Sykes and Irwin make Rovers debuts at Castleford

Paul Sykes will make his Featherstone Rovers debut.
Paul Sykes will make his Featherstone Rovers debut.
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Close-season signings Paul Sykes and Sam Irwin will make their first Featherstone Rovers appearances in Sunday’s game at Castleford Tigers.

Former Wakefield Wildcats player Sykes and 22-year-old Australian hooker or half-back Irwin will make their bows, along with Leeds Rhinos players Mason Tonks, Thomas Minns and Jordan Baldwinson who have been signed on one-year contracts.

Rhinos player Alex Foster, who has also joined Rovers for 2015, misses out through injury.

Rovers coach Andy Hay said: “Alex Foster is still recovering from an injury he had at the end of the season so he will not feature but Mason Tonks, Jordan Baldwinson and Thomas Minns should all feature.

“Paul Sykes and Sam Irwin will be playing their first games for the club.

“Paul will start at stand-off and Sam will probably be on the bench or he might start in the halves.

“We are looking to field around 20 players to give everyone an opportunity.

“There will be some younger players in there who are ready for a game and want to showcase what they can do.

“Will Milner will feature and probably Kyran Johnson and maybe Tommy Newbould.

“We’ve got a couple of late calls because of pre-season wear and tear. We’ve got a couple of niggly injuries and if the players are not right they will not be playing.

“We’ve got a bit of a bug going through the camp which has knocked a few people around for the last couple of weeks so we’ve got to check on that as well.”

Andy Bostock, James Mendeika and Matt Nicholson, who are all on the road to recovery after surgery, will not play this weekend.

Hay will check on Nathan Chappell who has rejoined Rovers after a spell in Australia.

“Nathan Chappell has been struggling with a knee injury since he came back from Australia. He has trained on and off but not fully so there’s only a slight chance he might play,” added former Castleford player and assistant coach Hay who is looking forward to returning to his old club and also seeing Jack Bussey and Liam Walmsley in action.

“Liam Walmsley has trained every session and is fully fit and is raring to go.

“I’m looking forward to having a good look at what he can do for us because he didn’t play much last year for Featherstone.

“He had an up and down year with injuries but we think he’s now got through that period.

“Jack Bussey has been training the house down and I can’t wait to see what he looks like regarding the difference from last season to the new season. I just want to see him play again.

“We will be fielding a good mix and blend of players and it should be a good game. I want to see Paul Sykes and Sam Irwin play and Gaz Moore will be fit to play as well.

“We will be looking at combinations but maybe not in this game. This match will be for everyone to have a run. It will be eight weeks next week since we’ve been in pre-season and the players just want to blow some steam and enjoy themselves because it’s been tough.

“I will be able to have a look at them against a good team like Cas.

“It will be a good test for them and I’ll be able to look at the players and see whether what we’ve been doing in training has been working and also see how the players react in a game situation when they are under pressure.

“It will be a good trip for us. Cas played some exciting stuff last year and hopefully there will be a big crowd down there and we can get plenty of Fev fans there.

“I’m looking forward to it and, hopefully, the weather will stay good.

“Players just want to get into playing.

“A few will be rusty and there will be a few sore bodies after it but it will be a good blow out for everyone.”

After the trip to Castleford, Rovers visit Wakefield Wildcats on January 11 and are then scheduled to host Batley Bulldogs on January 18 and Salford City Reds on January 23.

“We won’t read a lot into the first game at Cas but we’ll then start putting more of a fixed squad together and see how we go after that,” said Hay.

“With the next game at Wakefield we’ll be looking to put a bit more of a balanced side together for that one.

“Then we’ve got Batley and Salford and those three games will determine places for the start of the season on how players perform.”

Hay was disapppointed to miss out on an unnamed Cook Island prop because the RFL turned down Featherstone’s application for a discretionary visa.

“The guy we were chasing was a fair player but it didn’t work out and it wasn’t unexpected,” he said.

“He has some quality but he probably hasn’t played enough games for the RFL to justify it.

“He didn’t make the World Cup squad last year - he missed out and just got in the training squad.

“We might be looking for another player.If a good player comes up we will probably have another look at the market. We may wait a little while but we are still looking.

“It may be that we don’t pick him up pre-season but we pick him up down the line when we see who becomes available.”