The snow had finally begun to melt and the rise in temperature allowed teams to continue their preparations for the new season with a round of pre-season friendlies.
York City Knights got things under way on Friday night with their traditional clash with Hull KR. The Rovers sent a very youthful looking side over to the Huntington Stadium that a near-full strength Knights squad disposed of 28-6. Danny Ratcliffe, Mike Mitchell, Kris Peacock, Wayne Reittie and exciting half-back prospect Jonathan Schofield, son of Gary, all crossed for the home side, with prop Dominic Dee powering over for a consolation try for the visitors.
Saturday saw Catalans Dragons and Castleford Tigers get their pre-season programmes underway, the Englishmen edging the contest 14-12 in Perpignan. Both coaches selected strong sides for the match with Kevin Walters taking the opportunity to give Tony Gigot, along with many others, his debut. Gigot spent 2009 with Harlequins and raised a few eyebrows with some livewire performances from stand-off. Could he be the man to partner Thomas Bosc at half-back for the French national side in the future? A try to James Evans and a brace from Dean Widders won the day for Cas with Kane Bentley and Cyril Stacul on the scoresheet for the Dragons.
Eleven more matches took place on Sunday and we start our round-up at Headingley with Matt Diskin‘s testimonial. Leeds Rhinos took on Bradford Bulls in the commemorative match honouring the long-serving hooker, with the boot of Kevin Sinfield proving the difference between the two rivals. Debutant Brett Delaney crossed for his new club after Scott Donald had opened the scoring. Paul Sykes had restored parity for Bradford in the first half but the former London Bronco was unable to convert Stuart Reardon‘s 56th minute try that would have tied the score going in to the final quarter. Leeds held on to record their second victory in as many pre-season games.
Richard Horne was the weekend’s other subject of a testimonial match after Saints’ Mike Bennett was unlucky to see his game fall foul of the lingering frost. The good news though is that Halifax have agreed to face St. Helens at short notice and give second rower Bennett the fundraiser he deserves. Back with Horne and a pre-season Hull derby though where over 16,000+ rugby starved supporters flocked to the KC. Hull FC triumphed over Hull KR with strong squads on duty for both sides. Mark Calderwood, Ewan Dowes, Jordan Turner, Tom Briscoe and Richard Whiting were Hull’s try-scorers after Liam Colbon had given the reds an early lead. Clint Newton and Chaz I’Anson had kept the visitors in it before the black and whites killed the game off with two unanswered tries in the final quarter.
A late rally and a last-gasp try from George Carmont gave Wigan Warriors a dramatic victory against Wakefield Trinity Wildcats at Belle Vue. The home side looked to have the game sewn up, after tries from Sean Gleeson, Glen Morrison, Dale Morton, Shane Millard, Aaron Murphy and Kevin Henderson had given the Wildcats a 14-point lead with just 10 minutes remaining. 5 missed conversions by the home side proved crucial though after a Darrell Goulding double put Wigan back in it and set up the grandstand finish. Tries from Sean O’ Loughlin, Mark Riddell, Eeamon O’ Carroll and Pat Richards had kept the Warriors within touching distance earlier in the match.
The Huddersfield Giants academy side, who’d been taught a harsh lesson just two weeks earlier at Batley, put in a monumental effort at the Recreation Ground to edge Whitehaven 24-22. Two late tries from Greg Johnson and Jamie Shepherd were enough to give the young Giants a morale boosting win against a rusty looking Haven outfit. Gregg McNally had a great day with the boot against his old friends who registered tries through Ryan McDonald, Carl Rudd, Leroy Joe and Carl Sice. Elliot Hodgson and Joe Parkison had kept Huddersfield in it in the first half, setting the platform for a terrific comeback and a well-deserved win.
An equally youthful-looking Castleford Tigers side came up just short against York City Knights at the Huntington Stadium. The Tigers relinquished a 20 point lead going into the last quarter with the Knights crossing for five unanswered tries to snatch victory in a pulsating game. Nathan Chappell, Joe Picketts, Josh Nathaniel, Jacob Senior and Joe Arundel had given the visitors what looked to be a decisive lead but York had other ideas. Eddie Smith, Carl Barrow, Dan Wilson, Chris Clark and the impressive Brett Waller, with his second, blitzed over in twenty try-packed minutes after a try to Tom Lineham and Waller’s first had got the home side on the board in the first half.
Big things are expected of Warrington Wolves this season after a thumping 60-16 victory over Leigh Centurions at Leigh Sports Village. The game was over by half-time with tries from Louis Anderson, Ryan Atkins, Kevin Penny and a sensational first-half hat-trick from debutant Richie Myler had given the visitors a 36-0 lead at the break. Leigh got on the scoresheet in the second half through Mike Morrison, Nicky Stanton and Ian Mort but were ultimately outclassed by a clinical Wolves performance. Myler got his 4th along with tries to Simon Grix, Lee Briers and Kevin King. Briers was faultless with the boot, kicking ten from ten to give Warrington a massive confidence boost heading into the new season.
Salford City Reds recorded a comfortable 50-12 victory over local rivals Swinton Lions, with nine different players crossing for the home side. Steve Tyrer, Ian Sibbit, Willie Talau and Karl Fitzpatrick gave the Reds a comfortable advantage at the break despite a battling performance by the visitors. Five further tries in the second half brought up the half-century for Salford with Jeremy Smith, Stefan Ratchford, Ray Cahsmere, Matty Smith and Luke Swain completing the rout. Barry Hamilton and Andrew Isherwood crossed for the Lions who can take a great deal of positivity out of their performance.
Sheffield Eagles faced Doncaster in the annual South Yorkshire cup clash, with the Eagles edging their rivals 24-16 at the Keepmoat Stadium. Dan Hawkswoth, Tangi Ropati, Sam Barlow and Corey Hanson were on the scoresheet for Sheffield, the two decisive final tries coming in the last ten minutes. Jack Ely, Grant Edwards and Scott Howlett responded for the hosts who were were competitive right to the end.
Jesse Joe Nandye made a try-scoring debut for Featherstone Rovers, who edged out out Blackpool Panthers 20-10 at the newly-named Big Fellas Stadium. Dane Manning opened the scoring for Rovers in the 5th minute before Liam Welham and Tom Lynch helped the Rovers to a 14-6 interval lead, Paul Ballard responding for the Panthers. Nandye’s second half score was cancelled out by a Tom Woodcock try for the visitors but the Rovers held out for the victory.
The Batley Bulldogs rounded off their pre-season programme with a comprehensive 54-16 victory over Oldham. Jonny Campbell and Gareth Moore crossed for doubles with Byron Smith, Mark Barlow, Dave Tootill, John Gallagher and Lee Greenwood also registering points for Batley. Moore was impeccable with the boot and Karl Harrison’s men have given the Bulldogs faithful plenty to look forward to this season. Oldham did threaten a comeback in the early stages of the second half with tries from Mick Fogerty (two) and Paul O’Connor, but the home side had too much firepower for the Roughyeds.
Our round-up concludes with a promising 36-24 victory for the new-look Hunslet Hawks over Rochdale Hornets at Spotland. The Hawks held a comfortable half-time advantage after following tries from Richard Chapman, David March and two to brother Paul. The Hawks points coming after Craig Ashall had given the hosts an early lead. Paul March completed his hat-trick in the second-half, Chapman bagged another and Wayne McHugh got over for what is likely to be the first of many tries in 2010. Two tries from Dean Hatton and a another from Danny Samuel had given the Hornets hope in the second forty but the valiant home effort came up just short.