Betfred Championship news round up

Featherstone Rovers have made Martin Vickers their new chief executive, and having helped Toronto Wolfpack win promotion from the Championship before their demise, his main objective is to help Rovers reach Super League – and stay there.

The former UK business manager of the Canadian club, who says he has spent the last twelve months working unpaid to help Wolfpack players and staff recover money owed to them, succeeds Davide Longo, who has joined Bradford City Football Club as commercial director.

Financial services provider Sedulo will manage Featherstone’s day-to-day finances and Rovers have also recruited former London Skolars general manager Jac Davies to head their marketing and media operations.

Vickers, a former chief executive of Salford who has also worked at Swinton, says further behind-the-scenes appointments could follow.

“I see many positives,” he said. “An energetic board that have worked tirelessly and invested in the club to keep it financially stable during these challenging times and to put together a very competitive team.

“I see a club that has made solid progress off the field in recent years which provides me with a solid foundation from which to build a Super League team on and off the field.”

Vickers lists his priorities as building attendance levels once spectators are allowed back inside grounds, ‘reconnecting’ with fans following the pandemic and improving the commercial viability of the club through increased engagement with local and national business partners.

“My role will be to work hard to build our reputation as a ‘Super League Club in waiting’,” he added.

Featherstone, who hosted Hull in the third round of the Challenge Cup on Saturday, are currently under investigation by the RFL over an alleged breach of government Covid guidelines.

“I will fully co-operate with the governing body to ensure that the investigation is fully supported and brought to a swift conclusion, with the full facts of this matter established and the necessary improvements put in place,” added Vickers.

WHITEHAVEN coach Gary Charlton is hoping to impose home rule as he works to get his side back on track following successive defeats on the road.

The Cumbrians host Newcastle on Sunday – four weeks after their last appearance at the Recreation Ground, when Dewsbury were beaten 23-16 in the first round the Challenge Cup.

Charlton’s charges then lost 34-10 in their second-round tie at Widnes before a 17-8 defeat at Dewsbury in their opening Championship game on Easter Saturday.

“We’re looking forward to playing at home again,” he said. “Our geographical location means we’ll do a lot of travelling over a season, and we accept that.

“The lads are used to sitting on a coach, but both the Widnes and Dewsbury games kicked off later than usual, and that meant we didn’t get back to Whitehaven until the early hours.

“Quite a few of the lads had early starts at work the mornings after, and that kind of thing has a knock-on effect.

“It will be good to be back on our own pitch and to get to bed at a decent time!”

Charlton says better attention to the basics hold the key to improvement.

“We created opportunities at Dewsbury, and but for small margins, it could have been different,” he added.

“While we asked some questions of them at times, we have to do it for longer, and our completion rate in the first 20 minutes of the second half was poor, and when that’s the case, you are going to struggle, which we did.

“It’s early in the season, and we are on a learning curve, but we have to learn fast.”

Charlton is monitoring the fitness of fullback Gregg McNally (thigh), prop Marc Shackley (hamstring) and winger Andrew Bulman (back).

Versatile Papuan Dion Aiye is likely to be out for at least another fortnight because of a knee ligament problem.

Meanwhile hooker Sam Dowsett has left the club to focus on a new business venture.

The 28-year-old joined from Askham in 2019 and played a key role in that year’s League 1 promotion success.

LONDON BRONCOS could be playing at AFC Wimbledon’s impressive new Plough Lane stadium from August onwards.

Members of the fan-owned football club have voted overwhelmingly in favour of housing the former Super League side at the venue, which is on the site of the old Wimbledon Greyhound Stadium (which operated from 1928 until 2017) and opened in November with a 9,300 capacity with scope for an increase through further development.

That was key to the Broncos making Plough Lane the tenth ground used regularly since their formation as Fulham in 1980, when they were based at Craven Cottage.

The full-time Rugby League club are due to play forthcoming behind-closed-doors home Championship matches against Oldham, Halifax and Newcastle at Rosslyn Park rugby union club’s The Rock, where they train on the 4G surface.

The Rock has already staged Challenge Cup ties against Keighley and York.

The Broncos have agreed a short-term deal to return to Ealing Trailfinders, their home from 2016 until last season which also has an artificial pitch, once fans are allowed back into grounds after May 17.

Their first home game after that is against Bradford on Sunday, May 23.

However Vallis Way wouldn’t meet Super League guidelines should the ambitious Broncos manage to regain the top-flight status enjoyed in 2019, hence the need to find another venue.

Plough Lane offers the potential to expand the club’s corporate and marketing activity, but AFC Wimbledon, themselves yet to play in front of fans there, need to stage test events and carry out pitch maintenance work before the Broncos could move in.

The meeting with Oldham at Trailfinders on Saturday, April 24 is the Broncos’ next match after their refusal to travel to France to face Toulouse on Saturday.

OLDHAM skipper Gareth Owen is looking forward to watching young prop Tyler Dupree further develop his game during the season.

The highly-rated former Leeds Academy player, signed during last year’s lockdown amid plenty of interest from other Championship clubs, has made a quick impact, scoring tries in each of the last two games.

The Roughyeds were beaten 23-4 at Swinton in the second round of the Challenge Cup, but bounced back to kick-off their league campaign with a 28-20 comeback win over the same opponents at Bower Fold.

“Tyler trained really well in pre-season,” said Owen of the 21-year-old ex-Halifax Elite Rugby Academy and Siddal player, who made four appearances for York during a loan spell from Leeds in 2019.

“We were all excited to see what he could do in a match. He’s made a great start, and there’s more to come from him.”

Coach Matt Diskin said: “Tyler is a very talented prop who has been in the first-team squad at Leeds and has come through the Rhinos systems. He still has a bit of maturing to do as a front-row forward, but what a talent!

“With ability like his, he has the rugby world at his feet. We had a lot of competition to get him and that says a lot about him and a lot about his potential.

“I’ve absolutely no doubt that if he works hard and applies himself here, he will have every chance of returning to Super League in the not-too-distant future.”

Oldham are next in action at Batley on Saturday, with Diskin hoping to have a full squad, other than broken-leg victim Matty Wilkinson, one of his three hookers, to call on.

Props Luke Nelmes and Phil Joy, wingers Tommy Brierley and Kyran Johnson and scrum-half James Barran missed the league clash with Swinton, while stand-off Lewis Charnock suffered a ‘stinger’ early on.

Diskin reorganised, switching Owen to stand-off and bringing hooker Dec Gregory off the bench.

HALIFAX PANTHERS coach Simon Grix won’t be reading too much into first-round results as he prepares his side for Sunday’s big derby meeting with Bradford.

The Panthers travel to Dewsbury’s Tetley’s Stadium, once again the Bulls’ base this season, on the back of a 47-14 home win over London Broncos on Good Friday.

Bradford, in contrast, suffered a 50-12 setback against Sheffield at the Keepmoat Stadium, Doncaster, but Grix insisted: “They are very dangerous.

“Bradford will certainly be up for it, and we will need to tidy up in some areas and deal with the emotive side of a derby game.

“We need to look after the ball carefully and have a similar attitude to dominating possession as we did against London.”

As after their Challenge Cup first-round elimination by Batley, Halifax have had a blank weekend, and Grix admitted: “It would have been nice to go again.

“But you have to look at the positives, and it’s provided the chance to do a bit more work on the training field to prepare for a big match.”

Halifax will be without forward Jacob Fairbank, who serves a one-match ban for the punching incident which brought him a yellow card against London.

But Grix, who is monitoring Sam Hewitt after the on-loan Huddersfield back rower was forced off by a blow to the head, is happy with the overall numbers in his squad.

“There have been times in the past when the side pretty much picked itself, but we have more bodies now, which provides options,” he explained.

The coach was pleased with the debut display of Halifax-born centre Zack McComb, signed on a two-year deal after playing for Oldham and Sheffield.

“Zak was excellent and was pleased to get a try. You could see from his reaction how proud he is to be playing for his hometown club.”

McComb, 25, who started out at Huddersfield, said: “It was good to get a hit-out, and while I was blowing a bit at times, it was great to score.

“I think there was a big improvement after the Challenge Cup defeat by Batley, and the boys want to keep that going.”

SHEFFIELD EAGLES halfback Izaac Farrell reckons the Eagles can build on a resounding win against Bradford by gaining revenge over York City Knights on Sunday.

Mark Aston’s men responded to a 30-6 defeat by the Knights in the first round of the Challenge Cup by beating the Bulls 50-12 back at the Keepmoat Stadium, Doncaster, Sheffield’s home for this season, on Easter Sunday.

Former Huddersfield and Rochdale player Farrell, the 23-year-old son of ex-Eagles favourite Anthony and younger brother of Sheffield back rower Joel, scored a try and kicked four goals.

“I expect more of the same against York,” he said. “They’ve got quite a few new signings, but I feel that we know how they play.

“We’ve got a couple of games under our belt now and I feel that we’re getting into our groove. I wouldn’t write us off.”

Farrell was impressed with his side’s discipline against Bradford in both attack and defence.

“It was a good start to the season to put that many points on them,” he added.

“I thought that we stuck to the plan and identified places on the pitch where we could expose them.

“You can tell by the scoreline that we did it really well. That we kept them to twelve points is even better.”

Farrell, who joined ahead of the curtailed 2020 campaign, says he is enjoying playing alongside experienced Andy Thackeray.

“He has given me good advice. He’s been pushing me to be better in myself and for the team,” he added.

“He’s more of a dominant voice but he’s given me the opportunity to have a bit more freedom when I’m playing.

“When you’ve got somebody like Thacks playing next to you it makes it easier. He’s given me much more confidence.”

BRADFORD BULLS halfback Jordan Lilley hopes to team up with closed-season signing Danny Brough in a bid to drive the Bulls to a first win of the season when they meet derby rivals Halifax on Sunday.

The sides meet at Dewsbury, which is once again Bradford’s home this year, with the Bulls having lost to Featherstone in the first round of the Challenge Cup and Sheffield in their first league game on Easter Sunday, shipping 91 points in the process.

Ex-Leeds man Lilley missed both those games through a suspension imposed for a late hit during the pre-season meeting with Swinton, and he admitted: “I feel like I let the the lads down by getting the ban.

“There was no malice in what I did, I’m not that kind of player. I’ve had my telling off from the coaching staff and now I’m wanting to do my bit to get us back to where we need to be.”

Lilley, speaking to the Telegraph and Argus, added: “We have to use the Sheffield game as an eye-opener and accept that is what will happen if we don’t play to our full potential.

“It wasn’t acceptable. Sheffield were good and credit to them, they played some good shapes, completed and broke us down well, but there were some soft tries in there, which was uncharacteristic of us defensively.

“We had a meeting on Tuesday night, going through all those wrongs and the standards that we want to put out.

“It hurt to see the team like that on Sunday and we didn’t just let ourselves down, it was the fans and the coaching staff too.

“We want to get back to it in round two, though we know we’re coming up against a very good Halifax side who had a brilliant win over London.

“We’ll need to produce nine out of tens all over the pitch to get something out of the game.”

Bradford have appointed former player Joe Pitts as commercial director.

TOULOUSE OLYMPIQUE coach Sylvain Houles accepts fixture disruption as a result of the pandemic could well be a feature of their season and has hailed his players for their flexibility.

Having claimed an impressive 21-6 win at York in their first league game on Easter Saturday, Olympique will now have to wait until Sunday week, April 25, for their next match at Halifax – a three-week gap.

That’s after London Broncos’ refusal to play this Sunday’s game in France, with Toulouse awarded a 24-0 win and the two league points by the RFL.

“In these times we’re not always sure where or when our next match will be,” said Houles, who will be without Harrison Hansen for six weeks after the former New Zealand and Samoa international forward picked up a knee injury against York.

“We’ve got a happy squad, but of course they are all inquisitive about the latest developments with travel restrictions and Covid.

“We all read up and chat about what’s going on because there are many things we don’t know, but what we’re sure about is it will be a real battle against some very strong opposition at the same time as the pandemic.

“We know we will have to bend and adapt if we’re going to get through it. The spirit is tremendous and we are not afraid of what’s ahead.”

DEWSBURY RAMS coach Lee Greenwood says the hard-fought nature of his side’s opening league clash with Whitehaven is a sign of what is to come this season – starting with Saturday’s trip to Widnes.

The Rams gained revenge for a 23-16 Challenge Cup first-round defeat in West Cumbria by winning 17-8 in West Yorkshire on Easter Saturday.

Dewsbury went behind after 13 minutes at the Tetley’s Stadium, but responded to be 17-4 ahead after 53, and Greenwood said: “It was a really tough fixture.

“This was a scrap for the win. We can be under no illusions that it will be like this every week, the Championship is a very tough division.

“We knew we needed to improve after the defeat in the cup. We have improved, but we know there is loads more to get better at.

“I was impressed with how we didn’t get sucked into making errors and arguing about how the game is policed.

“We’ll come up against different sides who will either play the ball quicker or slower and we’ve talked about how different referees will rule what’s going on within tackles.

“Overall I am very pleased with how we got the win and now we can work on things going into the Widnes game.”

WIDNES VIKINGS coach Simon Finnigan hopes Owen Farnworth, Matt Cook and Calum O’Neill will all be available to prop up his front row options against Dewsbury in Saturday’s home meeting.

As well as loose-forward Kenny Baker and winger Jayden Hatton, the trio were all ruled out of the Challenge Cup third-round clash with Salford on Saturday.

Versatile former North Wales Crusaders man Baker and Farnworth aim to complete the return-to-play protocols following periods of self-isolation.

Hatton and Cook are both recovering from knocks while O’Neill is waiting for the all-clear to play again after a head injury picked up during the Challenge Cup first-round win at West Wales Raiders.

Finnigan refused to use the absence of so many props as an excuse for throwing away a 14-point lead in the final ten minutes of the 30-30 draw at his previous club Newcastle in the opening league game on Easter Sunday.

“We drew but it feels like a defeat. Our effort was great and the commitment was unreal, but we weren’t smart enough with or without the ball,” he said.

“But we will learn from it, and the next time we are in a similar scenario, we’ll come through it.”

NEWCASTLE THUNDER coach Eamon O’Carroll has warned his side they’ll have to tough it out to get anything from Sunday’s trip to Whitehaven.

Thunder are aiming to build on their league-opening 30-30 home draw with Widnes on Easter Sunday, when they clawed back a 14-point deficit in last ten minutes.

O’Carroll’s side were 28-18 winners against Whitehaven in pre-season, but O’Carroll warned: “This is a completely different prospect, and they are especially strong at their own ground.

“We need to be a bit smarter than we were against Widnes, because we got away with it in getting a point. The lads need to learn fast.”

YORK CITY KNIGHTS have handed long-term contracts to 17-year-old prospects AJ Towse and Myles Harrison, who have come through the club’s development programme.

Both backs were included in the squad for Friday’s Challenge Cup third-round clash with Wigan after agreeing terms until the end of 2023.

The Heworth products played in pre-season games against Featherstone in 2020 and Hull this year as community dual registration players.

Coach James Ford said: “They’ve impressed everybody at the club with their approach to their own development.

“They have both worked really hard at all aspects of their game and I’ve seen significant improvement from both of them.

“I’m really proud to have been able to give them their debuts. I wouldn’t have done it if they didn’t deserve it.”

SWINTON LIONS sold £10 virtual tickets for their big Challenge Cup third-round home clash with Super League Warrington in an attempt to claw back some of the estimated £40,000 windfall they would have enjoyed had Sunday’s Heywood Road tie been staged in front of fans.

While the virtual ticket didn’t provide access to match footage, purchasers have been offered a £10 discount for a ticket for one of the Lions’ home Championship matches once spectator restrictions have been lifted.

In addition, all purchasers have been entered into a raffle to win a VIP matchday experience for two at a suitable future date.

“The loss of a paying crowd for this massive cup-tie was a heart-breaking financial punch in the face for the Lions,” said Swinton’s director of development Damian Ridpath.

“We estimated lost revenue from the tie would have been in the region of £40,000, so missing out on it was a huge blow for a club at our level.

“Not only would that income have underpinned our off-field community strategy and on-field efforts for the rest of 2021, it would have also helped put us in good shape ahead of the 2022 season.”

BATLEY BULLDOGS coach Craig Lingard says a fortnight’s break between his side’s league opener and their next game at home to Oldham on Saturday provides a useful opportunity for rest and recovery.

Having gone a year without playing because of the pandemic like all Championship snd League 1 clubs, the Bulldogs’ 28-18 Good Friday defeat at Featherstone marked a fifth outing in 28 days, including pre-season matches.

“It’s been good to allow a few people to rest up, there are some who were carrying niggles, and this is an opportunity to get themselves right” said Lingard.

“The Oldham game is a big one that we need to tick off, and we will build towards it and hopefully get our first league points of the season.”

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