MOST of Featherstone’s close-season signings will make their debuts in the pre-season game against Hunslet Hawks at Big Fellas Stadium on New Year’s Day (1pm kick-off).
Steve Crossley (from Dewsbury Rams), Tom Hodgson (Doncaster), Lamont Bryant (London Broncos) and Ben Hellewell (Warrington Wolves) will make their first Rovers appearances in a strong line-up in Tuesday’s annual Gareth Swift Memorial match.
The team will also include former Wakefield hooker Andy Ellis who has joined Rovers on a two-year contract after a loan spell last season.
“There are a number of new faces that will definitely figure in the game and it will be great for the fans to see it will be a strong team from that point of view,” said Rovers coach Daryl Powell.
“We are looking forward to getting stuck into a game and seeing where we are at. All the new players have slotted in really well. I think we’ve got a good group of blokes who help people to slot in easily so I think that’s always very helpful when new players come into the club.
“Lamont Bryant came with a bit of problem with his knee. He’s had quite a bit of rehab to do but he’s got stuck into training now and he’s working pretty hard.”
Powell is expecting a competitive game against Hunslet whose line-up is likely to include a handful of ex-Featherstone players.
“Obviously, you look at things a little bit differently with a match at this time of the pre-season preparation. It’s about where we are from a fitness perspective and where our skills are at. That’s what we have focused on to date,” added Powell who will field a squad of around 22 players.
“Both clubs will be right in the middle of their pre-season preparation and it is played over the Christmas period so you don’t expect either team to be at their sharpest.
“Conditions are also usually tricky one way or the other so it usually ends up being a very physical affair and very competitive. Hunslet have plenty of former Featherstone players in their squad and it creates a real edgy encounter.
“I think it is a good opportunity to give some of our younger players a shot at first-team rugby and what it looks and feel like. We have some good young players in the squad at the moment,
“The vast majority of our key playmakers have been with us for a while so we are not changing a massive amount in terms of structure.
“There will be a little bit of different slant on our philosophy this year and the way we’ll play but from a structure point of view - from what I’ve seen so far - the guys have slotted straight back into it.
“I’ll keep to myself what the different slant is. It will probably become obvious during the season that we are looking to play a little bit differently and hopefully people will be able to tell.”
New signing Matt James, signed from Wakefield, will miss the Hunslet game after undergoing a minor knee operation.
Tim Spears, Sam Smeaton and Liam Finn will also be missing after having surgery and Michael Haley is sidelined with a broken foot.
“We have quite a few players who are heavily into rehab at the moment,” said Powell.
“Liam Finn has had an elbow operation and I’m not looking to play him. Also, Jack Bussey pulled a hamstring a few weeks ago and I don’t know whether he’ll be right or not. Ben Kaye has a bit of a bump on the AC joint on his shoulder so I probably won’t risk him.”
After playing Hunslet, Featherstone have pre-season matches at Super League clubs Wakefield Wildcats on January 13 and Castleford Tigers on January 20.
“I think the pre-season games will be crucial because we’ve got a really tough opening league match against Leigh and you want to start the season well,” added the Rovers boss.
“It should be ideal preparation. We’ve got the game against Hunslet and matches against two Super League teams. We’ve then got a week off before we play Leigh.
“From my point of view I think it’s the best pre-season we’ve had. I don’t think last season was ideal playing against Leeds Rhinos just before they played in the World Club Challenge. We had some new players in there who didn’t handle it really well but this time we’ve got a bit more about us and a bit more consistency in the team.”
Tuesday’s match will be in memory of Rovers player Gareth Swift who died in a road accident in 2010.
Said Powell: “Gareth was a top quality guy and player. We always remember Gareth at this time around his birthday. His mum Tracey is always down at the club at different times and there’s a plaque in the club in Gareth’s memory. It’s great that we can remember him every year at this match.”
Tuesday’s admission is £10 adults, £5 OAPs/students and £2 juniors.
Meanwhile, centre or second-rower Nathan Chapell has left Featherstone. Chappell, who was out of contract, scored 11 tries in eight appearances for Rovers last season.
Powell said: “ Nathan has left the club, which I thought may happen. He’s talking about potentially going to play in Australia and I wish him all the best.”