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globalrugbyleague - Fri, 15 Feb 2008 05:59:00 GMT

The wait is over for Rugby League fans who have been queuing up behind computer monitors in net cafes all over the world for this week’s northern rail cup preview with Neil Barraclough.

SATURDAY 16th FEBRUARY
Celtic Crusaders v Sheffield Eagles

Crusaders’ coach John Dixon has called for an improved attacking display from his troops.

The Crusaders won 26-10 at London Skolars last week but Dixon was far from impressed.

He said: "We made progress last week, but it was backwards. We defended well but we were pretty ordinary at the other end."

Anthony Blackwood, David Tangata-Toa, Darren Mapp and Mark Lennon are all carrying minor knocks and will be assessed later in the week.

For the visitors, Gavin Brown, James Ford and James Morrow could all be given their first competitive appearances of the year as Eagles boss Mark Aston considers changing his line-up.

Paul Pickering, Yusuf Sozi, Matthew Whitaker and Alex Rowe are all unavailable for the South Yorkshire club.

Aston said: "I've been assessing where we are and now it's down to training during the week to get ready for a big game. I changed the team about a bit last week and there will possibly be a few more changes for this game."

SUNDAY 17th FEBRUARY
Batley Bulldogs v York City Knights

Batley boss Gary Thornton wants his side to kick on from last week's thrilling victory against Dewsbury by maintaining their 100 per cent record in this year's Northern Rail Cup.

Thornton said: "Although we can play better, and we will improve as we get more games under our belt, we did control the ball well.

"Our completion rate was over 80 per cent and our errors came from silly penalties which we need to address, but I am looking to improve the quality of those completions and ask more questions of the opposition's defence."

York coach Paul March will have to cope without hooker Paul Hughes, who was handed a two-match suspension in midweek.

David March is likely to start in the number nine shirt against Batley while Danny Grimshaw and Tom Hodgson are also set to be included.

Blackpool Panthers v Leigh Centurions

Panthers' coach Martin Crompton will monitor the fitness of John Clough and Lee Marsh before making his final selection for Sunday's clash with Leigh.

Crompton's side lost narrowly at Barrow last week, but the Blackpool boss remains upbeat.

He said: "I think we're making rapid progress and I'm delighted with where we're at.

"We need to strengthen in a couple of areas but the effort, commitment and enthusiasm is great. I've got a very happy team at the moment, despite us losing two games. There's no panic."

Leigh's football manager Darren Shaw will delay choosing his squad until Dave Alstead, John Hill and Gareth Price have been assessed.

The trio took part in Leigh's midweek U21s fixture and Shaw will monitor their recovery before making a final decision on their selection.

Shaw said: "The new coaching set up at Blackpool is doing a very good job. We'll be showing them the utmost respect and we'll have to be really on our toes. We've got to get mentally tuned in."

Featherstone Rovers v Gateshead Thunder

Loz Wildbore and Carl Hughes return from suspension to boost David Hobbs' choices ahead of Sunday's Northern Rail Cup clash with Gateshead.

Hobbs said: "Gateshead appear to have hit a bit of form but this game is about us.

"We've got to be mindful of what they can do but if we play to our potential then we'll be confident of getting a result.

"Defensively we were pretty good last week. We had a couple of little slips but it was a big improvement from the week before.

"We're still not where we want to be with the ball in our hands but that will come over the coming weeks."

Thunder boss Dave Woods is likely to make several changes to his team as he looks to maintain his side's impressive start to the season.

Woods said: "I was pleased that we had a lead at half time (against Hunslet) and we kicked on with it and kept them out.

That was the pleasing part. Our defence was spot on and we carried on rather than just shut up shop and let them back into it."

Dylan Nash serves a one-match suspension while Tabua Cakacaka is likely to be missing with a leg injury.

Halifax v Whitehaven

Halifax boss Matt Calland has called for more concentration in defence after watching his side concede 40 points at Keighley last week.

Calland said: "The defence was disappointing and we've been looking to put that right this week. "

As arguably the clash of the round, Calland knows his squad will face a stern test against Paul Crarey's Whitehaven.

Calland said: "They've got a similar squad to last year but they'll probably play a different style of rugby league to last year.

"We know we're going to be in a strong battle. They've got a strong pack and key players in John Duffy and Carl Rudd.

"We know it's not going be easy, but we will be ready and prepared for a very tough battle."

Crarey is likely to recall Liam Finch for the visitors, giving him the specific task of neutralising the threat of Graham Holroyd.

Crarey told the News and Star: "Holroyd is a good player. He plays in a dinner suit, and we want Liam to run at him and make him defend."

Hunslet Hawks v Dewsbury Ram

Danny Cook is Hunslet's main injury concern but Nathan Larvin could make his debut after agreeing a month's loan deal from Featherstone.

The Hawks lost 58-6 at Gateshead last week and coach Graeme Hallas admits his side have underperformed.

He said: "The defeat, and particularly its size, was obviously disappointing and there is a lot of work to be done.

"Some of the players appear to be low on confidence and our focus throughout the full 80 minutes isn't what it should be."

Despite Hunslet's poor form, Rams' boss Andy Kelly insists his side will not be taking this fixture lightly.

Kelly said: "Hunslet were getting a bit of a clobbering last year and then they beat us.

"There'll be absolutely no disrespect from us about what they are capable of. I know full well what they can do and we'll be going there fully concentrating on the job in hand and our own performance."

London Skolars v Doncaster

Skolars duo Jim Doyle (dislocated knee cap) and Frankie Reid (knee) are both very doubtful for Sunday's clash against Doncaster.

The sides met in the opening weekend of the Northern Rail Cup and London boss Tony Benson expects a similar match from Ellery Hanley's side.

Benson said: "We're really looking forward to this game.

"Hopefully we will be playing with a reasonably full squad. We've got to defend better than last time and we'll have to work hard to score against them. It should be a good game."

Former engage Super League star Zebastian Luisi is likely to be given his Doncaster debut but Michael Haley (broken collarbone) is facing six weeks on the sidelines.

Hanley is looking for a more disciplined performance from his side.

He said: "I am very disappointed with our discipline and it is top of our agenda.

"The number of times we squandered good field position (against Sheffield) was alarming."

Rochdale Hornets v Oldham

Hornets' boss Bobbie Goulding is without Dave Best (shin splints) and Chris Campbell (ribs), although Jamie Benn could make his debut if the paperwork surrounding a loan deal from Featherstone can be finalised in time.

Goulding said: "Last week we were poor but the lads showed a lot of character and enthusiasm.

"There are still areas in our performance that we weren't happy with and this will be a good challenge for us.

I've got a lot of respect for Oldham and Steve Deakin and they'll probably set the benchmark in Co-operative National League Two this year."

Oldham boss Steve Deakin said: "We all agreed we can improve and tighten up in a few areas (after last week's game).

"You are not going to go through a game without making some errors, but we must not make them on 'soft' plays coming out of our own half.

If we are going to make them we must make them at the top end of the field."

Swinton Lions v Salford City Reds

Lions' boss Paul Kidd has highlighted two areas for his side to work on as they approach Sunday's derby clash with Salford.

Kidd said: "Defence and discipline are the two areas we need to sort out and then we're up and running.

"Salford are our local rivals and they've got some really good players.

"They've scored some great tries and I'm expecting a really tough game.

We've got to be at our very best to even compete.

"You don't need any extra motivation against the Co-operative National League One favourites."

Chris Tyrer (hamstring) and Gary Hulse (knee) are both doubtful for the hosts.

Reds' star Paul Highton reckons a great team spirit and plenty of dedication is the reason behind Salford's good start to - Read More, Here