COACH Daryl Powell wants Featherstone Rovers to start the new season in style in tonight’s Northern Rail Cup opener against Doncaster at Bigfellas Stadium (7.30).
“We hope we will be able to perform really well in this competition and Friday is the starting point,” said team boss Powell (pictured), who will not be taking anything for granted against Championship One outfit Doncaster.
“Doncaster have some decent players and they’ll come here looking to work really hard so I think it will be a tough game,” he added.
“Obviously, they also have several guys who have played at Featherstone so they have a few people who know a bit about us but I’m more interested in us concentrating on ourselves and making sure our game is very good.
“You always want to kick your season off well, there’s no doubt about that. It’s important we go into this game with confidence and we are looking to deliver an outstanding performance. We are confident that if we get our game right the outcome will look after itself.”
Featherstone’s team tonight is:
Hardman; Saxton, Worthington, Smeaton, Powell; Kain, Finn; Tonks, Kaye, Dickens, Spears, Grayshon, Dale. Subs (from): Hardaker, Morrison, Haley, Bostock, Welham.
Powell was pleased with the form shown in pre-season victories against Hunslet, Gateshead, Oldham and Leeds Rhinos. Most of the first-team squad played against Hunslet and Leeds.
He said: “Before we played Hunslet in our first pre-season game we had very little prep and then we had bit more before we played Leeds. I thought a lot of the work we did in that game was top quality.
“It will be good to get started in the real stuff and see where we are at. We are looking forward to going into the season with a lot of confidence based on what we’ve been able to improve in the pre-season period.”
Rovers aim to make a big impact in the NRC this year after failing to qualify for the knock-out stages 12 months ago.
In last season’s group stages, they hammered Rochdale 56-10 and Hunslet 68-0 but bowed out after losing 36-6 at Leigh and drawing 18-18 at home to Sheffield.
Said Powell: “I thought we played well against Sheffield but they scored right at the death and that was the game that knocked us out. Obviously, we also didn’t perform well at Leigh but all that is now in the distant past.
“We are a different team now. We’ll learn some lessons from last year but it’s not something we need to dwell on. I think we’ve moved on from that period at the start of last season and we’ll make sure that doesn’t happen to us again.
“The Northern Rail Cup is an important competition and we are looking forward to doing well in it.”
On paper, tonight’s game is the easiest of Featherstone’s four NRC group matches because their other three games are all against fellow Co-operative Championship clubs. They visit York City Knights (February 13) and Barrow Raiders (February 20) before hosting Widnes Vikings in their final group fixture on February 26.
Said Powell: “It’s going to be a tough group but you don’t get much in rugby league for things being easy for you.
“We’ve got Barrow away which is always a difficult game and also York away. We’ve Widnes at home and I expect them to be pretty big improvers this year.
“We’ll just focus on our game week to week and we are confident we’ll be able to deliver what we need to to get ourselves through the group, although we do recognise it’s going to be a difficult task for us.”
Iain Morrison could be on the subs bench tonight after making his comeback following major knee surgery in last weekend’s reserves friendly against Dewsbury.
Prop Ross Divorty is out for three months with a knee injury and hooker James Davey, signed on a dual registration from Wakefield, has also been ruled out tonight by injury.
Close-season signing Greg Worthington will be at centre after impressing in pre-season matches.
Said Powell: “Iain Morrison played a decent portion of last weekend’s game and he looked pretty strong.
“James Davey will be unavailable after pulling his hamstring. It leaves us a bit short at hooker but we’ll manage that.
“Zak Hardaker is available so that gives us added options.”
Andy Kain will be at stand-off following Kyle Briggs’s switch to Bradford Bulls.
Said Powell: “Andy Kain will definitely start as six. Ian Hardman will start at full-back initially and then we’ll see where we go. Zak Hardaker is in contention as well so I’ve got a few selection options which is always handy.
“Greg Worthington has slotted in well. He’s got a fair bit about him as a player. He’s a great kid and he’s worked hard. He’s shown us what he’s got in his game during the pre-season and he’s got a bit of versatility about him as well. He can play at number six and 13 and he’s looked very strong in the centres.
“There’s keen competition for places. It’s going to a tough team to get into.
“People in the side are going to need to be consistent this year in order to stay in the team so it’s important the players are striving really hard for that consistency.”
Rovers are taking more time to have a look at Tom Hemingway who initially joined them on a month’s trial.
Former Blackpool player Hemingway missed last Saturday’s match against Dewsbury because he was ill.
Powell said: “We are looking to extend Tom’s trial period. It’s been tough for him because he played against Oldham when it was exceptionally windy and it was difficult for half-backs and he then had 25 minutes against Leeds so it’s pretty hard to judge him on that. We’ll need to give him more time.”