BATLEY BULLDOGS coach Craig Lingard says skipper James Brown is leading by example as his side chases down another shot at the play-offs.
The no-nonsense prop wore the armband last year when the West Yorkshire team reached the semi-finals, beating Bradford 23-10 at home in an eliminator before a 51-12 defeat by eventual winners Toulouse in France.
The 34-year-old became Batley’s latest milestone man when he made his 200th career appearance in the recent 24-18 home defeat by Widnes.
That loss snapped a winning run that had gone back eight games, but the Bulldogs bounced back with a ruthless 60-6 drubbing of neighbours Dewsbury at the Summer Bash before beating Sheffield 32-22 at home in Wednesday’s rearranged round-four match.
As well as being Brown’s 202nd appearance, the Sheffield showdown was his 162nd for Batley, who signed him from Swinton (39 games) ahead of the 2015 campaign.
And Lingard, who was coach of Keighley when the frontrower made a one-off loan appearance for the Cougars in 2017, said: “He’s been great once again.
“It’s a great achievement to get to 200 appearances, particularly in his case because of the physical way he plays.
“James was a relatively late entrant to the professional game, and played a lot of times for (Leeds amateur side) Queens before Swinton signed him.
“He’d have reached the 200 mark quicker had it not been for one or two injuries along the way.
“It’s testament to the way he has trained and looked after himself over the years that he’s still going strong.
“And when you consider he works in construction, so is out and about doing physical work all day before training on an evening, you realise how dedicated and resilient he is.”
Having visited Halifax for a round-22 game that was televised by Premier Sports, Batley host Barrow on Sunday, then visit London Broncos.
LEIGH CENTURIONS coach Adrian Lam says a happy and united squad has been the key to success so far this season.
The powerful-looking leaders returned to home territory for the first time in seven games against Barrow in round 22, having chalked up a 17th straight win in all competitions and 19th in the league by beating Featherstone at the Summer Bash.
There have been three wins in four meetings with Rovers – who are the only team to defeat the Centurions in the league so far – in the 1895 Cup final, at Leigh Sports Village and by a 46-16 margin at Headingley.
The sides could clash again in the Million Pound Game, but Lam insists nothing is being taken for granted, with the focus simply on the next match (Newcastle away on Sunday).
“We don’t look at numbers in terms of wins and losses, we focus on turning up for each other in every game,” explained Lam, who saw his son Lachlan, signed from Sydney Roosters, make a try-scoring debut in the most recent Featherstone meeting.
“Lachlan has been playing well in the Reserve competition in Australia, so he’s got a feel for things, and I was pleased with how he went.
“The squad has evolved during the season, and the club has been aggressive in both retention and recruitment, showing plenty of intent.
“Of course we have to ensure the group is happy overall and, because quality players are coming in, it means someone has to miss out.
“I think the key is communication and honesty and that will continue.”
Lam was pleased with the way his side handled the Summer Bash, saying they showed “big-game mentality and courage”, but insists there is still plenty of work to be done and improvements to be made.
“For a start, we made a few too many errors, and they led to all the points Featherstone scored,” he explained.
“I want to tidy that up and minimise our mistakes.”
BARROW RAIDERS coach Paul Crarey is gearing up for a tough run of fixtures as he tries to maintain the momentum of a so-far highly encouraging campaign.
Last season’s League One champions are set for the second-tier play-offs after beating Widnes at the Summer Bash on a super sporting Sunday for the town.
A 36-24 win for Crarey’s side at Headingley preceded Georgia Stanway’s appearance for England as they beat Germany at Wembley to win the Women’s European Championship.
Stanway, 23, was born and bred in Barrow before moving to play for Blackburn Rovers, then Manchester City.
The partner of Rugby League player Olly Ashall-Bott, of Toulouse, she will now play for top German club Bayern Munich after signing a three-year contract there.
The Raiders are also proudly flying the flag for Barrow, and it’s a far cry from their last season in the Championship, in 2019, when they were relegated after gaining only eleven points from their 27 games.
Defeating Widnes took this season’s tally to 29 going into their 22nd match of this season at leaders Leigh.
Barrow head to Batley on Sunday before other August games against Featherstone (home) and Newcastle (away).
The regular season ends with a home clash against Dewsbury and a trip to London Broncos.
“Hopefully we have learned lessons from last time and a lot of hard work has been going on,” said Crarey.
“But we can’t stand still. It’s all about progressing, and we’re in the middle of a tough month.
“The game against Widnes was entertaining for the fans, but not great for the purists, and there are things for me to look at.
“But it was a really good win for us, because they have been going well, having been revitalised by John (Kear, coach).
“We were bruised, battered and busted, but I was proud of the performance. Now we’ve got to keep going.”
HALIFAX PANTHERS fullback James Woodburn-Hall says the Summer Bash success over Bradford Bulls should bolster confidence levels as Simon Grix’s team close in on consecutive play-off appearances.
The Shay side shrugged off the 55th-minute dismissal of Joe Martin to clinch a 22-6 win at Headingley – the second time they have beaten the Bulls with twelve men this season after a 20-17 triumph at Odsal in April, when forward Jacob Fairbank was sent off in the first minute.
The Panthers have still to play Bradford a third time, at home on Sunday, August 28, but before that there are clashes with Sheffield (away in round 23 of 27 on Friday) and Newcastle (at home on Sunday, August 21).
They finish the regular season with a trip to Widnes on Monday, September 5 (to be televised live by Premier Sports) and the following Sunday, a Shay showdown with Featherstone, who denied them a place in last season’s Million Pound Game with a 42-10 home play-off semi-final victory.
The win over Bradford came after a 38-10 loss at Woodburn-Hall’s old club London Broncos, and the Jamaica international explained: “We have shown time and time again what character this team has, and that fills me with confidence.
“That’s twice we’ve beaten Bradford with twelve men, and that’s not meant as a dig at them, more as an indicator of what we’re about.
“It was important we bounced back from that result in London, and there was a really good energy on the bus, in the dressing room, then out on the pitch.
“We had a few things to put right, we worked hard to get the result, and it felt good.”
Halifax have agreed a two-year contract extension with Ben Tibbs, the 21-year-old outside back signed from Huddersfield ahead of last season.
“With the club’s plans going forward, it was an easy decision,” he said.
BRADFORD BULLS chief executive Jason Hirst has told frustrated fans a top-four finish is a minimum target for next season – and asked them to be patient as the squad for 2023 is put together.
The current campaign has been a big disappointment for the Odsal club, who had targeted a second successive play-off appearance after finishing fifth in 2021.
The club parted company with coach John Kear in April after five defeats in the first nine league games.
His successor Mark Dunning enjoyed five wins from eight as caretaker, but since his appointment on a contract through to the end of next season was confirmed, results have dipped, with the 22-6 Summer Bash setback against Halifax the fourth from four in that period.
Having hosted basement side Workington, Bradford visit York next Monday (August 14) for a Premier Sports-televised match.
In a column for the Bradford Telegraph and Argus, Hirst, who took his role in May, wrote: “The original aim was to be a contender at the top end of the league.
“We’re not the first to have failed in that regard and we certainly will not be the last. We must, however, do better next season and aim for a top-four finish.
“To do that would represent progress and improvement, especially when measured against teams that will receive significantly more than us in terms of central funding distribution and/or additional financial backing from wealthy benefactors.
“To fix things takes time and patience, particularly with regards to recruitment and retention, where there are all manner of things to be considered and navigated.
“Our process is well under way, with due diligence and careful consideration given to every incoming and outgoing.
“What I respectfully ask everyone to do is judge the squad as a whole, once it’s finalised. The sum of the parts is far more important than any individual component and some deals take longer to get over the line than others.”
NEWCASTLE THUNDER winger Jack Johnson doesn’t expect to be picking up a ball again this season – after losing a testicle in a freak training-ground injury.
But despite the delicate nature of his problem, the 23-year-old is still smiling, and planning his return in 2023, when he hopes to help the full-time North-East club mount a bid to make the play-offs.
The former Widnes player was taken to hospital, where the damaged gonad was removed, after the eye-watering incident during preparations for the Summer Bash clash with York, which Newcastle lost 27-18.
“It was my left testicle – and that’s my favourite,” quipped jovial Johnson, who started out at Warrington and, after an aborted move to Ottawa Aces, joined Thunder ahead of last season, when he scored twelve tries in 17 Championship games.
“I took a stray knee, and I think I’m out for the rest of the year now.”
The defeat left Newcastle on 15 points from 21 games – ten points clear of the relegation places but 13 behind the play-off zone ahead of round 22 of 27, which took place at the weekend.
Thunder host leaders Leigh in round 23 on Sunday, and Johnson, who is contracted until 2023, added: “The boys are just taking it one game at a time, and are trying to keep building to set a platform for the close-season.
“Quite a few of the lads are tied down for next year, so we should have some stability, and hopefully we can learn the lessons from this time and move on.”
Thunder have taken 21-year-old French halfback Thomas Lacans on trial until the end of the season after he impressed during training sessions.
A France Under-19 international who came through the Catalans Dragons development system, Lacans has been playing for Lézignan.
YORK CITY KNIGHTS second row Danny Kirmond reckons teenage hooker Tom Inman can make his mark this season.
After initially arriving on loan, the former Warrington player signed on a deal until the end of the season with a view to earning a longer-term contract.
Inman, who provides back-up for Will Jubb following the loss from the squad of Kriss Brining, who had retired, and Sam Davis, who is on loan at his former club London Broncos, made his third York appearance in the 27-18 Summer Bash win over Newcastle.
His kick set up the experienced Kirmond for the last of the Knights’ five tries as James Ford’s play-off chasers won for the first time in five outings.
And the former Featherstone, Huddersfield and Wakefield star explained: “It was a lovely kick, and not an easy one to pull off.
“We’d scored a similar try against Featherstone in the previous game and Tom spotted the defenders moving and put the ball in behind them.
“That vision is a great thing to have, but he’s smart for his age, and is very level-headed and hard-working.”
Kirmond continued: “It was a scratchy performance, but it was important we won.
“Most teams have a lull at some stage in a season, and hopefully we’ve had our lull now and can push on.
“Newcastle came out firing, and we did well to withstand their pressure, then put our own stamp on the game.
“I thought it was more of a character performance than anything, and (prop) Jordan Thompson, as always, got us out of a bit of trouble.
“Matty Marsh, who gives you some spark when you need it, was really solid at the back.
“And (scrum-half) Liam Harris, (centre) James Glover and (winger (Joe Brown) produced some good play and defending on their edge.”
Having visited Dewsbury, York host Bradford in front of the Premier Sports television cameras next Monday (August 14).
FEATHERSTONE ROVERS coach Brian McDermott remains adamant his side can win a place in Super League.
That’s despite a third defeat of the season at the hands of leaders and firm promotion favourites Leigh.
While Rovers beat the Centurions 28-6 at home in round two, they lost 30-16 to them in the 1895 Cup final and 32-12 at Leigh in round 15 before a 46-16 Summer Bash setback at Headingley.
The sides could clash for a fifth time in the Million Pound Game, and McDermott insists Featherstone can win through the play-offs.
“Perhaps we need to lose to them three times to work out what we need to do to beat them,” said McDermott.
“Leigh are incredibly strong through the middle, but a big side coming and being dominant and doing what they want is not a new thing in the game.
“A long time ago I played in a team (Bradford) who weren’t really good but were physically dominant.
“When an opponent with belief said ‘you’re not going to do that today’, we didn’t have another plan.
“I think Leigh are better than that. They produced smart plays against us, which got the scoreboard ticking their way.
“We certainly need to get some belief and we need to give ourselves a chance, because our kicking game and completion rate were awful and we lost composure and defensive discipline.”
SHEFFIELD EAGLES halfback Izaac Farrell is out for the rest of the season with a knee injury – and the Jamaica international will also miss the World Cup.
It’s a bitter blow for the former Huddersfield and Rochdale player, who hoped to represent the Caribbean nation in their first finals alongside his elder brother Joel.
But a damaged anterior cruciate ligament will sideline the 24-year-old until next year, and Sheffield director of rugby Mark Aston said: “It’s cruel to see his season end this way.
“After joining us in 2020, his game has come on in leaps and bounds while playing alongside Anthony Thackeray as well as Joel.
“He was aiming for a strong end to the season and it’s a crying shame that won’t happen.”
Aston insisted: “He will come back better, despite this setback, there is no doubt about that.
“We all wish him the best with his recovery and look forward to seeing him back out on the pitch.”
After beating London Broncos 38-12 at the Summer Bash, Sheffield lost 32-22 in Wednesday’s rearranged round-four game at Batley.
Having hosted Whitehaven, they are at home to Halifax on Friday.
LONDON BRONCOS interim coach Mike Eccles admits his side’s 38-12 Summer Bash defeat by Sheffield showed there is plenty of work still to be done to ward off the threat of relegation.
The capital side went into the Headingley contest having picked up three wins out of four to open a welcome gap between themselves and the drop zone.
But Eccles, who went into his tenth game at the helm away to Newcastle seeking a fifth victory, warned: “We got ahead of ourselves and did the opposite to what we wanted, which was very disappointing.
“Winning is fantastic because it injects confidence into a team. The downside is the positive press that comes with it, which makes it easy to get ahead of yourself, and that’s what happened against Sheffield.
“The 80-minute performance we’re always trying to achieve was way off.
“Sheffield made errors in the first half which allowed us to get into the game, and we could have been ahead at half-time.
“But overall, we got what we deserved. We’re a much better team than our performance showed, and we’ll be back.”
The Broncos host basement side Workington on Sunday. It’s a double-header, with the women’s team taking on Bedford Tigers in the Super League South play-offs afterwards.
WIDNES VIKINGS recruit Kyle Amor is excited at the prospect of working under John Kear again next season.
Seasoned coach Kear, who parted company with Bradford in April, took the reins at the start of July.
Widnes went into their home clash with Featherstone in seventh place, having won five out of six under Kear (they visit Whitehaven on Sunday).
Barring a bad run for one of the sides above, the points rush has come a little too late for a push for the top-six play-offs.
But Ireland international prop Amor, who played under Kear at Wakefield in 2011, agreed his Widnes contract for 2023 in July and is currently on loan to Warrington from St Helens, believes the Vikings will be contenders next time around.
“I’ve had a few conversations with John and seen the impact he’s had already, and joining Widnes is an exciting prospect,” said the 35-year-old Cumbrian, who started his career at Whitehaven and has also played for Leeds.
WHITEHAVEN coach Jonty Gorley wants his team to pick up the pace over the closing stages of the season after taking a big step towards securing second-tier status for another year.
The LEL Arena side picked up a fifth win of the campaign by beating Cumbrian rivals Workington 28-10 at the Summer Bash, and, having also drawn a game (away at Batley last month), were six points above the relegation places going into Sunday’s game at Sheffield.
Whitehaven host Widnes in their 23rd of 27 league games on Sunday, and Gorley said: “We weren’t great against Workington, and put ourselves under pressure, much like we have been doing all year, but we got the win we badly needed.
“It’s gone a long way to securing our place in this division, but we still need to finish the job off, and we have to make sure we compete in all the remaining games by getting rid of the bad points and concentrating on the good ones.”
WORKINGTON TOWN coach Chris Thorman says he is proud of the way his players have tackled an increasingly tough situation at Derwent Park.
Cut off at the foot of the table, Town are facing an immediate return to League One after last season’s promotion through the play-offs.
And players and staff members have taken a pay cut as the board battle to keep the cash-strapped Cumbrian club afloat.
Despite a spirited Summer Bash performance, Town were beaten 28-10 by neighbours Whitehaven and Thorman reflected: “For large parts of the game, we were very good.
“The attention to detail was good, and some stuff we’ve not been great at we nailed, but unfortunately we didn’t have enough strike or energy to get over the line.
“But the players really dug in, especially given what they’ve had to cope with for last few weeks. They had a real crack for the club and the community.”
Having visited Bradford, Town go to London Broncos on Sunday.
DEWSBURY RAMS coach Liam Finn says losing 60-6 to neighbours Batley at the Summer Bash was “embarrassing”.
The result moved his side a step closer to relegation, and Finn, who was in charge for the sixth time, said: “It was a massive drop in terms of what we’ve been doing from week to week and the first time we hadn’t shown any signs of improvement since I took the job.
“The scoreline was embarrassing, especially at such a big event. The players knew that they were on show and wanted to prove what they could do, but a lot didn’t.”
Having hosted York, Dewsbury visit Featherstone on Sunday.
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