The grand finale: a look ahead to the Betfred Championship promotion decider

It’s the showdown that many had predicted from the early weekends of the Betfred Championship season.

Toulouse Olympique and Featherstone Rovers will meet in France on Sunday night with a place in Super League at stake.

The two teams have dominated the second tier’s season, with the only defeat by either when the French side won 23-6 at the Millennium Stadium in August.

Both teams finished their league campaigns having scored at a rate of over 40 points per game.

Even at the weekend, amid the unpredictability of the play-offs, both teams produced imposing second-half performances to pass that mark against Batley and Halifax, Toulouse winning 51-12 and Fev 42-10.

Now they face each other with an entire season on the line and a long-desired top-flight place available.

For coaches Sylvain Houles and James Webster, this is the match that will have been in the back of their minds since the season kicked off.

And there are a host of fascinating match-ups across the field that could help decide the contest.

The early battle up front will set the tone and both sides have a wealth of experience in the props that started Saturday’s games.

For the home team, Rémi Casty has spent much of his career as a pillar of Catalans’ front row and got his side off to the perfect start with a try against the Bulldogs.

On the other side of the front row, Harrison Hansen is a Super League Grand Final and Challenge Cup winner from his time at Wigan, so he knows all about what it takes to be successful in defining matches.

For Rovers, Craig Kopczak has spent the vast majority of his career in the top-flight and he was also a try scorer on Saturday, while James Lockwood has been a real Rovers stalwart since first joining the club in 2012.

Whoever gets the upper hand in that battle will help lay a platform for a host of exciting players across both backlines.

Three years ago Tony Gigot was a Lance Todd Trophy winner with Catalans Dragons and Rovers will be fully aware of the threat he poses with the ball.

Alongside him, the creative Johnathan Ford has been one of the stand-out figures outside Super League for many years, although he was pipped to this year’s Championship Player of the Year award by Rovers’ Craig Hall.

For Fev, Fa’amanu Brown has been one of the most dangerous runners in the competition all season and has NRL experience, while Tom Holmes is a clever creator also capable of taking the defensive line on.

Webster also has an ace up his sleeve on the bench in the electric and unpredictable Dane Chisholm, who is a French international to add another ingredient into the mix.

Out wide, the vastly experience Hall was named on the wing against Halifax but can pop up anywhere along the backline.

Part of his remit may be keeping an eye on Toulouse’s Jy Hitchcox, a deadly finisher who had a popular and prolific spell at Featherstone in 2015.

Then there are the two fullbacks, contrasting in style but equally effective.

Mark Kheirallah’s deadly combinations with Ford have been a feature of Toulouse’s progress under Houles, and he is a threat from literally anywhere on the field.

On the opposite side, Alex Walker has slotted in well since his loan move from Wakefield, and his defensive prowess was never illustrated more than when his ‘million-pound tackle’ in London Broncos’ upset win over Toronto in this very game three years ago.

Sunday’s match could come down to a similarly fine margin. It will be fascinating to watch it unfold.

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