After getting everybody talking with his Super League predictions, Garry Schofield turned his attentions to the Championship in his League Express column last week, Pulling No Punches.
This week, Schofield looks back at his wishes for Rugby League that he made twelve months ago, and whether the sport delivered them. Find out how many came true by buying the paper, or reading the online edition at https://pocketmags.com/league-express-magazine.
1 Hull Kingston Rovers
We all know they wouldn’t be in this division if they hadn’t taken that absurd stance with Albert Kelly towards the end of last season, but it’s time to look at the positives. Tim Sheens is a bonus for the club, and I hear he wants to play open and attractive rugby, which is great to hear. Shaun Lunt will be the jewel in the crown, and with Danny Addy and Jordan Abdull they will have a very creative triangle, although not the quickest. The Lightstream Stadium will become a fortress, because I can’t see them losing a home game. They should easily make the Million Pound Game, although I don’t think they’ll win it. A lot depends on two things. First, how they recover from the devastation of their relegation and second, how they respond to visiting some of the less glamorous Rugby League grounds like Rochdale, Swinton and Oldham.
2 London Broncos
Their season last year was a success and Andrew Henderson is clearly doing a great job. Finally they seem to have stability and a group of players who want to play for the club. With a bit more consistency, they’d have been further up the table last season and that’s something they’ll put right in 2017. They’ll make plenty of noises in this division now, and they’ll prove a point at home at least. They can run Hull KR closer than anything else, but I don’t think they’ll quite have the quality to topple them.
3 Bradford Bulls
What a mess they’re in at the moment! But I fancy them to concentrate on on-field matters with some success and I think they’ll find their way back into the top four. They were very ordinary last year, but Dane Chisholm will make a big difference and he will make sure, when the pressure is on, that they bring home the bacon more often than not. I don’t see them quite matching the above two sides, but now they no longer have ideas above their station in this league, I fancy them to at last deliver on the pitch.
4 Batley Bulldogs
We all know what a great season they just had in 2016, and people might expect them to fall away next year, but I like so much about them and I think Matt Diskin will prove to be a good coach. The big question is whether he’ll change things around and have them playing a boring Bradford-style approach, but I’ll be pretty surprised if he tries to change too much. From one to 17 there are few weaknesses, and the signing of Dane Manning from Halifax should prove to be a positive one. He is a quality player.
5 Featherstone Rovers
I like them as a club and they have a great Chairman, but he doesn’t win you Rugby League games and I’m not sure Jon Sharp knows his best 17. They made the top four only just last year, and I think they’ll have a similar season this year. They need to be a bit more adventurous and they have a good squad on paper, but Sharp has a history of having his teams play dull football and I don’t think that will suit the players that they have. Question marks over their attack don’t seem to have been addressed in their recruitment, although Frankie Mariano is a positive signing.
2016 was a huge disappointment, especially after the prize money they earned after their 2015 campaign, but I like the way Richard Marshall coaches and in Scott Murrell they have a very good leader and ball player. The big question is what sort of team spirit they’ll have after last season, and whether Marshall can get the best out of his players. Losing Dane Manning is a serious blow, and I don’t think they’ll be good enough to make a realistic challenge for the top four.
7 Dewsbury Rams
Glenn Morrison is another coach I like and he has his lads playing with vision and awareness, but the big problem is consistency. On their day they can beat the best, but they can also lose to anybody, as they showed last season with two late-season defeats to bottom-placed Workington. Paul Sykes is a good example of that – great in one game and poor the next. They lost nine games out of nine against last season’s top four, which shows how far away they are.
8 Sheffield Eagles
After the disaster of going full time, they should benefit from going back to part-time status. Maybe it’s time to change the head coach for someone who can take the club in a different direction rather than Mark Aston, who runs the whole club, doing the job. I think they’re predictable and boring and they need a new approach. They’ve lost their halfback Cory Aston to Leeds, and a few other players, including Quentin Laulu-Togagae, who is a big loss. I think they’ll be doing no more than making up the numbers in 2017.
Like I always say with Catalans, they need to pick up wins away from home. They’ll test everybody at home, and they seem to have a lot of quality. A lot of people in Rugby League underestimate the strength of the French league, so I have no doubt they’ll have enough to avoid relegation, but fans of theirs will be disappointed that they haven’t been more positive in recruiting. Don’t forget, they lost a crucial match at home to Rochdale towards the end of last season, so it isn’t unreasonable to expect them to be in the lower half of the table unless they do some serious strengthening.
10 Swinton Lions
They surprised many last season, not just in avoiding relegation but by getting off to such a good start that they looked more like a play-off side than anything else, and they underlined their quality with superb late-seasons wins over Sheffield and Halifax. John Duffy looks to be an excellent coach, and has more than contributed to Scotland’s success in recent years. The Lions seem to have recruited strongly for 2017 and players like Matt Sarsfield, Jack Murphy and Grant Gore will help them maintain their Championship status for another year.
They stayed up in 2016 when many, including me, tipped them to go down, but they’ll face a similar fight this year and I fear they may not be successful. The re-signings of Adam Neal and George Tyson are bonuses, but I just don’t feel they have enough quality in their squad to be confident of finishing above the likes of Swinton, Toulouse or Sheffield. Scott Naylor has done a good job so far and my opinion is no slight on him, but I’m sure their fans would bite your hand off for a tenth-placed finish right now.
12 Rochdale Hornets
It’s good to see a great club like Rochdale winning promotion, but unfortunately I don’t fancy them to stay long in the Championship. Swinton and Oldham proved me wrong 12 months ago by successfully surviving their first season, but they were aided by the collapse of the two Cumbrian clubs. They’ve signed a lot of players, including their former star forward Gary Middlehurst, but I’m fairly sure they’ll be picking up the wooden spoon by the end of the season.