Betfred Championship news round-up

WIDNES VIKINGS have appointed John Kear as coach – and the former Bradford boss can’t wait to get cracking as he aims to help the Vikings realise their “great potential”.

Existing commitments, including Wales’ international in France on Sunday, means the hugely-experienced 67-year-old, who will lead the Dragons in this Autumn’s World Cup in England, won’t start his new role until Friday, July 1, with his first match away to Workington two days later.

Performance manager Ryan O’Brien will remain in caretaker charge in the meantime, with a home game against London Broncos on Sunday, June 26 following the international break.

“This is a club with great tradition, and more importantly, great potential,” said former Bramley, Paris St Germain, Sheffield, Huddersfield, Hull Wakefield, Batley, France and England coach Kear, who left Bradford on April 26.

“The ground is first class, the training facilities the same, and the ambition of the board and chief executive stands out. They want to take the club forward.

“Should there be a (divisional) restructure, they want to be on the right side of the ledger, and my job is to make sure we are.”

Widnes, who parted company with Simon Finnigan on the same day Kear and Bradford went their separate ways, approached their round-15 game at home to York ninth in the table and having lost nine of their previous ten league games.

Kear undertook a thorough review of the squad as part of his job application, and added: “There are some really good players here and there are plenty of positives, but we are in a bit of a hole.

“We have to address the current situation and make sure we climb out of it and finish the season in a positive manner.

“It will be nice and simple to begin with, and everyone must know their role and responsibilities, then we’ll add bits on top. I want them to enjoy playing for each other.”


BATLEY BULLDOGS coach Craig Lingard says a dry run helped his side chalk up a third straight win and seventh in eight games at home to Workington.

The highly-rated team chief imposed a booze ban for the recent Bank Holiday Thursday evening return coach trip from Whitehaven, where the Yorkshire side, chasing a second play-off appearance in as many seasons, were 46-6 victors.

The Bulldogs backed that up by beating Town 46-0 at home three days later – and their boss praised his players for their meticulous preparation.

“We knew it would be difficult,” explained Lingard, whose side hosted Newcastle yesterday (Sunday, June 12), with Ben Kaye available after a two-match ban and his fellow hooker Luke Blake pushing for a return following an ankle injury.

“Not only were we playing twice in a short space of time, but there was a fair bit of travel up to and back from Whitehaven, and we were playing against two teams who always provide a really tough physical test, which is how it worked out.

“We asked the players to be professional in the way they acted between the two games, which included refuelling properly and avoiding alcohol over what was a long holiday weekend.

“I think you could see from the level of performance we produced against Workington that they bought into what we were asking.

“Knowing there would inevitably be some fatigue after Whitehaven, we kept the gameplan fairly simple, but within that, it was crucial that we did those basic things really well.

“I thought the first 40 minutes was the best half of rugby we have produced all season. We got to the 38th minute without a significant mistake, and that set a really solid platform.

“To nil them was particularly pleasing given the mental and physical approach needed to do that in any game, never mind when you’ve played so recently.”

Batley’s next match is at Featherstone on Sunday, June 26.


SHEFFIELD EAGLES have taken Cory Aston on loan from Halifax – starting a third spell at the club for the son of coach Mark Aston – and signed his fellow halfback Tom Holmes, who has been on loan from Featherstone, on a deal until the end of the season.

Aston’s switch is for an initial three weeks, so after the home clash against Bradford yesterday (Sunday, June 12) also takes in the Olympic Legacy Park meeting with Leigh on Friday, June 24.

The 27-year-old former Leeds, Castleford and London Broncos halfback switched to The Shay during the close-season.

But Aston, who came through the old Sheffield Academy and played at first-team level from 2013 until 2016 before returning on loan from Castleford in 2018, has been behind Louis Jouffret and Joe Keyes in the pecking order.

And Halifax coach Simon Grix explained: “I am reluctant to break up a combination that is working at present and it has been tough for Cory.

“He has had his head down working hard without the weekly reward of running out with the team, so after a number of weeks on the sidelines, it’s a great opportunity for him to dust the cobwebs off and get some much-needed game time at Championship level.”

In total, Aston, who has also had loan spells at Featherstone, Bradford and Newcastle, had made 92 Sheffield appearances, scoring 40 tries and kicking 121 goals, ahead of the the clash with the Bulls.

Father Mark said: “We know his qualities and it will be great for him to get to play in his home city in front of our loyal supporters at the Olympic Legacy Park.

“He’ll relish the opportunity and add to our style of play, just as Tom Holmes and QLT (Quentin Laulu Togaga’e, on loan from Keighley) have.”

Sheffield claimed a seventh win in 13 league games when they beat Newcastle 31-18 at Kingston Park eight days ago.


LEIGH CENTURIONS halfback Ben Reynolds aims to inflict another blow on his local club when Adrian Lam’s side host Featherstone in front of the Premier Sports television cameras tonight (Monday, June 13).

The 28-year-old comes from Pontefract and has previously played for Rovers (on loan from Wakefield in 2019), having started his career at the Calder area’s other club Castleford.

Now he’s firmly focused on helping Leigh, where he is in his third spell, make an immediate return to Super League following relegation last season, when he was restricted to ten Super League appearances by a knee injury.

Featherstone and Leigh are leading the race for the one available promotion place, with Rovers a point ahead with 14 games gone and knowing finishing top of the table after 27 provides what, on paper at least, is an advantageous play-off path.

Rovers were 28-6 winners when the pair met at the Millennium Stadium in round two back in February, but Lam’s team beat Brian McDermott’s men 30-16 in last month’s 1895 Cup final at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.

Reynolds registered a try in that game, and by kicking five goals in the follow-up 30-28 league win at Barrow and a try and a conversion in the 36-0 home victory over Halifax, took his overall Leigh points haul to 739 in 111 games (39 tries, 291 goals and one field-goal).

That means he overtook 1971 Challenge Cup-winning prop Jimmy Fiddler’s 737 tally to be seventh in the club’s all-time scoring chart, which is topped by former Great Britain back John Woods with 2,492.

Reynolds penned a two-year contract extension in September after re-signing for Leigh in April 2021 following a short stint in France with Toulouse.

“We know we can score points, but we need to keep them out as well, so we’re working hard on defence,” he said.


BARROW RAIDERS have brought in Catalans Dragons forward Mathieu Cozza on an initial month’s loan which they hope could be extended to cover the rest of the season.

The 22-year-old prop or loose-forward has made four appearances for the Super League club and has had a string of outings with their feeder team Saint-Estève XIII in the French domestic competition this year.

Chairman Steve Neale explained: “We have been in the market for a middle for much of the season. We’re delighted to have captured a player of his quality.”

Both Cozza and his compatriot, centre Hakim Miloudi, who has served an eight-match suspension, were available for the round-15 derby trip to Workington.

Barrow are next in action at home to Halifax in front of the Premier Sports television cameras on Monday, June 27.

Coach Paul Crarey was pleased with both his side’s performance, and a 2,451 attendance, in the 44-4 win over Widnes.

The Jarrod Sammut-inspired eight-tries-to-one triumph came just three days after a home thriller against Leigh and kept the Cumbrians in the play-off chase.

A crowd of 2,422 saw the powerful Centurions edge a 30-20 victory, and Crarey said: “To do that with a turnaround like that and a massive performance against Leigh was fantastic.

“We made some little changes and they were justified, I think. They’re a team who just keep on giving.”

It was an eighth win (plus a draw) in 14 league matches this season for last year’s League One champions.

Prop Carl Forster made his 200th career appearance against Widnes.

The 30-year-old played five times for his first club St Helens and featured in five games for London Broncos, 16 for Swinton, 16 for Salford, 26 for Rochdale and 95 for Whitehaven before joining Barrow ahead of the 2020 campaign.

He had spells as player-coach at both Whitehaven and Rochdale.


BRADFORD BULLS hooker George Flanagan has issued a warning to other clubs chasing a play-off place: “Write us off at your peril.”

A 58-12 Monday-night defeat at one of his old clubs Featherstone, who returned to the top of the table as a result, left the Odsal side eighth going into their round-15 game at Sheffield six days later.

But the Bulls claimed victory in three of their first four matches under Mark Dunning, who stepped up from assistant coach in the wake of John Kear’s departure on April 26.

And while disappointed by the departure of Kear, who signed him from Hunslet in 2018 and whom he also played under at Batley, Flanagan believes Dunning can take Bradford back to the play-offs after last year’s fifth-placed finish.

“Losing John was a massive shock for everyone,” said the 35-year-old, who came through the Bulls Academy before beginning the first of two stints at Batley and has also represented Dewsbury.

“While people might have seen it coming, I had a personal relationship with him and was absolutely gutted when he left.

“But Mark and (Leigh) Beattie have done an outstanding job with us. Overall, we’re pleased with where we are.

“We’ll go under the radar a bit and people are writing us off. But do that at your own peril.

“We’ll keep going along as we are, gaining in confidence and building as a team.

“We’ve got a young squad but with some experience in there too. We’ll give it a good dig right to the end of the season.”

Dunning said he saw the toll taken by the Bank Holiday Thursday win at Widnes during the Featherstone match.

“We needed to be better than we were,” he said. “But this is a good, honest group and losing one game heavily doesn’t change that.”

Bradford are next in action at Dewsbury on Sunday, June 26.


LONDON BRONCOS debutant Dan Hoyes is keen to build on his try-scoring bow against York.

It’s a busy period for the teenager, who is taking A-levels in psychology, history and product design.

The studious centre was among nine Academy products picked by Mike Eccles, the club’s long-serving head of performance who stepped up to act as interim coach after the departure of Jermaine Coleman, for the game at the LNER Stadium, which came three days after the trip to Workington.

London lost both, but Eccles was encouraged by the performance against York, who were 36-34 winners after being 28-18 down at one stage, and scored two late tries while Broncos’ new Italy international halfback Brock Pelligra, another debutant, was in the sin bin.

Hoyes was among six Broncos try-scorers, and explained: “I’ve got Brock and Paul Ulberg to thank.

“Brock pulled off a beautiful crossfield kick which Paul caught and left me with the job of crossing over.

“I really enjoyed making my debut, and it’s great to take that next step. I feel my game is developing well and consequently I’m enjoying my time here.

“The challenge is to retain my place in the first team. It’s a busy period for me with exams – I’m still completing my schoolwork on the bus journeys home.

“Once my exams are out of the way, I’m determined to make the most of my time and continue my development.”

Financial constraints mean producing their own players is more important than ever for the capital club.

And Hoyes added: “The Academy is such an important part of London Broncos. The player pathway is there for everyone to see.”

The Broncos have clinched two loan signings, their former hooker Sam Davis from York until the end of the season and 20-year-old Castleford forward Sam Hall for a month.

Having visited Dewsbury, they go to Widnes on Sunday, June 26.


DEWSBURY RAMS caretaker coach Paul Sykes says the first-half performance against Whitehaven provided encouragement as he plots an escape from the danger zone.

A second-half slump, during which both stand-off Sykes and hooker Reiss Butterworth were yellow carded, led to a 26-18 defeat for Dewsbury after they had been 18-8 ahead at the break.

With two to go down, the Rams would have drawn level on points with the Cumbrian club and gone four ahead of Workington and three in front of London Broncos, who they hosted in round 15 yesterday (Sunday, June 12), by winning.

“We had as near-perfect a first half as we could have,” said 40-year-old Sykes, who stepped up from assistant coach following the departure of Lee Greenwood after the 66-0 round-13 defeat at Halifax.

“If we had got over early in the second half, we could have put the game to bed, but we shot ourselves in the foot.

“It’s hard to defend when you’re down to twelve, then eleven. They got a head of steam and we couldn’t claw it back.

“But if we can put two halves like the first one together, we won’t be far off.”

Dewsbury, who are at home to Bradford on Sunday, June 26, have taken Bradford fullback Elliot Hall on a month’s loan.


HALIFAX PANTHERS coach Simon Grix wants his players to use their 36-0 “humbling” at Leigh as a wake-up call.

The Yorkshire side had chalked up eight successive wins going into the fixture.

Last season, Grix’s side enjoyed nine straight victories, but then won only one of their next five, and he is keen to avoid a repeat of that kind of run.

It was the first time Halifax had been nilled since losing 14-0 at home to Toronto Wolfpack in the Super 8s in 2018, when Grix was assistant to Richard Marshall.

“Leigh were very good, but it wasn’t the performance we had hoped for and what we were building towards,” he said.

“It caused us a bit of hurt. It was a humbling, especially after the kind of form we’d been in.

“When you get on a roll like we had, you get used to winning, and hopefully the defeat will give us some hunger going forward.”

Winger James Saltonstall says lessons will be learned.

The long-serving Italy international insisted: “We still believe we can score points.

“We created some chances, but didn’t execute. Against teams like Leigh, you have to take every opportunity you get to have a chance of winning, because you don’t get that many.

“We built a lot of confidence over the previous eight games which will stand us in good stead.”

Having played at Whitehaven, the Panthers are next in action at Barrow in front of the Premier Sports television cameras on Monday, June 27.


FEATHERSTONE ROVERS are sweating over an injury to Jack Bussey sustained during the 58-12 home win over Bradford which put them back on top of the table in place of Leigh.

The top two clash at Leigh Sports Village in front of the Premier Sports television cameras tonight (Monday, June 13), 16 days after the Centurions beat Rovers 30-16 in the 1895 Cup final at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.

Bussey scored two of Featherstone’s ten tries against Bradford before being forced off after Muizz Mustapha landed on his legs as he crossed for the second.

The Leeds-born backrow is in his second spell at the club having also played for London Broncos and Toronto Wolfpack.

Rovers have won 13 and drawn the other of their league games so far. They host Batley on Sunday, June 26.


NEWCASTLE THUNDER are aiming to make a day of their next match.

Eamon O’Carroll’s side host Workington on Sunday, June 26, and the round-16 clash will be preceded by a curtain-raiser match between sides made up from the club’s community foundation and ex-servicemen.

In addition, children from across the region will be present as part of a festival organised with the help of the Newcastle-based Laidlaw Schools Trust.

Participants will play a series of festival games, meet the Thunder squad and perform a half-time pitch parade.

And players from community club Catterick Crusaders will take to the pitch in the build-up to kick-off, displaying a giant Newcastle Thunder flag and forming a guard of honour as the players run out.


WHITEHAVEN coach Jonty Gorley is backing centre Will Evans’ bid to make the Wales’ World Cup squad.

The former Burleigh Bears player is among 15 uncapped call-ups in the initial pool to take on France in Albi on Sunday.

The 21-year-old represented the Dragons at the the Rugby League World Nines in Sydney in October 2019.

Evans captained Queensland at Under 16 level and spent time in the development ranks at both Brisbane Broncos and Gold Coast Titans before joining Queensland Cup side Burleigh.

He has settled in well at Whitehaven and helped the Cumbrians claim an important 26-18 win at Dewsbury.

“Will has come through some good systems in Australia,” said Gorley. “He is quick, agile and good on his feet, and his attitude is great.”

Having hosted Halifax, Whitehaven, who have extended Castleford hooker Cain Robb’s loan for a further month, are next in action at home to York on Sunday, June 26.


WORKINGTON TOWN coach Chris Thorman says his side have what it takes to escape an immediate return to League One.

It’s been tough going for the Cumbrian club since they won the third-tier play-off final 36-12 against Doncaster at Derwent Park in October.

Workington finally claimed a first league win, 32-18 at home to fellow strugglers London Broncos, at the 13th attempt, but then went down 46-0 at Batley three days later.

Having hosted county rivals Barrow, the international break means Town now have a blank weekend to prepare for the visit to Newcastle, Thorman’s home-city club, on Sunday, June 26.

“A lot of our performances haven’t been that far off,” he said. “With a few breaks, we could have been sitting in a very different spot, but we’re not.

“If we stick to the processes we have practised and get that little bit of luck, we’ll be alright.”


YORK CITY KNIGHTS coach James Ford is awaiting further news on Jacob Ogden’s ankle injury.

The centre was forced off during the first half of the 36-34 home win over London Broncos, the Knights’ ninth in ten league games.

Ogden, signed from the Broncos over the close-season, had just returned from a concussion issue.

“The x-ray came back clear, but he’s still really sore, so we suspect it’s a ligament injury,” explained Ford. “He’s had a scan, so we’re waiting for the information from that.”

York also had Brendan O’Hagan, Levi Edwards, Ronan Michael and Will Oakes absent for their round-15 game at Widnes.

But Ford hopes they will be available for the visit to Whitehaven on Sunday, June 26.

“Will’s a key player for us. I like what he brings and I think he’s really hard to handle,” added Ford.

“But he’s had an infection, and we have to take a sensible approach

“It’s the same story with Brendan, Levi and Ronan. We want to get them back but we want them back and firing on all cylinders for the business end of the season.”

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