LEIGH CENTURIONS coach Adrian Lam watched his side reach a four-figure points tally for the league season as they put 60 past Newcastle in the North-East.
That took the leaders to 1,042 ahead of their home meeting with York – an average of more than 45 a game.
But the former Wigan chief was equally pleased with his side for nilling Newcastle – a sixth clean sheet of the campaign.
That has contributed to a points against tally of 188 before the York clash – less than nine per game on average, with the most conceded 28, in the defeat at Featherstone in February and the narrow win at Barrow in June.
“I thought we were good all over the pitch from the get-go,” said Lam, tasked with leading Leigh back to Super League at the first attempt.
“In very hot conditions, we produced a controlled performance, scored some great tries, and were tough defensively.
“I was disappointed to concede 20 in the previous game (at home to Barrow). I wanted a response, and I got one.
“They didn’t really have a chance inside our 20, which shows we really nailed it, and we need to continue that way.”
Lam took the opportunity to rotate his squad, and brought in Keanan Brand and St Helens loanee Tom Nisbet, who crossed for two tries, while leaving out ex-NRL duo Caleb Aekins and Blake Ferguson.
“I was pleased for both of them, particularly Tom, because he hasn’t had much time of late,” he explained.
“He’s a popular member of the squad, and he produced a really tough performance.”
Nisbet added: “It’s always good to score, and to nil a team who train full-time and in such hot conditions was a big thing for us.”
Lam also hailed the return from injury of former Wests Tigers prop Tom Amone, who also made the scoresheet, saying: “We’ve missed him.”
Leigh play host to Widnes on Sunday.
FEATHERSTONE ROVERS forward Luke Cooper marked his 150th club appearance by maintaining his 100 percent goal-kicking record and smiled: “I don’t think I’d have been handed the tee if it had been a tighter game.”
The 28-year-old landed the last conversion as Brian McDermott’s promotion-chasers scored 13 tries in defeating Dewsbury 72-6 at the Millennium Stadium.
It was his second career goal after also counting in a home 26-12 Championship Shield win over Batley in 2018, a season when Martyn Ridyard and Ian Hardman were the main kickers.
While Hardman is now assistant to McDermott, Featherstone went on to lift the Shield under John Duffy, with a 42-10 final victory at home to Leigh, who they could yet meet in this year’s Million Pound Game.
But Batley-born Cooper says hugely-experienced coach McDermott’s mantra is ‘one game at a time’.
The win over Dewsbury was Rovers’ sixth in seven after a blip of two successive defeats, by Leigh, who have defeated them twice in three league meetings, then Batley.
“There’s plenty of rugby still to be played,” said Cooper, who made his debut in a 37-34 Challenge Cup sixth-round defeat by Catalans Dragons in France in May 2015, after spending the previous year at Australian ‘country’ club Thirlmere Roosters (he was farmed out alongside fellow Featherstone Reserves player Jack Ormondroyd, now at Salford).
“We’re just working on our own game, and I think the scoreline against Dewsbury showed we are getting back on track.
“It was tough in the heat, but we stuck together and stuck to the game plan, and we showed a bit of resilience.
“Craig Hall handing me the ball for that last kick was a great touch from him, because he knew it was a milestone match for me, but I’m pretty sure it would have been him kicking if things had been closer.”
Featherstone host Workington on Saturday.
BARROW RAIDERS coach Paul Crarey hailed the 30-12 win at Batley, which cemented a play-off place as the club put another building block in place for next season by agreeing a contract extension with Scotland prop Sam Brooks.
The Cumbrians have made the top six in their first season after winning promotion as League One champions.
The victory at Batley was their 15th in 23 league games (they have also chalked up a draw), and Crarey said: “It was a complete performance.
“Our two local halves, Jake Carter and Ryan Johnston, were outstanding, and measured all game.
“(Winger) Shane Toal was fantastic on the left side, and in the middle, (loose-forward) Anton Iaria and Sam Brooks were just incredible.
“We’ve made the play-offs, which is a phenomenal achievement for this group of players and the club.”
Brooks, who has penned terms through to the end of next season, joins fellow prop Carl Forster (until 2024) and hooker Josh Wood (2023) in recently signing a contract extension.
Barrow also have Carter, second row Charlie Emslie, outside back Ryan Shaw and second rows Jarrad Stack and Dan Toal under contract until 2023 and fullback Luke Cresswell, winger Theerapol Ritson and Shane Toal until 2024, while Bradford prop Ben Evans has been signed on a two-year deal which starts next season.
Brooks 28, a product of the Wigan Academy, was signed from Swinton ahead of this season and made his 23rd club appearance against Batley.
He has also played for Halifax, Rochdale, Whitehaven, Widnes, Featherstone and Leigh.
“One thing every player wants is to get their contract sorted early,” he said.
“Personally, I’ve had a good season so far, and the club definitely has. It was quite an easy decision.”
Chairman Steve Neale said: “The club is intent on rewarding the players who have contributed to a successful season as we look to further consolidate our place in the Championship.”
Barrow visit Newcastle on Saturday.
WORKINGTON TOWN went into their clash with fellow strugglers Dewsbury admitting a first home game since July 10 couldn’t come quickly enough.
The hard-up Cumbrian club’s current financial struggle certainly hasn’t been helped by their fixture list, which left them facing five straight games away from Derwent Park – against Halifax, Sheffield, Whitehaven (at the Summer Bash), Bradford and London Broncos (a 670-mile round trip).
In between trips to Featherstone (on Saturday) and York, relegated Town, whose remaining players and staff have accepted what the club describe as “substantial” pay cuts, also have a home derby against Whitehaven on Sunday week, September 4, which they hope will generate bumper receipts and ease cash-flow concerns.
The Derwent Park Supporters’ Club have launched a JustGiving page in a bid to raise funds for the 77-year-old club, who were founder members of Super League in 1996 but were relegated that year and have yo-yoed between the second and third tiers ever since.
Coach Chris Thorman, whose side was promoted through the last year’s League One play-offs but had managed just one win from 23 ahead of the Dewsbury game, said: “There is so much to fight for with this club because of what it brings to the community.
“It’s been a disappointing year for a number of reasons and there have been a number of circumstances that have dictated that.
“This just shows that when the community comes together, and also when the wider Rugby League community comes together, it gives you a bit of faith and shows that this club is absolutely worth fighting for.
“We have to fight for this club; we have to do everything possible.
“There’s a lot of people who care and there’s a lot of people for whom this club has been a massive part of their lives since being children, and it makes you realise we have just got to keep fighting.”
YORK CITY KNIGHTS coach James Ford claims his powerhouse prop Pauli Pauli is “incorrectly penalised week in, week out”.
The former Parramatta Eels, Newcastle Knights, Wakefield and Salford player, who represented the Combined Nations All Stars against England last year, adds both experience and size (he’s 6ft 5in tall and weighs in around 19st 12lb) to Ford’s pack.
But his coach, speaking after the 20-16 home defeat in front of the Premier Sports television cameras, believes too many decisions go against the 28-year-old, whose 150th career appearance was spoiled buy a yellow card for a shoulder charge, then an injury that forced him off the field.
“I feel for him all round,” said Ford.
“To see him injured wasn’t good, and I think he is incorrectly penalised week in, week out.
“He’s a big, strong bloke who tackles hard. That’s in his armoury, and stopping him doing it is like telling Bevan French not to run fast.”
It was a first defeat in three for the play-off chasers, who had captain and second row Chris Clarkson, who has signed a one-year contract extension, making a 300th career appearance.
“I saw a side who worked really hard for one another. We were challenged by some things in our control, some not in our control, and dealt with most of it,” added Ford.
“We put ourselves on a position to win, but ultimately we didn’t have enough composure with the ball.”
Ford fielded second rower Danny Kirmond a week after the death of his younger brother Jack at the age of 33.
“I’ve known Danny since we were teenagers. He’s tough and resilient. If there’s one person capable of playing under such stress, it’s him,” he explained.
“I asked Danny what he wanted to do, and said we’d support his decision for as long as he needs us to. I think he wanted some normality.”
York host Sheffield on Friday.
BRADFORD BULLS coach Mark Dunning watched teenage scrum-half Myles Lawford make a key contribution to the 20-16 victory at York and outlined his desire to build a team around the club’s Academy products.
Having made his debut in the 48-18 home win over Workington, the 18-year-old scored a try to help Dunning’s side, currently missing more experienced halfbacks Dec Patton (suspended), Jordan Lilley (ankle injury) and Billy Jowitt (shoulder), seal an impressive follow-up success.
Lawford’s introduction at first-team level comes after fullback George Flanagan Jr, the 17-year-old son of the experienced player of the same name, played alongside his father in the defeats by London Broncos (home) and Barrow (away).
Bulls coaching stalwart Dunning, who stepped up from assistant following the departure of John Kear earlier this season, is closely involved with the club’s player development system.
“We’ve got a good Academy, and I want to start building a team around the young blokes coming through,” he explained.
“As well as George and Myles, we have (forward) Marcus Green chomping at the bit, while Joe Burton, who we signed from Leeds for our Under-19s (in late 2020), has also done well at fullback in the first team.
“We have a plan to dip young players in and out, as we did with George. He enjoyed a great debut alongside his dad, then got taught a bit of a lesson by Jarrod Sammut at Barrow.
“That type of thing happens with young players, but he’ll learn and be given another opportunity.”
It was a second win in six since Dunning got the job on a permanent basis following five from eight while in interim control.
Bradford have confirmed the signing of on-loan Huddersfield and Wales centre or backrower Chester Butler on a two-year deal to start next season. The 26-year-old started his career at Halifax, who host the Bulls on Sunday.
SHEFFIELD EAGLES supremo Mark Aston says the foundations are in place for a play-off push in 2023.
The South Yorkshire side, settling back into their home city at the Olympic Legacy Park after a nomadic eight-year spell, can’t make the top six this time.
But with games against York (away on Friday), Featherstone (home on Friday, September 2) and Dewsbury (home on Friday 9) to come, director of rugby Aston has challenged his team to finish as high up the table as they can.
They pushed a Halifax side including Aston’s son Cory hard before going down 32-26 at the OLP in round 23.
It was a fourth game in 13 days, two of which were won, and long-serving Aston said: “It was disappointing, but there was a lot for us to take from that game.
“The attitude and commitment has been good all season, and the boys turned up once again and put in an 80-minute perforce against a team sitting pretty near the top of the table.
“We didn’t quite have enough to win, so next we have to learn how to do that, and we’re getting there.”
Having played at an embryonic version of the OLP between 2018 and 2020 before decamping to Doncaster, Sheffield returned to the venue in May.
“As we’ve said a number of times, being back in Sheffield is great for us,” added Aston.
“It’s part of the stability we’re creating, and that extends to the squad as well. We’ve got lads staying here and we’re going to make some exciting additions.
“We’re not quite good enough to make the top six. That’s the reality. But we’re getting there, and with the foundations laid, we’re starting to put building blocks on top to get after those teams above us.
“And if we can’t make the six this season, let’s try to finish seventh.”
DEWSBURY RAMS coach Liam Finn says consistency is the key word as the Yorkshire club face up to life in League One.
The Rams were ruthlessly punished at Featherstone, where Brian McDermott’s men won 72-6, leaving Finn’s second-bottom side closer than ever to the drop.
It’s been a tough start to life as a head coach for former Dewsbury player Finn, who took the reins in succession to Lee Greenwood in June and brought in ex-Great Britain halfback and Wakefield coach Tony Smith as his assistant.
The Featherstone game was his eighth in charge, with just a point, from the 24-24 draw at Newcastle, gained.
Previously, Dewsbury had two wins from 15 league matches, and Finn said: “At times against a very strong Featherstone side, it was men against boys.
“We knew when we came in that some of our lads aren’t at the level of the players at some other clubs in the division, but that doesn’t make it any easier to watch.
“The aim is consistency, from us as coaches in how we get our message across and what we do in training, and from the team on the pitch, because we’ve been up and down, half-decent one week, terrible the next.”
Dewsbury head to neighbours Batley on Monday (August 29) for a Premier Sports-televised derby.
NEWCASTLE THUNDER director of rugby Denis Betts says the effect of injuries during what has been a disappointing campaign “shouldn’t be underestimated”.
Thunder went into their game at Halifax in eleventh place, having lost 15 of 23 league games.
That disappointing tally contributed to the decision to revert to part-time status.
Newcastle went into this season as a full-time club, having operated a hybrid system in 2021, when they finished eleventh.
Betts, interim coach since Eamon O’Carroll stood down in June, said of the recent 66-0 home defeat by Leigh: “Not for the first time, we faced the challenge of some significant absentees through injury (Jack Johnson, Jesse Dee, Jake Shorrocks, Brad Day, Alex Foster, Dan Coates and Ollie Roberts were unavailable).
“It is something we have had to manage throughout the season, and the significance of that shouldn’t be underestimated.
“The most obvious impact is on the team you can field on any given weekend, but it stretches all the way through the week and affects the level of cohesion you’re able to gel within the group.”
Newcastle host Barrow on Saturday.
BATLEY BULLDOGS Chairman Kevin Nicholas praised Tom Gilmore after the halfback passed 100 goals for the campaign.
The 28-year-old former Widnes and Halifax player was signed ahead of last season after his planned switch to Ottawa Aces fell through as the Canadian club abandoned plans to play in League One.
He has proved to be an influential additional, helping Craig Lingard’s side reach last year’s play-off semi-finals, where they lost 51-12 to eventual Million Pound Game winners Toulouse.
“Well done to Tom,” said Nicholas.
“Reaching 100 goals in a season has only been done 13 times, and by ten players, at Batley. Hopefully he’ll get a good few more yet.”
The Bulldogs have designs on mounting another play-off run, although they went into their away game against London Broncos having suffered successive defeats, by Halifax, then Barrow.
They head for neighbours Dewsbury next Monday (August 29) for a Heavy Woollen derby to be screened live by Premier Sports.
The club record for goals in a season is Barry Eaton’s 144 in 2004.
HALIFAX PANTHERS prop or loose-forward Will Calcott has become the eighth Shay player in six weeks to sign a contract extension.
Like utility back Zack McComb, the 24-year-old, who came through the club’s college pathway and made his debut in 2017, is staying until at least the end of 2023.
Backs Louis Jouffret, Ben Tibbs, Lachlan Walmsley and James Woodburn-Hall and forwards Dan Murray and Ben Kavanagh have agreed extensions until 2024.
“I love playing here. Where I’m at in my career, I thought it was a good idea to stay,” said Calcott.
“I think I’m getting there. My body is developing better and my attributes are developing to allow me to be a starting frontrower.”
Coach Simon Grix said: “At lot of time has gone into Cally, and he’s invested a lot of time in us as well. He’s starting to realise some of his potential.”
Grix’s side continue their play-off countdown at home to Bradford on Sunday.
WHITEHAVEN coach Jonty Gorley said if his side had been “a little bit smarter”, they could have overcome the loss of three players before the half-hour mark and beaten Widnes last weekend.
Connor Holliday, with a recurrence of a calf injury, and captain Karl Dixon and Liam McAvoy, who both took knocks to the head, were the trio forced off, so limiting Gorley’s interchange options for a home game his team lost 26-12.
Whitehaven also had Kiwi halfback Nikau Williams yellow carded after throwing the ball into the terracing early in the second half.
“I thought the middles and outside backs reacted well and fronted up after we went down to only one substitute, and we did okay when Nikau was off the pitch as well,” said Gorley.
“We were in the game until late on, and if we’d been a bit smarter and not taken the wrong option at some key moments, we could have won it.”
Whitehaven are at home to London Broncos on Sunday.
LONDON BRONCOS skipper Will Lovell reckons that “with the right signings in the right areas” there’s no reason why the club can’t challenge for a play-off place next year.
Having taken just three points from their first 14 league games, twelve of them under Jermaine Coleman before his departure, the capital club sealed second-tier survival with a 38-12 home win over Workington.
It was a sixth win in eleven matches under interim coach Mike Eccles, and long-serving Lovell said: “He instils confidence in players and knows where to apply pressure to opponents.
“We have shown we can win games, and with the right signings in the right areas, we can be in and around it next season.”
The Broncos visit Whitehaven on Sunday, and Lovell added: “We want to keep going right to the end of the season and pick up some more points.”
WIDNES VIKINGS coach John Kear said the win that snapped a two-game losing sequence was extra-special because it came in Cumbria.
His dogged side, beaten by Barrow and Featherstone, were 26-12 winners at Whitehaven in his seventh match at the helm, five of which have produced victories.
“It’s almost always tough when you go to Cumbria. We prepared for a difficult game, and they gave us one,” said Kear.
“They were difficult to break down, and we got a little impatient, but the players stuck to the task and completed it.
“We had to get through the phase when it became an arm-wrestle and were able to batten down the hatches when we had to, which was pleasing.
“The players kept going for the whole game, and credit to my staff for getting them into such good condition, allowing them to maintain the intensity levels we’re after.
“There are areas to fix up, but overall I’m happy.”
Widnes visit Leigh on Sunday.
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LEIGH CENTURIONS coach Adrian Lam watched his side reach a four-figure points tally for the league season as they put 60 past Newcastle in the North-East.