BATLEY BULLDOGS centre or second row George Senior is aiming to cement a regular spot after agreeing terms for next season.
The former Dewsbury Celtic player’s retention for 2022 follows that of prop Adam Gledhill as this year’s play-off hopefuls continue to build for the future.
The Bulldogs had already sealed deals with captain James Brown, Luke Hooley, Ben White, Tom Gilmore, Alistair Leak, Ben Kaye, Toby Everett, Dane Manning and Lucas Walshaw.
While Gledhill, 28, first played for Batley in 2014 after spells in the development systems of Wakefield and Gold Coast Titans, Senior, who has just turned 22, signed his first contract at the club last year after a couple of appearances, away to Toulouse and at home to Featherstone, on trial in 2019.
He has caught the eye, and impressed in the recent 56-12 home win over Sheffield – a fifth victory in six games for the West Yorkshire side.
“I’m happy here and happy to have signed another contract,” he said. “It was great to be offered a new deal, because I’ve loved it at the club since I first arrived.
“It feels like I’ve been through a lot with Batley because of the pandemic, and last year was frustrating with the early finish.
“This is my first full season, and it’s going well so far. I’ve had a few games in recent weeks, and I’m enjoying my rugby.
“I’d like to stay in the picture and make sure Linners (coach Craig Lingard) keeps picking me.”
It was a watching brief for Batley at the weekend after the call-off of their away game against Toulouse due to the ongoing issues with travel to and from France.
Lingard’s side are back in action when they host Whitehaven on Sunday, then have an eagerly-awaited home derby against Dewsbury on Sunday, August 12.
Their final game of the regular season is away to Halifax seven days after that.
LONDON BRONCOS winger Abbas Miski might be bound for Wigan – but the Lebanon international is desperate to make his stay in the capital last as long as possible.
Broncos boss Tom Tsang is determined to lead his charges to the play-offs, and the 26-year-old who arrived from NRL side Manly ahead of this season is ready to play his part.
Tsang’s promotion-chasing team went into the home clash with Sheffield having suffered defeats by Toulouse and Whitehaven before the postponement of their game at Newcastle because of a Covid outbreak in the Thunder camp.
There are three further regular-season fixtures – at Swinton on Sunday, at home to Featherstone seven days after that and at York on Sunday, September 19.
Miski, who had 16 tries to his name before the Sheffield showdown, says supporters can play their part in the play-off push.
“The squad has more to give, there is no doubt about it,” insisted the former North Sydney Bears, Wentworthville Magpies and Blacktown Workers Sea Eagles player, who moved to Manly in 2019 and made six NRL appearances, scoring two tries.
“Losing games the way we have has been disappointing, particularly as we know how capable we are as a team.
“It’s upsetting and from our perspective, certain pockets of play have been poor, which we take responsibility for.
“We know we can play better than the performances against Toulouse and Whitehaven, and things will turn around quickly.
“The remaining league games are hugely important as we want to firstly make the play-offs, then be competitive in them.
“It’s time for us all to pull together and finish the season on a high. The fans have been brilliant and we hope they get behind us in force now as we try and win promotion.
“Seasons are defined by the play-offs in our sport, everyone knows that. We have the chance to build some extremely positive momentum between now and the end of the season.
BRADFORD BULLS‘ pitch is finally back up to regulation size.
The RFL, who own Odsal Stadium, have confirmed work to widen the surface, which is within a track used for stock car racing, has been completed.
The pitch now measures 89 metres by 56 metres, one metre above the minimum in both length and width.
It had been 96 by 52, with special dispensation for its use given to facilitate May’s return of the Bulls to their historic home after a spell groundsharing at Dewsbury.
Bradford, who are in line for a Championship play-off place and have signed Hull prop Masi Matongo on loan, played five games on the narrower-than-regulation surface, three of which were won, before it was widened ahead of the clash with Swinton, beaten 30-26 by John Kear’s side.
With Sunday’s meeting against table-topping Toulouse taking place back at Dewsbury because of a pre-existing dance festival at Odsal over the weekend, the next match on the new-look pitch will be against Whitehaven on Sunday, September 19.
Bradford, who vacated Odsal in 2019, citing rising maintenance costs, returned after signing an 18-month tenancy agreement with the RFL, who purchased the stadium from the club in 2012.
Kear, whose side are fresh from visiting York, was frustrated by the performance against bottom side Swinton, who were trailing 30-14 at one stage, and says they need to learn the lessons.
“I thought we were disrespectful with our attitude towards the game. If you don’t invest energy in defence then you get picked apart,” he pointed out.
“That’s what happened and it meant we gave tries away. We allowed them into the game and overall it was an awful performance.
“We sent the players the game to watch back so they could see exactly what it looked like from the sidelines, because it wasn’t pretty.
“It’s a results-based sport but results come on the back of performances and we got away with a bad one.”
YORK CITY KNIGHTS coach James Ford reckons teenage prospect Tyme Dow-Nikau can prove to be a chip off the old block.
The exciting centre was named man of the match following the recent 30-12 home win over Whitehaven.
Dow-Nikau combined strong defensive work with powerful running and impressive creativity in the build-up to a key try by teammate Perry Whiteley.
The 19-year-old is the son former New Zealand international Tawera Nikau, who played for York in the early nineties.
He went on to star for Castleford, Cronulla, Melbourne and Warrington and captain the Aotearoa (New Zealand) Maori side in the 2000 World Cup.
Dow-Nikau joined York from North Wales Crusaders ahead of this season, and has slowly but surely adapted to the second tier.
Having played for Australia sides Maitland Pickers and Kurri Kurri Bulldogs, he signed for the League 1 club in March 2020, but wasn’t able to play because of the early curtailment of last season.
“Tyme’s pass to Perry was class,” said Ford, whose side, having just hosted Bradford, head to Newcastle on Friday for an eve-of-Magic Weekend clash at Kingston Park.
“It was a proper piece of centre play, beating a man, being hard to handle and being able to find a pass for a winger, and I don’t think we see enough of that in today’s game.
“Overall, he was hard to handle on his yardage carries. He got on his front foot and got it going quick, and he provided some strong defence.
“I was really pleased with what he did for the vast majority of the game.”
Ford added: “Since he walked through the door in pre-season, he’s always been a big, strong, athletic young man.
“He probably pushed the pass a little too much here and there and was maybe rash defensively once or twice, but he has improved out of sight.
“It takes time for people to settle into clubs. I’m really pleased that he has preserved.”
HALIFAX PANTHERS coach Simon Grix has told his team to use their first defeat in ten matches as a wake-up call as they aim to secure a home play-off tie.
The Panthers are well placed to clinch a top-six spot, but know third or fourth will seal an elimination game at The Shay.
And Grix says that if the lessons from the 25-6 setback at Widnes are taken on board, there’s no reason momentum can’t be regained.
Having hosted bottom side Swinton, Halifax have a testing trip to Featherstone on Sunday, followed by games at Whitehaven and at home to Batley.
“We need to be that little bit hungrier than we were against Widnes, because we looked like a team who didn’t have much to play for,” he said.
“Of course nothing could be further from the truth, and we have to put that performance to bed.
“During that nine-game winning run, there were some tight ones which we edged, and perhaps that mentality that we will just keep coming out on top caught up with us.
“It comes down to the detail of how individuals execute their various roles, and maybe we’s been drifting a little bit in that respect.
“Credit to Widnes, because while we looked like we wanted it over and done with, they wanted to play and put in a really solid performance.
“We didn’t help ourselves by producing far too many dropped balls and bloopers. We were our own worst enemy, and that’s frustrating.
“But we need to keep it in perspective, a first defeat in ten and second in 13, and make sure we take on board what happened and move on.”
Grix was missing Wales international forward Connor Davies against Swinton following a knock to the head against Widnes.
“We could have done without that, and with two season-long loans recalled (hooker Amir Bourouh by Wigan and versatile forward Sam Hewitt by Huddersfield), the squad is a bit skinny,” he added.
“But I’m not the only coach saying that at the moment, so we just have to get on with it.”
TOULOUSE OLYMPIQUE are targeting two play-off ties at the Stade Ernest Wallon, says coach Sylvain Houles.
The French promotion chasers have yet to run out at the 18,000-capacity venue since signing a nine-year agreement to groundshare with the city’s renowned rugby union club Stade Toulousain, who are the reigning European champions.
The ambition of Houles and Olympique president Bernard Sarrazain is to bring the continent’s leading Rugby League clubs to the city, and Olympique are on track, having won every match played so far this season.
With part-time clubs not required to travel to France due to issues posed by the pandemic, each of the eleven have been on UK soil (Toulouse were awarded a 24-0 victory over London Broncos after the full-time capital club failed to fulfil the fixture).
But play-off matches would take place at Toulouse, who if they can remain leaders ahead of Featherstone, would have home advantage in their semi-final on Saturday, October 2, and if they win that, the promotion-deciding ‘Million Pound Game’ on Sunday, October 10.
“After a really weird season, it would be huge for us to play a home game, especially a semi-final,” Houles told League Express. “Of course, the aim would be to win that and have another home game.
“Our idea is to get the ground as full as possible, get our supporters behind us and give them two games to enjoy.”
With the visit of Batley having been cancelled and the fate of their final regular-season home game against York on Saturday week, September 11, to be confirmed, Toulouse could play just two more games – away to Bradford on Sunday and Newcastle on Saturday, September 18, before the play-offs.
Houles is looking for an improvement on his side’s last performance at Oldham, where they won 34-6.
“I was a bit disappointed,” he explained. “I feel we gave just the minimum to get the win.
“We need to readjust a few things and be more consistent with our performances, especially at this time when there’s not much rugby left to play.”
NEWCASTLE THUNDER are branding Friday evening’s game against York as their biggest since elevation to the second tier ahead of this season.
The home clash, which starts at 7.45pm, acts as a curtain-raiser for Super League’s Magic Weekend at St James’ Park, which hosts six matches across Saturday and Sunday.
The last time Magic came to the North-East city in May 2018, Thunder attracted 4,137, the highest for a Rugby League match at Kingston Park, the ground they share with top-flight rugby union club Newcastle Falcons, for their League 1 meeting with Bradford.
And the ambitious club, whose stated long-term objective is a place in Super League, are pulling out all the stops in terms of pricing and promotion to attract an even-higher turn-out.
The area’s grass-roots teams and Magic Weekend ticket holders are being targeted through a cut-price offer.
Meanwhile, Thunder season-ticket holders are being urged to play their part by ‘bringing a mate to swell the gate’.
It’s hoped York will bring a strong following, and Thunder general manager Jordan Robinson explained: “The previous Friday-night matches before Magic Weekend have been excellent evenings and we’re working hard to make sure this year’s is no exception.
“We want to see as many fans as possible at the ground and we’re hopeful our efforts will attract regular, occasional and first-time fans.
“As a club, we aim to provide as comfortable a match-day experience as possible and with attendees able to spread about our 10,000-capacity stadium, we’re confident that everyone can feel comfortable while they are with us.”
Having suffered the frustration of a postponement of the home clash with London Broncos due to Covid issues, Thunder returned to action at Dewsbury.
After the York game, Eamon O’Carroll’s side complete the club’s first second-tier campaign since 2009 by visiting Oldham and hosting table-topping Toulouse.
WIDNES VIKINGS have confirmed the signing of Dewsbury back Matty Fleming for next season after agreeing a two-year contract extension with forward Owen Farnworth.
And Vikings coach Simon Finnigan has also landed teenage Salford hooker Connor Aspey on loan.
St Helens product Fleming, 25, who joined Dewsbury from London Broncos in 2020, is primarily a centre but also comfortable at fullback or on the wing.
“I’m buzzing to have signed. The club should be in Super League and I just can’t wait to rip in with the boys to help push towards getting them there,” he said.
Farnworth, 22, came through the Widnes development system to make his debut in the Super League clash at Leeds in April 2017.
“I’m made up to be staying,” he said. I’ve been at the club since I was 14 years old so everything for me has just been class.”
Widnes have also signed Newcastle loose-forward and former player Sam Wilde on a two-year deal to start next season and are being strongly linked with two Oldham players, winger Ryan Ince, another old boy, and prop Tyler Dupree.
The Vikings are at home to Oldham on Sunday.
FEATHERSTONE ROVERS will be without powerful forward James Harrison for the remainder of their promotion push.
A knee operation to repair a damaged cruciate ligament means the 25-year-old Malta international has played his last game for the club before a move to Warrington on a two-year contract to start next season.
The son of former Great Britain forward Karl Harrison, he played in the development systems of Huddersfield and Bradford before breaking into first-team rugby with Batley, from whom Featherstone signed him in 2019.
Harrison, who made four appearances on loan to Leeds last year after the abandonment of the Championship campaign, was a try-scorer in Rovers’ 41-34 1895 Cup final win over York at Wembley in July.
Having visited Oldham, second-placed Featherstone face Halifax at home on Sunday.
WHITEHAVEN coach Gary Charlton has told his players to improve concentration levels – or pay the price.
The Cumbrians’ 30-12 loss at York, which followed four straight wins, frustrated the team chief as well as undermining hopes of snatching a play-off place.
And Charlton wants to see an improvement as with three games to go, he looks towards squad-building for next season, with versatile 20-year-old Australian back Will Evans a confirmed signing from Burleigh Bears.
“I can’t fault the effort, but at this level, players have to be focused all the time they are on the pitch, and it’s an area in which we’ve fallen short a few times,” said Charlton.
“There was a pattern at York – error, penalty, try conceded – and we didn’t really give ourselves a chance.
“We have to be better, and we know we can be, because we have the wins to show it, but this was one to throw in the bin.
“You can’t win a game of rugby without the ball, and we didn’t have it for nearly long enough. There were just too many mistakes, and a lot of that is down to concentration.”
Having hosted Widnes, Whitehaven head to Batley on Sunday before a home clash with Halifax and a trip to Bradford.
OLDHAM coaching consultant Brian McDermott labelled the performance against table-topping Toulouse as the best since he arrived at the club five games earlier.
And chairman Chris Hamilton said it underlined the commitment of a side which going into the home clash with second-placed Featherstone, had suffered 14 defeats in 17 league games, making second-tier survival a tall order.
The Roughyeds might have been beaten 34-6 by Toulouse at Bower Fold, but former Leeds and Toronto boss McDermott said: “For the first time, the team performed for the whole game.”
And Hamilton added: “Everyone connected with the club could be proud of what the lads achieved in this game.
“To come up with that display against the full-time, big-spending team from across the Channel was fantastic.
“It was still another defeat, of course, but a lot of people were amazed at how much we restricted Toulouse and imposed ourselves on the game. Many expected a cricket score, so it was good to prove them wrong.
“The desire to stay in the game and to keep working for each other shows everyone is totally committed to finishing the season on a high.”
Oldham’s remaining games are at Widnes (on Sunday), at home to Newcastle and away to Dewsbury.
SWINTON LIONS might have been relegated as a result of their 30-26 defeat at Bradford, but coach Allan Coleman insists there is plenty of incentive for his players to perform between now and the end of the season.
The former Leigh Miners Rangers boss, who has brought in Bradford back Reece Hamlett for a second Lions loan spell of the season, has been handed the Heywood Road job on a permanent basis after impressing in caretaker charge, and is already thinking about the prospect of a first third-tier campaign since 2015.
“Players are playing for contracts for next season, so nobody should be clocking off,” said the 45-year-old, who will be at the helm for the sixth match at home to London Broncos on Sunday after stepping up from his role as assistant coach following Stuart Littler’s departure.
“To be fair, I don’t think they will be, because for the vast majority of my time in charge, their application and workrate has been excellent.
“Ultimately, we have fallen short of what was needed this season, but we have been competitive in most matches, and there is certainly something to build on.”
SHEFFIELD EAGLES coach Mark Aston says it’s all systems go for the remainder of the season.
And the experienced former Eagles player will be taking only a short break before starting the countdown to a 2022 campaign he hopes will have far more continuity than this one.
Sheffield have three matches to go, starting at home to Dewsbury on Sunday, having suffered three Covid-enforced call-offs. only one of which, at Halifax, was rearranged.
“We don’t want to miss games, we train hard all week to play and love playing at weekends,” he said.
Aston’s side went into their game at London Broncos having won five and drawn three of 16 league outings.
“The situation with Covid has robbed us a little bit,” he added. “Continuity, I believe, gives you consistency, and we have not been consistent.”
After the Dewsbury match, Sheffield host Swinton and visit Featherstone.
“Once we finish, we can have a few weeks off and unwind, then we’ll start start building for 2022,” explained Aston.
DEWSBURY RAMS coach Lee Greenwood will carry on scouring the market for potential loan signings as he aims to end the threat of relegation once and for all.
Having hosted Newcastle, the Rams have three more games – at Sheffield on Sunday, away to neighbours Batley and at home to Oldham, who are favourites to accompany Swinton down into League 1.
Depleted Dewsbury were beaten 64-6 at Featherstone, who fielded forward Dale Ferguson after recalling them from a loan spell at the Rams.
“We were down to our last 18, including guys with knocks,” said Greenwood.
“It’s tough because so many clubs have problems, but we will keep looking to see if there is anyone we can bring in.”
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