The effort levels are right up there and we did well in terms of penalties conceded against York,” he explained.

“But the error count was far too high, eleven for the second match running, and that hurt us.

“At the start of the season, it was two, three, maybe four at the most. Whether it’s a bit of fatigue or not, we have to get back to where we were.”


BATLEY BULLDOGS coach Craig Lingard looked ahead to the prospect of a live television appearance next Monday (May 16) and quipped: “We’re only on because we’re playing Leigh!”

Despite reaching last season’s play-off semi-finals and being fourth in the current table after four straight wins and six (as well as a draw) out of nine games overall, the Bulldogs are one of only three teams (alongside London Broncos and Sheffield) yet to shown by Premier Sports, who have a two-year deal to cover the Championship.

Leigh, by contrast, will be making their sixth appearance in front of the pay-television channel’s cameras (three of their league games and two Challenge Cup ties have already been shown).

“Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised, because while we’re a well-run club, we’re still little old Batley,” smiled Lingard, who played for the Bulldogs for a decade, scoring a club-record 142 tries, was assistant coach to John Kear when they reached the 2013 second-tier Grand Final and the Qualifiers in 2016, has been in the hot seat since the truncated 2020 campaign and was last year’s Championship Coach of the Year.

“We’ll just keep plugging away, and we’ll be happy to welcome, and try to put on a show, for Premier, who have been doing a great job with their coverage and are bringing good publicity for our division.”

The Bulldogs, whose two league defeats, at home to York and at Bradford have both been by narrow margins, won at Barrow and Widnes either side of a home Heavy Woollen derby victory over Dewsbury before making it four on the spin with a hard-fought 16-10 success at Workington.

They have a game in hand on each of their current top-six rivals after the postponement of their round-four home clash with Sheffield amid the February storms. It is yet to be rearranged.


BRADFORD BULLS interim coach Mark Dunning hailed the “effort and enthusiasm” which brought victory in his first match in charge following the departure of John Kear.

The 34-22 win at Whitehaven bolstered the long-serving club man’s bid to get the job on a permanent basis, with chairman Nigel Wood saying he will be given “every opportunity to stake his claim”.

Dunning, who first joined the Bulls’ coaching team at Scholarship level in 2012, has stepped up from the assistant coach’s role he has held since October 2018.

The triumph in Cumbria, which followed three successive defeats, came 48 hours after Bradford’s Reserves, also coached by Dunning, beat Newcastle 66-12 at Odsal.

“We played with energy and enthusiasm,” he said of the performance at the LEL Arena, where Bradford built up a 28-6 half-time lead before the home side hit back.

“It’s hard to do that for 80 minutes and we spoke in the week that even the best of teams have downtime during games.

“We have to look at the minor details so teams aren’t scoring 16 unanswered points, but I was absolutely thrilled with the first 50 minutes and that’s what we’ll look to base the rest of our season on.

“We encouraged the lads to express themselves and we’ve got some good players here.”
Bradford – after a blank weekend, next in action at home to York on Sunday – are eighth in the table after five wins from ten.

And Dunning continued: “If we can turn that bright 50 minutes into 60, 70 or 80, who knows what will happen off the back of that?

“I’ve been delighted with the commitment the players and staff have given me, and we’re all working hard. It’s not about me, it’s about the group.”

Bradford hope backrower Brad England and hooker George Flanagan will overcome calf and thumb problems respectively in time to face York.


FEATHERSTONE ROVERS points machine Craig Hall passed the 2,000 mark as Brian McDermott’s men swept aside Widnes, then promised fans he’s targeting plenty more.

The former Super League star chalked up two tries and eleven goals in the 74-6 home romp which kept the leaders a point clear of Leigh.

The 34-year-old back now has 553 points for Featherstone, whom he joined in 2020, and 2,010 over his 16 years in the professional game having scored 252 for Hull, 67 for Widnes during a loan spell in 2009, 150 for Wakefield, 442 for Toronto, 106 for Leigh and 440 for Hull KR.

“I was told about being near to 2,000 points during the build-up to the Widnes game, but I didn’t think about it too much,” said the Hull Academy product whose father Dave played for Hull KR and Great Britain.

“I was happy to get to the milestone, especially after passing 500 for Featherstone earlier in the season, but the team is the most important thing.”

Rovers have dropped only one point in ten matches, in a 20-20 draw at Batley, and Hall added: “The first half against Widnes was really good.

“I think it was the best 40 minutes we’ve put together this season, and everything we’d been working on was there.”

Featherstone visit Dewsbury on Sunday before hosting Whitehaven, and Hall continued: “We need to maintain the level we produced in that first half.”

McDermott has signed Castleford forward Tyla Hepi, who will link up with his ex-Toulouse teammates Mark Kheirallah and Johnathon Ford.

“I’m excited to be here,” said the 28-year-old, who has also played for Hull KR and Whitehaven.

“The expectations are high and so they should be. This club and this team have the personnel to get into Super League and we are all striving to do that.”

Popular halfback Dane Chisholm has left Featherstone for Keighley.


LONDON BRONCOS coach Jermaine Coleman says his victorious players feel like “a weight has been lifted off their shoulders”.

The second-bottom capital side are targeting a climb up the table after beating Dewsbury 36-12 at Wimbledon.

They had picked up just one point previously, from an 18-18 draw at Barrow, and went into the Rams clash on the back of a 64-0 drubbing at Leigh.

“It’s incredible to finally get a win,” said close-season appointment Coleman after his eleventh match at the helm, one of them a Challenge Cup tie.

“From the fans and owners to the players and coaching staff, we are all ecstatic.

“Everyone has been working very hard and we have come close on a couple of occasions.

“In the previous two performances (the Broncos were beaten 30-10 by Sheffield before losing at Leigh), our players had started to get a bit frustrated and disheartened that we hadn’t been able to achieve the results we want and think we deserve.

“We’re pleased with this win and a weight has been lifted off the players’ shoulders.

“We didn’t do anything differently. It come through the consistent hard work the team has been putting in.

“What probably made a difference was the first 30 minutes, when we came out of the blocks really hard.”

Next up is a home clash with Newcastle on Friday and Coleman continued: “Seeing and hearing all the fans at home after two away games had a really positive impact on the team,” he said.

“They copped a bit of flak because they haven’t been delivering the results, so to hear them behind us from the outset was amazing.

“This should give us a bit of confidence to kick on and play with a bit more freedom and express ourselves a bit better.”

The Broncos have lost the services of on-loan Featherstone halfback Dane Chisholm after he completed a permanent move to Keighley in League One.


WIDNES VIKINGS chief executive Phil Finney says senior players are providing helpful support for interim coach Ryan O’Brien as the search for Simon Finnigan’s successor continues.

Former Newcastle chief Finnigan left by mutual consent on April 26 after Widnes, who started the season with four straight wins, suffered a fifth successive league defeat and sixth in all competitions, 38-10 at home to Batley.

He had been in the post since November 2020, when he succeeded Tim Sheens.

O’Brien, the club’s performance manager who is nearing nine years of involvement, couldn’t stave off another loss for the injury-hit Vikings, 74-6 at leaders Featherstone, which left them ninth in the table.

However he remains among the candidates (ex-Leigh coach John Duffy and former Sheffield and London Broncos boss and current Keighley director of rugby Andrew Henderson have also been linked) and is leading preparations for the key home clash with Whitehaven on Sunday.

“It was a baptism of fire at Featherstone, but we trust Ryan, who knows the club well and has shown a lot of loyalty,” said Finney, who says he has been inundated with enquiries about the vacancy, from both the UK and overseas.

“He has received great support from senior players such as Shane Grady, Matty Smith, Jack Owens, Danny Craven and Aaron Brown, and there is a strong determination to get back on track.

“We won our first four matches of the season, and while we know performances need to improve, there’s no doubt that injuries to key players have taken their toll.

“In some matches, we’ve had six or seven who would normally have been in the 17 ruled out, and it’s caused major disruption.

“Hopefully we will have a number of players fit again by the time we face Whitehaven.”

Widnes, who say a play-off place remains a realistic target, are also scouring the player market in a bid to reinforce their squad.


YORK CITY KNIGHTS coach James Ford says preparing for Sunday’s trip to Bradford is his focus as punters talk about the progressive club’s promotion prospects in the wake of a sixth straight league win.

Having won 30-18 at Barrow in front of the Premier Sports cameras, the Knights are third, a point behind Leigh and two adrift of leaders Featherstone, after ten rounds of Championship action.

“There are a couple of sides a little bit in front of us,” said Ford, who will be without forward Pauli Pauli for the next two games because of suspension.

“We can’t influence what they do, but we can try to get better match by match.”

Ford, who is in his eighth season in charge and led York to promotion from League One (alongside Bradford) in 2018, praised his team’s defensive efforts against Barrow.

Leading 22-12 at half-time, the Knights came under heavy pressure at the start of the second half.

“Our goal-line defence was heroic,” he added. “We speak a lot as a group about never giving up on stuff, about out-competing and out-enthusing teams.

“There was a great example of that in the second half. Tee Ritson, probably the quickest bloke in the division, broke away, and half my team chased him back, then kept defending.

“A big thing in our match-review sessions is if someone goes above and beyond in their effort level. There were plenty of them in this game.

“It wasn’t a vintage York performance in terms of what we did with the ball. Sometimes we put ourselves in good positions then came up with some daft errors, soft penalties or a ball steal, and we have to tidy that up.

“But in terms of effort and defence, I was really pleased. Barrow is a difficult place to visit at the best of times, but a Monday evening makes it a little bit more of a challenge.”


DEWSBURY RAMS will be without halfback Matty Beharrell for a spell because of a fractured eye socket.

The close-season signing from Doncaster was injured during the recent 19-18 home win over bottom side Workington.

It’s a blow for Dewsbury, who are just one point above the relegation zone after losing 36-12 at second-bottom London Broncos and face a tough home clash with leaders Featherstone on Sunday.

“He’ll be a big miss as he’s a key part of the team, but we’re looking for others to step up while he’s out,” said coach Lee Greenwood, who paired Paul Sykes and Jake Sweeting in the halves in the capital.

While Greenwood also has England Universities halfback Alex Smith in his squad, Harry Copley, a close-season signing from Dewsbury Celtic, recently left the Rams.

Greenwood added: “We need to add a cutting edge to our game and get more points on the board.”


HALIFAX PANTHERS forward Kevin Larroyer is targeting 100 appearances for the club after reaching the 250 career milestone in the win over Newcastle which kept his side in fifth place.

The busy backrow – he is studying for a master’s degree in strategic sports marketing at Leeds Beckett University while also acting as a mental health ambassador for Rugby League Cares – has played 65 times for the club.

Previously the 32-year-old France international (15 appearances) featured in 41 games for Toulouse, 22 for Catalans, 62 for Hull KR, three for Newcastle (on dual registration), seven for Castleford, nine for Bradford and 26 for Leigh.

“It has been a bumpy journey with highs and lows but I’m very proud to reach 250 career appearances,” tweeted Larroyer, who was born in Toulouse. “Onto the next milestone – 100 games for Halifax.”

Larroyer’s compatriot Louis Jouffret made his 100th career appearance in the same match (seven for Halifax, 45 for Whitehaven, five for Featherstone, 37 for Batley and six for Toulouse).

The Panthers are at home to Sheffield on Sunday.


LEIGH CENTURIONS have welcomed former Australia and New South Wales winger Blake Ferguson to the UK after adding the 32-year-old to their promotion-chasing squad.

The former Cronulla, Canberra and Sydney Roosters star scored 24 tries in 57 games for Parramatta between 2019 and last season.

The 2018 Dally M winger of the year, who helped the Roosters beat Melbourne in that season’s NRL Grand Final and played seven times for the Kangaroos and nine for his state, had signed a deal to play rugby union in Japan, but was sacked in the wake of a drug-related arrest.

He could play his first Championship match when second-placed Leigh seek a ninth straight league win in their Premier Sports-televised game at Batley next Monday (May 16).

Coach Adrian Lam, who could also field recently-recruited Fiji international and former Salford forward Ben Nakubuwai, wants a more fluent display than his side produced in their 34-6 home league win over Sheffield.

“We didn’t start the best and had a lot of penalties given against us, and it’s hard to get any real momentum or rhythm when there are so many stoppages,” he said.


NEWCASTLE THUNDER director of rugby Denis Betts is hoping coach Eamon O’Carroll has improved selection options for Friday’s trip to London Broncos.

The tenth-placed Kinston Park side were missing nine regulars through injury as they lost 30-10 at home to Halifax last time out.

O’Carroll included three new loanees, Featherstone’s Callum Field and Wakefield duo Sadiq Adebiyi and Jack Croft, who claimed both Newcastle tries, in his 17.

“We looked a bit disjointed, which was understandable,” said Betts. “The three loan players had only taken part in two training sessions.

“With so many missing, we fielded a few different combinations, and at first, our attacking structures were a little bit off.

“We also made a few mistakes and caused ourselves problems, but we dug in, showed some resilience and found a bit of rhythm.

“I thought we were probably the better of the two teams in the second half, and being exposed to a side as good as Halifax will benefit our lads in the long term.

“The blank weekend gives us the chance to work on the injured players, and hopefully the coach will have some of them available for the next match.”


WHITEHAVEN are hoping their relationship with Hull will continue to flourish.

The Cumbrian club have had four players on loan from the Super League club this season – winger Harvey Barron, hooker Jacob Hookem, fullback Davy Litten and utility back Marcus Walker.

While Barron and Walker featured in the 34-22 home defeat by Bradford which left injury-hit Whitehaven eleventh, Hookem and Litten were recalled by Hull.

However director Ashley Kilpatrick is hoping they could return to the LEL Arena at some stage.

“(Hull chief executive) James Clark and (coach) Brett Hodgson have helped us out and them letting Harvey come to us shows the strength of our ever-growing partnership,” he said. “We hope it will continue to grow.”


WORKINGTON TOWN chairman John Pleasants is driving forward a bid to build a new community stadium in the town.

It would be home to both Town and Workington Football Club and be on ‘the footprint’ of the latter’s current Borough Park ground.

Pleasants and former football club chairman Dave Bowden are among four members of the newly-formed Cumberland Sports Village Limited.

The two are co-chairmen, with the board also including urban regeneration specialist David Taylor and economic sociologist Dr Niamh Mulcahy.

A public meeting was held to outline to plan and highlight the hurdles which must be cleared to deliver the proposed new venue by 2026.

“We believe we have a realistic and pragmatic project and judging by the interest shown, we can go forward positively,” said Bowden.

Town forward Rhys Clarke made his 250th career appearance in the 16-10 home defeat by Batley last time out.

It was the 31-year-old’s 29th outing since joining from Newcastle, initially on loan, partway through last season. He has also played for York and Whitehaven.

Bottom team Town are still seeking their first league win as they prepare to visit fellow promoted side Barrow on Sunday.

Coach Chris Thorman handed debuts to twins Connor and Curtis Davies, the forwards signed from French side Villeneuve, against Batley.


SHEFFIELD EAGLES secondrow Joel Farrell says extra responsibility on the pitch has helped calm him down.

The Jamaica international who joined from Batley in 2019 with the reputation of being hot-headed is vice-captain to Anthony Thackeray.

And in the absence of the experienced halfback, Farrell, who started his career at Dewsbury, skippered Sheffield in their 34-6 league defeat at Leigh.

“Having the odd game as captain gives me more energy and makes me calmer,” he explained.

“I know my responsibilities and I can’t run around acting like a mad man.

“In my head, I’m still one of the young boys, but I’m 28.

“It’s weird to have people looking up to me rather than it being the other way around. It’s good to see the young boys coming through.”

Seventh-placed Sheffield visit Halifax on Sunday chasing a third win in four in the league.

“We’re confident for every game,” added Farrell. “We don’t fear anyone, we’re not worried about anyone, we go out there and do our best.”

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