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

1) Table-toppers face true test

Two-horse race? Look at the top of the Championship charts right now and there is not Featherstone, nor Leigh, but a certain Widnes Vikings.

Since falling out of Super League it’s been an unenjoyable few years for Widnes, with last season’s eighth-placed finish not doing too much to excite. But Simon Finnigan looks to have recruited smartly, bringing in many experienced Championship operators to join the bulk of last year’s best performers, and the play-offs now look a very achievable target.

After spoiling London Broncos’ homecoming, the Vikings registered the standout score of the season so far in putting 70 points and a dozen tries on a shell-shocked Workington Town.

A better test of their credentials ought to come this Sunday against Halifax Panthers, who nilled London on home territory last week. Widnes likely won’t be running up the score at the Shay then, but a win would be another big statement.

2) Leigh finding their level 

Two weeks into the season, the level of a much-changed Leigh Centurions squad is yet to be quite accurately gauged.

They looked like world-beaters when putting 50 points on last year’s play-off entrants Whitehaven, leading to heightened expectations that they could take the fight to their likely promotion contenders Featherstone Rovers. However, they were outclassed in Monday’s televised heavyweight duel, struggling in the atrocious conditions to lay a glove.

With the upheaval that has gone on in the off-season, it is fair to expect Adrian Lam’s side to get better as the season goes on, but precisely where they are at this moment in time remains uncertain.

Bradford Bulls, fifth place in the table last season and targeting at least another top-six finish, should provide a better reading in another Monday clash on Premier Sports for which Kieran Dixon and James McDonnell are both suspended, at least as long as John Kear’s men improve on a miserable defeat to Sheffield Eagles last week.

3) Town face impossible struggle

The flip side of Widnes’ dominant display last weekend was a pummelling for Workington, and just two weeks into the season there is already concern as to whether the Cumbrians will be able to make a fist of Championship survival.

Already bottom of the table, their points difference and confidence look set to take further blows on Sunday when none other than Featherstone come to town, fresh off swatting aside their nearest contenders for promotion in ominous fashion.

If last season’s League 1 play-off winners took the points this week, it would be among the biggest upsets of recent times in the division.

However, at least putting in a respectable display and slowing, if not stopping, the Rovers juggernaut is important to kick-start Workington’s year and maintain belief among their home support that brighter times are ahead. 

4) Batley rebuilding home fortress

Perhaps the most surprising aspect of Batley Bulldogs’ run to the play-offs last season was that just five of their 13 wins in the regular season came at home.

Mount Pleasant, long known to be anything but pleasant for opposing sides facing an uphill struggle in more ways than one, wasn’t such a happy hunting ground as the Bulldogs took the majority of their spoils on the road.

It looked like that misery might continue into the new season when Halifax seized control of proceedings in the first half of the opening weekend, but Batley fought back valiantly to claim the points and then conquered Newcastle Thunder to make it two wins from two.

York City Knights will be the second side to climb the Heavy Woollen hill on Sunday, fresh from a first win over Dewsbury Rams, and if they can be beaten away like Halifax, it would indicate that home comforts could give Batley room to go even better than 2021.

5) Minchella reacquaints with Eagles

Elliot Minchella will get his first run-out in almost a year this weekend, the Hull KR forward stepping up his recovery from an ACL injury by playing in the Championship for dual-registration partners Dewsbury Rams.

It is a welcome coup for Lee Greenwood’s Rams, who have started their season with 30- and 28-point defeats to Bradford and York respectively and already look at risk of entry into a relegation battle.

But it is also a significant moment for Minchella, which might be made a little sweeter by the fact he will play against Sheffield, a club he previously spent two seasons at.

Minchella was at their game against another of his former sides, Bradford, last weekend as the Eagles ground out an impressive win, and any observations from Odsal will now unexpectedly come in handy.


Sunday 13 February
Workington Town v Featherstone Rovers, 2pm
Barrow Raiders v Newcastle Thunder, 3pm
Batley Bulldogs v York City Knights, 3pm
Dewsbury Rams v Sheffield Eagles, 3pm
Halifax Panthers v Widnes Vikings, 3pm
London Broncos v Whitehaven, 3pm

Monday 14 February
Leigh Centurions v Bradford Bulls, 7.45pm