COACH Daryl Powell believes depleted Featherstone can defy adversity to defeat Leigh Centurions this evening (7.30).
Rovers are without five props - injured Ross Divorty, Iain Morrison, Mick Haley and Dominic Dee and suspended Tony Tonks - for their opening Co-operative Championship fixture at Leigh Sports Village.
Skipper Stuart Dickens and Dave Williams, signed on a dual registration from Super League club Harlequins, are the only recognised front-rowers available to face the unbeaten Centurions who are 4-7 on favourites with bookmakers to beat Featherstone.
But Powell (pictured) feels Rovers still have the armoury to inflict Leigh’s first defeat in tonight’s televised clash.
“We had a chat about it at training on Monday night and we believe we can go there and win the game,” he said.
“We are a bit depleted but we have a tough spirit about us and we are looking forward to what will be a difficult challenge.
“We know we can challenge Leigh - there’s no doubt about that - but it’s going to need all 17 players to be right on the money.
“Leigh are a good team and they are certainly a big side. It’s going to take a big effort from us but we’ll be ready.
“I think Leigh will go into the game with plenty of confidence and that’s fair enough but there’s no reason why we can’t go and do justice to what we are about as a club and as a team.
“The Leigh ground is outstanding - it’s a quality pitch. Hopefully, it will be in good nick and we will be able to play on a decent track for once. We haven’t played in good conditions yet this season.”
Already without Divorty, Morrison and Haley, Featherstone suffered two more blows when Dee was injured in Saturday’s Challenge Cup match against the Army and Tonks picked up a two-match ban at Tuesday night’s RL disciplinary meeting.
Tonks was charged with dangerous contact with a Widnes player in the 44th minute of Featherstone’s 22-16 home defeat against the Vikings last month.
Powell said: “Dom Dee has got his foot in plaster. He has done something to his toe but we are not yet certain about the extent of the injury.
“Stuart Dickens and Dave Williams are now our only props.
“We’ve been struggling a few weeks now with size and I think it probably hurt us a little bit against Widnes. I think we’ve grown a bit since then and we’ll learn some lessons from what happened to us in that game and we will try to come up with a real top quality effort against Leigh”.
Featherstone were unbeaten away from home in the Co-operative Championship last year. Their only two league defeats - against Toulouse and Sheffield - were both at Bigfellas Stadium.
They have continued their excellent away form this season with victories at York City Knights and Barrow Raiders in the Northern Rail Cup group stages.
Powell said: “Leigh have started the season well. We recognise it’s going to be tough - our first month is going to be tough - but we’ve just got to get on with it.
“There’s no point moaning about it and you can’t change anything. We’ve got blokes who are injured and we’ll fight our way through it.
“It will have to be similar to what we did against Barrow when we played our back-rowers at prop. I don’t want to bring in anyone else on loan so we’ll just have to see if we can battle our way through it.
“Leigh are unbeaten but we might as well crack on and do our best to stop that straight away. We’ll go and give everything we’ve got. We trained really well on Monday night and the guys looked really sharp.”
Dickens, Williams, Zak Hardaker, Matty Dale and Andy Kain will all be back to face Leigh after missing the cup win against the Army
Haley (groin injury) is set be sidelined for a further eight weeks, Divorty (knee) will be out for four more weeks and Morrison (broken finger) for around three weeks.
Last season, Featherstone finished six points ahead of second-placed Halifax and 13 points clear of third-placed Leigh but Powell expects it to be tighter this year.
He said: “I think it’s certainly going to be closer than it was last year. If you look at what teams like Widnes and Leigh have done, they are going to tough sides to beat.
“I think it will probably be like 2009 when the teams that finished at the top lost quite a few games.
“We’ll be going into every game believing we can win it and if we do that we’ll win a significant portion of our matches. We will have to be really consistent in what we do.”
Club captain Dickens is expecting a tough challenge from Featherstone’s main rivals.
Dickens said: “Widnes are going to be reinvigorated under Denis Betts and Leigh and Halifax look stronger.
“Halifax’s ambition is there for all to see and the same applies to Barrow, despite their early season tribulations.
“Batley under Karl Harrison won silverware last year and Dewsbury will be stronger for having that difficult first season under their belt.
“There’s all sorts of other threats as well. Toulouse, for instance, are real dark horses who have made some shrewd Australian signings and who have their own ambitions.”
Featherstone and Leigh are 12-5 joint favourites with bookmakers Sky Bet to finish top of the Co-operative Championship at the end of the regular season.