FIRST-team places will be up for grabs when Featherstone host Hull in tonight’s (Thursday) pre-season game at Bigfellas Stadium (8pm kick-off).
Rovers boss Daryl Powell, who has named a strong line-up, says there are “quite a few players who need to improve” ahead of his side’s opening Northern Rail Cup game at Oldham on February 12.
Powell is looking for a much better display after Friday’s 66-0 drubbing against Leeds Rhinos in Rob Burrow’s testimonial game at Headingley Carnegie.
Featherstone’s line up tonight is Johnson; Carr, Smeaton, Bell, Davies; Grimshaw, Bussey; Maloney, Nurse, Freer, Bostock, Mvududu, Worthington. Subs: Ormondroyd, Garahan, Jones, Kirk, Illey, Kitchen, Brook, Mawson, Lyons, Mackay.
Former Halifax, Hull, Castleford and Dewsbury prop Dominic Maloney will make his debut and Sharlston winger Gareth Davies will be out to impress in his first game after being handed a trial.
Powell said: “Dominic Maloney has plenty of work to do as you would expect because he hasn’t played for a while but he looks okay and he’s picking things up pretty quick.
“Obviously I was disappointed with our game against Leeds. We need sort it out and make sure we improve and individuals are improving on a weekly basis.
“There are places available and people need to step up. There’s a few players who need to sharpen their games up and quite a few players who need to improve.
“The Hull match and the pre-season game against Oldham on February 5 are important and the guys are going to need to perform. When you step out on the field you are always judged when you get out there.”
Hull are set to field mainly their under 20s but they could also include several first teamers.
Fears that Rovers back rower Matty Dale had sustained a broken jaw in Friday’s game at Leeds have proved unfounded.
Dale suffered a bad facial injury but he is set to be fit for the start of the season.
Powell said: “We initially thought Matty had broken his jaw. He has a bad cut to his face that has been stitched inside and out. He’s had a couple of teeth taken out as well.
“He needs some reconstructive work on his teeth but thankfully he hasn’t broken his jaw.”
Scrum-half Liam Finn came through his comeback game at Leeds unscathed after groin surgery.
Utility player Jonny Hepworth could make his first appearance of 2012 against Oldham on February 5 following a knee operation.
Tom Hemmingway and Anthony England are both on the road to recovery after groin surgery.
Powell said: “Jonny Hepworth is getting better all the time. I’m hopeful he’ll play against Oldham on February 5 but time will tell on that.
“Tom Hemningway is not too far away. He needs to get through some contact work this week and see how he’s feeling. Anthony England will probably be three weeks away.”
Powell felt Featherstone paid dear for a poor performance in their defeat against Leeds on Friday.
“It’s the worst we’ve played for a long time, probably since St Helens last year. It’s a bit of an issue we need to sort out,” he said.
“When we are playing against higher quality opposition, we need to have a tougher mindset and we’ve got to believe we can challenge the better players.
“We haven’t done that the last couple of games which is pretty disappointing.
“Leeds dominated field position and their line speed was exceptional. I don’t think the referee helped that to be honest and I thought his management of the game was poor but that’s not looking for excuses.
“We were generally on the backfoot. The couple of opportunities we got in good field position we looked like we were going to open them up on each occasion we were there but we just made too many errors.
“We just didn’t apply ourselves in the right way. I thought the mentality of the way we went into the game was poor and as a result we didn’t get much out of the match.
“Defensively we didn’t read well on the edges and as a result they got round the outside of us a couple of times.
“Once Leeds get through on you they’ve got the pace that just makes it impossible to reel them in.
“They got through on us way too often and our one-on-one defensive efforts were poor and are defensive structure was poor.
“We’ve got some work to do but there’s a few new guys in there as well and we obviously need some work together on the field.
“We can tidy quite a few of the areas up.
“The key thing for me is that mentally I don’t think we were there in the way we should have been and as a result of that we just didn’t allow ourselves to do ourselves any justice.
“But we don’t have to play St Helens and Leeds every week and we’ve obviously got to focus on what is really important to us and that’s the Northern Rail campaign and then the league campaign.”
Former Great Britain winger Gareth Raynor made his Rovers debut in Friday’s match at Headingley.
Said Powell: “Gareth Raynor looked really strong with the ball. I thought he got us going forward at times with his fight and energy from the play the ball.
“The only time we looked like we were going to make yards on them was when our back three got us going a little bit and got us penalties as well.
“They set us a bit of a platform but we just weren’t able to do it consistently enough. At that sort of level when you are playing a team who are right on the money and full of international players then you’ve got to be consistent with everything you do.”
Admission prices for tonight’s Rovers-Hull match are £8 adults, £4 concessions and £2 juniors.
Prior to tonight’s game,, Featherstone’s win over Hull in the 1983 Challenge Cup Final will be shown on the TV screens in the clubhouse (6.30pm start).
There will be a ‘Happy Hour’ between 6 and 7pm.
There will be live interviews with Rovers players Terry Hudson, Ray Handscombe, Paul Lyman and former Hull prop Lee Crooks who all played in the 1983 final.
Featherstone’s popular hospitality package will again be available at tonight’s game.
For £18 adults, £14 concessions and £7 children, which includes entrance to the game, fans can have hot beef baguettes, chips, roast potatoes and gravy served at 7pm. It also includes a free drink.
To book a place contact Paul Taylor on 01977-702386 or 07584684329 or email firstname.lastname@example.org before noon today
Meanwhile, Rovers say 2012 season tickets are selling extremely well in their bid to reach their target of 1,000.
Sales have surpassed 2011 figures with still a month to go and 30 per cent of season tickets sold so far have been to new members.
Adults can become a season ticket holder from as little as £100 if referred by an existing season ticket holder.
For details contact the club on 01977-702386.
Featherstone have arranged a home pre-season under 23s match against Halifax on February 17.
Latest £500 Rovers lottery winners are M Martin (H1422), J Cunningham (K2016), S Stepenson (U4906), J Stone (N3110), S Dobson (K1908). £5 consolation prizes: T Heseltine (V0231), K Lowe (V3144), P Asquith (V3511), G Davis (W1131), M Ross (V1131).