FEATHERSTONE Rovers are fit and raring to go for the Championship Grand Final at Warrington on Sunday, but head coach Daryl Powell is expecting a tougher challenge than last year from opponents Sheffield Eagles.
While confidence is good in the Featherstone camp after a third successive season in which they topped the Co-Operative Championship table the Rovers boss respects the achievements of the Eagles in an impressive finish to the season.
Powell believes Sheffield’s play-off form has been so good that his side may even start the game as slight underdogs, but he played down talk of the Eagles on a revenge mission for their beating in last year’s final at the same Halliwell Jones Stadium.
He told the Express: “It’s going to be a tough challenge there’s no doubt. Sheffield are in form and have a lot of good players, but we’re confident that we can play really well and win the game.
“Certainly I expect it to be a lot tougher than it was last year, particularly the way the scoreline got away from them a little bit.
“I’m not too fussed about them looking for revenge. They’re playing better than they were last year and have gone through the play-offs in great form.
“They’ve won three straight games and the last time we played against them we drew.
“Sheffield have been playing exceptionally well and they’ll be feeling good about themselves, but so are we to be honest. We’ve had a couple of weeks to prepare and we trained hard in the first week then this week we’ve been able to focus on Sheffield.
“Both clubs will feel like they’ve got a great opportunity to win the Grand Final and that’s the way it should be. That’s what creates the best game.”
Powell looks back on his time as a player with the Eagles fondly, but knows there is no room for sentiment.
He said: “Sheffield is a great club and it’s a fair message to send out there that both ourselves and Sheffield have reached the last two Grand Finals. We both run full development pathways and the clubs are being run in the right way and are working hard to get better in everything they do. “Sheffield are pretty close to my heart. I was there for 11 years as a player, it was my first professional club and I had a wonderful time there. I’ve loads of fond memories, but all that stuff is out the window this week. It’s about doing as much as I possibly can to help the group of players out there to get the job done.
“I think everyone’s ready to go.We’ve a couple of bumps and bruises, but I’m able to select from a fully fit squad apart from Mick Haley so we’re looking good.
“We’re training well and the players are looking pretty fresh.
“There won’t be many changes to the side, maybe one or two depending on how I see things and making sure that the bumps and bruises clear up.
“I think the more experience you’ve got in big games the better so it should help us that we’ve been in the last two Grand Finals, but, of course, we played Sheffield last year so they’ll feel they’ve got some experience as well.
“We’ve won and lost and I know which side of the fence is the best one. Losing in big games is not something you want to think about so we’ll go into Sunday’s game in a positive frame of mind.
“It will be a great achievement to win back to back Grand Finals. We’ve had some special achievements here over the last few years, particularly finishing at the top of the league ladder for three years is a great effort. But now it’s about one big game in front of us and focussing on that, making sure we come up with a performance that matches our potential.
“It’s all about what we can do and making sure that we look after their threats, play our game and apply some pressure..
“We’ve talked about this over the last two weeks and hopefully we can deliver the game we need to. If we do that then I’m confident we can get the job done.”
Powell outlined several danger men in the Sheffield ranks.
He said: “The kid at the back, Togagae, is an outstanding player who is in fantastic form. They’ve got Taulapapa and Yere and the three islanders are exceptional players.
“You’ve got the kicking game of Brambani and Brown, which is a real threat. It starts from kicking the ball from the tee that they challenge and they’ve got 40-20s in them. They are pretty smart half-backs in terms of what they do with the boot.
“Then they’ve got Henderson and Davey at nine who can open you up. They are pretty quick and direct round the ruck area.
“They’re a good team all-round, the forward pack’s big and mobile with good footwork so it’s going to be a big challenge for us.
“We know their threats and they are probably the form team in the competition at the back end so we’re know that potentially they could be favourites and we need to be really hungry to win the game.”
Featherstone’s fans, set to heavily outnumber the supporters of their opponents, can play a big part, according to Powell.
He added: “There’s no doubt we’ll have the lions’ share of the support. Disappointingly for Sheffield they are not really well supported, but they’ll make themselves heard even though they will be in lesser numbers than our fans.
“Our support’s been magnificent over the last three or four years. We’ll take a lot of people there and it always has an impact.
“When we walk out there it’s going to feel like a home game and I would like our fans to make it feel like that all the way through.
“We know they always play a part in the way we perform.”