Northern Rail Cup Weekend Preview

21st March 2013

As Skolars look to preserve their 100% record in the group stages we look ahead to the final round of group matches, which could see Skolars progress to play in the Bowl Final on Northern Rail Cup Finals day at Halifax in July.

Gateshead Thunder v Gloucestershire All Golds (3.00pm)

Jacob Blades and Chris Parker will both be assessed on Friday after the Gateshead Thunder pair suffered ankle injuries at Oldham.

However, Joe Brown could return after coming through Tuesday’s training session unscathed.

Thunder coach Kevin Neighbour is still aiming for his first win of the season, but believes last week’s 34-16 loss against Oldham was a positive step forward.

Neighbour said: “It was a game I believed we could have won, but we performed significantly better in the second half. We just weren’t able to cope with the conditions in the first half.”

He added: “We improved from the game before, and we hope to do the same again this week.

“I watched the All Golds when the played Northumbria University, I’ve seen the highlights from their game against Hemel, and I’m sure they’ll have improved even further.

“They’ll be well organised and they’ve quite a few decent players in their squad.”

Gloucestershire All Golds are searching for their first win in the semi-professional ranks, but coach Brad Hepi was impressed by his side in last week’s 20-0 loss at London Skolars.

Hemel Stags v North Wales Crusaders (3.00pm)

Chad Sharpe (knee) is unavailable for Hemel Stags while Barry-John Swindells (broken foot) faces several weeks on the sidelines.

The Stags lost 22-20 against South Wales Scorpions last week. Coach Troy Perkins said: “We were a little bit unlucky and we shouldn’t have lost.

“If anyone had said during pre-season that we’d be right in the game with London Skolars and be we’d be ahead against South Wales and just get pipped, I’d have taken that. We’re heading in the right direction.”

North Wales Crusaders coach Clive Griffiths is aiming to complete a 100 per cent record in the Northern Rail Cup group stages, having already secured three wins this year.

However, the experienced Welshman insists his side will not be underestimating Hemel’s strength.

Griffiths said: “We’re full of respect for them. There’ll be no complacency and no taking it lightly from us. We’re not taking anything for granted.”

Victory for the Crusaders would give them a berth in the inaugural Northern Rail Bowl final.

“If we do get to the final, it’ll be one of my best ever moments in rugby league, because 16 months ago there was no North Wales Crusaders and yet here we are on the brink of a major final.”

Rochdale Hornets v London Skolars (3.00pm)

Wayne English (eye) is a major doubt for Rochdale Hornets, who will also check on other members of their squad before coach Ian Talbot determines his team to face London Skolars.

Hornets have only one win from their three Northern Rail Cup fixtures this year after last week’s 30-16 defeat against North Wales Crusaders.

Talbot said: “Our completion rate was a big factor, but we also didn’t get our fair share of the calls.”

Now Talbot is focused on London, who have a 100 per cent record this season having won against Hemel, Gloucestershire All Golds and South Wales Scorpions.

Talbot said: “There’s been some massive improvements in the quality of rugby played by the London sides over recent years, and they’ll be a big test for us.

“It’s an opportunity for me to play one or two players who haven’t played yet, but I also need to find the happy balance because we want to go into the league with a win behind us.”

Jordan Case could come back into contention for Rochdale, while Skolars coach Joe Mbu is preparing his side for a fierce test.

Mbu said: “We’ll need to raise our game. Hopefully we’ll go there and do ourselves justice, because for the last two years our trips to Rochdale have not been easy.”

South Wales Scorpions v Oldham (3.00pm)

South Wales Scorpions coach Dave Clark is set to name an unchanged side for Sunday’s Northern Rail Cup visit of Oldham.

Clark said: “We’re starting to build some momentum and I was quite happy with our defence last week. We’re really working hard on that aspect of the game.”

He added: “This week we’re playing against a side that will be in the top three or four at the end of the season. Physically it’ll be a challenge, but we’re starting to adapt to that and this will give us a bit of a benchmark.”

Oldham coach Scott Naylor may tinker with his squad in a bid to keep players fresh, but has no new injury concerns ahead of a long trip south.

Naylor said: “The furthest we’ve been this year is Wrexham, and we didn’t come out of that game too well, but it wasn’t the travel that did us on the day.

“The lads have to get used to it because it’s a fact of this season more than ever that clubs have got to travel big distances.

“Hopefully when you get there the lads are switched on. At the end of the day we’re going there to play a game of rugby and the lads are professional enough to know it’s all about the game.”


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