Wake up call and injury concern for Featherstone as Toulouse end their perfect start to the season

James Gordon

Paul Whitehurst / Alamy Stock Photo

Toulouse breathed life in to their Championship campaign with a 38-16 win away at previously unbeaten league leaders Featherstone.

The French side have struggled to find the dominant form they displayed two years ago on their way to promotion to Super League, but this result shows they are still in contention for a return to the top flight.

Surprise away defeats to Swinton, Batley, Sheffield, Bradford and London Broncos had Toulouse 10 points behind their hosts before kick-off.

Sean Long’s side had won 13 out of 13 and sat six points clear at the top of the table with a points difference touching 450.

Toulouse were able to name first choice half-back pairing Josh Ralph and Jake Shorrocks, with Calum Gahan at hooker.

They were also able to name an 18th man, which hasn’t always been the case, such has been the challenges they have faced this term.

Featherstone have had their own injury challenges to face, but such is the strength of their squad, they haven’t really felt it.

Johnathon Ford played alongside Frenchman Thomas Lacans at half-back, while there was no place for ex-Toulouse full-back Mark Kheirallah, still working himself back to full fitness.

Fev suffered a blow early on when Ford, playing against his former club for the first time, was forced off after seven minutes through injury, to be replaced by Connor Jones.

Ford is thought to have suffered a dislocated shoulder.

Four minutes later Toulouse opened the scoring with Guy Armitage crossing in the corner.

Craig Hall’s chip and chase got Fev on the board, but Toulouse immediately responded through back-rower Pierre-Jean Lima, and they led 12-4.

Shortly before half-time, Luke Briscoe finished tidily in the corner to reduce arrears to 12-8.

Toulouse scored early in the second half through Dom Peyroux but two quick tries from John Davies and Chris Hankinson got Fev level at 18-18.

But three tries in 10 minutes – for Paul Marcon, Peyroux and Armitage – stunned Featherstone, who suffered their first defeat in a regular league match since Leigh beat them back in July.

Wake-up call for Featherstone

It was increasingly looking like it might be a procession for Featherstone in the Championship in 2023 as they chase their long-awaited holy grail of Super League.

With near neighbours Wakefield likely to be going in reverse, it’s the optimum time for Fev to make the jump up, especially with the impending IMG review of the game.

The quality throughout their squad has been evident, and highlighted by the fact they have been winning comfortably even with a number of high-calibre players on the sidelines – like Kheirallah, Joey Leilua and Craig Kopczak.

The recall of Riley Dean by Warrington shouldn’t have had a major impact on them, as Lacans has looked more than capable.

They have been winning games at a canter, though there has been some murmurings of unhappiness at the way some games have gone from above, which is understood to be partly responsible for the arrival of James Ford.

This defeat is unlikely to derail Featherstone’s romp to the league leaders’ shield, but it may just prove to be a timely wake-up call that they won’t always have it all their own way.

As for Toulouse, some have written them off following some of their away defeats.

But as we know, in rugby league, it’s not about how you start, but how you finish. They’ve now proven they can win on Featherstone’s patch – and that will ultimately be the biggest test facing them if they want to secure an immediate Super League return.

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