Garry Schofield is a regular contributor in League Express with his weekly column ‘Pulling No Punches’. Read the opinions that matter first every week by buying the paper in stores on Mondays, or read online every Sunday evening at https://pocketmags.com/league-express-magazine.
This week, Schofield gave his predictions for the first round of Championship fixtures.
Toulouse v Batley
This is a mouth-watering fixture – one of quite a few this weekend. It Toulouse have genuine hopes of making the Qualifiers, then they will be very disappointed not to win this.
They will certainly be very confident after beating Catalans Dragons in their recent friendly. It’s difficult to predict how the Bulldogs will go this year because they overachieved last year and now they have a new coach. Many may tip them to fall away again, but not me.
My understanding is that the Batley players are enjoying life under their new coach, Matt Diskin. The new captain Dominic Brambani is an outstanding player, so expect him to be at the fore again. Even so, they’re far from a one-man team.
PREDICTION: Batley by 7
Halifax v Featherstone Rovers
This should be another great game! Featherstone have recruited well and will be desperate to finish in the top four again. Hopefully Jon Sharp knows his best team and fields it every week, which is something that would give them a bit more consistency. They will have learned from the Qualifiers last year and I’m looking forward to seeing Frankie Mariano and Jason Walton turn out for them, because they should go very well.
Halifax were hugely disappointing last year, but I think they’ll improve and, with Scott Murrell steering the ship, they’ll be competitive. Pushing a strong Salford team all the way in their recent friendly will have done their confidence the world of good.
But I feel that Rovers have done well in the transfer market and their win over Wakefield was outstanding.
PREDICTION: Featherstone by 10
Hull Kingston Rovers v Bradford Bulls
Whoever sorted these fixtures out deserves a pat on the back! The Bulls will be cursing the fact they have to travel to Hull KR for their opening fixture because it’s going to be a baptism of fire for Geoff Toovey and his players.
Rovers will be smarting from what happened last season and, while they won’t have everything their own way this season, they’ll be far too strong for Bradford. It’ll be a cakewalk. Shaun Lunt and Adam Quinlan will carve them open. Quinlan, in particular, will fill his boots in this league. They’ve kept most of last year’s squad and many of them will feel they are still Super League standard and will want to prove it.
The Bulls were obviously competitive against Huddersfield but they’re going to have to work miracles to come up with a 17 that can compete with Hull KR.
PREDICTION: Hull Kingston Rovers by 60
Oldham v Sheffield Eagles
After all of Sheffield’s troubles last season, when they stupidly went full-time, it’s just great that they’re still here. They’ve paid the penalty for their mistakes last season, and hopefully they can rediscover their old form quickly enough, because they were a joy to watch at times.
Oldham did well last season to stay up, but teams often find year two even harder, so I’m not too convinced about their long-term prospects. But I like Scott Naylor as a coach and the Roughyeds will be pleased they have Sheffield up first, because they may be undercooked and could lack a bit of cohesion.
Losing to Doncaster last weekend suggests the Eagles aren’t where they need to be just yet. I fancy the home side to make a bit of a statement.
PREDICTION: Oldham by 14
Rochdale Hornets v Dewsbury Rams
My son Jonathan, who is on the Dewsbury coaching staff, tells me that the Rams have trained very well, but in my opinion they do lack a bit of consistency and this is a tricky opening match for them.
Newly promoted teams like Rochdale tend to like starting with a home game and they’ll throw everything at winning this one. I’m not sure Glenn Morrison will relish going to the Hornets first up, especially after seeing the result of their friendly win at Oldham.
Dewsbury’s pre-season results haven’t been the best, so I’m tipping Rochdale to get off to a great start.
PREDICTION: Rochdale by 7
Swinton Lions v London Broncos
The pressure is back on London now, with people talking about them as promotion contenders, although I hope they don’t get promoted because the level they are at now, towards the top of the Championship, is right for them and right for the sport. Under Andrew Henderson they don’t strike me as a team who will buckle under pressure like they used to. They look like a club again after an awful few years, and I fancy them to get their season off to a great start.
Despite an impressive win over a young Wigan side last week, Swinton will struggle to live with the Broncos. They did well last season, especially early on when expectations were low, but they’ll find things tougher this year.
PREDICTION: London by 16