LEIGH CENTURIONS prop Ben Nakubuwai reflected on the club’s second trophy success of the season and said: “It’s two down with one objective to go, but no one is getting carried away.”
Having seen his side lift the 1895 Cup at the expense of Featherstone, then the League Leaders’ Shield by beating Widnes 42-4, coach Adrian Lam is plotting a promotion-clinching victory in the Million Pound Game.
But the Centurions, who finish their regular-season fixtures at home to Batley on Sunday, still have to get through a home play-off semi-final a fortnight later to make the eagerly-awaited decider the following weekend.
The big-spenders have been in fine form, powering their way to 23 consecutive Championship wins before their penultimate game at London Broncos, and the victory over Widnes took their points haul to 1,184, an all-time record for a league campaign.
Leigh and Huddersfield shared the previous best tally of 1,156, amassed in the 1985/86 and 2002 second-tier seasons respectively.
At the other end of the pitch, Lam’s side had conceded only 196 points ahead of visiting London, and Fiji international and former Gold Coast Titans and Salford player Nakubuwai said: “Solid defence is something the coach has been hammering into us.
“We try to come up hard and fast and force the opposition to kick from within their own 40 as often as possible.”
The 26-year-old scored two tries his first for the club, and continued: “That was great for me, and I think it was a good all-round effort from the team.
“We set three goals at the start of the season – win the 1895 Cup, League Leaders’ Shield and promotion, and the most important one is still to be achieved.
“We’re generally happy with where we’re at, but know there is still work to be done.
“We’re all keen for the play-offs and looking forward to the challenge.”
WHITEHAVEN coach Jonty Gorley is already planning for next season after seeing his side seal Championship survival by beating London Broncos.
And ensuring he has a hooker for the early stages of the campaign is high on his list of priorities.
It’s been a problem position this time around, with specialists Callum Phillips and James Newton, plus Australian signing Alex Bishop, a halfback who can also play at nine, all suffering long-term knee problems.
Gorley, who has had to deal with injuries throughout his squad and has called on the services of 15 loan players, has fielded eight different hookers, including Wales international Curtis Davies, who last month moved from neighbours Workington on a short-term deal.
While the futures of Bishop and Davies have yet to be confirmed, Scotland international Phillips and former Hull player Newton are among a core of players, among them versatile former Papua New Guinea international Dion Aiye, who remain under contract next year.
Both are recovering after operations, and making encouraging progress, but are unlikely to be available for the start of the 2023 campaign, which will be Whitehaven’s fourth in succession in the second tier after their 2019 League One title triumph.
Gorley, who is set to lose Australian second rower Ryan King to Halifax, said: “Callum is a real catalyst for us, and James is another experienced player who has a big role.
“Being without the pair of them for so long is a real blow, but they are both really professional in the way they are approaching their rehab, and doing well.
“But we can’t risk rushing either of them, so it looks like we’ll be going into next season needing some sort of cover.”
Defeating the Broncos 40-20 at the LEL Arena clinched consecutive league wins for the first time this season.
Whitehaven, having visited Workington, play their final game on Saturday at home to Newcastle, who are reportedly targeting their Kiwi halfback Nikau Williams.
DEWSBURY RAMS Chairman Mark Sawyer says the relegated club want to make their stay in the third tier as short as possible – and has called on the RFL to confirm their plans for any future restructure of the divisions.
Talk of the top two sections being of ten clubs each from 2024 remains, and Sawyer, who has been in his role for more than 20 years, says the uncertainty causes problems.
“We presume there will be promotion from League One (next season), and it’s certainly a massive hit if there isn’t,” he said.
“We really need to know from the powers-that-be so that we can plan accordingly.”
The drop alongside Workington ends a 13-year stint in the second tier for the Yorkshire club, who when last relegated in 2008 but bounced back at the first attempt.
The Rams, who parted company with coach Lee Greenwood in June and brought in former player Liam Finn, suffered a 21st defeat in 25 games in losing 22-20 at home to Batley in front of the Premier Sports cameras last Monday.
Sawyer continued: “Relegation does us no favours; no one wants to drop out of a great competition like the Championship.
“But sport is all about winning and losing, and we haven’t won enough matches.
“For many a season, we won a lot of close matches and ended up being in a comfortable position, but this time we’ve lost some close ones.
“We’ll have to rebuild like we’ve done before and try to get back into the Championship. The sooner we do that, the better.”
Hooker Reiss Butterworth, centre Davey Dixon and prop Jimmy Beckett have re-signed, and Sawyer added: “We’re talking to existing players and some of them have agreed to stay, and we’ll need to recruit others as well.”
Butterworth, 22, said: “I’m looking forward to trying to help the club get back into the Championship where we belong.”
HALIFAX PANTHERS stalwart Jacob Fairbank says going into the play-offs on the back of a winning run would be a big boost.
Simon Grix’s side visit Widnes for a Premier Sports-televised clash tonight (Monday, September 5) knowing a sixth straight victory would cement a third-place finish and a home eliminator against the side in sixth.
Halifax end their regular season with Sunday’s home clash against Featherstone, who they could end up visiting in what would be a repeat of last season’s play-off semi-final, which Rovers won 42-10.
For the moment, club stalwart Fairbank and his teammates are focused on facing Widnes, and brushing up on their performance at home to neighbours Bradford, who were beaten 40-18.
It was a third win of the season over the side from Odsal, where the 32-year-old’s uncle Karl Fairbank was a fans’ favourite, and the former Bradford loanee, who joined Halifax from Huddersfield in 2015, said: “As a local lad, I know what it means to our fans.
“It’s almost always a tough ask to win a local derby, so to get three out of three is great.
“We weren’t firing on all cylinders – I think we gave them chances we shouldn’t have – so to put 40 points on them was pleasing.”
“We need to tighten up our defence, because we know that if we stick to our game plan, we will score points.
“Widnes is a big game for us, we want to put in a good performance and build into the final league game against Featherstone and put ourselves in good stead for the play-offs.”
Fairbank, who pays prop or loose-forward, came off the bench against Bradford, and added: “I used to prefer starting, but I’ve done okay after coming on during games, and I’ll do whatever is best for the team.”
Halifax are set to sign Whitehaven’s Australian second row Ryan King.
BATLEY BULLDOGS coach Craig Lingard says his side has to get back to doing what they’re good at as they gear up for another play-off tilt.
The Yorkshire team made the semi-finals last season, beating Bradford 23-10 in an eliminator before a 51-12 defeat by eventually-promoted Toulouse in France.
Hopes are high that Batley can return to the last four, but Lingard admits performances must improve.
He was relieved to see his side snap a three-game losing run by completing a hat-trick of Heavy Woollen derby wins this season.
But having beaten Dewsbury 36-20 at home in April and 60-6 at the Summer Bash at Headingley in July, last Monday’s Tetley’s Stadium meeting in front of the Premier Sports television cameras was far tighter, with the Bulldogs fighting back to claim a 22-20 victory after being 20-6 behind at the break.
While Batley’s points percentage going into their penultimate regular-season game at home to Bradford was 68 compared to 62 over the 21 matches completed last year, when Covid was impacting on the fixtures schedule, their recent form has dipped.
The Bulldogs won two out of three gamed played at the end of July and the start of August (the home round-four clash with Sheffield was rearranged for a Wednesday evening after being postponed amid the February storms).
But Lingard reckons that schedule took its toll on his squad, explaining: “It’s been a tough run and that three-match spell came at a key stage of the season.
“We’ve been missing bodies and faced some good teams, who deserved their wins over us.
“We need to get back to doing the things which have brought us success so far this year, tightening up our first-up contact and general defence and completing sets better, because we’ve been poor on that front of late.”
The Bulldogs travel to Leigh on Sunday.
BARROW RAIDERS coach Paul Crarey say supporters have played their part in the club’s play-off push.
Last season’s League One champions are sure of a place in the top six, and will be looking to go into the eliminators on the back of a win in their final regular-season match at London Broncos.
Ahead of the home clash with Dewsbury, Barrow had averaged 2,257 over twelve league games at the Matt Johnson Prestige Stadium.
And Crarey also praised his side’s away support, saying: “When we went to Newcastle recently, it felt more like a home game.
“The fans have been great all year, very vocal, and that’s really helped push us on.
“It’s been an incredible journey after coming up last season, we don’t want it to finish, and it’s brilliant to have our supporters on board.
“We want to produce as strong a performance as possible in London, then see what we can do in the play-offs.”
It’s Barrow’s first play-off involvement since 2017, when they won the League One final at home to Workington 10-6.
The Cumbrians lasted two seasons in the second tier after moving up five years ago, and Crarey and Chairman Steve Neale are keen to ensure they kick on from this campaign – albeit without former France international back Hakim Miloudi, who will leave at the end of the season.
“I think we have learned lessons from our last time in the Championship, and we won’t leave any stone unturned in trying to establish ourselves,” added Crarey.
“We’re working to build a squad capable of dealing with the demands of a competitive division, and I was especially pleased with our (62-10) win at Newcastle.
“Jake Carter moved to loose-forward (from halfback) and scored two great tries, (hooker) Connor Saunders did a stint, (prop) Sam Brooks played with damaged ribs and (second row) Jarrad Stack also played injured.”
BRADFORD BULLS could make former Super League halfback Tom Holmes their third new signing for next season.
The Odsal club has already snapped up Wales centre or second rower Chester Butler, who has been on loan from Huddersfield this campaign, on a two-year deal and Dewsbury’s former Castleford, Featherstone and Sheffield winger Ben Blackmore on one-year terms.
And coach Mark Dunning, who replaced John Kear mid-season and is tasked with turning Bradford into promotion contenders, is reportedly keen on former Castleford and Huddersfield halfback Holmes.
He already has Dec Patton, Jordan Lilley and Billy Jowitt in his player pool for 2023, with Myles Lawford an emerging talent from the Academy.
But 26-year-old Holmes, currently at Sheffield after falling down the pecking order during his second spell at Featherstone, where he started this year, could add another dimension.
Whether through form or injuries, the halves have been a problem area for the Bulls, who bought in former Warrington man Patton from Salford as a high-profile signing eleven months ago, and in February, agreed a contract extension to cover next season.
The 27-year-old is currently serving a seven-match suspension for eye-gouging while ex-Leeds player Lilley and Bradford development product Jowitt are recovering from operations on ankle and shoulder injuries respectively.
Lawford has caught the eye in recent games, but would have needed a pain-killing injection to play in the derby at Halifax, where the Bulls lost 40-18, and was therefore left out.
Dunning instead borrowed Leeds prospect David Gibbons, the son of the former Rhinos Super League players of the same name, and fielded him alongside Sam Hallas.
Having visited Batley, Bradford end a difficult and disappointing campaign at home to Widnes on Sunday.
That means a return for Kear, who had more than four years as Bulls coach, including a promotion from League One in 2018, before departing in April after a fifth defeat in nine league games.
Meanwhile, backrower Brad England has penned a one-year contract extension.
WORKINGTON TOWN are looking forward to hosting an international team ahead of the World Cup.
Derwent Park will stage Jamaica’s warm-up match against a Cumbrian select side on Friday, October 7 (7.45pm).
Workington, Whitehaven and Barrow have held talks about recreating a county team in a bid to raise the profile of the game in the area.
Cumbria last played in 2016, losing 48-16 to Scotland at Barrow.
“There is an appetite among all three clubs to form a joint Cumbrian Rugby League board,” said a statement on the Town website.
“We were approached very enthusiastically by the Jamaican team management to help with their preparations for the World Cup and to help promote the Cumbria Rugby league brand.
“That has provided the perfect opportunity to bring the three clubs together in partnership.
“In addition to this first exciting match, the intention is that there will be at least one fixture for the county each year with the home venue rotated amongst the three clubs.
“With the possibility that the recent internal analysis of the game might bring more international fixtures, Cumbria could provide perfect opposition.
FEATHERSTONE ROVERS forward Bayley Gill says supporters can play a key role in helping Brian McDermott’s men make the Million Pound game.
The second-placed Yorkshire side, who won 30-18 at Sheffield on Friday, head to Halifax on Sunday, then have a weekend off before a home play-off semi-final on Sunday, September 25.
The Australian forward, the son of former London Broncos pack star and Super League Dream Team member Peter Gill, was a close-season signing from Queensland Cup side Mackay Cutters, and finally made an appearance at the Millennium Stadium as Workington were beaten 64-18 last month.
“The fans are great and they were really loud,” he said.
“That definitely helps the team.”
Gill, who has also played for Leeds Reserves this year, says Rovers should go into the play-offs with confidence.
“We’ve got some pretty good players, and we’re training well,” he added.
“It’s the hardest I’ve worked, and I think it’s all starting to click.”
WIDNES VIKINGS coach John Kear reckons tackles by Ryan Ince and Eribe Doro typified his team’s unstinting defensive effort against League Leaders’ Shield winners Leigh.
The Centurions sealed top spot with two games remaining by winning 42-4, but Kear, whose side host another play-off contender Halifax in front of the Premier Sports television cameras tonight (Monday, September 5), believes there were positives in defeat.
“Leigh are a very good side who are in great form and building for the play-offs,” he said.
“The effort we put in was tremendous, and bodes well.
“Leigh had 45 sets to our 28. That’s a lot of ball, some of it through our errors, but some of our on-line defence was first class.
“There was some great scramble, for instance by Ryan, when they broke and kicked, and Eribe, who stopped them on our line.
“While we lost, there were lots of little things we can point to as positives,
“I’ve told my players to learn from the game – and take some inspiration from it, because they met a team in great form and had the wherewithal and desire to make them work for their win.”
YORK CITY KNIGHTS have agreed a three-year contract extension with leading backrower Jordan Thompson – but will be without powerhouse forward Pauli Pauli for the play-offs because of an anterior cruciate ligament injury.
Former Castleford, Hull and Leeds man Thompson, 30, has been a consistent performer since joining from Leigh on a one-year deal ahead of this season.
Coach James Ford said: “Re-signing Jordan was right at the top of the list for the club. He’s had a fantastic season and we’re very hopeful that there is more to come from him.
“He’s been a key and central player for us with his carries, his leadership and his engine. Jordan has had some fantastic games and we’ve missed him when he hasn’t been out on the pitch.
“There are plans at the club to continue the progress we have made.
“We’ve qualified for the play-offs for the second time in three (completed) seasons, and Jordan has been a central player in that achievement.
“We want to put people around him who can facilitate even more progress in the coming seasons.”
Having won 24-18 at Newcastle, York host Workington on Sunday as they tune up for their play-off assignment.
SHEFFIELD EAGLES are said to be lining up a move for Lewis Peachey, the Castleford prop who has spent this season on loan at Newcastle.
The 21-year-old is coming out of contract at the Super League club – and Sheffield director of rugby Mark Aston is keen.
With the Eagles happily back in the steel city at their new Olympic Legacy Park base after a nomadic spell, he wants to build a squad capable of pushing for the play-offs, with the club last involved in 2013, when they beat Batley to win a second successive Championship Grand Final in the era of licensing, when there was no promotion.
Bradford winger Matty Dawson-Jones is also reportedly Sheffield-bound, while the Eagles already have centres Ryan Johnson and Ross Oakes and forwards Blake Broadbent, Tyler Dickinson, Brandon Douglas, Joel Farrell, Vila Halafihi, Evan Hodgson, Liam Kirk and Mikey Wood contracted for 2023.
However, there is uncertainty over the halves, with Tom Holmes being linked with Bradford and 36-year-old Anthony Thackeray having said he will retire.
Sheffield, who lost 30-18 against Featherstone at the OLP on Friday, finish their fixtures with a home game against relegated Dewsbury this Friday.
LONDON BRONCOS interim coach Mike Eccles paid tribute to the club’s travelling supporters after the final away match of the season at Whitehaven – and said sorry for being unable to reward them with a victory.
After winning their previous three matches on the bounce and five of their last six, sealing second-tier survival in the process, the capital side lost 40-20.
“I was gutted for our supporters who made such a long journey,” said Eccles after the 660-mile round trip from the club’s Wimbledon base.
“They’ll never argue providing we apply ourselves as best as we can to all situations, and we didn’t quite do that.
“I want to place on record our thanks to those who supported us not just at Whitehaven but on the road throughout the season.
“Their support on the terraces means so much, particularly when it’s so easy to follow the game at home.”
Having hosted Leigh, the Broncos finish up at home to Barrow on Sunday.
NEWCASTLE THUNDER triallist hooker Thomas Lacans has gone back to France after making three appearances.
The 21-year-old, who came through the Catalans Dragons development system before playing for Lézignan, where his father Cedric has a successful spell in the late noughties, made his Newcastle debut from the bench in the 44-0 home defeat by London Broncos on August 7.
Former France Under-19 international Lacans, who helped Lézignan win the Elite One title last year, then started the 42-10 loss at Halifax and 62-10 home defeat by Barrow.
Thunder, who are reverting to part-time status and have been linked with Whitehaven’s Kiwi halfback Nikau Williams, lost 24-18 to York on Saturday. They have picked up only one point from their last eight matches.
Newcastle complete their fixture list at Whitehaven this Saturday.
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