Betfred Championship news round up

Sheffield Eagles coach Mark Aston says he can’t praise his experienced duo Rob Worrincy and Anthony Thackeray highly enough.

Scrum-half Thackeray pulled the strings – and scored twice – as the Eagles claimed an impressive 20-14 win at York earlier this month, having previously beaten Bradford.

And ahead of Sunday’s Championship third-round trip to Newcastle, winger Thackeray, who is in his fourth spell with the club, needed only two more tries for a career total of 200.

Of the 198 already to his credit, 109 are for Halifax (2009-2014, 2017), 66 for Sheffield (2005-2008, 2015-2016, 2020-21) and 23 for Dewsbury (2018-2019).

And Aston says the 35-year-olds are as influential on the training ground as they are on the pitch.

“They are both good players who contribute a lot. This club is all about player development and they have a big role in mentoring the younger lads,” he explained.

Thackeray started out at home-city club Hull and also played for Castleford, Widnes, Halifax, Dewsbury and Featherstone before joining Sheffield in 2019.

Leeds-born Worrincy had spells at London Broncos and Castleford before first linking up with Aston, who recalled: “We brought him in for the first time as a kid really.

“He was big and strong then, and I think he’s probably bigger and stronger now. He has made himself into a top-end Championship player, and is still firing on all cylinders.

“As with Anthony Thackeray, I cant praise Rob highly enough, and I think the fact we’ve signed him four times tells you everything you need to know.”

Worrincy tweeted: “It’s an honour and privilege to play the game professionally and to score tries in the process is an added and enjoyable bonus.

“Would be chuffed to make 200 club but just grateful I’m able to turn out with my mates in club colours!”

WHITEHAVEN have boosted their backline options by signing former Scotland Under 19 rugby union winger Aaron Purewal.

And coach Gary Charlton’s assistant Jonty Gorley believes the 23-year-old Glaswegian could even force his way into the Scotland squad for this year’s World Cup.

Purewal played in the Scottish top flight for Boroughmuir and Glasgow Hutchesons Aloysians (GHA) before signing for English second-tier team Richmond last year.

He has agreed a deal until the end of the season after a successful trial spell at the Recreation Ground.

He was recommended by the club’s scouting contacts north of the border, with director Ashley Kilpatrick playing a key role in the move.

Kilpatrick said: “Aaron has been here for a month and after speaking with Charlo and Jonty, they are really excited by what they’ve seen.

“Aaron is very quick and a natural athlete. He may be new to Rugby League, but we feel as a club he has all the attributes to be a big hit in the sport.”

Gorley added: “Aaron is promising, and it’s fantastic to sign him for the season. It gives us a chance to see what he will be like in a Rugby League environment.

“He comes with good pedigree as a union winger, having played for Scotland through the age levels as well as at a high standard at GHA and Richmond in London.

“He has settled in well and looks like he has already got some great Rugby League attributes.

“He talks really well at training, has good balance and agility, and has pace to burn. We have given him a chance now at Whitehaven to hopefully fulfil his potential.

“It could help him make the Scotland squad for the Wold Cup.”

Meanwhile, Whitehaven are set to announce a major three-year sponsorship deal.

Chairman Tom Todd explained: “It will be our biggest corporate sponsorship in recent years.

“I can’t go into much detail at the moment but everyone on the board is excited and we can’t wait to share the news formally.

“This all adds to the club’s push for increased sustainability and engagement with local business.

“There is an air of progress about the club at the moment which is very refreshing.”

Whitehaven host Bradford on Sunday.

BATLEY BULLDOGS coach Craig Lingard is enjoying the competitiveness of the Championship.

His side pushed much-fancied Featherstone close in the Challenge Cup as well as the opening round of league fixtures before beating Oldham in the first competitive match at the Fox’s Biscuits Stadium in more than a year.

And after defeating Widnes 48-16 in another home clash on Saturday, the Bulldogs head to promoted Newcastle on Sunday, with Lingard noting: “They will give us a test, and we know that if we aren’t on our mettle, we’ll get turned over.

“Just by looking at the results so far, it’s clear that no side can take anything for granted. You have to be switched on every match, and that’s what you want.

“A lot of teams have recruited well, and I think the financial impact of the pandemic and the loss of the Reserve competition this season has had a filter-down effect.

“Super League clubs are cutting their cloth and going with more streamlined squads, and both older-end players and later-developing youngsters have come onto the market, with Championship teams taking advantage.”

Two Batley forwards reached appearance milestones against Oldham.

New recruit Josh Tonks, 29, who has also played for Hunslet, Keighley, York and Dewsbury, marked his 200th career outing with a try in the 48-10 victory.

And former Huddersfield player Jack Blagbrough, 27, who was signed ahead of last season, reached his century (ten for Batley, 36 for York, eight for Workington, 13 for Leigh, five for Hunslet, seven for Oldham, 20 for Sheffield and one for the Giants).

Lingard says Blagbrough and his fellow props Adam Gledhill, Toby Everett and Nyle Flynn made a vital contribution against Oldham.

“They were dominant, and we were able to drain the opposition of energy and lay the platform for our edge players to do some damage,” he explained.

TOULOUSE OLYMPIQUE coach Sylvain Houles admits his team’s lack of fixtures is a major frustration.

Ambitious Olympique have signed a long-term groundshare agreement with the city’s rugby union club to use the 19,500-capacity Stade Ernest Wallon, which would meet Super League standards.

But because of ongoing government quarantine guidelines due to the pandemic, no part-time Championship teams are currently visiting France.

And London Broncos, the competition’s only full-time club other than Toulouse, forfeited their recent match there after deciding not to travel.

That meant Olympique’s game at Halifax on Sunday was only their second competitive outing of the campaign.

And unless there’s a change in the quarantine rules, there isn’t another until the trip to Whitehaven on Sunday, May 16.

That means Houles’ men will have played only three times in nine weeks.

Toulouse didn’t compete in the Challenge Cup, and had only one pre-season match, away to Catalans.

They started the league campaign with an impressive 21-6 win at York, and were awarded a 24-0 win, and the two competition points, against the Broncos.

“We were so disappointed when London decided not to come here,” said former Broncos and Wakefield player Houles, who has been at the helm since 2012.

“Our new stadium is a fantastic place, and we are desperate to get out there. We haven’t even used our new home changing room yet. The club has designed a very special environment for the players and they are eager to try it out.

“But as always, we will try to find some positives and move forward.

“Over the years we have faced many challenges and we always bounce back, so that’s the mentality we need now.

“We’re putting everything into our focus for our next game, and we’ll be ready to roll.”

OLDHAM coach Matt Diskin hopes the loan signing of Jack Bibby will both boost his injury-hit side’s fortunes and progress the career of the 19-year-old Wigan prop.

The Shevington Sharks product played in Saturday’s 38-24 loss at London Broncos and will also be available for Saturday’s meeting with Halifax at Bower Fold.

The Roughyeds went into their clash in the capital without seven senior players – forwards Martyn Reilly, Liam Kirk, Shaun Pick, Phil Joy and Danny Bridge and backs Ben Heaton and Ryan Ince.

In addition, experienced prop Jode Sheriffe is still waiting for surgery on a knee problem sustained more than a year ago.

Diskin explained: “Jack, who has been highly recommended, is a very talented lad who is ready to play against men and to learn from the experience.

“He is not far away from the first team at Wigan and his loan move is good for all parties.”

Bibby, who combines his Wigan duties with studying to become a PE teacher said: “I played one game in the Reserves, against Leeds, and I was hoping for more at that level, but then came lockdown and it never happened.

“I know it’s a big step up to the Championship, but it’s a great opportunity for me and one I’m excited by.

“I talked to a few clubs before I signed for Wigan, but they were always favourites because I’m a Wigan lad and I’ve supported them since I was a boy.

“I’m loving it there, but at the same time I realise there’s plenty to be gained in going to Oldham for a spell.

“I hope to get a lot out of it in terms of experience, while at the same time doing a good job for Oldham.”

YORK CITY KNIGHTS have made Hull fullback Connor Wynne their latest loan ranger.

Coach James Ford recently recruited Hull KR halfback Joe Keyes and props Yusuf Aydin (Wakefield) and Lewis Peachey (Castleford) to help cover for injuries.

Now Wynne, 20, who can also play winger and has made eight Hull appearances, scoring three tries, but only two in the last twelve months, has made a month-long switch, although the Super League club can recall him after the first fortnight.

“Connor’s a very talented athlete,” said Ford, whose side will follow up their trip to Swinton by visiting Dewsbury on Sunday.

“He’s shown plenty of promise in the appearances that he’s made and a lot of people speak highly about him.

“We are a little bit thin with player availability, so being able to use Connor to cover a number of positions for us was the right decision.

“I’m grateful to Hull and the club to be in the position we are to sort it out and get the deal done.”

Wynne, out of contract at the end of this year, featured in the pre-season match at York, but has found competitive opportunities hard to come by under new Hull coach Brett Hodgson, who has handed Jake Connor the fullback berth in the injury-enforced absence of Jamie Shaul.

He has been further hampered by the lack of a Reserve competition this season.

Along with outings against Wakefield in Super League and Wigan in the Challenge Cup, he played one second-team match last year.

“This will be a good opportunity for Connor to get some game time under his belt over the course of the next month,” said Hodgson.

“We’re happy with how Connor has been progressing, but it’s important for him to get some competitive minutes under his belt.

“York have a strong squad and the Championship is looking very competitive this season, so I know Connor is relishing the opportunity to train and play with them.”

NEWCASTLE THUNDER Academy manager Michael Heap believes Isaac Nokes can become a first-team regular.

The 19-year-old centre was involved in coach Eamon O’Carroll’s plans for Sunday’s home clash with Sheffield.

Nokes, who played for both Wallsend Eagles and Cramlington Rockets at junior level, has been with Thunder since the age of 15.

He represented England at Academy as well as various junior levels and featured in Newcastle’s pre-season match against Whitehaven in 2019.

“I’m really proud of Nokesy to have got this first opportunity which I’m sure will be the first of many,” said Heap.

“He has developed a lot in his time with us and it was during his under 17 year that he really started to click, bringing him England Academy selection against Wales.

“He’s gone from strength to strength, even with the curtailment of the season in 2020.

“He is a very diligent lad, and physically, he has really looked after himself and put himself in the best possible position to pick up from where he left off.

“Isaac works extremely hard on everything away from the field as well as on it.

“He is a powerful ball carrier out of yardage who gets through his work and gets the team onto the front foot and he is exciting with the ball in hand and someone who I am sure our fans are going to enjoy watching.”

Nokes added: “I was absolutely buzzing when I found out I might be involved against Sheffield.

“It’s been over a year since my last game, but training with the first team through pre-season has really given me confidence.”

Newcastle have another home game against Batley this Sunday.

DEWSBURY RAMS coach Lee Greenwood says there is plenty more to come from his side this season – starting at home to York this Sunday.

The Rams took on Bradford on Sunday buoyed by two wins in their opening two games, 17-8 at home to Whitehaven and 22-14 at Widnes.

Victory at Widnes was sealed with the help of two tries by winger Andy Gabriel, and Greenwood said: “I thought we deserved it over the 80 minutes.

“It was a real determined defensive effort with us taking our chances when they came along. We knew it would take a huge effort to win at Widnes and we did it.

“We put up some great kicks and then the chasers put pressure on the Widnes players who were catching it.

“They made them make mistakes and then we made sure we had enough players around the ball to capitalise.

“Our back three were great at taking the balls in the sun particularly, but all 17 contributed to the win, which was pleasing.”

Greenwood added: “We know we can improve and play even better. There were a few too many errors in the first half and we’ll have to clean that up.

“But for all their ball possession and attacking shape they only scored three tries, and I was disappointed to concede those in truth.”

BRADFORD BULLS playmaker Jordan Lilley believes the Bulls answered their critics with the 27-26 derby win over Halifax clinched by his late field-goal.

John Kear’s side were slated following their 50-12 setback at Sheffield as fortnight earlier.

Ahead of the ‘home’ meeting with groundshare partners Dewsbury at the Tetley’s Stadium, Lilley told the Telegraph and Argus: “Anyone in Rugby League who watched the Sheffield game will have known that we were way off the mark. That wasn’t the kind of performance Bradford are renowned for.

“It was tough because we had two weeks staring at the walls after that. We’ve had to fix a few wrongs and got stuck into each other.

“A lot on social media were criticising us and saying a lot of bad things, but I think we proved a few people wrong and that’s what we want to do.

“We want to stay under the radar and keep producing performances like that.”

Bradford visit Whitehaven on Sunday.

SWINTON LIONS have what it takes to compete in the Championship this season.

That’s the view of Wigan halfback Harry Smith, who has just penned a new contract until the end of 2024 with the Super League club.

The 21-year-old England Knights international had a loan spell with the Lions in 2019, scoring three tries and kicking 23 goals in 16 appearances.

“Playing for Swinton was a big part in my development,” he said. “They are a well-run club and I learned a lot from (coach) Stuart Littler.

“As a teenager who’d only been used to Academy rugby, playing against experienced professionals in a really competitive environment was a great learning experience.

“I still keep in touch with a few of the lads there, and looking at the squad put together for this season, I think they could make their mark.”

Swinton, who have signed Salford’s Scotland and former Newcastle forward Sam Luckley on a two-week loan, are next in action away to Widnes on Sunday.

HALIFAX PANTHERS coach Simon Grix is keeping close tabs on the fitness of his brother Scott as he plans for Saturday’s trans-Pennine trip to Oldham.

The former Super League fullback picked up a hamstring injury during the 27-26 derby defeat by Bradford.

Grix said: “We missed Scott when he went off. He’s an older head who pushes us around the pitch well.”

Halifax held a 14-0 first-half lead against Bradford and were two points in front going into the final ten minutes.

“They wanted it more than us for longer periods of the game,” admitted Grix, whose side hosted Toulouse on Sunday.

“For the first 20 minutes, we were cruising, and that’s because we started the way we planned to and did what we needed to.

“But then we went away from the script and started making it up a bit. We needed to dominate possession and field position and leave them in a hole energy-wise, but we did the opposite.

“That inability to carry out what we said we would do, added to some poor discipline, proved costly, and we need to learn the lesson, because we missed a good opportunity to take two points.”

LONDON BRONCOS winger Abbas Miski is eager to help his new club win promotion and fulfil his dream of playing in Super League.

The 25-year-old from Penrith has played for North Sydney Bears, Wentworthville Magpies and Manly’s feeder team Blacktown Workers.

“I was weighing up my options at the end of last season. Playing in the Super League has always been a goal of mine and I thought moving to the UK would be a good life experience for me,” he said.

“When I learned of the Broncos’ interest I jumped at the opportunity. We’ve got a very close-knit group that is very helpful off the field but similarly eager to win on it.

“It’s a fresh start for me, new teammates, new coaches, a new country, a new league and new opponents.”

Already capped nine times by Lebanon, Miski is keen to figure in this year’s World Cup.

“Playing internationally is a fantastic experience and I really want to make a mark at this year’s tournament, especially as it’s being held here in England,” he added.

FEATHERSTONE ROVERS coach James Webster was more than happy with the way his side dealt with their recent trip to Swinton.

Rovers went into Sunday’s home showdown with Whitehaven having won 36-6 at Heywood Road, and Webster hailed his team’s composure.

“I was really pleased, because more than any team within the division, Swinton have the ability to stretch you from anywhere on the pitch,” he said.

“We focused hard on being able to identify Swinton’s shape so we had the best chance of dealing with their various threats.

“The second half was frustrating at times, and we saw that we still have some way to go to get to where we want to be, but it was still a step forward overall.”

With the trip to Toulouse off the agenda, Rovers aren’t back in action until Sunday week, when they visit York.

WIDNES VIKINGS have brought in Warrington second row Ellis Robson for a third time.

The 21-year-old had previous spells with the Vikings in 2019, when he featured six times, and last season, when he made one appearance before returning to the Wolves to figure in four Super League matches.

He played in Saturday’s 48-16 defeat at Batley, which second row Lee Jewitt, prop Connor Dwyer and fullback and captain Jack Owens missed because of injury.

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