Betfred Championship action was put on hold last weekend in what turned out to be a hugely successful few days for England Rugby League.
All three England teams were victorious in their respective mid-season internationals, as we now return to domestic clashes.
We kick Round 16 off in the Steel City, with Sheffield Eagles hosting Leigh Centurions on Friday evening. The Leythers climbed to the top of the division last time out, after their huge win over promotion rivals Featherstone.
It was a signal of intent for Adrian Lam's men, who won’t be looking to slow down any time soon. A win on Friday night would make it eleven wins in a row in all competitions - a stunning run of form.
If their relentless streak wasn't enough to take confidence from, Leigh also boast a one-sided head-to-head record against Sheffield – they’ve won their last sixteen games against their upcoming opponents.
The hosts were beaten in Round 15, with inconsistency being the story of their last five games - the Eagles have slipped to eighth after two wins and three losses since Round 11.
They do have a game in hand on the teams above them, though, and will be hoping to get their push for a spot in the play-offs back on track.
Sunday’s Betfred Championship action kicks off at Odsal, when Dewsbury Rams visit Bradford Bulls.
The Bulls only defeat in their last four games came to Featherstone, as they keep the pressure on those in the play-off positions – a 10-30 win against Sheffield last time out saw them leapfrog their opponents into seventh, with former Eagles man Ryan Millar grabbing a brace of tries.
Bradford have won their last five games against local rivals Dewsbury - if they make it six they may find themselves just one point outside of the play-off spots by the end of the weekend.
Things went from bad to worse for the Rams last time out, though. A disappointing run of form has finally seen them drop into the relegation zone, after their sixth defeat on the bounce came at the hands of rivals London Broncos.
Dewsbury will be hoping their fortunes change under newly-appointed head coach Liam Finn, who knows the club well after making over 150 appearances as a player for the Rams.
Elsewhere in West Yorkshire, Featherstone Rovers host Batley Bulldogs. Brian McDermott’s men have slipped to second for the first time since they claimed top spot earlier in the season, after defeat away to Leigh last time out.
With Rovers looking to get back to winning ways sooner rather than later, they’ll be wary of a tough Batley side who were the first team to take points off them this season, when a 20-20 draw put a halt to their winning run.
Featherstone have bolstered the ranks this week with the capture of Leeds Rhinos’ young utility player Jack Broadbent, who returns for his second loan spell at the club and could make his debut against Batley - his hometown team and one he's had a loan spell at.
They've also strengthened the pack with the short-term loan signing of Huddersfield Giants’ Jack Ashworth.
Batley Bulldogs still sit comfortably in the play-off spots, just three points behind third-placed York despite playing a game less.
Their 58-18 demolition of Newcastle Thunder in Round 15 saw them score ten tries – the scores were level at half-time before the Bulldogs turned on the style to score 46 points, with some mesmerising rugby on display.
It’s four wins in a row now for Batley, who will be keen to upset Featherstone as they did back in Round 6. Can they frustrate them once more?
It’s up to Tyneside next, as Newcastle Thunder welcome Workington to Kingston Park. The visitors were on the end of a heavy defeat last time out and remain fourteenth, but a win could see them climb from the bottom of the table.
It could also be a memorable day for veteran stand-off Carl Forber, who is just two tries from the career century mark.
Newcastle will be looking to turn around a dismal run of form that has seen them lost their last four games, but history is kind to them in this fixture – Thunder have won five of the last six league meetings between the two sides.
There’s been some significant change at the club since their last outing – after parting ways with head coach Eamon O’Carroll, Thunder have secured the services of Ollie Roberts from Huddersfield Giants on a permanent deal.
The next instalment of Betfred Championship action sees York City Knights travel to Whitehaven. The hosts were involved in a thrilling game in Round 15 where they showed real promise – they were leading at the break against a strong Halifax side, but came unstuck in the second half when the promotion hopefuls showed their class.
Jonty Gorley’s men may also be buoyed by a staggering home record against their opposition – York haven’t won away to Whitehaven since 1992, and the Cumbrians won convincingly when the sides met in the Betfred Challenge Cup Fifth Round back in March.
The Knights will roll into Cumbria in high spirits, though. They’ve won nine of their last ten Betfred Championship games and sit in third place, they’re certainly playing like a side with promotion ambitions – will they maintain their impressive run of form?
We cap things off for Sunday at Halton Stadium, when Widnes Vikings host London Broncos. The Broncos came out on top in a gripping encounter with Dewsbury in Round 15 – it was a huge win against relegation rivals that pulled the club out of the drop zone after a tough run of form.
Widnes fell to a narrow defeat to York last time out – they were leading 14-4 at the half-time interval thanks in-part to a brace from Ryan Ince, but were unable to see the game out.
The sides met in the opening round of this Betfred Championship season, and the Vikings will look to replicate the performance that saw them run out 12-34 winners that day.
Round 16 will be rounded off in front of the Premier Sports cameras on Monday evening, when Halifax Panthers make the trip to Cumbria for a clash with Barrow Raiders.
Both sides have their eyes firmly set on a play-off spot, and are separated by a single point in the table.
The hosts were in scintillating form for their last outing, recording a 0-58 win against Workington. Jarrod Sammut tallied 26 points on the day, adding to an impressive points haul for the season – only five players in the entire division have scored more than the Malta international.
One of those players is Joe Keyes, who added eight points to his season tally in Halifax’s win over Whitehaven in Round 15.
The Panthers have been electric a while now – their only defeat in the last ten games was at the hands of table-toppers Leigh, and Simon Grix’s side have scored more points than any other team outside the top two with 428.
They also hold a strong head-to-head record against Barrow, having won eight of the last ten meetings including a 40-18 win in Round 9 this season.
It’s 5th vs 6th under the lights – who will boost their play-off hopes?
Betfred Championship Round 16 Fixtures
- Sheffield Eagles vs Leigh Centurions – 19:45
- Bradford Bulls vs Dewsbury Rams – 15:00
- Featherstone Rovers vs Batley Bulldogs – 15:00
- Newcastle Thunder vs Workington Town – 15:00
- Whitehaven vs York City Knights – 15:00
- Widnes Vikings vs London Broncos – 15:00
- Barrow Raiders vs Halifax Panthers – 19:45 – Live on Premier Sports