Whitehaven coach James Coyle has said his side have “no chance” of winning Sunday’s Championship opener against Halifax at the Shay (3.0) unless they can contain their hosts’ marauding front row combinations.
Coyle, who played for Barrow against Halifax in the 2009 Grand Final, is about to start his second season in charge at the Recreation Ground after taking the job on the eve of the 2015 campaign following the shock exit of then boss Steve Deakin.
The former Widnes half back watched from the stands at the Halton Stadium a fortnight ago as Fax held the Super League side to an 18-18 draw.
“Halifax have got a balanced side throughout, it’s hard to pick anyone out really which probably tells you something about their quality,” said Coyle.
“Scott Murrell leads them around the field well, but they’ve got a big, tough middle and they cause a lot of problems up the guts of their opponents.
“I saw them play at Widnes and they really forced the issue in that area late in that game; Richard Moore, Jacob Fairbank, Mitch Cahalane, Adam Tangata, Luke Ambler, they’ve got some quality players there who are playing really well.
“If you can’t contain that middle and that go forward, you have no chance of containing Scott and Ben Kaye and the rest of them.
“It’s a difficult start to a difficult opening month and a half for us.
“That said, it’s a massive difference to last year when we played them at home in the first game.
”We’ve got a good squad and a squad who understand what’s required of them.
“We’ve kept a large percentage of the players that we finished the year with.
“We improved all season, managed to stay up and I thought the majority of our performances were good.
“If we’d started the season with that squad, I’m pretty confident we’d have finished higher up the table.”
Coyle’s younger brother Thomas could be one of four former Halifax players on duty this weekend, alongside props Sam Brooks - who is back in Cumbria on loan after signing a Super League deal with Widnes - and Ben Davies and centre Chris Taylor.
Taylor, a former Wigan junior, spent the first half of 2015 at the Shay, but lost his place in Richard Marshall’s side in the spring and never regained his place or, apparently, his confidence.
“Chris is a quality player,” said Coyle.
“If you go back a few years, he was the next big thing in rugby league; I know Wigan were expecting very special things from him.
“He was unfortunate to miss 18 months through injury and with Chris it’s all about confidence and him being confident in his environment.
“He’s known me personally for a long time and he’s comfortable at Whitehaven, it’s the perfect fit for him.
“He can find it difficult to deal with adversity if things aren’t quite going his way.
“He’s a very private person away from rugby league and he’s got a lot of things going on that people don’t know about.
“It’s nothing against anyone at Halifax, but he needs to be comfortable with the people around him.
“He’ll be a really good player for us this year.”