PLAYMAKER Kyle Briggs is set to make his Featherstone Rovers return in tonight’s Co-operative Championship game against Leigh Centurions at Bigfellas Stadium (7.30pm).
Half-back Briggs (pictured) missed last Sunday’s 22-12 win at Keighley Cougars because of a back injury but he is expected to be fit for this evening’s first home league match of the campaign.
Featherstone coach Daryl Powell said: “There’s a pretty strong chance Kyle will be fit for Thursday. I think he should be okay. He’s had some treatment and he’s a lot better now he’s had a break.”
Rovers are without suspended forwards Tim Spears and Stuart Dickens.
Skipper Dickens is serving the second part of a two-match ban and Spears is suspended for two games after being charged with punching in Featherstone’s recent Northern Rail Cup match against Batley Bulldogs.
Centre Sam Smeaton, who was charged with striking in the same match, escaped suspension due to his previous good record. Both Spears and Smeaton entered early guilty pleas which were accepted.
Andy Bostock has completed a one-match ban and will replace Spears in tonight’s squad. Bostock has not played since he suffered a recurrence of a shoulder injury in last month’s game at Halifax.
Powell said: “Andy re-damaged his shoulder but we are not sure he actually did it in the Halifax game or whether it was done previously and he just aggravated it. We’ll get him through to the end of the season and he’ll have an operation then.”
The Rovers boss expects a stern test against Leigh who were surprisingly beaten 24-18 at home by Batley Bulldogs last Thursday.
“It’s a short turnaround for us and it will be a tough game against Leigh who have recruited well. They are looking like a solid side,” he said.
“They had a bit of a setback last week against Batley so they will see this as a crucial game. They’ve had a few more days rest than us but I don’t see that as a major problem.
“We’ve just got to crack on with it and we’ll be ready to go on Thursday night.
Powell says champions Rovers are still trying to find their form.
“We are only five games in and we are still developing. We went through a couple of periods like this last year and it took us time to get fluidity into our game. There’s a bit of work to do there but I’m confident we’ll get there,” he said.
“We were thrown about a little bit in pre-season. Obviously, Danny Grimshaw left and Kyle Briggs came in and Jonny Hepworth hasn’t played much football because he was injured and had an operation so our key players are finding their feet a little and as a result our fluidity in attack is a bit hampered. There are reasons for it and it’s just going to take a little bit of time and patience and hard work to fix it up.
“I’m confident we’ll do that and hopefully in the near future. We are working hard and we know what we need to fix up and we are on with it.”
Powell was pleased with his side’s pack display at Keighley and also the performance of young half-back Jack Bussey who replaced the injured Briggs.
“I challenged the pack to step it up a bit. We were below par against Batley and I thought they played over the top of us in the middle of the field,” he said.
“Our forwards stepped up and were really strong at Keighley. I thought Anthony England was excellent and Mick Haley has been great for us all year. Dom Maloney stepped up and James Lockwood as well so we had a pretty good foundation in the middle of the field which gave us a platform to build from.
“I still think there are loads of areas we can be better particularly in our attacking game but that’s going to come the more we are out on the field together.
“Jack Bussey came in on the bench in Kyle Briggs’s place and I was pleased with him. He’s been good in the under 23s over the last year and a bit and I was impressed with him at Keighley, he’s a strong kid.”
Featherstone’s close-season signing Gareth Raynor is taking a break from the game.
The former Great Britain winger joined Rovers on a 12-month deal but he has played in only one competitive match this season against Dewsbury Rams last month.
Powell said: “Gareth has had a couple of things he needs to sort out. He was struggling to fully commit himself to what we are doing from a training point of view so I think it’s best if he sorts things out and he’ll come back to the club if he can fully commit to playing rugby league.
“It’s pretty amicable. We sat down and had a good chat about it. We’ll retain his registration and his contract and we’ll take it from there.
“There is a possibility he could be back later in the season but that’s going to depend on him and where he is at. We’ll be pretty flexible about that.”
Admission to tonight’s match against Leigh is £15 adults, £9 concessions and £3 juniors.
Rovers reserves host Halifax in the under 23s Reserve Championship at Bigfellas Stadium tomorrow (8pm). Admission is £5 adults and £3 concessions. Juniors are admitted free.
Featherstone’s scholarship teams start their season next Wednesday (March 21) when the under 15s (6pm kick-off) and under 16s (7.45pm) take on Bradford Bulls at Bigfellas Stadium.