COACH Daryl Powell is looking for another improved Featherstone display in this afternoon’s (Sunday) pre-season match against Bradford Bulls at Bigfellas Stadium.
Gareth Raynor will make his debut and playmaker Liam Finn will start his comeback on the bench after surgery as Rovers aim for a third successive pre-season win after beating Hull KR 20-12 and Hunslet Hawks 24-0.
“I’m just looking for us to step up and continue improving,” said Powell.
“Obviously, there’s always elements you can improve on and there are some in terms of when we are coming away from our own line. We are looking for constant development in the way we are playing.
“We haven’t got the team that would be our first 13 out on the field yet. That always makes it a little more difficult because you are not as fluent as you would like but I think everyone who has stepped in so far has done a fantastic job and I am looking for them to continue to show me what they’ve got.”
The Rovers boss is expecting a stiff test against Super League outfit Bradford.
“From what I’m hearing from the Bradford camp they will field a really strong team on Sunday. They’ve got some injuries to young players so they are likely to field a strong side, particularly initially, so it will be a significant challenge for us,” said Powell, who will make changes to the line-up that beat Hull KR.
Raynor, Finn, Ian Hardman, James Lockwood and Sharlston Rovers three-quarter Gareth Davies, who is on a month’s trial, will come into the team.
Tommy Saxton, Sam Smeaton, Ben Kaye and Matty Dale will be rested.
Said Powell: “We will have a strong side but there will be a few changes. I am going to give a couple of our outside backs a bit of a breather.
“Tommy Saxton and Sam Smeaton have played 80 minutes of both games so far and we’ve got to play against Leeds next Friday as well so it’s important I get the game time right in Sunday’s match for certain players.
“We’ll try a different centre combination on Sunday with Tangi Ropati and Greg Worthington working together in the centres.
“Ian Hardman will get a run out. He’s had a bit of a hamstring injury.
“Gareth Raynor will make his debut and Liam Finn is available again and will come onto the bench. James Lockwood will take a part in the next two games.
“Stuart Dickens dislocated his finger against Hunslet and although it was a bit sore he wanted to play against Hull KR. I’m going to give him some game time against Bradford but not too much
“Matty Dale is struggling a bit to get over his deadleg so I’m probably going to give him a few more days to get over it and leave him until the Leeds match.”
Powell added that former Great Britain winger Raynor was looking forward to playing against one of his former clubs.
Powell said: “Playing against a team that you spent some time at and playing against some players you know pretty well you always want to perform at the top of your game. I am sure Gareth is looking forward to showing them what they’ll be missing out on.
“Gareth looked okay in training last week but obviously he’s only had a week with us. Game time is a little bit different and he’s going to need some of that to get himself where he needs to be but he looks in pretty good shape.
“He looks exceptionally strong and obviously that’s one of the main parts to his game. He will continue to work towards where he needs to be and this game will really help him in that.”
Powell is pleased to welcome back scrum-half Finn after groin surgery but utility player Jonny Hepworth will have to wait a little longer to make his return following a major knee operation.
“Liam Finn has looked after himself really well. The operation has been a success and he’s not feeling any pain at all so he’ll step training up a little bit this week in preparation for this weekend,” said Powell.
“Jonny Hepworth is not where he needs to be at the moment. He’s just had a bit of reaction to his knee so well give him more time to get over that.
“He’s not far off but he stepped up training last week and got a bit of swelling. We can’t push him any harder than we have. He just needs to step off it a little bit.
“I don’t think Jonny will play in the Leeds game but we’ve arranged another friendly at home against Oldham on February 5. He’s likely to play in that.
“It won’t be a first-team game - it will be mainly under 23s - but potentially Finn and Hepworth will take some part in that match if they need extra game time.”