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globalrugbyleague - Sat, 02 Feb 2008 06:57:00 GMT
One of the most exciting Rugby League competitions in the universe gets underway this weekend when the Northern Rail Cup kicks-off the 2008 season. Neil Barraclough previews all 10 games.

Doncaster v London Skolars

Ellery Hanley takes charge of his first competitive game as Doncaster boss intent on giving the fans a good show.
The former Great Britain coach has overseen three friendlies in his new role and believes his side is ready to compete.
Hanley said: "I just take each game as it comes and make sure the players are equipped for each game. The fans pay good money and they'll expect that the players should put a good performance in - that's all anybody asks. As long as there's a huge effort, that's all the spectators can ask for."
New Skolars boss Tony Benson also says his troops will not be found wanting in terms of effort and desire.
Benson said: "We're always out to win every single game and we'll be going full throttle.
"We haven't really seen them, we've been concentrating on ourselves. I expect Doncaster to be very competitive and they'll come out firing, but we're on track for where we expected to be."
Oldham v Swinton Lions
Roughyeds' coach Steve Deakin will have to cope without Simeon Hoyle after the 28-year-old hooker was ruled out for up to six weeks.
Hoyle injured his Achilles tendon during last week's friendly against Rochdale meaning six Oldham players are already on the treatment table while a seventh, Daryl Cardiss, is not certain to play against the Lions.
Deakin has called for a professional attitude from his squad. He said: "You don't win games automatically - you must earn the right to win matches and that means looking after yourself during the week and turning up at weekend switched on for the game."
Lions' boss Paul Kidd is definitely without injured prop pair Gareth Hayes and Adam Bibey but they are his only two injury concerns.
Kidd said: "I've been happy with what we've achieved in the off-season but every coach is happy and optimistic at this stage of the year. You can't get a better gauge than what happens on the pitch.
"I haven't seen any of Oldham's friendlies but they look very strong to me. They've made a lot of good signings. They're arguably the Co-operative National League Two favourites and there's no bigger test for us than going there in our first game."
Sheffield Eagles v Celtic Crusaders
Eagles' coach Mark Aston will be without injured duo Paul Pickering and Matthew Whitaker while Alex Rowe is also unavailable for selection.
Aston said: "It's a tough opening game. With Celtic being full-time and having the finance behind them they will be very strong.
"It'll be a tough ask for us but one we're looking forward to. These are the type of games we want to play - games that will get us up to speed."
Celtic boss John Dixon says Celtic's thrilling clashes with Sheffield two years ago have whet his appetite for the trip to the Don Valley Stadium.
Dixon said: "It's a week to week thing for us but the way we're training, I'd say we can make a real impression (on the Northern Rail Cup).
"We enjoy playing against Sheffield Eagles. We had some really strong games against them in 2006 when they got promoted on top of us. Gee whiz, we're keen to play against them."
SUNDAY FEBRUARY 3
Blackpool Panthers v Widnes Vikings
Panthers' coach Martin Crompton will be without John Boland and Scott O'Brien through injury while Keiron Seeds misses the season opener due to a one-match suspension.
Crompton said: "We're making slow progression and as long as we keep doing that then hopefully we're going to improve. It's all about performances and getting results. The first goal is getting the first win.
"I'm delighted with the quality of some of the signings we've made and the experience we've got, but I do know we need at least another 3 or 4 players.
"I'll be watching the tape of Widnes' game against Wigan later this week. They're a big club and they're full time professionals so straight away they've got an advantage, but we're just looking at our own performance. We want to give a good account of ourselves and make sure we compete."
Vikings' boss Steve McCormack is urging his new-look team to look to Widnes' past for inspiration ahead of Sunday's trip to Blackpool.
He said: "We're defenders of this competition. We're really proud of winning this tournament last year and we'll be doing everything we can to have another successful year in it."
Dewsbury Rams v Featherstone Rovers
Alex Bretherton (wrist) is Andy Kelly's only long-term absentee as the Dewsbury coach prepares his squad for the start of the Northern Rail Cup campaign.
Kelly said: "There's been things we've changed in our pre-season training and I think we look a little bit stronger, fitter and more agile this year.
"At this stage I'm happy with what we've got and the Northern Rail Cup will help us.
"I don't think it would have mattered who the opposition is, there's a great quality about the competition and there are no easy games."
Rovers' boss David Hobbs will be without Carl Hughes and Loz Wildbore, who both picked up two match suspensions earlier this week, while Paul Handforth (knee ligaments) is thought to be a month away from action.
Hobbs said: "We've played well and trained well in our off-season so I'm very happy at the moment.
"But Dewsbury will be looking to do as good a job on us as we're looking to do on them. It'll be an interesting game and it will give us some sort of benchmark as to where we are."
Hunslet Hawks v Batley Bulldogs
Hawks' boss Graeme Hallas is hoping to put a difficult few months behind the club with a solid start in this year's Northern Rail Cup competition.
Hallas said: "We're pleased with how we've worked within the budgets we've got and that we are in a position to field such a capable side.
"In general we've been focusing on what we're about but we're also in the competition to be in competitive. I've had a look at Batley but we're mainly concerned with ourselves.
"My only headache is that I can't fit 24 headaches in
17 shirts, but that will keep the 17 that are selected on their toes as they know there are seven other blokes waiting in the wings."
Bulldogs' coach Gary Thornton will be without Mark Toohey (hamstring) although he is hopeful that Andy Boothroyd (hand) will be fit enough to take part.
Thornton said: "It's the first competitive game and we'll be going at full strength and hopefully getting off to a winning start.
"Graeme is new to the Hunslet job and a he's good coach. He'll have them well organised. They've almost got a new team so I don't know very much about them, but I know it's going to be a tough game for us - it's never easy at Hunslet."
Leigh Centurions v Barrow Raiders
Leigh's football manager Darren Shaw says the Centurions' targeted recruitment will pay dividends ahead the year's competitive action beginning on Sunday.
Shaw said: "We've recruited well specifically in certain areas. We've got a fair bit of experience now and we've got a better balance."
He admits to being unsure about what Barrow are capable of, but he is expecting a tough game from the Cumbrians.
Shaw added: "They've played Warrington reserves the other week and we've had a look at them. They're a big strong unit and they've got good halves, while Adam Hughes will add strength out wide so we'll have to be on our game."
Raiders' coach Dave Clark believes the challenge of facing Leigh will benefit his squad in the long run.
Clark said: "They've got engage Super League players there and their pivots will ask a lot of us defensively, while the speed of their game will be another challenge for us.
"But our pre-season has gone well. The side is coming together nicely and we're now starting to gel and the players are getting used to how each other plays."
Darren Holt (calf strain) is Clark's only injury concern.
Rochdale Hornets v Salford City Reds
Hornets' boss Bobbie Goulding will tell his players to concentrate on their own games rather than worry about the capabilities of Salford's squad.
Goudling said: "They've got three players in their squad who are on more money than the whole of my squad put together but I'm very happy with what I've got. I can't expect anything else from my squad - they've given 120 per cent.
"In rugby league you don't have friendlies and we showed some good signs against Oldham. We can only get better. That Oldham game is our base and we've got better.
"We have to concentrate on what we can do and what we're capable of. I don't worry about the opposition and I never did as a player."
Shaun McRae takes charge of his first Northern Rail Cup fixture intent on getting the Reds off to a winning start.
Salford have just returned from a warm weather training camp in Jacksonville and McRae is confident the trip was worthwhile.
He said: "There were so many positives that I struggle to find any negatives out of the whole trip.
"Everybody is fully aware of what our goals and objectives are. Clearly we want to win the games we play but you can't give any guarantees in any game of rugby league."
Whitehaven v Keighley Cougars
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