Featherstone Lions are a club very much on the up according to highly respected coach Dave Downs.
The former Featherstone Rovers, Castleford Tigers, St Helens, Wakefield Trinity and Salford specialist coach – and current contact techniques coach with Toronto Wolfpack – is excited at developments on and off the pitch at the Millpond Stadium, which he believes are going to make the Lions one of the best amateur clubs in the country.
Downs is coach co-ordinator with the Featherstone amateur club and seen first hand the strides being made.
He told the Express: “There’s a lot happening.
“The clubhouse has all been renovated and we’ve made the gym more accessible with a lot more equipment in. We’ve got an indoor training facility that’s great for the younger kids in the winter.
“We’re putting professional coaching structures in place.
“We’ve got good teams any way, but we are trying to attract any players in the local area who are thinking of moving clubs.
“There’s a physio in place who is going to treat across the age groups so everybody at the club gets treated the same.
“We’ve got an events committee now organising events that raise funds for the club and we are becoming more of a community club with more people spending a lot more time here.
“It’s quite exciting and a breath of fresh air to see the developments.
“People are coming to the club and saying they can’t believe how much it’s changed.
“Finances are the main thing, but we are doing all right. People are using the bar more, people are booking parties because we’ve renovated the clubhouse and it’s all feeding the club.
“It was never open at Christmas, but now it’s booked solid for parties for kids and on Boxing Day and New Year’s Eve people can bring their kids.”
On the pitch the Lions have enjoyed success in 2018.
Downs said: “The first team did well last year under adversity. They had a lot of injuries, but got to the play-off semi-finals. The A-team won their league and the second team won theirs so it’s all on the up at the minute.
“That’s why I’m trying to grab hold of it while we are on the up to attract people who want to get involved.
“With my background I always watch the defence. But we are thinking of putting an advanced attack coach in as well with the Lions. We’ve got a few names in our heads, but we can’t say who they are yet.
“We’re trying to make it as professional as we can.
“Everybody is still a volunteer. It’s common knowledge that some clubs pay amateur players and attract players by paying them ‘expenses’ as I could put it, but we don’t do that.
“I just think if you want play amateur you just play amateur. But I want the players to be looked after in the best manner that the club can afford.
“I’ve pulled the first team, reserve grade and 18s together for pre-season training and they are going to be conditioned to a decent level.
“We’ve got some good coaches in place who will make us a quality team I think.
“We just missed out on promotion last season, but I think this year with a couple of additions we can strike for promotion and then grow from there and eventually have an ethos of being the best about.”
The Lions are noted for bringing through a long list of players who have gone on to be successful at the highest level.
Current Lions juniors playing their trade in Super League include Liam Watts at Castleford, Luke Briscoe, Tom Briscoe and Brett Ferres at Leeds, Joe Westerman at Hull, Zak Hardaker at Wigan and Danny Kirmond at Wakefield. And Downs believes there will be more off the production line in the coming years.
He explained: “The club is still producing good young players – there’s a couple who have signed for Featherstone Rovers in the last couple of years.
“There’s players having trials for the reserve grades they are on about bringing back and rightly so. I’d like it if all our players went and tried out. They are not all going to sign, but eventually if it didn’t work out they could come back to the Lions and play. You’ve got to wish them luck if they are going to go pro. That’s the first thing I wanted to do when I was a kid.
“I’m trying to make it as professional as I can for the kids at our club, using video footage to show them where they are going wrong and give them tips.
“Hopefully we are providing kids with a pathway into Super League if that’s possible.
“If not they can stay with the Lions and achieve as much as possible with us. We have a little quote that we use of ‘Lion for life’.
“I’ve learned a lot off the coaches I’ve worked with. I’ve worked with some great coaches like Brian Noble, Daryl Powell, Ian Millward and Richard Agar. I want to pass that down to help take the Lions to a level that is as good as we can possibly provide.
“I’m going to have guest coaches coming in to help out and I’m sure some of my mates will do that. We are looking at giving these players the best opportunity, particularly the young ones so that they can come through the structure and become a Tom Briscoe or a Zak Hardaker.”