BATLEY BULLDOGS coach Craig Lingard has challenged his players to find a cure for their lengthy bout of homesickness – starting when Sheffield visit the Fox’s Biscuits Stadium on Wednesday (August 3).
It’s a rearranged round-four clash which fell victim to the February storms, leaving Batley, who drubbed neighbours Dewsbury 60-6 at the Summer Bash, with a schedule of three games in nine days (they go to Halifax for a Premier Sports-televised match on Sunday).
“It’s a tough ask for a full-time team, let alone a part-time side, but Sheffield are in the same situation, and we’ll just get one with it,” said Lingard, whose play-off chasers suffered a first defeat in nine games in going gown 24-18 at home to Widnes, led by former Batley coach John Kear, in round 20.
Lingard, who was Kear’s assistant at the Bulldogs, watched his side concede four second-half tries, one of them converted, as Widnes made the most of playing down the infamous Mount Pleasant slope to overturn an 18-6 half-time deficit.
“Fair play to Widnes, they managed the (wet) conditions and the pitch better than we did, and I’ve no complaints about the result,” he said.
“They came with a plan, executed it well in the second half, and did a number on us, and we have to be better.”
While Batley had claimed 13 wins in 19 league games this year before the Summer Bash, only five of them have been at home, where there have been two draws and other defeats by York and Leigh.
And last season, when Lingard led his charges to the play-off semi-finals, there were only five wins in eleven home league outings.
“While our away form is really pleasing, a home win rate of around 50 percent over the last two years is pretty disappointing, and we have to find ways of improving that record,” he admitted.
WIDNES VIKINGS coach John Kear hailed the defensive effort and attacking nous which helped his side make it four wins from four under his command ahead of the Summer Bash contest against Barrow.
And the experienced team chief who started the season in charge of Bradford revealed his inside knowledge of the infamous sloping pitch at Batley, where he was coach between September 2011 and April 2016, helped him come up with the plan for a game his team won 24-18 against a highly-regarded Bulldogs side who hadn’t lost in eight previous outings.
After watching Widnes exploit playing downhill in the second half by scoring four tries, one of them converted, to overturn an 18-6 half-time deficit, Kear said: “I was really pleased with how we played, our attitude and energy levels, our enthusiasm and smartness and how we ended our sets.
“No one goes to Batley and gets their own way, and that’s how it was.
“It’s a tough place to play at. They are a good team who I don’t think get the respect they deserve, but we gave them that respect.
“Obviously Batley know how to utilise the pitch, but I spent a fair bit of time there so learned how to play it as well, and I thought the players executed the game plan to the Nth degree.
“The aim was to defend resolutely, and against strong opposition. That side of our game was encouraging, especially in the second half, and simply to build pressure.
“If you camp inside the opposition’s 20-metre zone, at some stage you are going to get opportunities, then it’s a matter of taking as many of them as possible.”
Kear, while side host Featherstone on Sunday, continued: “I think our performances show the lads are enjoying playing. We want to take that effort, hard work and enthusiasm forward.”
On-loan Leigh winger Kieran Dixon is out with a fractured arm.
WORKINGTON TOWN have taken Barrow prop Connor Terrill on loan and signed Cumberland League pair Joe Kirkup and Ryan Scott as triallists in a bid to boost a squad that has been depleted following the board’s request for players and staff members to take a pay cut.
The relegation-threatened Cumbrians have issued a statement to reassure supporters and outline steps being taken to address ongoing financial issues which have left the 77-year-old club in a “fragile” position (see Championship Focus on page 12).
Wales international forward Connor Davies has joined fellow strugglers Dewsbury and ex-England Community Lions centre or winger Curtis Teare has switched to Whitehaven, while halfback Ciaran Walker has left the club, who were promoted through the League One play-offs last year.
Davies was signed alongside twin brother Curtis in April after they had been playing for French side Villeneuve. Curtis is currently on loan at Whitehaven.
Walker switched from Newcastle ahead of this season, having come through their development system after playing his junior rugby for Workington-based National Conference League club Seaton Rangers.
With injuries biting (prop Jake Lightowler has had knee surgery, second row Caine Barnes is expected to be out for at least a month with a damaged foot and hooker Dec O’Donnell is also currently sidelined with an elbow problem), coach Chris Thorman could name only three substitutes for the game at Sheffield, who won 64-6.
That was a 19th defeat in 20 league games ahead of the Summer Bash meeting with neighbours Whitehaven at Headingley (Bradford is the destination in round 22 this Sunday).
To add to Workington’s woes, the game at Sheffield was delayed by almost two hours after the team coach was held up by a multi-vehicle accident en route.
Kirkup is a prop who has been playing for Glasson Rangers, while Scott is a backrower from their Cumberland League Premier Division rivals Cockermouth Titans. Scott has represented the Royal Navy.
BARROW RAIDERS coach Paul Crarey says the club has yet to receive an approach for star winger Theerapol Ritson amid increasing speculation of Super League interest in the free-scoring 26-year-old, with St Helens reportedly among his suitors.
The Thailand international, who comes from Flimby, on the Cumbrian coast, but qualifies for the Asian nation through his mother, had crossed 23 times this year ahead of the Summer Bash showdown with Widnes.
Ritson, known as Tee, joined Barrow from Newcastle ahead of the 2019 season, having previously played for Workington, and is contracted until 2024 after signing a contract extension a year ago.
He helped Barrow win promotion as last season’s League One champions, notching 22 tries in 15 appearances, and his contribution this term has put Crarey’s team on course for the play-offs.
With 13 wins and a draw from 20 games, they were fifth before the Bash, and the coach said: “Nobody has been in touch, not his agent, nor clubs.
“He’s great for us, one of our stand-out players, and we want to keep him.
“Tee’s on contract for two more years, and without clubs coming through us, he won’t be going anywhere.”
Ritson, who made his Workington debut in 2014, when he was 18, is closing in on 100 career tries.
“A friend of mine who’s from a Super League club rang me and asked what I thought of Tee, but I think you have to make your own assumptions.
“He’s a great finisher. Whether or not he’s of Super League standard, I don’t know.
“He went through a spell where it all went a bit flat, but as soon as he scores a couple of finishing tries, it all starts again.
“They probably are only rumours, because if St Helens were clamouring for him, which is one rumour I’ve heard, there will be a lot of other clubs doing the same.”
FEATHERSTONE ROVERS halfback Morgan Smith says Brian McDermott’s side can blitz their way into the play-offs as they seek a third successive Million Pound Game appearance.
The long-time promotion chasers were beaten 24-6 by Toronto, then coached by McDermott, in the big decider in Canada in 2019, and after the Covid-enforced curtailment of the campaign meant no MPG in 2020, went down 34-12 to Toulouse in France last year.
Rovers were beaten by leaders and promotion favourites Leigh for the second time in three league meetings this season in their Headingley Summer Bash showdown.
Close-season signing Smith, the grandson of former Featherstone and Great Britain forward Peter Smith, who in the previous game helped see off his old club York 30-22, says they will aim to power their way into the play-offs in form, then take it game by game, with another clash with the Centurions, who also beat Rovers in the 1895 Cup final at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in May, a strong possibility.
“We’re continuously working to improve,” said the 24-year-old former Warrington and London Broncos player, who linked up with York ahead of the 2021 campaign but didn’t play a competitive game for the club after suffering an injury during pre-season training.
“We know if we can get our middles down the pitch, and get a few blitzes, as we call them, we can do some damage.”
Rovers head to Widnes on Sunday before a home clash with Dewsbury seven days later.
Meanwhile chief executive Martin Vickers says he’s delighted to be part of Craig Hall’s testimonial committee.
The 34-year-old former Hull, Hull KR, Wakefield, Toronto and Leigh back has been given the green light by the RFL for a series of events in 2023.
“Craig is dependable on the field and in his work in the community and in representing the club, he is second to none,” said Vickers.
YORK CITY KNIGHTS coach James Ford believes Tongan international Ata Hingano will be a cornerstone of an increasingly strong side over the next three seasons.
Having made a deadline-day swoop to bring in the former NRL halfback or hooker on loan from Leigh for the remainder of this season, the ambitious Knights have confirmed his permanent signing on a contract through to 2025.
The 25-year-old former New Zealand Warriors and Canberra Raiders player, who operated alongside York halfback Brendan O’Hagan at the latter, first arrived in the UK in June 2021, when he joined Salford.
Leigh signed him during the close-season, but with the big-spending leaders boasting a plentiful player pool, he has been unable to tie down a regular place, with his chances further limited by the acquisition of Papua New Guinea halfback or hooker Lachlan Lam from Sydney Roosters.
The move to York offers the opportunity to get things back on track ahead of the World Cup (five of Hingano’s eight appearances for Tonga came during the 2017 tournament, when he scored a try during the 20-18 semi-final defeat by England in his home city of Auckland).
“Ata’s pedigree is incredible and I just think he needs a run of games,” said Ford, whose play-off chasers won 13 of their first 16 league matches but went into their Summer Bash clash with Newcastle having lost four in a row.
“He’ll need to know our systems, but he’ll pick those up pretty quickly because they’re similar to Leigh’s.”
Hingano, who made 15 appearances for the Warriors, where he came through the ranks, and nine for the Raiders, reckons spending the remainder of this year at York will be big help ahead of his permanent switch.
“It will be very beneficial,” he explained.
“To create success, it comes down to you trusting the coaches and players and them trusting you. That doesn’t come overnight.”
SHEFFIELD EAGLES director of rugby Mark Aston is hoping Sosaia Feki finally gets the run of games he craves after agreeing a second loan stint for Castleford’s ex-NRL outside back ahead of a busy spell.
Having beaten London Broncos at the Summer Bash, Sheffield travel to Batley on Wednesday (August 3) for a rearranged round-four clash which fell victim to the February storms, then host Whitehaven on Sunday.
Auckland-born ex-Tonga international Feki started a planned two-week stint at the Olympic Legacy Park early last month, but then had to return to New Zealand.
Now the 31-year-old is back for the remainder of the season, although his parent club has a recall clause.
Feki has had an injury-plagued spell at Castleford after being a regular at Cronulla Sharks, where he scored 67 tries in 148 NRL games, including the 2016 Grand Final win over Melbourne Storm, across seven seasons before moving to the UK in 2020.
He has made only one first-appearance for Castleford due to calf, knee and Achilles tendon problems.
Feki, who came through the New Zealand Warriors development system before joining Cronulla in 2013, played for Castleford’s second team earlier this year and then had a loan spell at Featherstone, but didn’t make an appearance.
“It’s great to be welcoming him back. He has a wealth of talent and will be a very good addition on and off the field, with our youngsters learning from a player who was in the NRL not so long ago,” said Aston, who hailed the ruthlessness his side showed in beating Workington 64-6 at the OLP in round 20.
It was a first win in six for Sheffield, and their team chief quipped: “I thought they’d forgotten the victory song, so it was good to hear them singing again.
“When we took the shackles off after a clunky first half, you could see the confidence coming back.”
WHITEHAVEN have signed former England Community Lions outside back Curtis Teare from cash-strapped neighbours Workington on a deal until the end of the season.
And the injury-hit club this week hope to resurrect the loans of Castleford trio Cain Robb, Jason Qareqare and Kieran Hudson.
All three were recalled as the Tigers faced going into their Super League clash against Wakefield with a highly-depleted squad.
Teare joined Workington from Wath Brow Hornets following their promotion from League One last year.
He played 15 times for them, scoring two tries, mainly on the wing, although he was at centre latterly.
Teare’s departure followed Workington’s request for players and staff members to take a pay cut (see Championship Focus on page 12).
And Whitehaven coach Jonty Gorley explained: “Curtis was one of the best amateurs in the area, and in fact the country, when he signed for Workington. At that time we were also interested in him.
“As an ex-player, coach and supporter, I feel for them because I have personally been in that position twice, as a player and a coach, both times at Town.
“In times like these, players have to make a decision and Curtis opted to activate the release clause in his contract.
“I spoke to Curtis and told him to have a think about his options and that if he decided to leave, I would definitely be interested in talking to him. I’m sure he’ll be a great asset.”
HALIFAX PANTHERS back Zack McComb says there’s nowhere he’d rather be after agreeing a one-year contract extension with his hometown club.
The 26-year-old former Siddal player who represented England Universities at the 2017 World Cup in Australia (he studied sports coaching at Leeds Beckett) and started out at Huddersfield before playing for Batley, Oldham and Sheffield is in his third campaign at The Shay.
Having sorted out his whereabouts in 2023, he is ready to focus on helping Halifax reach the play-offs again (they host Batley on Sunday) and sealing a place in the Ireland squad for the World Cup.
“I’m buzzing to sign for another year,” said McComb, whose two tries helped Halifax beat Bradford 22-6 at the Summer Bash.
“It’s my hometown club so it couldn’t get any better, there’s nowhere else I’d rather go.
“I feel at home. I’m just trying to grow my game, learn from the players around me and keep working hard to improve.”
McComb’s versatility is a real asset for coach Simon Grix, who added: “It’s great news for us to retain a local lad who has been doing a really good job over the last few years.”
LEIGH CENTURIONS head of rugby Chris Chester says he intends to “build a club” around the likes of Lachlan Lam.
The 24-year-old son of coach Adrian Lam moved from Sydney Roosters on a deal which runs until the end of next season.
The halfback will team up with fellow Papua New Guinea International, hooker Edwin Ipape, who recently signed a contract extension until 2025.
The pair have a double target of helping Leigh, who have also agreed a two-year contract extension with powerful former Australia and New South Wales winger Blake Ferguson, win promotion back to Super League before representing the Kumuls in the World Cup.
Lam made a try-scoring debut as Leigh beat Featherstone 46-16 at the Summer Bash. The Centurions host Barrow on Sunday.
“The signing of Lachlan is another that shows our intent,” said Chester.
“We are recruiting top-quality NRL players, who are coming here to make a difference.
“Lachlan will boost our squad for the rest of the year and for 2023. He fits perfectly into our recruitment policy, and we can build a club around players like him.”
BRADFORD BULLS coach Mark Dunning says he and his players are united in their bid to get a difficult season back on track.
The Odsal side suffered a fifth straight defeat in losing 22-6 to Halifax at the Summer Bash, four of them since the long-serving staff member was named coach on a contract until the end of next season.
Dunning had claimed five wins in eight games since taking caretaker charge following the departure of John Kear, to whom he was assistant.
Bradford host basement side Workington on Sunday, and the team chief said: “We’ve been struggling to do the fundamentals right and earn the right to win games.
“There has been a lot going on behind the scenes and when confidence is low, people try and do things on their own rather than as a team.
“It is something that the players and I need to address if we are to save our season.
“We have spoken about the need to stay tight and keep working hard, and everyone is fully committed to doing that.”
NEWCASTLE THUNDER director of rugby and interim coach Denis Betts says his players must take the initiative from the start of matches.
The North-East side were trailing 12-0, then 22-10, before finally drawing 24-24 at home to Dewsbury.
That came after a narrow 33-26 loss at Widnes, where Newcastle twice fought back to level, at 12-12, then 26-26.
Betts, who took over following Eamon O’Carroll’s June departure and had two wins, a draw and two defeats going into the Summer Bash game against York, said: “Our effort levels are there, and we’ve shown grit and character to find a way back into games.
“But we’re giving ourselves too much to do and too much to respond to. In this game, you cannot be responding to situations, you have to be the aggressor and get into games right from the start.”
Newcastle are at home to London Broncos on Sunday.
LONDON BRONCOS interim coach Mike Eccles hailed the 38-10 home win over Halifax, which provided a huge fillip to the club’s hopes of staving off relegation to the third tier.
It was a second successive victory and third in four for the Broncos, and although they lost to Sheffield Eagles at the Summer Bash, they remain six points clear of the drop zone.
“I’m delighted for everyone here,” said Eccles.
“We’ve picked up some useful results recently.
“We’re on the up, and Simon (Grix, Halifax coach) paid us a huge compliment at the end of the game by saying ‘you’re playing like a London club now’.
“It’s exactly how we need to play – entertaining Rugby League that’s gritty and where we work hard for each other.”
The Broncos head to Newcastle on Sunday.
DEWSBURY RAMS coach Liam Finn was delighted with the debut display of Connor Davies.
The Wales international forward who started his career at Halifax joined the relegation-threatened Rams from fellow strugglers Workington on a deal until the end of the season.
Davies, 25, who played ten times for Workington after moving from French side Villeneuve, featured at second row in the 24-24 draw at Newcastle.
It was only a fifth point of the season for Dewsbury and their first since Finn took the reins in mid-June.
“Connor put in a big shift,” he said.
“He’s somebody I’ve played against, know a lot about and who’ll certainly add some more competitiveness to us.”
Having lost to Batley at the Summer Bash, Dewsbury host York on Sunday.
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