Easter rugby league is back and Good Friday has thrown up several fascinating fixtures as the top four all meet each other and the Heavy Woollen rivalry recommences. Here’s our preview of the Betfred Championship action in round eight.
London Broncos vs Toulouse
What better way to kick off the day’s proceedings than a meeting between the table’s top two, London Broncos and Toulouse?
London’s incredible start to the season continued at the weekend as for the second league match they racked up over 60 points in a 64-18 thrashing of Swinton Lions, with Alex Walker bagging a hat-trick of tries and Kieran Dixon scoring 22 points.
The league leaders return to the Trailfinders Sports Ground looking maintain their remarkable home form having won all of their last 15 regular season matches in the capital, scoring over 40 points in each of their last six.
Opponents Toulouse come into the fixture on the back of a convincing 38-6 win over top four rivals Halifax and a victory for the French side would see them leapfrog London into top-spot.
A clash between two full-time sides who’ve scored a combined 569 points means this has all the ingredients to be a thriller.
Batley Bulldogs vs Dewsbury Rams
The Heavy Woollen derby returns this weekend as Batley Bulldogs aim to extend their fine recent record against West Yorkshire rivals Dewsbury Rams.
Dewsbury have won just two of the last nine meetings between the two sides with Batley thrashing their local rivals 38-0 at Mount Pleasant in the most recent meeting back in September.
Batley continue to be without their two starting prop forwards in Adam Gledhill and Tom Lillycrop as the pair are ruled out injured until June, whilst Dewsbury half-back Dom Speakman misses out due to a broken thumb.
A challenge for a spot in the Qualifiers seems out of the reach for both this season but competing to finish inside the top six isn’t an unrealistic aim.
Victory for Batley could see them overtake the Rams in the table whilst two points for Dewsbury would put them four points clear of their local rivals.
Sheffield Eagles vs Rochdale Hornets
In a clash of two sides desperate for points, Sheffield Eagles host fellow relegation battlers Rochdale Hornets at the Olympic Legacy Park.
Despite losing ten of their last 12 matches, Rochdale seem in a better position than Sheffield after wins over Normanton Knights and Barrow earlier this month as well as running top-four hopefuls Toronto and Halifax close in defeats by just one point and six respectively.
The Hornets are also boosted by the fact that prop Lewis Hatton is in line for a return from a broken finger whilst full-back Richard Lepori is set to comeback after serving his suspension.
Hosts Sheffield have lost all of their last eight matches, although seven of those defeats have come away from home.
After several closes ties with top four hopefuls, Rochdale are the slight favourites in this crucial tie to avoid the drop to the third tier.
Swinton Lions vs Leigh Centurions
To say that Leigh reached have people’s expectations would be an over exaggeration but there was certainly a marked improvement in last weekend’s performance.
Leigh comfortably dispatched of Dewsbury in a 36-0 win at the LSV on Sunday, scoring 18 points in each half, giving them successive wins after the previous weekend’s narrow Challenge Cup victory at Batley.
The Centurions shouldn’t have too many problems as they face bottom side Swinton who’ve lost all of their last eight matches and come into this fixture on the back of a 64-18 thrashing by London last weekend.
With either Halifax or Barrow, who directly above Leigh in the table, to drop points, victory for the former Super League side would put them in a stronger league position.
Leigh simply can’t afford to drop any more points but facing a Swinton side desperately lacking in confidence they shouldn’t have any problems in taking the two points.
Featherstone Rovers vs Toronto Wolfpack
In the second clash between two top four sides, Featherstone Rovers host Toronto Wolfpack in a televised clash at the LD Nutrition Stadium with both sides aiming to put distance between the other in the race for the Qualifiers.
Featherstone are currently a point ahead of Toronto in the table, although they’ve played a match more, and come into this fixture on the back of nine wins from their last ten matches.
Last weekend, the Championship’s top try-scorer Luke Briscoe continued his fine form with a hat-trick in Rovers’ 40-14 win at Batley.
Meanwhile, Toronto showed their vulnerabilities in their last outing as they narrowly won 18-17 at Rochdale, although Paul Rowley’s side are boosted by the fact that new NRL star Chase Stanley is set to make his Wolfpack debut after joining from Canterbury.
Rowley will be without several other key players though as Blake Wallace, Bob Beswick and Cory Paterson are ruled out due to injuries.
There’s better team news for Featherstone however as John Duffy welcomes back centre Misi Taulapapa from his one-match suspension he served against Batley.
Halifax vs Barrow Raiders
It’s fair to say that last week was a difficult one for Halifax.
Knocked out of the Challenge Cup by League 1 side Oldham at The Shay before just four days later suffering their third league defeat as they lost convincingly away to Toulouse.
But, the Easter period seems to represent a good opportunity to put their season back on track with matches against Barrow then Dewsbury, both winnable fixtures on paper.
It’s the first league meeting between these two sides in almost four years although they did collide in 2015 when winger James Saltonstall scored twice in a 56-16 thrashing at Craven Park in the Challenge Cup.
Given Fax’s recent woes, Barrow will be out to cause an upset, something they seem very capable of having beaten Leigh and drawn with Toronto earlier this season.
The pressure is certainly on the home side although they certainly possess the quality to get back to winning ways and close the gap to the top four.
Full list of fixtures
London Broncos vs Toulouse (1pm)
Sheffield Eagles vs Rochdale Hornets (3pm)
Swinton Lions vs Leigh Centurions (3pm)
Featherstone Rovers vs Toronto Wolfpack (6pm)
Batley Bulldogs vs Dewsbury Rams (6:30pm)
Halifax vs Barrow Raiders (7:30pm)