Rovers aim to keep alive their top-four hopes

Rovers coach Jon Sharp: "The support at Leigh last Sunday was absolutely brilliant."
Rovers coach Jon Sharp: "The support at Leigh last Sunday was absolutely brilliant."

Featherstone’s new coach Jon Sharp is looking for an improved display in Sunday’s must-win Kingstone Press Championship game against Sheffield Eagles at Doncaster’s Keepmoat Stadium (4.15pm).

Sharp was encouraged by what he saw in the opening 28 minutes in last Sunday’s 52-18 defeat at Leigh Centurions but he knows fifth-placed Rovers will need to play better for the full 80 minutes this weekend if they are to keep alive their top-four hopes before they host Whitehaven on July 25 in their final match in the regular season.

“We’ve got to tighten up defensively and we’ve got to improve when other teams have momentum. We’ve got to be able to handle that,” said Sharp who was appointed on a two and half year contract last Friday.

“We have to deal with periods in the game when we are on the backfoot. We didn’t do that against Leigh - we crumbled too easily.

“We felt we were confident going into last Sunday’s game and I think we saw that in the opening half an hour with the way we played. There were times we could have kicked at goal but we wanted to play and attack them and that was the aggressive mindset.

“That will be the same this week. We won’t be shrinking violets worried about whether we win or lose or what happens to the teams around us. We just want to play aggressively with the ball and not worry too much about the occasion but play the game and take it to Sheffield.

“We have to win both our last two matches and then we are relying on someone doing us a favour.

“My focus and the team’s focus is just on Sheffield. If this doesn’t go right, it’s all by the by anyway. The importance in this game is solely on winning. How we win is not really important, it’s getting the two points that is crucial.

“I have been really pleased with the senior players. All week they have been outstanding.

“The feedback is that they are enjoying the type of training they are getting.

“They are enjoying the attention to detail and the coaching style but two sessions with them before the Leigh game was not enough to have a great impact on how we are going to want to play long term.”

Scrum-half Gareth Moore is doubtful for Sunday’s clash but centre Thomas Minns is set to return.

“Moore has an ankle injury. He limped through the last 10 minutes at Leigh so he’ll be doubtful,” said Sharp.

“Minns had a reaction to concussion and we just weren’t convinced he was fully fit.

“ We wanted to protect him - player welfare is crucial.

“ It’s important we consider the long term implications of any decisions we make.

“We just felt it wasn’t right for Minns to play. He felt uncomfortable as well and we listened to him and went with his feelings.

“We withdrew him from the game but he’ll be right this week.”

Leigh completed a hat-trick of wins over Featherstone this season after recovering from 12-6 down mid-way through the first-half but Sharp felt there were positives for Rovers.

Sharp said: “I was really pleased with what I saw in the opening 28 minutes. I thought we played some really expansive attacking rugby and we defended well and put them under pressure and caused them to make a few mistakes.

“If we’d scored the try in the corner that was disallowed it would have put us 16-6 up and given us a really good opportunity but it’s a game of inches and execution. The next 10 minutes before half-time killed us and I don’t think we handled that period very well when Leigh had their say in the game and had plenty of possession.

“The three tries really hurt us and going in at half-time 28-12 down was a real kick in the gut for us. I thought we could have handled everything after that a little bit better. I thought we could have rolled up our sleeves and a dug in a little bit more and made it a little more difficult for them to score.”

Sharp is looking to bring in new faces.

“The squad at the minute is not for my liking. I think we need to improve our recruitment in some key areas,” he added.

“We need to put pressure on players already here by bringing in new players of good quality. It’s very much a case of assessing the situation and assessing where we are at. I’m looking to bring in new players now, even if they are just season-long loans.

“We’ve got a few injuries and we’ve lost a couple of blokes so we need to try to get someone in but it’s not easy at this late stage of the season. Super League clubs are wanting to keep hold of their players because we are coming up to a play-off situation where they are not wanting to weaken their own squads.

“People have got an opportunity to impress and we’ve got 10 games but I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t think we could be better than what we are.”

Featherstone-born Sharp landed his “dream job” last week. He played for Rovers in 1996 and 1997 after a successful 11-year career at Hull FC.

He then coached Featherstone Academy in 1998 before going on to coach Huddersfield Giants in Super League.

Sharp had a spell at Rovers in 2008 as a voluntary advisor to then caretaker coach Danny Evans and he has spent the last three years as head of match officials at the Rugby Football League.

“I am a Featherstone suppporter man and boy so it’s just a dream to come back into coaching at Featherstone,” he said.

“The referee’s job was always a short term job for me. It was never going to be something I wanted to get my teeth into and make a career of. As the weeks went by, I wanted to get back into coaching.

“When I got the opportunity at Featherstone it was just too good a chance to miss. It’s a club that is very close to my heart. I lived on Post Office Road as a boy so it’s a dream job for me.

“Since I was last here in 2008, I cannot believe the effort, investment and improvement that has been put into the ground. I was absolutely gobsmacked when I looked round the facilities.

“The training facilities, in particular, are outstanding and as good as most Super League clubs. All credit to Mark Campbell and all the volunteers who have contributed to it.

“One of the biggest draws for me coming to Featherstone was the opportunity to gain promotion.

“Featherstone have the history and they’ve got the structure. They also have the core fan base.

“The support at Leigh last Sunday was absolutely brilliant and I’d like to take my hat off to all those went across and got behind the team.

“Looking at it long term I think we need to go full-time. We need to start thinking about training full-time to get ready for the big step up.”

Latest £500 Rovers lottery winnners: B Ellis (A3982), B Farman (L6780), G Brook (F3962), N Stevens (D5028), A Firth (A1963). £5 consolation prizes: P Oakley (V1632), K Stretton (V4211).