Championship Focus: The huge table-topping League One clash in prospect this weekend

From Colwyn Bay to Cornwall and Workington to West Yorkshire, there’s plenty of interest in Rugby League’s lower two tiers over the long Bank Holiday weekend.

Of course it’s two up, two down between League One and the Championship, with the top team after 20 matches apiece in the third tier promoted automatically and the following five going into the play-offs.

Something must give when pre-season title favourites Keighley Cougars and North Wales Crusaders, who finished third last year but dipped after the regular season ended, meet at Stadiwm Eirias on Saturday.

The two sides, who were both relegated from the Championship in 2014, have eight wins from eight, but the Rhys Lovegrove’s Cougars are in front of the Colwyn Bay-based Crusaders, coached by Anthony Murray, with a slightly better points difference, 253 to 241.

It’s a clash of the League One’s meanest defence – Keighley have conceded only 66 points – and second-highest scorers, with North Wales’ 347 bettered only by Rochdale Hornets (376), although Swinton Lions have 346.

Both teams have exciting try-scoring backs, with Keighley winger Mo Agoro taking his league tally to 13 with a brace in the 29-18 home win over Midlands Hurricanes and North Wales centre Gav Rodden on twelve.

Jamaica international Agoro is in his second spell at Keighley, having also played for Newcastle, Gloucestershire and Hunslet, while Rodden is a product of well-known Wigan community club St Judes.

Keighley also have a nine-try centre in Nathan Roebuck, their close-season signing from Warrington, while North Wales’ stalwart winger Rob Massam is on the same tally, having joint-topped the League One chart alongside Barrow Raiders’ Theerapol Ritson with 22 last season.

And when it comes to goal-kicking, both sides have reliable operators, with Tommy Johnson landing 51 for North Wales, for whom eight successive wins is a club record, and Jack Miller 44 for Keighley.

It’s the first meeting of the pair since last year’s play-offs, when Keighley won 28-14 in their qualifier at Colwyn Bay before defeats at Workington Town in the qualifying semi-final and in the preliminary final at home to Doncaster, who had been victorious in the elimination semi-final at North Wales.

It’s a bye round for Rochdale, meaning Swinton could climb above them by winning at Oldham in Sunday’s meeting of the two clubs relegated last year.

The Vestacare Stadium showdown pits Roughyeds coach Stuart Littler against his former assistant Allan Coleman, who stepped up when the former parted company with the Lions back in July.

Richard Horne’s Doncaster and Alan Kilshaw’s Hunslet, who currently fill the last two play-off places, go head-to-head at the South Yorkshire side’s Keepmoat Stadium on Sunday.

Further down the table, Cornwall will be targeting their first victory when they host fellow strugglers London Skolars on Saturday.

The newcomers are clearly on a learning curve and having been deflated by his side’s 20-0 defeat by West Wales Raiders in their last home game, coach Neil Kelly was more encouraged by their follow-up performance at Swinton, despite a 54-16 scoreline.

“We got a massive reaction,” he said.

“When you look at the players we had out injured, you could probably knock a couple of scores off Swinton’s final total.

“For large parts and areas of the game we matched Swinton. The players went toe to toe with them and played some good football.

“We saw the benefits of having a recognised halfback combination (former Bradford Bulls, Huddersfield Giants, Dewsbury Rams, Keighley, Coventry Bears and Hunslet man Nathan Conroy and Hull KR loanee Adam Rusling), and that aspect of the team will get better the more they play together.

“We have to be a bit smarter sometimes, but the overall performance has given us a huge fillip going forward.”

There are Championship rounds on Thursday and Sunday (Halifax have brought their home clash with Dewsbury forward to tomorrow (Tuesday, May 31) while Featherstone host Bradford in a Premier Sports-televised match next Monday, June 6).

And second-bottom London Broncos, who have parted company with coach Jermaine Coleman, visit basement side Workington in the first, also with the Premier cameras present.

In the second, third-bottom Dewsbury host fourth-bottom Whitehaven, while along the road, Workington are in action at Batley Bulldogs.

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