COACH Daryl Powell is predicting a “fantastic game of rugby league” when Featherstone take on Leigh Centurions in tonight’s play-off clash at Bigfellas Stadium (7.30).
Rovers aim to book their place in the Co-operative Championship Grand Final at Warrington’s Halliwell Jones Stadium on Sunday, October 2, by beating Leigh for the first time this season.
Featherstone’s solitary league defeat this year was at Leigh on the opening day in March. The teams drew 28-28 when they met at Bigfellas Stadium the following month.
Powell expects another close game tonight against the side Rovers pipped for the League Leaders’ Shield.
“It’s one of those games you eagerly anticipate. It should be a great challenge for us. Leigh have been a really good team all year,” he said.
“We know we need to be at our best in every department because we are certainly going to be challenged.
“Everything points to it being a tight game. There was nothing between the teams this year in terms of results and games won and lost.
“Whether one team can pull out a significantly better performance than the other remains to be seen but it certainly looks like it is going to be a fantastic game of rugby league.”
Rovers hammered Halifax 46-16 in last season’s qualifying semi-final before losing to the same opponents in the Grand Final two weeks later.
Featherstone are aiming to go one better this year but Powell refuses to look beyond tonight’s match.
“Getting to the Grand Final, that’s the first job. We’ll deal with the final when we get there but we’ve got to get there first,” he said.
“There are no sub plots, it’s a one-off game on Thursday and everything goes into this and then we’ll take it from there. We just need to get this game in our minds and deal with all the situations we are going to be faced with.
“We have plenty of experience now in play off games and semi-finals with varying results but ultimately the experience we’ve got should help us in this game.
“We need to have learned some lessons from what we’ve been able to achieve over the last couple of years.
“However, all that’s history now. It’s about coming up with a top quality performance on the day against good quality opposition in what is going to be quite a pressure cooker game.
“The team that can handle the pressure best and remain composed when it gets really tough and tight are likely to be the side that gets the first foot in the Grand Final.
“You want to get this game out of the way. You want to win this game and then be able to watch your opponents play against each other the week after.
“But you’ve got to work hard to make things happen for you in these games because they are tough and it goes to another level in play offs.”
Both teams go into tonight’s match on the back of long winning runs.
Leigh, who lifted the Northern Rail Cup this season, have won their last 11 matches under Australian coach Ian Millward, who will shortly be joining Castleford Tigers as their new boss on a three-year contract.
Rovers have won their last 10 games. Their last defeat was 31-30 at home to Halifax in the Northern Rail Cup semi-finals in June.
Powell said: “We were the top two teams in the division this season and it’s just about coming up with the right type of game and the right type of mentality for this match.
“Leigh have got a fair bit of size about them so we’ll have to deal with the physicality of them.
“Obvously, Jamie Ellis and Chris Hill are stepping up to Super League next year and I think they will do well there.
“They’ve got Robbie Hunter-Paul whose going to retire. He’s had a fantastic career as a player and they’ve also got people like Martyn Ridyard who can pull the strings as well.
“I think our players are very aware of what it’s going to take. They need to deliver when they are under pressure and they are going to be under pressure on Thursday night.
“We’ve just got to take everything else out of our minds and come up with the best performance we’ve got in our locker and hopefully we’ll be able to do that.”
Back rower Matty Dale returns after missing Featherstone’s last game at Widnes because of two dislocated fingers but they are still without winger Bryn Powell (ankle injury)
Powell said: “We are pretty much at full strength. Matty Dale is back in the equation so obviously I’ve got to make a decision on who will drop out of the squad that played against Widnes. However, Bryn Powell is not available. His injury is hanging on a little bit.
“We’ve trained pretty well since we played Widnes and we’ve have worked on a couple of areas that we feel we need to tidy up.”