Challenge Cup the only focus for Featherstone Rovers as they return to competitive action against Bradford Bulls

THOUGHTS OF earning promotion to Super League won’t be on James Webster’s mind as Featherstone Rovers return to competitive action for the first time in over a year on Sunday.

Thursday, 18th March 2021, 8:27 am
Featherstone Rovers head coach James Webster. Picture: Dec Hayes Photography.

Rovers welcome West Yorkshire rivals Bradford Bulls to Post Office Road in the first round of the Challenge Cup. Featherstone’s last competitive outing was in the competition, when they defeated League One Hunslet 46-6 under the lights on March 13, 2020.

That proved the club’s last match for over 12 months due to Covid-19. Rovers have targeted a place in Super League for 2021 but head coach Webster won’t be allowing that to distract him from the task at hand on Sunday afternoon.

“Every single game I go into I want to do well in,” insisted Webster.

“The Challenge Cup is a fantastic competition, one steeped in tradition and one personally I have some good memories with.

“There are plenty of our supporters who have good memories of it as well. It is Featherstone against Bradford, that is two big clubs playing against each other.

“I want to win.

“They will be exactly the same. We haven’t played a competitive game for a long period of time. We are going to put every bit of blood and sweat we can muster this week into it, to try and go out there and get a win.”

Featherstone have prepared as well as they can for a return to action under Covid-19 restrictions.

Clubs were restricted to two friendly games in pre-season, with Webster’s side defeating Championship rivals Oldham and Batley Bulldogs, 58-10 and 36-16, respectively.

If victorious over Bradford, Rovers will face the winners of the Saturday evening tie between Batley and Halifax Panthers.

The four Championship or League One sides who get through the first two rounds of the Challenge Cup will qualify for the semi-finals of the 1895 Cup, putting those sides one win from Wembley.

“It would be great if you could win a couple of games to get one game from Wembley,” added Webster.

“That would be fantastic. Bradford are a really good side, they are going to be really tough.”

The Bulls are led by John Kear, who has won the competition twice as a head coach.

He first lifted the trophy with Sheffield Eagles in 1998, when the south Yorkshire outfit beat Wigan Warriors in the final in what is considered one of the biggest shocks in the competition’s history.

In 2005, he led Hull FC to success with a 25–24 victory over Leeds Rhinos in his first season with the Black and Whites.

Webster is braced for a tough test against Bradford, who were beaten by Swinton Lions in their first friendly outing before a 22-18 win over Keighley Cougars in the Joe Phillips Memorial Trophy on Saturday.

Webster said: “John has been a fantastic coach for a long period of time.

“He has had two Challenge Cup victories and he is good at motivating his side to get up for the challenge.

“I am sure John will be pacing his room thinking how they can come to Post Office Road and do a job on Featherstone.

“We need to match that and then some more.”

Featherstone’s clash with Bradford is one of eight Challenge Cup ties set to be played this weekend.

The action kicks off with Sheffield Eagles taking on York City Knights on Friday night and ends with Swinton against Newcastle on Sunday.