Rovers boss: We are aiming to hit the ground running

Jon Sharp: "We started well last year, winning six out of first eight games, and we'd like to achieve that in 2017."
Jon Sharp: "We started well last year, winning six out of first eight games, and we'd like to achieve that in 2017."

Coach Jon Sharp believes Featherstone’s four pre-season home fixtures in January will serve the dual purpose of giving players match practice and providing the club with match-day income.

He intends fielding his strongest line-ups in the final two warm-up matches against Super League clubs Wakefield and Leeds towards the end of the month, immediately ahead of the opening Championship game at Halifax on February 5.

Rovers also visit Halifax on Boxing Day but Sharp does not regard that as a rehearsal for the league fixture six weeks later.

“It will be a mixture of young and old players in the team on Boxing Day,” he said.

“There’s also still some signings to come in so things will change.

“There’s not too much to look into the Boxing Day fixture with regards to how we’ll shape up when we play them in round one.”

The friendly at Halifax was arranged before Rovers knew they would face them again in the opening Championship match.

“It’s usually the case isn’t it?” added Sharp.

“You get a list of fixtures and then draw them in the first round of the competition.

“It’s not the first time it’s happened to me - it happened while I was at Huddersfield. We played Bradford in a friendly and then two weeks later in round one.”

Sharp believes the Wakefield and Leeds matches will help his team be battle-hardened before a tough start to the league campaign.

“I think the Leeds and Wakefield games at the end of January will give us a true indication of where we are at,” he said.

“They’ll both be really tough games and we’ll pick our best teams for both those fixtures. Yeah, there’s a risk of injury but there is every time a player goes out and trains.

“We’ll take the Leeds and Wakefield games as crucial warm ups for the Halifax league match.

“We started well last year, winning six out of first eight games, and we’d like to achieve that in 2017.

“We’ve four games in January and they will be used very much to get us up to speed so we hit the ground running.

“We’ve a lot of friendlies but I think for the club it’s important that they generate income.

“I think they are a primary source of income during the off season.

“We know we’ve got obligations to the club to generate that and also for the fans to get behind the team as well.

“I’m sure they want to see the team play when they haven’t seen them for a few months.

“It’s a worthwhile project. It helps us with regards to embedding our new players into the team and financially it has big rewards for us.

“We are taking all the pre-season games really seriously otherwise you find you end up with injuries if the players aren’t fully prepared and ready to go.

“Also, if they are not taken in the true manner and spirit that it should be taken in, I don’t think you end up getting much out of them and it gives you a false impression of where the team is.”

Featherstone’s first home friendly is against Hunslet Hawks in the annual Gareth Swift Memorial Trophy match on Sunday, January 8.

It is followed by Ian Hardman’s testimonial match the following Sunday against opponents who have still to be confirmed.

Rovers then face Wakefield Trinity on Sunday, January 22 (3pm) , and Leeds Rhinos on Friday, January 27 (7.45pm).

Ahead of the friendlies, Sharp is pleased with the way hookers Keal Carlile and Matty Wildie are shaping up in training but he thinks Rovers fans will probably not see the see the best of them until ground conditions improve.

He said: “Both Carlile and Wildie are training really well and both are looking really sharp so that’s encouraging. But when you play at hooker in the winter months it’s a really tough position especially regarding the speed of both them. I think they lose their advantage of being quick in January and February so hopefully when the grounds harden up we will see the best of both of them.”