WIGAN Warriors assistant coach Iestyn Harris says his old team Featherstone are a “fantastic club.”
And former Rovers player Harris (pictured) will not understimate the Co-operative Championship side when he returns to Bigfellas Stadium for tonight’s Carnegie Challenge Cup fifth round clash.
Harris signed for Featherstone during the twilight of his playing career in 2009 before taking his first steps on the coaching ladder under Brian Noble at Celtic Crusaders and, having watched Rovers shock Castleford Tigers in the last round of the Cup, he says cup holders Wigan will be treating them with full respect.
He said: “We’re really looking forward to the game. It promises to be a great game and we’re certainly giving them the respect they deserve because they had a great result in the last round.
“We have to approach this game with the same intensity as a normal Super League game because they have some great players in their squad and they’ve already shown that they’re certainly capable of playing to a high level and pushing any side to their limits.
“Featherstone is a fantastic club and I loved every minute of my time there. I’ve got a lot of fond memories from those days and I’ve still got great friends at the club, like Daryl Powell, so there’s a special aspect to the game for me.
“They play at a great ground and it’s a great place to play the game. It’s one of those grounds that has a lot of history attached to it and the fans are always full of voice so our players need to expect a tough day because it’ll be a new atmosphere for a lot of our players as they never played at Featherstone before so it promises to be a good game.”
After lifting the Cup for the first time in a decade last season, everyone involved with Wigan will be keen to build on that success and Harris, who has plenty of Challenge Cup experience to draw upon having masterminded Leeds’s victory over London at Wembley in 1999, is keen to emphasise how special the Cup experience can be.
“Games like this in the Cup are fantastic,” he said. “Playing in high-intensity one-off games brings that extra sense of pressure because you know if you lose, you have to wait another year to get that opportunity again.
“The guys all know that if they get through to the quarter-finals then they’ll only be two games away from Wembley and I know all the players who experienced the experience of being in the final last season want to feel it again this year.
“Not everyone gets the chance to play in a Challenge Cup final so these are the opportunities that the players cannot afford to waste.
“I’ve had the luxury of winning in a Cup final at Wembley and that experience certainly ranks as one of the best moments in my career. The whole experience of the build-up, the game and the post-match scenes of celebration will live with me forevermore and I know as a sportsperson you’re lucky to get that experience once in your career.
“The nature of knock-out rugby is unique and it gives you a sense of real achievement to win and the sense of achieving something special. To do that and experience that with a group of friends is something that we’re certainly aiming on doing again this season.”