The Championship Chat: The year so far

It’s been an interesting first few months in the Kingstone Press Championship, with some teams from last year not doing as well as expected while others have performed well above expectations.

Batley put in Qualifiers claim
Batley Bulldogs have been one of the best teams in the league thus far and coach John Kear, in his final year at the helm of the West Yorkshire club, could well be going out with a bang. Off-season recruits Pat Walker, Dom Brambani and Dave Scott have all turned out to be great pieces of business while forwards Keegan Hirst, James Brown and Alex Rowe have also showed their worth. The Bulldogs’ home form has been impeccable and with a lot of scalps going their way, it’d be hard to back against the Fox’s Biscuits Stadium side making the middle eights.

Leigh’s settled ship
After a rather turbulent beginning, where they lost both head coach and star halfback, Leigh Centurions have turned it around and they now sit at the top of the Championship table. Despite a Challenge Cup loss to League 1 outfit Toulouse Olympique last weekend, the Centurions are still in great shape in their domestic campaign and Neil Jukes’ men will be looking to go from strength to strength as the year progresses. Even after their big signings in the off-season, including the likes of Harrison Hansen and Reni Maitua, loan acquisition Richard Whiting has performed very well and his spell at the club will go into next year as well after signing a permanent deal with the club. For the Centurions, it’s all about putting their woes of last year’s Qualifiers behind them as they look to secure Super League status in the summer.

Hendo’s capital colosseum
Home form has been the key to London Broncos’ rise to second place in the Kingstone Press Championship. In his first full season in charge, coach Andrew Henderson has taken the role like a duck to water and his side will be aiming to keep up their charge for the Qualifiers. Their latest win came away from home as they made their way past a plucky Whitehaven side. A 16-12 victory may not have pleased Henderson with how his side performed but if they’re winning matches without playing too well, that’s a sign of a good team. The capital side travel to Sheffield on Friday for what should be a tough match, even though Henderson’s old team haven’t really been up to much so far this year.

Struggling Sheffield

It’s not been a very good time for Mark Aston’s Sheffield Eagles. The division’s newest full-time side have flattered to deceive and they’re currently mid-table. However, their signings were all rather young and for coach Aston, who has seen the South Yorkshire club rise from the ashes and into a two-time Championship winning side, patience is the key to this story. With a new home potentially on its way on the same patch of land as their old Don Valley ground, things may take a turn for the better soon but for now it’s about getting the right results on the pitch and they just haven’t done that consistently so far.

Bradford’s weird campaign
It’s been very much a case of the good, the bad and the ugly for Bradford Bulls so far. The good has come in the shape of a comeback against Leigh and their current fourth place position in the league. The bad being their inconsistent form which sees them on level points with fifth placed Featherstone. And finally, the ugly. An early exit from the Challenge Cup at the hands of Dewsbury Rams, a big defeat against fellow full-timers Sheffield Eagles and a few disappointing performances thrown in for good measure. Pressure has been on coach James Lowes following a few losses, so he will be wanting to prove the critics wrong and get his side into the Qualifiers for another shot at promotion.

Halifax hanging around
Even though they haven’t performed like many were expecting them to, sixth-placed Halifax are only two points away from a place in the Qualifiers. Fax made some great signings in the off-season with winger Will Sharp and centre Sam Smeaton joining from rivals Featherstone Rovers and Sheffield Eagles respectively, as well as an array of other good players. Things may not have clicked as of yet but the West Yorkshire outfit still have time to put things right and get themselves into the top four. They went on a great run towards the end of last year, who’d back against lightning striking twice at The Shay?

Newly promoted teams showing class
It’s fair to say Oldham Roughyeds and Swinton Lions have started to settle into Championship life. After great wins in recent weeks, the newly promoted sides from League 1 will be wanting to further stake their claim for Championship survival ahead of the Championship Shield. Special mention to the Roughyeds as well, who are through to the next round of the Challenge Cup after shocking Super League side Hull Kingston Rovers at the Lightstream Stadium. One of the biggest shocks in Challenge Cup history and now Scott Naylor’s men will be looking for a big money-making tie in the next round while still trying to concentrate on league action.

Dewsbury looking for late season run
Dewsbury Rams are eighth in the table at the moment, with four points separating them and Bradford Bulls who take up the last spot in the top four. Coach Glenn Morrison will be wanting his side to go into the latter stages of the regular season with confidence that they can replicate the performances that saw them topple Bradford and Sheffield earlier on in the season. Young duo Jack Teanby and Josh Guzdek have impressed the fans at Tetley’s Stadium and if their recent performances are anything to go by, the Rams have a good future even if they don’t make the top four this year.

Fev revitalised under Sharp
Even though Featherstone Rovers aren’t in the top four as of yet, coach Jon Sharp has done well since he joined the club late into last season. With silverware under his belt in the shape of the inaugural Championship Shield, Sharp will be hoping his side will go one better and qualify for the middle eights in 2016. As it stands, they’re one point behind third place Batley with a game in hand. However, there’s just under half of the season remaining so it is still all to play for but, as usual, the Rovers are contending in the higher echelons.

Cumbrian clubs currently languishing
Looking at the table right now, it’s not a pleasant view for the Cumbrians. Workington Town and Whitehaven are in the relegation zones but the latter have a game in hand on Swinton Lions and a win would elevate them to 10th place. Workington are four points adrift of the pack so they have some work to do but if anyone can mastermind a late revival, it’s coach Phil Veivers who managed to do it in his debut season at Town. Haven have come close to a couple of shock results against Batley and they even got one over on Sheffield Eagles in their own back yard so the quality is there. Both sides won’t go down without a fight, that is for sure.

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