Championship chat: Featherstone set the benchmark in opener & calls for TV highlights show

James Gordon

Picture by John Clifton/

Featherstone and Toulouse emphasised their status as pre-season favourites in the Championship with comfortable victories in front of the TV cameras.

Toulouse opened up the season with a 24-4 win away at Barrow live on Our League as they look to bounce back following relegation from Super League. Unusually, Toulouse scored six tries and no conversions which won’t be a habit coach Sylvain Houles will want to continue, but it mattered little as they controlled the game from Olly Ashall-Bott’s opening try.

The top two bookended the weekend as Featherstone spoiled Keighley’s Championship return with a 50-0 drubbing at Cougar Park.

Rovers ran in nine tries, including two tries apiece for Gareth Gale and Riley Dean, while new signing Chris Hankinson scored 14 points with the boot.

Coach Sean Long told Viaplay after the game: “I’m really pleased. All the standards that we set in pre-season were met. That was the benchmark for us. We can only get higher now. To keep them to zero second half. We played some good rugby, sometimes it wasn’t pretty, but we got the win and that’s the main thing.

“I’ve got very high standards. A lot of it is effort based stuff. The glue that holds us together is our DNA, and we’ve tapped in to that as a town, where we come from and our heritage. Ultimately it comes from hard work, being tough, grafters, never say die. And that’s what our culture is being built on.”

Championship highlights need to be on TV

A couple of eye-catching plays from the opening weekend have been doing the rounds on social media.

James Meadows executed a lovely flick offload in Batley’s win over London Broncos and Halifax’s new signing Jake Maizen finished off a long-range move in their defeat of Sheffield.

It lead to calls from yours truly, and many others, for a Championship TV highlights package to be put together. Surely the Monday night pre-game on ViaPlay is the perfect slot to showcase some of the best moments from the weekend?

There is always a lot of talk about expanding the game and playing more internationals, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t make the most of what we’ve got, and even though it is the second tier competition in the UK, the Championship is a fine rugby league competition in its own right.

Signs of encouragement for former World Champions

There were signs of encouragement for Bradford and Widnes in their opening day victories over Whitehaven and York respectively.

The Vikings ended York’s recent hoodoo over them, beating them in a league match for the first time since their relegation from Super League.

Tom Gilmore’s late drop goal sealed a 19-12 win for John Kear’s side, although the scoreline probably didn’t reflect their control of the game.

Kear said afterwards: “It was satisfying the manner we won that game. I thought that we were dominant in the first half, and the momentum changer was that scrum play, we overplayed a little bit.

“There were a couple of instances where we overplayed in the first-half and I think that we let them off the hook. But all credit to York, they really stuck it to us as the first half closed. 

“I remarked to the players about how resilient they had been in that period just before half-time, and I think that was the period that won us the game because we really came good in the second half, our completions were really good.”

Despite slipping to a defeat in his first game in charge, York coach Andrew Henderson remained positive about their performance. One worry will be the injury picked up by new signing James Cunningham, who went off shortly before half time.

Henderson said: “I was really pleased with the effort, I thought there was some encouraging signs for us. We lacked composure at times. Overall, there’s plenty to build on and I take a lot of positives from the way that we competed and the defensive effort we produced, but I think Widnes deserved to win the game.

“We’re looking forward to putting a show for the TV cameras and the fans next week.”

York will host the Viaplay cameras for next week’s Monday night match, as they welcome Bradford.

At Odsal, the Bulls overcame Whitehaven 24-8 and the Cumbrians day worsened when their coach was attacked on the way home.

An object was thrown from a motorway bridge and smashed through the roof emergency exit, forcing the coach to pull over and delaying Whitehaven’s trip home.

For Bulls coach Mark Dunning though, it was a good day. He told Bulls TV: “Pleased with the outcome. It was a scrappy game, but if you’d have offered me that scoreline before the game I would have taken it. Plenty to work on, plenty of good things but it’s great to start with a win.”

Elsewhere on the opening weekend, Newcastle started Chris Thorman’s tenure as head coach with a 18-6 win at Swinton.

Championship results and round-up from the opening weekend

Lewis Bienek backs London Broncos to join Championship play-off push