Toulouse Olympique are ready to tackle whatever comes their way as they fight for a place in Super League, according to coach Sylvain Houles.
Due to issues posed by the pandemic, every match the French side have played this season, including the latest against promotion rivals Featherstone, has been on English soil.
That includes the ‘home’ games against Widnes and Swinton, both of which took place at Heywood Road, the ground the latter share with rugby union club Sale.
Five other matches due to be staged at the Stade Ernest Wallon have been postponed, while Toulouse were awarded a walkover when London Broncos decided against travelling.
Their players have to follow strict protocols each time they return from the UK, but Houles, whose side visit London Broncos on Sunday, says they are coping well.
“We are all really focused on our goals,” the 39-year-old former France international, who has been at the helm since 2012, told League Express.
“Not playing matches on a regular basis is frustrating for the players, but that’s the way it is at the moment, and it’s out of our control.
“We are getting used to having games postponed – there are three more home matches in the regular season, against Halifax, Batley and York, and we don’t know if they will happen.
“We will wait and see what the ruling is. We hope we can play those games, but if not, then we will wait for the next one in England.”
Houles, who was with Huddersfield, London Broncos, Dewsbury and Wakefield before finishing his playing career at Toulouse, continued: “We just have to face what comes our way.
“The players know how to deal with the frustration and remain focused on the end objective.
“From a physical point of view, we try to compensate for the lack of regular matches by making certain training sessions more intense. Hopefully we will get the balance right.
“I have been very impressed with the players. They have this positive attitude and they just get on with things without complaining.”
WIDNES VIKINGS are where they deserve to be in mid-table, according to coach Simon Finnigan.
But the man tasked with breathing new life into one of Rugby League’s great old clubs believes things are looking up as he plots a push for the promotion play-offs over the second half of the season.
The Vikings, who have signed Wigan hooker Aiden Roden on loan, went into their home clash with Batley refreshed from a blank weekend as a result of the postponement of their away game at London Broncos due to Covid issues at the capital club.
Widnes, in their third consecutive Championship campaign following relegation from Super League in 2018, head for York on Sunday and Dewsbury seven days later.
And former Ireland international forward Finnigan, who in November left Newcastle Thunder to take charge of the club where he began his playing career in 2003, reckons his charges are in decent shape for the challenge ahead.
“The London call-off was a frustration, because we lost a game, but at least it was a chance to rest a few blokes who have played a lot of minutes and get some others right after injury,” he explained.
Centre Jake Spedding, hooker Lewis Hulme and props Paul Clough and Owen Farnworth were in the frame for the Batley match, and Finnigan added: “It’s looking better on the fitness front, and (hooker) Logan Tomkins and (prop) Lee Jewitt are only longer-term absentees at this stage. Unfortunately, we’re unlikely to see either of them this season.
“But of course all clubs have had injuries to deal with, and we’re not looking for excuses.
“They say the league table doesn’t lie, and we are where we are. We haven’t had enough good results, and while there have been close games we should have won, there have also been matches when we were nowhere near good enough.
“We have learned a lot as the season has progressed, and I think we have got better as a result of trying to fix up some issues.
“We need to keep improving, produce better performances and so produce better results.”
FEATHERSTONE ROVERS coach James Webster believes having to dig deep to get the better of Bradford has provided his players with vital experience as they target promotion to Super League.
Rovers were made to work hard for the 36-30 victory at Odsal which meant they went into the home clash with Toulouse, their main rivals for a top-flight place, having won 13 out of 13 league games this year.
Webster, forced to miss his side’s 1885 Cup final win over York at Wembley eight days previously after a positive Covid test, said: “It was a pleasing win, all the more so because we had to dig in.
“They used field position to sap the energy from us in the first half, and it was the first time we’d been behind at the break in the league this season. We coped with that well, and it will prove a good experience in the long run.
“It was really tough. Bradford were really good. They completed their sets well, they were in the nineties (in terms of percentage) until the last few minutes when they had to push it. They are a big physical team, and the narrow pitch helps them.
“With interrupted preparation (due to Covid issues) and a few broken bodies, we struggled with parts of the game, both mentally and physically, but dug in well. To win the way we had to with the people we had out, I was very proud.”
Featherstone, who head to Batley on Sunday before a home clash with York the following Saturday, have signed France international prop Gadwin Springer after his release by second-tier rivals Halifax.
The 28-year-old, who is in the France train-on squad ahead of the World Cup, started out at Toulouse before a move to Catalans Dragons in 2014. He then played for Castleford and Toronto before joining Halifax in November. He made twelve appearances for the Panthers.
Featherstone have sent halfback Jake Sweeting and loose-forward Loui McConnell to Super League neighbours Castleford on week-long loans while second row Joe Summers has joined League 1 Hunslet on a seven-day arrangement.
Cook Islands international prop Adam Tangata is hoping to help drive HALIFAX PANTHERS to the play-offs as he settles into his third spell at The Shay.
The five-times capped 30-year-old claimed the first hat-trick of his career as Simon Grix’s side beat Sheffield 40-28 to record a seventh straight win and go third ahead of their big home derby with Bradford.
Because of pitch maintenance work at Doncaster’s Keepmoat Stadium, Sheffield’s base for this season, the game took place at Wakefield, the club Tangata left to join the Panthers on a two-year deal in April.
He left Halifax for Trinity in 2019, initially on loan, and agreed terms with Wakefield for this season in June 2020.
But the Super League side wanted to free up space on their overseas quota, leaving Tangata, who played in their first match of the season against Leeds, to return to very familiar territory.
The former Canberra Under 20s and Mount Pritchard Mounties player’s first spell at Halifax was from 2015-18, and he returned after a short spell at Widnes in 2019.
“It’s nice to get over for one try, so I was pretty pleased with three and my first-ever hat-trick,” said the fans’ favourite who is known for his easy-going nature off the pitch.
“It didn’t work out how I thought it would at Wakefield, but I’m happy at Halifax, playing some good rugby and enjoying myself.
“We set a goal earlier this year to be where we are now, and while we’ve still got some stuff to polish up, we’re slowly getting there, which is pleasing.
“I’m settling into the side and have more understanding of my role. I’ve looked at my weaknesses and worked on them.”
Grix said: “Halifax is home to Adam and, in his time in the UK, this is the place where he has played his best rugby and been truly happy.
“He left on both occasions for something we couldn’t offer and I feel he has definitely coming back an improved player from those experiences.”
Halifax host Newcastle on Sunday.
YORK CITY KNIGHTS prop James Green will retire at the end of the season to focus on his business interests.
The 30-year-old former Hull KR, Leigh, Castleford and Bradford player joined the Knights ahead of last season.
Beverley-born Green, who has also played for Workington, Batley, Gateshead (now Newcastle), Sheffield and Halifax on loan or dual registration, has made 18 appearances for York, 13 of them this season.
He combines playing with running his mortgage and financial services firm.
“Since starting my own business, I have struggled to commit to both that and rugby. So the time has come to walk away from rugby to fully focus on my business,” he explained.
“I’ve been privileged enough to make a living out of Rugby League for ten years now. I’ve accomplished more than I ever thought I would when I started as a 16-year-old at Hull KR.
“I’ve made some lifelong friends, experienced things I never thought I would and Rugby League has shaped me into the person I am today.
“But now is the time to focus on life after rugby and by walking away at the end of the season I feel I can take my business to the next level.
“Thank you to everyone I’ve shared this amazing journey with along the way.”
York coach James Ford, meanwhile, described his side’s 46-10 home win over Swinton as “a step in the right direction”.
It snapped a run of six straight league defeats, and he said: “I’m really pleased for the players and the supporters.
“It certainly wasn’t a perfect performance, but I thought we were very good value for the win.
“We were very physical, we asked more questions with our shape, both halfbacks were running threats and we both nines were good.
“I think it’s a step in the right direction.”
After the postponement of their game at Sheffield due to the Eagles’ Covid issues, York are at home to Widnes on Sunday.
BRADFORD BULLS fullback Brandon Pickersgill says the Bulls want a top-four finish – and therefore a home tie in the play-offs.
The post-season structure means that in the first round on the weekend of September 25/26, third hosts sixth and fourth hosts fifth, with the top two having home advantage in the following semi-finals.
Bradford, who on Saturday signed York forward Jordan Baldwinson on a one-week loan, have their sights on reclaiming the Super League status lost in 2014, and went into their eagerly-awaited derby at fellow play-off hopefuls Halifax having dropped from third to fourth following their 36-30 home defeat by Featherstone.
That game was seen by 3,708 and while Pickersgill accepts getting to the play-offs is the first objective, he knows securing home advantage in them would be a big boost.
“We know our targets in camp, and where we want to finish,” said the 24-year-old Bradford-born Bulls Academy product.
“We’ve had a really good year so far and we’re confident we’re not going to let it slip.
“Halifax was massive for us, and we’ve got seven big games to come (starting at home to Sheffield on Sunday).
“We want to put our best foot forward, hopefully secure the play-offs, then go into those good and strong.”
Pickersgill, talking to the Telegraph and Argus newspaper, continued: “I think with the way Toulouse and Featherstone have been going, first and second are pretty secure.
“If you come third or fourth this year, you know you’re going to get a home game, and that’s something we’ve really targeted.
“It would be great to have a packed-out Odsal, which would be bouncing around play-off time. That’s our aim, to finish third or fourth.
“Finishing in the play-offs is a good achievement as it is, but we don’t just want to be good, we’re striving for that third or fourth spot.”
OLDHAM are ready to fight to the finish in their bid to preserve second-tier status with the help of coaching consultant Brian McDermott – and say their supporters have a big role to play.
The former Harlequins, Leeds, Toronto and USA coach was in charge alongside assistant coach Brendan Sheridan for the third time when the second-bottom Roughyeds hosted London Broncos aiming to snap a run of nine successive defeats, two of them since the departure of Matt Diskin.
The season continues on Sunday with a key away clash with basement side Swinton, who last week parted company with coach Stuart Littler, promoting his right-hand man Allan Coleman for the remainder of the campaign.
After that comes a visit to Sheffield before home meetings with the top two Toulouse and Featherstone, then games against Widnes (away), Newcastle (home) and Dewsbury (away).
Oldham officials hailed the travelling fans after the recent 28-24 defeat at Whitehaven, saying via the club website: “Our fans who made the trip were “loud and proud”, as ever, and were a credit to Rugby League, our town and, most of all, our club.
“Whitehaven supporters even took to social media afterwards to say what a pleasure it had been to host Oldhamers before, during and after the game.
“Thanks, and well done, everybody. Nobody appreciates your support more than the players, who are relying on Oldham people to get behind them in numbers and show opponents and their supporters that when the going gets tough, Oldhamers really do get going.
“Nobody advocates ‘positive energy’ and a mindset to solve problems rather than create them more than Brian Mac — and that’s a psyche he is instilling into the players as he strives to make the team more resilient in its battle for Championship survival.
“We still have seven games to play and with Brian’s passion, positivity and ability to get the best out of his men, we’ll be battling and giving it our all for every second of every minute of every game until the final hooter at Dewsbury on September 19.”
BATLEY BULLDOGS coach Craig Lingard hopes he will have more chances to call on Levi Edwards as his side chase a play-off place.
The 17-year-old centre or second rower had scored three tries in three appearances on loan from Leeds going into the game at Widnes.
Now Lingard has said the former Batley Boys and Siddal player will stay with his hometown club unless he gets a first-team call-up at Emerald Headingley.
“Leeds have said they will only call Levi back if he is going to feature in their first team,” confirmed Lingard after Edwards crossed in the 42-12 home win over Newcastle.
“They want him playing first-team rugby, they are not going to call him back to play in their Academy or sit on the sidelines.
“They have given us that nod that he will only go back if he will be in their 17-man squad.
“As long as Leeds remain injury-free and Covid-free then I think we will keep him deep into the season.
“He is performing really well at the minute, he is benefitting from playing rugby against some grown men as a 17-year-old.”
Batley host Featherstone at the Fox’s Biscuits Stadium on Sunday. It will be the fourth meeting of the sides this year after a pre-season game, Challenge Cup and league clash.
DEWSBURY RAMS coach Lee Greenwood hopes centres Adam Ryder and Bayley Liu will soon be back to boost the Rams’ bid to climb the table.
Experienced ex-Keighley player Ryder, signed midway through 2018, and Samoan Liu, who joined from West Wales Raiders ahead of this season, have both been sidelined.
But Greenwood, who recently welcomed back forwards Sam Day and Keenan Tomlinson from injury, is optimistic that his squad numbers will soon be higher.
“Like a lot of clubs, we’ve been doing it tough due to injuries and Covid issues,” explained Greenwood.
“But the free weekend due to the game at Toulouse not taking place has given us a chance to get a few bodies back.
“We didn’t have enough to put a team out at the start of the fortnight, but by the end of last week, we had more than 17 players fit.
“Hopefully the numbers keep increasing and then I will have some decisions to make for the forthcoming games.”
Having hosted Swinton, Dewsbury visit Whitehaven on Sunday aiming to complete a double after a 17-8 home win in their league opener in April.
SHEFFIELD EAGLES dangerman Ryan Millar says his teammates deserve the credit for his recent hat-trick heroics.
The long-serving winger, who made his Eagles debut in 2015 after coming through the club’s development system, went into the home clash with York having chalked up trebles against both Swinton, whom Mark Aston’s side beat 30-22, and Halifax, who won 40-28.
That took the 27-year-old’s seasonal tally to nine and his career haul past the half-century mark.
Millar, a Wembley winner over Widnes with Sheffield in the inaugural 1895 Cup final two years ago, said: “When you look at the recent tries, you’ve got to give credit to the whole team as they’re choosing the right options at the right time.”
Coach Aston said: “Ryan’s back to something like where he wants to be. He does what it says on the tin and he will finish, he’s a good player.”
After Covid issues in the Eagles camp forced the call-off of their home game against York, Sheffield, who have loaned centre Max Clarke to League 1 London Skolars, are due to visit Bradford on Sunday.
NEWCASTLE THUNDER have addressed a short-term shortage of hookers by taking teenager Harry Bowes on loan from Wakefield.
With a number of nines, such as Bob Beswick, Evan Simons and Ollie Gowing, unavailable, they played Connor Bailey, the Trinity halfback who is spending the season at Thunder, in that position at Batley, who won 42-12, Newcastle’s first loss in three.
Wakefield Academy product Bowes has made three first-team appearances, including the final two matches of last season.
The 19-year-old, who started out at Dewsbury club Shaw Cross Sharks, was available for the home clash with Whitehaven.
Newcastle, who visit Halifax on Sunday, have loaned out two players into League 1.
Halfback Reece Dean has joined Rochdale on a rolling deal, with fullback Lewis Young heading to Hunslet for the remainder of this season.
LONDON BRONCOS interim coach Tom Tsang says setting screen tests for squad members forced to isolate has helped keep the season on track.
The capital side went into their game at Oldham having had their scheduled home match against Widnes on July 24 postponed because of Covid issues in the camp.
The weekend before that was blank due to the Challenge Cup final.
And Tsang, promoted from assistant coach in the wake of Danny Ward’s departure in early July, says he was pleased with the “attitude and professionalism” of players in physical and virtual attendance at training.
“It’s been helpful to get a spell of rest in for a few guys who needed it,” explained the former Coventry coach, whose side host Toulouse on Sunday.
“All training sessions have been filmed and distributed to the entire squad, we’ve sat down physically and virtually with players so everyone is briefed.
“We adopted a very thorough training process and the lads all bought into it despite some being away from the squad to isolate.
“Players not isolating have benefitted from some really focused work and stepped up accordingly.”
WHITEHAVEN coach Gary Charlton wants his side to maintain home rule as they continue their bid to secure Championship safety.
Having made the cross-country trip to Newcastle, the West Cumbrians host Dewsbury on Sunday and London Broncos seven days later.
Charlton’s side have won their last three games at the LEL Arena, against York, Swinton and, most recently, Oldham, who were beaten 28-24.
After being 16-6 ahead, Whitehaven allowed Oldham to establish a 24-16 lead after 48 minutes before themselves hitting back with two converted tries.
“We were poor for much of the game, but a win is a win, and important as we try to retain our Championship status,” said Charlton.
“Oldham have a big pack and they play it hard and straight, and at times we couldn’t handle them. We let them into the game after we should have been out of sight.
“I will say one thing, though. Our team is resilient and after looking as though they had given the game away, they came back to get the lead back and hold on.”
Australian fullback Lachlan Walmsley is available after completing a Covid isolation period.
SWINTON LIONS have handed the reins to Allan Coleman as they aim to beat the odds and escape relegation.
It’s a first head coach role in the professional game for the former right-hand man to Stuart Littler, with whom the club parted company in the wake of the 46-10 loss at York – their 14th defeat in 14 league games this season.
But Coleman, appointed by the Lions in November 2018, has plenty of experience, having been in charge of Leigh’s Reserve team before guiding Leigh Miners Rangers to the NCL Premier Division title in 2015.
He is also a former England Community Lions coach.
Having played Dewsbury away, basement side Swinton host Oldham, current occupants of the other relegation berth, on Sunday.
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