FEATHERSTONE ROVERS team-mates Craig Hall and Johnathon Ford were on opposite sides in last year’s Million Pound Game.
But now the pair are focused on helping the Yorkshire team get back into the promotion decider, while and insisting that Brian McDermott’s men can seal a Super League berth.
Ex-Leeds coach McDermott enjoyed success with Toronto in Canada in 2019 over a Featherstone side coached by Ryan Carr.
Rovers, with Hall on the wing, were also defeated in last year’s Million Pound Game, as stand-off Ford helped Toulouse to a 34-12 win over James Webster’s side in France.
Cook Islands international Ford is now at Featherstone, who started the season strongly but have been dislodged from top spot by Adrian Lam’s powerful Leigh, who have beaten them three times in four attempts (twice in the league and in the 1895 Cup Final).
The two could clearly meet again in this year’s promotion decider, although neither will be taking anything for granted as they gear up for the play-offs.
Versatile back Hall, who joined Rovers from Hull KR in 2020, believes the recent 20-16 win at Widnes, the club’s 18th (plus one draw) in 22 league games ahead of the home meeting with Dewsbury and which featured a first Featherstone try for Ford, provided useful preparation for what’s to come.
“Widnes are a good side and playing well, and the intensity of the game was right up there,” said the 34-year-old.
“We’re a bit low on numbers, so we tried a few different combinations and tactics, and that experience won’t do us any harm.
“We’ve still got five weeks until the play-offs, so we’ve got time to get everything sorted out.”
Ford, who turns 33 on Wednesday (August 17), also played a key role in Josh Hardcastle’s clinching try, and said: “It was a tighter game than planned, but we won.”
HALIFAX PANTHERS forward Will Calcott is starting to realise his potential, according to his coach Simon Grix.
The 24-year-old, who made his debut for the club in 2017 caught the eye with a solid front-row show in the 34-18 home win over Batley.
It was a 16th league victory in 22 games for the Shay side, who, like their opponents, are set for a second successive play-off appearance.
And Calcott, who also features at loose-forward, played his part, with Grix explaining: “He’s a big, long thing, and he’s learning how to use his physique to best advantage.
“He’s come through our college pathway, so has perhaps been a bit behind the lads who have come through Academy systems.
“But he has worked away in the background, and he has progressed while filling out a bit as well.”
Italy international winger James Saltonstall caught the eye with four tries against Batley, and Grix added: “He was really good.
“But I was pleased with the team overall, although we should remember that Batley had a midweek game, so we won’t get too carried away.
“While we were clever in most areas, kicking at the right times and into the right places, there were a few spells when I thought they were about to fall over, but we let them off the hook.
“That said, we’re all after the perfect game, and while that’s unlikely to happen, we want to string longer good patches together.”
Several suspensions mean Grix has rung the changes in team selections, and he continued: “The bans have hurt us in some ways, but we’ve also had a few fresh bodies coming in.”
Having won 32-26 at Sheffield on Friday, the Panthers have successive home matches, against Newcastle on Sunday and Bradford seven days later.
Halifax have agreed a one-year contract extension with backrower Ben Kavanagh, who signed from Hull KR in 2019.
BATLEY BULLDOGS coach Craig Lingard wants his side to heed the lessons of their derby defeat at Halifax as they push on towards the play-offs.
It was a third game in nine days, but the coach refused to blame fatigue as the Bulldogs were beaten 34-18 at The Shay.
It was a big disappointment for Lingard, whose charges had beaten Dewsbury 60-6 at the Summer Bash and then saw off Sheffield 32-22 in a rearranged midweek match-up at their Fox’s Biscuits Stadium.
But it was only a fifth loss in 22 league games, and he remained philosophical ahead of a round-23 home game against Barrow and Sunday’s trip to London Broncos.
“I don’t think it was down to tiredness,” he insisted.
“You can over-analyse all that.
“It boiled down to Halifax wanting to tackle more than we wanted to run and them wanting to run harder than we wanted to tackle.
“They looked after the ball, defended really well and rolled us down the field. They deserved their win.
“We had a dig in the second half, but we’d given ourselves too much to do, and after our review, we’ve been trying to put things right.”
Batley had two-try winger Johnny Campbell sent off for striking late on, and lost ex-Halifax hooker Ben Kaye to a knee injury.
Lingard expects to be without the former Leeds, Harlequins and Featherstone player for at least a couple of weeks.
“Ben was already playing with discomfort in one of his knees, and felt a pop in the other one,” he explained.
“Hopefully we’ll get to the bottom of it quickly and it won’t be too much of an issue.”
Meanwhile the coach hailed the determined display of seasoned second rower Dane Manning for Batley, where he is in his second spell, saying: “He was outstanding.”
BARROW RAIDERS coach Paul Crarey is resigned to being without experienced prop Carl Forster for the remainder of the season following shoulder surgery.
But he hopes skipper Jarrad Stack will be able to beat a knee problem to finish an encouraging campaign, which is set to end with a play-off tilt.
Former St Helens, Salford, Whitehaven and Rochdale man Forster – the 30-year-old was player-coach at the last two – has been at Barrow since 2020, and was a regular last season, when Crarey’s side won promotion as League One champions.
So was backrower Stack, the 34-year-old Australian signed from Workington in 2017 who penned a two-year contract extension in November.
“Carl is looking at a four-month recovery,” reported Crarey.
“He’s obviously a loss, but hopefully the operation will do the trick.
“Jarrad has been playing with a bit of a knee niggle, and it may be that he has a clean-up, but we hope to put that off until the end of the season and manage the injury until then.
Barrow went into their 23rd of 27 regular-season games at Batley knowing a win would cement a play-off place.
And Crarey, whose side host Featherstone on Sunday, added: “It’s great to have got ourselves into this situation, and we should be able to rotate the squad to try to ensure we are as healthy as possible for the play-offs.”
Barrow fielded both hooker Connor Saunders, who has been playing for community club Ulverston, and forward James Duerden, who featured for the first time in more than four years, in their 52-20 defeat at leaders Leigh.
The former BARLA Great Britain Under-19 international, now 30, made 45 appearances for Barrow between 2015 and 2017.
“James has worked hard to get himself back to the fitness level needed and with injuries and Connor Terrill being loaned to Workington, there was an opening for him,” said Crarey.
DEWSBURY RAMS coach Liam Finn has urged his side to reproduce the spirit shown against York as the club contemplates a return to League One for the first time since 2009 – when the 38-year-old was in the first of his two spells as a player at the Tetley’s Stadium.
A 22-10 home defeat by the City Knights pushed the Rams a step closer to relegation, and Finn, who was taking charge for the seventh time after succeeding Lee Greenwood, knows survival is now very much against the odds.
Dropping out of the Championship – Dewsbury’s fate in 2008 – would mean the club celebrating the 50th anniversary of their memorable league title triumph of 1972/73 from the third tier.
Finn’s task would then be to follow in the footsteps of Warren Jowitt, who guided the Rams to an immediate promotion as the then-Championship One winners.
The team of 2009 won all 18 league games, with Jowitt named the divisional coach of the year and Ireland international halfback Finn the player of the year after scoring 15 tries in 24 games in all competitions.
This season has been a different story, and Dewsbury went into their game at Featherstone having lost 19 out of 22 league outings.
“We wanted a response from the group (to the 60-6 Summer Bash defeat by Batley), and I think we got that,” said Finn of the York match, which marked a 500th career appearance for halfback Paul Sykes.
“In the end we just lacked a little bit of knowhow to get the result we needed, but the effort and desire from us were there for all to see.
“It was a solid team effort, everyone had a go, and I don’t think we could have said that the week before.”
Forward Michael Knowles made his 100th appearance for the Rams, who signed him from Featherstone in 2017.
Dewsbury head to fellow strugglers Workington on Sunday.
WIDNES VIKINGS coach John Kear might have sent his side into action at Whitehaven on Sunday on the back of successive defeats.
But the seasoned operator says the “spirit, resolve and resilience” shown against Barrow, who won 36-24 at the Summer Bash, and at Featherstone, who were 20-16 victors, bodes well for the future.
While eager to finish this season with a flourish, Kear, who won his first four games in charge of Widnes, is already looking ahead to next season, when he is determined to take the former Super League club to the play-offs.
“That defeat by Featherstone was really difficult to take,” said the former Bradford coach, who will return to Odsal with the Vikings on the last day of the regular season on Sunday, September 11.
“Sometimes you get what you deserve, while sometimes you don’t, and given the amount of effort, hard work and quality play we produced, I think we deserved something from the game.
“The first half was as good as anything we’ve produced since I’ve been here.
“That’s taking into account the quality of the opposition, because Featherstone have some very good players, but my lads stood up to some big reputations.
“They didn’t just want to compete, they wanted to win, and weren’t far off.”
With fullback Jack Owens (hamstring), prop Levy Nzoungou (Achilles tendon) and second rower Shane Grady (groin), who are still in the injury recovery phase and utility back Lloyd Roby, who has had knee surgery and is a longer-term absentee, among those ruled out, Kear continued: “We were down to our last 18 and two of them were carrying injuries, so I’m incredibly proud and pleased with what they produced.
“You are after spirit, resolve and resilience in your squad and we had it in bucketloads.
“If that continues, it’s good for this season and very exciting for next as well.”
Widnes are at home to Sheffield on Sunday.
SHEFFIELD EAGLES director of rugby Mark Aston hailed the club’s women’s team after they played their part in an entertaining double-header at the Olympic Legacy Park.
Both sides sealed 38-26 wins – with Whitehaven beaten by Aston’s charges and Wigan St Patricks by Liam Browne’s side in Women’s League One.
It’s the inaugural season for the women’s team – Sheffield also run a wheelchair side – and Aston said: “It’s great having them on board and we love having them around.
“The fans enjoy watching the women’s side, and so do I. They were a little disappointed with their performance, a bit like us, but I told them ‘hey, a win’s a win’.”
It was a third game in eight days for Aston’s team, coming after a 38-12 Summer Bash success over London Broncos and a 32-22 defeat at Batley in a midweek rearranged match.
“It’s a tough agenda,” said the seasoned coach.
“But that can happen at this time of the season, and it became four games in 13 days when we played Halifax (Sheffield lost 32-26 at the OLP).
“While we looked tired against Whitehaven, and other than a few spells, the performance was flat, but we dug deep and got the two points, which is important.”
Aston praised the input of Simon Brown, the former Eagles halfback who joined the coaching staff over the close-season.
He works alongside existing assistants Ged Corcoran, the Ireland coach, and Keith Senior.
“Simon’s been looking at scrum plays, and we had some success with them against Whitehaven. He was tickled pink and jumping around as if he’d scored the tries himself,” quipped Aston, whose halfback son Cory, who was on loan from Halifax, made his 100th Sheffield appearance against Whitehaven.
It’s a third Eagles spell for Cory, who started his career at the club and was loaned back by Castleford in 2018.
The 27-year-old played against Sheffield for Halifax on Friday.
BRADFORD BULLS coach Mark Dunning breathed a sigh of relief after finally gaining his first win since being appointed on a permanent basis, but admitted: “We made it difficult for ourselves.”
Now the Odsal side are seeking a follow-up success in front of the Premier Sports television cameras away to York tonight (August 15) – but without their ex-Warrington and Salford stand-off Dec Patton, who has been handed a seven-match ban for gouging during the Summer Bash defeat by Halifax.
Bradford were trailing 8-6 at home to basement team Workington at half-time, and 14-6 after 43 minutes, but hit back to complete a 48-18 victory – their first in six matches and first in five since Dunning stepped up from being in caretaker charge on a contract until the end of next season.
“I would be lying if I said it wasn’t a relief,” said Dunning.
“We’d struggled to buy a win over the previous five weeks.
“But after a pretty stern and direct chat at half-time, I was pleased with what the players dished up in the last 35 minutes.
“The two halves were absolute opposites. We completed at 40 percent in the first, and you don’t win games by doing that, but after getting to 85 percent in the second, blew our opponents away.”
Patton and centre Kieran Gill reached 150 and 100 career appearances respectively against Workington.
LONDON BRONCOS interim coach Mike Eccles was as pleased with a clean sheet as he was with the 44 points scored as the capital side took another step away from the relegation zone with victory at Newcastle.
The Broncos returned to base, completing a 500-mile round trip, with a fifth win in ten games under Eccles’ guidance ahead of their home clash with basement side Workington, the first part of a Cherry Red Records Stadium double-header that was completed by their ladies team’s Women’s Super League South play-off clash with Bedford Tigers.
“We were delighted with the result,” said Eccles, who saw Cook Islands international winger Paul Ulberg claim a hat-trick of tries.
“When we built up a lead sufficient to make it hard for Newcastle to stage a late comeback, our message was to keep a clean sheet.
“It takes a huge effort to deny any team points and proved that the game against Sheffield (who won 38-12 at the Summer Bash) was a blip.
“Excluding that performance, we conceded no more than twelve points in any of four games, which is very pleasing.”
LEIGH CENTURIONS coach Adrian Lam enjoyed seeing his side put 52 points on the scoreboard against Barrow in their first home game since mid-June following the staging of Women’s European Championship matches and pitch maintenance work.
But he was less happy with the concession of 20 as the leaders sealed a 21st win in 22 league games.
Lam felt the previous match, a 46-16 win over second-placed Featherstone at the Summer Bash, had taken its toll and said: “I think the overall performance was reflective of a big game followed by some necessary time off.
“That always has an effect. I’m glad we got through it against Barrow and had a decent win in the end, but I feel we took a step in the wrong direction in terms of attitude, and that’s something we will work on.”
Leigh – who having visited Newcastle, host York on Sunday – have been linked with Leeds’ former England back Tom Briscoe, who is out of contract this year.
NEWCASTLE THUNDER director of rugby Dennis Betts was looking for a much-improved display at home to leaders Leigh after his side slumped 44-0 against London Broncos at Kingston Park.
The capital team ran in nine tries, and Betts acknowledged: “If London had had a goal-kicker, it could have been even worse.
“At some stages, we had chances we didn’t turn into points and had we done, it might have given us some confidence.
“London’s confidence grew, and the way that they play, throwing the ball around and attacking with some flair, really hurt us late on.”
To make matters worse, Newcastle lost halfback Dan Coates with a dislocated kneecap, and forward Oliver Roberts with a torn hamstring.
Former Thunder Academy player Coates, who returned to Newcastle in March after starting the season at London Broncos, was injured just two minutes in, and Betts said: “I feel for him, he didn’t get a chance to get out and show himself.”
Newcastle visit Halifax on Sunday.
WHITEHAVEN will keep Wales international hooker Curtis Davies until the end of the season.
The 25-year-old initially arrived from neighbours Workington on loan, and having a greed a short-term deal, will remain for the last four matches, starting with Sunday’s trip to Bradford.
Davies arrived at Workington alongside twin brother Connor, a utility forward, earlier this season after the pair played for Villeneuve.
When Workington hit financial difficulties, Curtis made his Whitehaven switch while Connor joined Dewsbury.
“It’s good to have Curtis for the remainder of the season instead of being on loan,” said coach Jonty Gorley.
“Curtis has been good for us. He’s another hooker, like (Castleford loanee) Cain Robb, who can do 80 minutes. This is useful because he’s the only recognised hooker currently available.
“He doesn’t miss many tackles, his service from dummy-half is excellent, he is extremely fit and for a coach, he’s very easy to get along with, because he does all the right things.”
WORKINGTON TOWN scrum-half Carl Forber is reflecting on two milestone moments, both of which were achieved in one match.
The 37-year-old’s 14th-minute try in the 48-18 defeat at Bradford was the 100th of a career which started at hometown club St Helens in 2004.
He notched 14 for Leigh, 16 for Blackpool Panthers, five for Oldham and had 65 in his two spells at Workington going into their game at London Broncos.
Forster then passed 2,500 career points with his conversion of on-loan Barrow prop Connor Terrill’s 43rd-minute try.
It was his 2,097th for Workington after twelve for St Helens, where he played until 2005, 128 for Leigh, 118 for Blackpool and 146 for Oldham.
In the previous game, Town’s former London Skolars, Hemel Stags and Newcastle hooker Evan Simons reached 200 career appearances.
Workington’s defeat at Bradford sent the Cumbrian club another step closer to relegation to League One.
Having faced London Broncos in the capital, they host Dewsbury on Sunday.
YORK CITY KNIGHTS prospect AJ Towse wants to continue an “amazing year” as his side plots a play-off tilt.
The winger, who turns 19 on Friday, has scored eight tries in eleven appearances for James Ford’s side this season.
Towse played his junior rugby at local club Heworth and came through the Knights’ Excel development programme.
He joined the first-team squad ahead of the 2020 campaign, which was ended early by the pandemic, and played twice in 2021.
Having featured in the 22-10 win at Dewsbury, Towse is targeting another outing in the Premier Sports-televised home game against Bradford tonight (Monday, August 15).
“It’s been an amazing year and I feel I’ve made progress,” said Towse.
“I’ve tried to work on my game and keep improving by taking on board all the feedback I’ve been given.”
York visit Leigh on Sunday.
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