Five things to look out for this weekend in the Betfred Championship

1) ‘Clash of the Titans’ worth the hype

There can be few regular-season Championship matches of recent years that have been hyped up as much as Monday’s televised showdown between the two overwhelming title favourites.

It might seem daft to build up a match in the second round of a 27-game schedule as crucial to the season as a whole. However, if both of these sides prove to be as good as they look – and their opening fixtures suggested in the affirmative – this really is a huge match.

Last season Featherstone had to play the Million Pound Game away from home, because of one loss in the whole season. While there should be a reverse fixture to come over in Leigh later in the year, the margins could really be that tight at the top.

As if there was not enough intrigue to this match-up, between well-backed clubs and between high-profile coaches in Brian McDermott and Adrian Lam, there could be yet another layer of interest if Joey Leilua is to make his debut, after his claim that he turned Leigh down to make his blockbuster move to Fev.

2) Chance for Knights to sharpen blades

While Featherstone were comfortable enough winners on Premier Sports’ opening night, York could look back with some pride on their display against powerful opposition.

There were no doubt positives to be gleaned, but the biggest concern for Knights boss James Ford will have been the lack of cutting edge when opportunities presented themselves to score further points and put on more pressure.

In the regard they were somewhat handicapped by the absence of Brendan O’Hagan, their Australian halfback who also missed much of last term, his first at the club. Fullback Matty Marsh was moved to stand-off in his place against Featherstone with Jamie Ellis taking on further duties, but it proved far from ideal.

O’Hagan is expected to be available again this weekend following injury, as York welcome Dewsbury Rams in what should be the ideal match to fine-tune their attack and find the rhythms that will allow them to fight for a top-six spot.

3) Halifax need to tidy up

Perhaps the standout match of the opening weekend came at Batley Bulldogs, where the hosts impressively came from 16-0 down to beat Halifax Panthers 30-18 and put out an early warning of their strong credentials to retain a play-off place.

The most frustrating aspect for Fax was that, as boss Simon Grix rued afterwards, “we lost that ourselves”, throwing away a commanding position with a succession of bad errors and some ill-discipline which, in a match between closely-matched sides like that one, is fatal.

Tidying that up will be the key focus this week for the Panthers ahead of the visit of London Broncos, who also suffered an opening-day defeat at the hands of Widnes Vikings as their first match on a new home ground failed to provide any sparks.

It’s early days but with Halifax making their ambitions for the season clear, you feel this is not a match they can really afford to lose.

4) Raiders take confidence into derby

The elevation of two Cumbrian sides to make it a clean sweep in the Championship this season means that there will be a healthy provision of derbies to enjoy from that part of the world over the coming months.

The first one comes on Sunday from the LEL Arena with Whitehaven the hosts, Barrow Raiders the opposition, and both looking to put on a show and – far more importantly – earn the first slice of bragging rights.

Before the results of the opening weekend, Whitehaven would have been regarded the clear favourites, considering last season’s run to the play-offs and the fact Barrow are only just returning to this level.

However, Haven’s 50-4 humbling at Leigh in Jonty Gorley’s first match as head coach, combined with the Raiders kicking off with victory over Sheffield Eagles, have changed the complexion and only added more interest.

5) Bulls looking for early charge

It’s fair to say that Bradford Bulls got their season off to a better start in 2022 than in 2021, registering a handsome 30-point winning margin over Dewsbury Rams at their not-so-favourite ground, the Tetley’s Stadium.

Compare to last year, when they had 50 points put on them by Sheffield in round one, and John Kear will no doubt be stressing a little less.

Of course, that opening result proved no indication of the season to come as Bradford soared into the play-offs and Sheffield struggled, but ahead of another clash with Mark Aston’s men on Sunday it is an indication that they start in a stronger place than last year, and victory this week will confirm they are in sound condition.

Dec Patton was the star performer for the Bulls at Dewsbury and, fresh from signing a new deal to stick around Odsal through the 2023 season, the halfback will be key again as he goes up against the experienced Anthony Thackeray.


Sunday 6 February
Bradford Bulls v Sheffield Eagles, 3pm
Halifax Panthers v London Broncos, 3pm
Newcastle Thunder v Batley Bulldogs, 3pm
Whitehaven v Barrow Raiders, 3pm
Widnes Vikings v Workington Town, 3pm
York City Knights v Dewsbury Rams, 3pm

Monday 7 February
Featherstone Rovers v Leigh Centurions, 7:45pm – Premier Sports