High stakes as Yorkshire quartet bid to join Super League big guns

Two from four - the head coaches, top row Featherstones Jon Sharp, left, and Bradfords  Rohan Smith. Bottom, from left, Halifaxs Richard Marshall and Batleys John Kear.
Two from four - the head coaches, top row Featherstones Jon Sharp, left, and Bradfords Rohan Smith. Bottom, from left, Halifaxs Richard Marshall and Batleys John Kear.
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Featherstone Rovers host Bradford Bulls tomorrow in their own mini version of the “one million pound” match.

For the winner of tomorrow’s Championship clash at Post Office Road will clinch a top-four spot and qualify for the Middle 8s – where they will slug it out with the likes of Leeds Rhinos, Huddersfield Giants and Hull KR for a chance of promotion.

Defeat, and the dream of Super League football is over for another 12 months.

With Leigh Centurions and London Broncos already guaranteed the top two places in the Championship, Rovers, Bradford, Halifax and Batley Bulldogs are fighting it out for the last two remaining spots.

“It’s the type of game we play for and why this sport is so exciting,” said Bradford head coach Rohan Smith.

“I’m buzzing, I can’t wait for it and it is what professional sport is all about and why you get involved for these occasions.

“If you’re a Bradford fan and you’re ever going to go to a game, Sunday is the one.”

The permutations are vast, but in simple mathematics, if third-placed Batley win at Swinton Lions tomorrow, John Kear’s team will be in the Qualifiers along with the winners from Rovers versus Bulls.

Halifax, in sixth, host second-placed London but need results to go in their favour if they are to gatecrash the top-four.

The two Yorkshire sides failing to reach the Middle 8s will then contest the Championship Shield competition.

In the Qualifiers, eight teams compete – the bottom four in Super League and the top four in the Championship – in a mini-table with the top three assured of a spot in Super League next season.

The teams finishing fourth and fifth then play in a contest dubbed the “one million pound” match. Last season Wakefield Trinity Wildcats beat Bradford Bulls 24-16 to secure their top-flight status.

Jon Sharp’s Featherstone go into the game with Bradford Bulls in good form, with the head coach insisting all the pressure will be on Bradford.

After successive away victories at Batley and Halifax, Featherstone are buoyant.

“We seem to be getting better and we’ve got the timing right as well. Peaking at the right time is crucial,” said Sharp.

“It’s a Grand Final for us on Sunday, there’s no getting away from it. I can’t hide the fact it’s a massive game.

“We are coming up against a full-time team who have probably spent more than double what we have so we’ll start as underdogs.

“Bradford will come into the game as favourites and rightly so but we are confident as well. All the pressure is on them.

“Everyone thought Bradford would be home and hosed by now so there’s some pressure on them and none on us. We can go out and enjoy it.”

Batley go into Sunday’s final round at Swinton Lions, knowing victory will help create a legacy in the club’s recent history.

Games against Super League champions Leeds Rhinos, Huddersfield Giants, Salford and Hull KR are just 80 minutes away and Batley know their destiny is very much in their own hands.

Bulldogs chief executive Paul Harrison believes Sunday’s trip to Swinton is the biggest game in Batley’s recent history, eclipsing the 2013 Championship Grand Final and the Northern Rail Cup final win of 2010.

Harrison said: “This is the biggest game, financially, the club has had and could be worth £300,000 to us.

“To be in the position we are after 22 games, in front of Bradford, Featherstone and Halifax, is a tremendous achievement and these players are just one game away from creating history.”

Batley moved into third place with a terrific 31-20 victory over full-time London Broncos last week and have reported no new injury worries ahead of the trip to Swinton.

Halifax coach Richard Marshall has urged his players to focus on the “things we can control” ahead of their final Championship fixture against London Broncos at the Shay on Sunday (3.0).

Fax slipped to sixth on the league ladder in the wake of last weekend’s 24-20 reverse against Featherstone, meaning they are the longest odds of the Yorkshire quartet to make the Qualifiers.

Marshall put the chances of the lowly Lions springing an upset at “10 or 20 per cent”, with Fax’s priority a win over the Broncos, who are expected to give a second appearance to the former NSW State of Origin stand off Jamie Soward, who linked with the capital club last month ahead of an expected move to Super League in 2017.

“We can’t influence what happens at Swinton, so there’s no point thinking about that,” said Marshall.

“All we can do is turn up against a very good London side, perform at a high level, get a result and close this chapter of the season.

“If we sneak into the top four, we’ll take it, even though we’d be limping into it. If not, we’ll look ahead to the rest of the year.”

Halifax will be without centre Steve Tyrer with a broken arm.

Marshall expects to welcome back hooker Ben Kaye, who should add defensive steel.

“We need to defend a lot better on our goalline than we did last weekend,” said Marshall.

“The effort was certainly there against Featherstone, but our execution needs to be 100 per cent better.”

Additional reporting: Martin Hawksworth, Andy Hunt and James Roberts