Rounds seven and eight in the Kingstone Press Championship have been across the hectic Easter campaign and there’s been a fair share of entertaining games. We’ve also established the big winners and big losers from the last couple of rounds but what effects the respective results will have remains to be seen. This is the Easter special of the Championship Chat.
Batley Bulldogs – As they have been throughout the first couple of months of the season, Batley were the big winners of the Easter campaign. With two wins from as many matches, including a 44-30 victory over neighbours Dewsbury Rams on Good Friday, the Bulldogs have still only lost one league match in 2016. Their Easter Monday game against Whitehaven was a slog but they managed to come out on top by a single point thanks to a Pat Walker penalty goal with five minutes to go.
Despite losing to the Bulldogs, Whitehaven can also be classed in the ‘big winners’ category. But not just over the Easter period. Over the past couple of weeks, James Coyle‘s side have shown their worth to the division with great victories over Sheffield Eagles and Workington Town before pushing the Bulldogs close on two separate occasions in the Challenge Cup and then the Championship. With PNG halfback Dion Aiye starring for the Cumbrians, if they keep performing to such high standards then second tier safety is near enough a certainty.
How can you argue with two wins from as many matches? A rather comfortable win over Oldham on Good Friday was backed up with an Easter Monday triumph against Bradford Bulls. After a rather shaky start to the season, it does look like Richard Marshall’s men are back on track with their solid backline and powerful forward pack. Every neutral got behind Fax in the Qualifiers last year, will lightning strike twice?
After the off-field shenanigans passed, the Centurions have been doing what they do best; winning rugby matches. Over the Easter period they have beat Workington and Swinton. Without disrespecting either side, Leigh are supposed to be conquering such teams but it does show that Neil Jukes’ men are getting the job done on the field and will be ready for the challenges they face in the next couple of weeks. Forwards Harrison Hansen, Reni Maitua and Sam Hopkins have been in and amongst the tries over the past few weeks and that trio will threaten any Super League defence, no mind the Championship. With Rangi Chase reportedly returning to the fold in the next few weeks, Leigh will only get better and they’ll be primed, ready and more equipped for the Qualifiers. Despite everything that has gone on, rule Leigh out at your peril.
The Lions picked up their first win of the season during the Easter period as they overcame fellow strugglers Oldham Roughyeds at Bower Fold. This will come as great news to coach John Duffy, who has brought together a squad that are capable to survive in the second tier. Players like Rhodri Lloyd, Chris Atkin, Shaun Robinson and Macauley Hallett have all rose to the Championship challenge despite their side not covering themselves in glory thus far. With a first win under their belts, Swinton can now push from strength to strength in their charge to retaining second tier status.
An easy pick for this category. The Eagles are in free fall at the moment. After going full-time for the first time since their reformation, Mark Aston’s side have struggled and the youngsters that were brought in at the start of the season are lacking in confidence. Shining lights in a poor situation include second-rower Michael Knowles and winger Rob Worrincy who are Championship stalwarts in their own right. Something needs to change at the steel city side or else they’re going to keep struggling.
They scraped past London Broncos last Thursday but were defeated by Halifax on Easter Monday. Things haven’t looked rosy at Bradford since their loss in the Million Pound Game last year. With a style of play that isn’t the easiest on the eye, fans have been disgruntled with the way their side have been performing even though they still sit in the higher echelons of the table. With a return to home turf coming at the weekend when they take on Sheffield Eagles, a win should definitely be on the cards as the Provident Stadium hasn’t been the best place to visit for Championship clubs since the Bulls’ relegation from Super League.
With a tough match to kick off the Easter period (Halifax at home) it was always going to be the case that their second match had the potential to pull the spoils in. Despite a spirited second half performance against Fax, they came out on the losing end and their next game against Swinton was the big one. Unfortunately for the Roughyeds, who have only won one game this season, they lost 28-18 to the Lions. Similar to the Fax match, they were 28-0 down at one point in the second half and then fought back to a respectable position. If they can try to start matches in the way they’ve been finishing them, they’ll be a force to be reckoned with.
I’m possibly being a bit harsh here as Town are improving but they still suffered two defeats over the Easter period. A loss to Whitehaven is never a good sign considering Phil Veivers’ men have been on top in the Cumbrian Derby for the past few years. On their return to the Zebra Claims Stadium for the Easter Monday match with Leigh Centurions, Town really put up a fight against the reigning League Leaders Shield holders. With maverick halfback Jarrod Sammut pulling the strings, Workington were only two points behind Leigh at the break and the hosts did go in front on 45 minutes. However, the floodgates started to open as the half went on and Leigh ended up victorious. I’ll leave you to decide whether Workington were ‘big losers’ from the two matches over Easter, but with a game winner like Sammut in their squad they should see an upturn in form soon enough.
Featherstone, London, Dewsbury.