COACH Daryl Powell is happy Featherstone Rovers end the regular season with two tough away fixtures.
Rovers, aiming to finish top of the Co-operative Championship for the second year running, visit Sheffield Eagles in a re-arranged match on Sunday before completing their league campaign with a trip to Widnes Vikings the following weekend.
Powell (pictured) believes the fixtures will be ideal preparation for his side leading into the play-offs.
“There’s no point having soft games all over the place, it just doesn’t help you. I’m happy we’ve got tough games coming up. I think it’s creating a really strong platform for us,” he said.
“We just need to deliver and if we do that we’ll make ourselves difficult to beat.
“I thought we were a bit undone last year going into the play-offs and I am really pleased we are playing this weekend against Sheffield.
“I didn’t want to have a week off, play a match and then have another week off. I am far happier playing consistently and I’m pleased the way it has fallen.
“There’s motivation for us to do well, there’s no doubt about that. It’s important we finish top and get Leigh over here playing on our own ground in the play-offs.”
Rovers trounced Sheffield 34-6 at Bigfellas Stadium four weeks ago but Powell expects a much sterner test on Sunday at Bramall Lane.
Sheffield’s 28-26 win against Batley Bulldogs last Sunday kept them in the chase for a top-four finish and a home game in the play-offs.
Powell said: “Without doubt Sheffield didn’t perform well at all against us when we played them last time. I wouldn’t expect Sheffield to play that poorly again. I don’t think we were that great either in that game but we had too much for them on the night.
“Sheffield have got the motivation. They are in the play-offs and they will want to continue to play well. It’s a good challenge for us.
“Sheffield have a lot of size in the pack and they’ve got some off-loads in there. On the back of that, Andrew Henderson is pretty difficult to handle. He gets out and at you and can cause you a lot of trouble.
“Misi Taulapapa is a good player and he’s a real threat and so is Simon Brown with his kicking game.
“Quentin Laulu-Togagae, who was injured last time we played them, is similar to Taulapapa. He’s good on his feet and is pretty quick.
“Sheffield have got some threats about them and they’ll challenge us out wide. I would expect they will come and have a go at us in the wide areas.
“There are some areas we need to improve and hopefully we’ll be able to do that for this weekend.”
Powell will be checking on the fitness of Ben Kaye, Bryn Powell, Tim Spears and Andy Kain for Sunday’s game.
Kain has been sidelined for a month with a groin injury, Spears missed last Sunday’s match against Dewsbury because of a calf problem and both Kaye and Powell were injured in the early stages of the game.
However, fears that Kaye had sustained a broken arm have now been allayed.
Powell said: “Ben Kaye had a suspected broken arm but we now think it is okay. He had an x-ray which shows there’s no break but it is still pretty sore so we’ll have to check on him.
“Bryn Powell hurt his ankle and he’s a major doubt for this weekend.
“We lost those two players within the first 12 minutes so it had a big impact on our rotation and how we were able to use our substitutes so it made life pretty tough for us.
“Tim Spears had a pull in his calf so I decided not to risk him against Dewsbury. I am hoping he is going to be okay for this weekend.
“There is a chance Andy Kain could be back on Sunday. We will be checking on him on Thursday night. Potentially he might be all right but I am not certain yet.”
Rovers stretched their unbeaten league run to a club record 17 matches with two home victories in four days, thrashing Widnes 56-16 and Dewsbury 54-24.
Powell said: “I think it’s a great effort from the players. It shows a lot of effort, commitment and fortitude. I am delighted with the consistency the players have shown.
“It’s just a matter now of maintaining that and now getting too carried away with anything we might have achieved to date.
“We are striving hard to win the competition and that’s our main focus. I think there’s potential for us to be even better at the end than we were last season. That’s where it counts and we are hopeful that’s what we will be able to do.
“Last season we were probably a bit better in the mid season period but having said that we didn’t have as many injuries last year. We’ve had our fair share this year which has disrupted us a little bit so I think being able to adapt to injuries has been a big part of what we’ve been able to do this year so far.
“The victories against Widnes and Dewsbury have both been significant and it shows how tough the group is that we’ve got.
“Against Dewsbury, we had a bit of a dip just after half-time when they got at us and we looked a bit vulnerable. Clearly, there are some areas we need to fix up but you’d expect at some point during the game we’d have a dip especially with the energy we had expended on Wednesday. It was pleasing the group was able to deal with it and go on to win the game as comprehensively as we did.
“I thought we played really well against Widnes. There are a lot things we work on and try to get right both with and without the ball. We were very good at those things against Widnes and were pretty committed as a group. Defensively we were superb, apart from a little lapse towards the end of the game.
“With the ball we just put Widnes under so much pressure and they couldn’t handle us.”
Powell is pleased with the form of Jon Hepworth and Ben Cockayne.
Hepworth has deputised at stand-off for the injured Andy Kain in the last four matches and Cockayne has scored six tries in five appearances since joining Featherstone following his release by Hull Kingston Rovers.
The Rovers boss said: “Jon Hepworth is playing really well. Obviously when he first came I was hoping he’d slot in at six. The way things have gone he’s been so versatile for us and it’s been massive for us. I thought he was superb against Widnes. His ability to get the ball away in attacking situations is top class.
“Ben Cockayne is pretty elusive and he’s strong, direct and he challenges people to tackle him. He’s also brought in some experience which is always handy.”
Meanwhile, John Cox Health will be Featherstone Rovers’ official home dugout sponsor for 2012.
The new sponsor is an Upton-based physiotherapy and sports massage surgery which has over 5,500 patients on its books.
Rovers commercial manager Paul Taylor said: “We are delighted John Cox Health has agreed to return to Featherstone Rovers as a sponsor after a couple of years away.
“We hope we can have long lasting relationship with John to add to our already strong portfolio of sponsors.”
John Cox, proprietor of the business, said: “I’m really proud to be associated with Featherstone Rovers once again.
“I believe the club is really going places both on and off the field. The drive and energy shown by all at the club makes me believe that it is only a matter of time before Featherstone Rovers become a Super League club. This is a great time to be a fan and sponsor of the club.”
Latest £500 winners in the Rovers lottery are D Papworth (I3527), P Wilkins (S2961), K Towson (N1753), T Lawson (I5443), G Steele (C6936). Travellers Rest meal voucher: P Rayner (V2112).