Competition for places hotting up at Rovers

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FEATHERSTONE Rovers have five players back in contention for places in Sunday’s Co-operative Championship game against Dewsbury Rams at Bigfellas Stadium (3pm).

Stuart Dickens (pictured), Sam Smeaton, Nathan Chappell, Andy Bostock and Andy Ellis are all expected to be available after missing last weekend’s 48-22 win over Pia in the Anglo French Challenge match.

Skipper Dickens is set to replace prop Anthony England who has been suspended for one match after submitting an early guilty plea following his dismissal for punching in last month’s game at Hunslet Hawks.

Smeaton has missed two matches with a rib injury and Bostock (groin) and Chappell (knee) were also sidelined last weekend.

On-loan signing Ellis did not play against Pia because youngster Jack Bussey was handed a chance on the bench.

With Tangi Ropati and Kyle Briggs the only casualties, Rovers are near to full strength, giving coach Daryl Powell plenty of selection options for Sunday’s game.

“I’ve got to pick who I think are the right people for the job,” he said.

“There’s competition for places so players need to be aware of playing well on a regular basis otherwise they’ll be left out the following week.

“We need the competition and we need the consistency in our game if we are going to achieve what we want to achieve this season.”

Sunday’s match is the first of two games in five days for Rovers who visit Keighley Cougars in the Northern Rail Cup quarterfinals next Thursday.

Featherstone are seeking their third win over Dewsbury this season. They beat them 38-6 at Bigfellas Stadium in the Northern Rail Group stages in February and 24-12 at Dewsbury in a league match in April.

Powell said: “It’s always tough against Dewsbury. They are certainly physical round the middle of the field. They come at you and they challenge you in the ruck area and they’ve got some set plays that cause you trouble so we’ll need to play well.

“We are trying to play well every game and getting consistency is a real challenge for us. I feel that we are getting somewhere, we’ve just got to stick at it.

“We are into the real core of what our season is about now and this is where we need to be really good.

“Our next two fixtures are key games for us. We need to focus on each match as it comes and not start looking too far ahead of ourselves.”

Powell was pleased with Featherstone’s first-half performance against Pia when they built a 42-6 interval lead but he was disappointed with the second-half display.

“In the first-half we were excellent and we controlled possession well. For the most part, we put them in the corners and we executed well on our plays,” he said.

“We’ve got to be pleased to win but there are always lessons in every game you play and I think the way we approached the second-half is probably a lesson for the players and a lesson for me in dealing with things at half-time when we’ve been far superior to the opposition.

“I thought we were too far front for our own mentaility at half-time. We didn’t handle it well and we just got scrappy.

“I thought Pia played well in the second-half and threw some things at us. We got loose defensively and they put in chip kicks and got a 40/20.

“We just didn’t pay the respect to the opposition we should have done in the second-half and ultimately it ended up being a really scrappy second period.”

The Rovers boss was pleased with half-back Bussey’s display from the bench.

“I thought Jack Bussey defended really well,” he added.

“Our game had fallen away in a big way in the second-half and we made that many errors that it was difficult for anyone to show up well.

“But Jack did pretty well and I like him as a player. He’ll spend more and more time in the first-team during the remainder of this season and hopefully into next.”

Powell believes the RFL need to “get their act together” in promoting the Anglo French Challenge if it is to be repeated next year.

Featherstone, Sheffield, Halifax and Leigh all beat French opponents in last weekend’s inaugural tournament.

“I don’t see much point in it unless the RFL are actually going to promote it,” he said.

“You couldn’t find the fixtures and you couldn’t find the results either.

“And I don’t think the RFL paid due respect to Pia - they more or less left them on their own.

“There is some value there and for us to be Euorpean Champions is great but it has actually got to mean something to the rugby league community. It definitely needs some work and the RFL need to get their act together. I think it reflects the apathy the RFL show towards the Championship.”