THERE is good reason why Featherstone Rovers captain James Lockwood says his side “fear no one” as they attempt to bring down top-two Toulouse and Toronto Wolfpack over successive weekends.
The West Yorkshire club only managed to sneak into the Championship play-offs in fifth spot yet are now just 80 minutes from a Grand Final.
They head to France and face promotion hopefuls Toulouse on Sunday and – if they cause an upset – would then need to fly out to Canada to face big-spending Toronto in the title decider.
But nerveless Featherstone impressed winning 34-8 at Leigh Centurions in their first elminiator and then backed up by ending York City Knights’ season with a stunning 30-4 rout at Bootham Crescent.
“We’re playing good rugby at the right time,” said loose forward Lockwood, as Ryan Carr’s part-timers seek to raise their game again against full-time opponents. “Everyone is enjoying themselves and playing good finals rugby – we’re completing high, defending well and we’ve had two good wins in the last two games.
“It’s always good that the team we’re playing always comes in on the back of a loss every time, too.
“Toulouse are expected to do well this year. They have some big-name players and I don’t think anyone thought we’d even make the play-offs.
“But we’re coming good at the right time; we’re confident of going over there and getting a result.”
Featherstone have challenged Toulouse both times they have met this season, losing narrowly 26-24 at home earlier this month and falling just 8-2 on their previous visit to France in April.
Lockwood, 33, added: “That last one was controversial.
“We had two tries disallowed that should have been given and we were 18-0 up as well but threw it away.
“We don’t really fear anyone. We usually play our best rugby against the better teams; we’ve slipped up this year losing against teams below us.
“We beat Toronto over there on the last game of last season and have given them two really good games this year.
“They’ve been close contests and I do think they’d rather play Toulouse in the Grand Final than us. People write us off and probably thought we’d get knocked out in the first week.”
“But we have really gelled these last few weeks with a 17 that’s going really well. It’s a big game again but we’re loving it.”
It would be a major surprise if Featherstone – who terminated coach John Duffy’s contract in pre-season ahead of his switch to Leigh Centurions – did deny one or both of the competition’s glamour boys in these final stages.
But, with their tireless attitude and hard-hitting defence, allied to the promptings of dual-registration Leeds Rhinos half-back Callum McLelland and no little strike threat, it is easy to see why they fancy their chances.
“It’d be massive to get to the Grand Final,” said former Dewsbury Rams player Lockwood, who joined the club in 2012, two years after their last Grand Final success.
“We weren’t even sure who’d be coaching us at the start of the year, we hardly had any players and not many expectations so it’d be massive and there’s no reason why we can’t get there now.
“We’re 80 minutes way from a final and anything can happen in a final.
“We’ve just got to knuckle down, focus on this week and go over there and play just how we have done these last two weeks.”
Australian Carr has kept things simple and Lockwood explained: “We just always speak about all the little effort plays – kick-chase, working for each other and just not making any mistakes in finals football.
“If everyone defends well and concentrates it works for us. We’re a solid, hard-working team at the moment and obviously both half-backs have been playing well and kicking the ball well.
“Our forwards and outside backs are all working hard for each other and it makes us a hard side to break down at the moment.”