Netherton poised to make Rovers debut

Tommy Saxton is sidelined with a broken thumb.
Tommy Saxton is sidelined with a broken thumb.

NEW signing Kirk Netherton is set to make his Featherstone Rovers debut in Sunday’s Co-operative Championship game against Halifax at Bigfellas Stadium (3pm).

However, Rovers will be without Tommy Saxton (broken thumb) and Nathan Chappell (knee) who both need surgery after picking up injuries against Lezignan last Saturday.

Featherstone coach Daryl Powell is delighted to have signed 25-year-old Hull-based hooker Netherton on loan from Widnes Vikings until the end of the season.

Netherton, who has had spells with Castleford Tigers and Hull Kingston Rovers, was one of four players recently told they would not have a future at Widnes.

He was unable to play for Rovers against Lezignan last weekend because he was cup tied.

Powell said yesterday: “There is a strong chance Kirk will play against Halifax. I will be having a look during the week but he’s very likely to play.

“We tried to sign Kirk last year. I’ve been impressed with him when I’ve watched him play. He’s got some really smart components to his game.

“He’s a pretty big kid and he can sniff out tries close to an opponent’s line.

“He’s got a left-footed kicking game which is pretty valuable out of dummy half and he gets 40-20’s as well so he’s got some components that will certainly add to what we’ve got.”

Ben Kaye started at hooker in Featherstone’s first 12 matches this season but has not played in the last two games against Hunslet and Lezignan.

Said Powell: “Ben is struggling to get into the side at the moment. He is still with us and he’s been working hard on his game. We’ll see how things go down the track.”

Several injuries have meant Powell will be forced to make changes to the team that beat Lezignan 42-16 last Saturday.

He said: “We have a few injuries in the outside backs which is going to make it tough for us. We are pretty light in the outside backs at the moment.

“Tommy Saxton has broken his thumb and needs surgery. We only found out on Tuesday night and it looks like he will be out for a while but I am not certain how long it will be.

“It also looks like Nathan Chappell needs an operation on his cartilage.

“I am hoping Andy Bostock will be back but Ian Hardman I am not sure about. He’s probably 60-40 in favour.

“I also need to check on Zak Hardaker but I believe he will be playing for Leeds because they are looking pretty light.”

Prop Tony Tonks will have a minor knee operation next Tuesday.

Tonks was due to have the operation last Thursday but he delayed it to play against Lezignan after fellow prop Iain Morrison was injured.

Morrison has a calf problem but Powell is hoping he will be fit for this weekend.

Featherstone will be aiming a complete a league double over Halifax who they beat 32-20 at The Shay in March.

The teams also meet at Bigfellas Stadium next month in the Northern Rail Cup semi-final.

Halifax, who beat Rovers 23-22 in extra time in last season’s Grand Final, have made a poor start to their league campaign. They are second bottom in the table after winning only one of their first seven matches.

However, they gave a good account of themselves in last Sunday’s 46-34 Challenge Cup defeat against Super League team Bradford Bulls and they have been boosted by the acquisition of Brian Noble who has joined them in a consultancy role. Noble will work alongside Halifax’s head coach Matt Calland.

Powell said: “It’s going to be a tough challenge for us against Halifax and we won’t underestimate them in any way. They played last week against Bradford and scored plenty of points so that will give them a bit of confidence.

“They’ve got Brian Noble on board who is a pretty smart coach so he will provide some support.

“I think it takes away the element that you might feel comfortable going into the game because of where they are in the league table.

“I don’t think their position in the table has any bearing at all. They are a good team and obviously they won the Grand Final last year and that’s something that gives us motivation anyway.

“Halifax have had a tough start and things haven’t quite gone for them but I thought they played well in the first-half against us when we played them at their place.

“It’s a case of us playing well and we are aware of that. We spoke on Tuesday night about getting things right against them.

“If you give them a sniff of something they are all over you, especially Sean Penkywicz who is pretty rapid and who is at you with his pace.

“There’s also Ben Black, of course, who is another who has lots of speed.

“Makali Azue is playing outstanding so they’ve got some punch up front.”

Powell believes former Bradford, Wigan and Great Britain coach Noble’s appointment in an advisory role will benefit Halifax.

He said: “Nobby is a great man manager and that’s been pretty obvious to see during his time in rugby league.

“I think he’ll be able to give people some confidence and that’s what he is very good at. Halifax playing with confidence are a difficult team.

“His influence will probably grow as he spends more time there so it’s something we need to be aware of but really it’s about focusing on us and making sure we get our game right.”

Powell was pleased his side’s the performance in their Challenge Cup victory against Lezignan.

He said: “I thought we were outstanding in the first-half. We went 38-4 up and the job was virtually done.

“Our kicking game was good and we got five repeat sets which put pressure on Lezignan. They were a really big physical outfit and one of the biggest teams I have seen for a long time.

“It was certainly a physical challenge and I thought we handled them pretty well.”

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