Rovers ready for tough test against Halifax

FORMER Dewsbury forward Anthony England makes a determined run on his Featherstone Rovers debut against his old club. Picture: BOB NUNN
FORMER Dewsbury forward Anthony England makes a determined run on his Featherstone Rovers debut against his old club. Picture: BOB NUNN
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FEATHERSTONE Rovers are fit and ready for their toughest test of the season so far when they take on big rivals Halifax at The Shay on Sunday.

With a place in the knockout stages of the Northern Rail Cup guaranteed for the winners both teams will be up for the contest and keen to get one over each other.

Halifax denied Featherstone a first-ever place in the final of this competition last year and also beat them in similar heartbreaking extra-time fashion in the 2010 Championship grand final, but the latest meeting will not simply be about revenge according to Rovers head coach Daryl Powell.

He told the Express: “Last year’s gone so it’s not worth thinking about that. It’s about what’s in front of us and moving forward.

“More than just about revenge if we win this game it will put us through to the play-off rounds of the Northern Rail Cup and that should be enough incentive.

“We don’t need any extra motivation. We’ve been a good team for a few years now and we need to continue that.

“Consistency’s been a bit of a hallmark of this team and if we can get that right again this year we won’t be far away.”

Both teams have started with two victories from their first two Northern Rail Cup games and have only conceded 18 points between them so Powell is expecting a hard test from a Halifax side being reshaped by new coach Karl Harrison.

Powell said: “It will be a step up for us against Halifax. I watched them play a couple of weeks back against Dewsbury and they were strong, disciplined and patient.

“They put a lot of pressure on Dewsbury and they are certainly going to give us a bigger defensive challenge than we had last weekend.

“We’ll be ready to step up, there’s no doubt about that, and you always have to when you play against the better teams in your competition.

“We’ve had some great games against them in the last few years. A couple of tight ones they’ve got away with and there’s been some games where we’ve got away from them quite a bit.

“I’d expect them to be a fair bit tougher this year. People know what Karl Harrison was about as a player and that’s generally reflected in the teams he coaches so it will be a challenge for us.

“He’s a pretty disciplined individual Karl so the players will have to work hard or they won’t be in his team.

“They play slightly differently to last year and finish their sets a bit differently. They put you under pressure in a different way to what Halifax sides did in the past.

“But they’ve still retained some of the flair players. Penkywicz, who’s at nine, causes you a lot of trouble and there’s people like Worrincy and White on the wings, who are quick.

“It’s important that we’re able to look after the flair elements of their game. They’ve got Anthony Thackeray, who’s got a fair bit of flair about him, but they’re pretty big up the middle of the field as well. They’ve a few props injured at the moment, but still have a fair bit of size about them.”

Powell is happy with the way his own side is shaping up and is unlikely to make many changes from the 17 that did the business eventually against Dewsbury.

He added: “It was a tough week for us with players having to play in a couple of difficult games. It was the first games of the season as well, which always makes it tough.

“But we’ve got to be pleased to get the two wins and defensively I think we’ve been outstanding in both games.

“We’ve not been at our best in the first halves of both games, but we’ve certainly finished pretty strong and it was significant at the weekend that although we’d played on the Wednesday we finished by far the better team. It shows how fit we are.

“I thought Dewsbury came at us and played pretty well. We made too many errors and some of that may have been down to a little bit of fatigue, but it’s early in the season and we are looking to put some continuity into what we do.

“We’ll certainly improve. I don’t think by any stretch of imagination we were on top of our game until the 15 minute period late in the second half. But the fluency will come.

“Jonny Grayshon’s been outstanding in both games. Most of the players have had periods, Ben Kaye’s been excellent in both games defensively, Ian Hardman is playing pretty well at the start of the season. He was superb against Oldham and I thought his second half against Dewsbury was pretty good.

“I can pick them all out, to be honest. Anthony England had a strong debut and Mickey Haley’s been a strong performer right from the start of the season.

“There’s numerous players who’ve been right up there. Tim Spears was really tough on the weekend as well as was Stuart Dickens.

“There’s been players who’ve come up with some real quality periods in games. Obviously we’re looking for more consistency from individual players and from the team as well.

“We’ve got quite a few new boys. We’ve got people like Gareth Raynor and Dom Maloney, who’ve come in quite late so they’re still taking a bit of time to settle into how we play, but people like Lockwood, Freer, England and Ropati have been with us for a while and they’ve settled in quickly and are doing a great job.

“I’m not going to make many changes. I’m pretty happy with the way we’re playing, but we have a deep squad and there’s always going to be a little bit of roll round so I’ll make a decision later in the week.

“Jonny Hepworth, Tom Hemmingway, Dom Maloney and Anthony England came through the reserves game on Friday okay. England backed up with Sunday’s game and he was excellent.

“They all looked pretty good and players are pressing each other now for a place in the squad. It’s great to have that competition for places.

“We’re healthy right now with just Nathan Chappell injured. Everybody else is okay and we’re not too badly off at the moment.”