Featherstone Rovers coach Jon Sharp is relishing Sunday’s tough opening Kingstone Press Championship clash at Bradford Bulls (3pm kick-off).
Rovers won at Odsal last summer but they will be underdogs this weekend against full-time opponents who narrowly missed promotion to Super League when they lost to Wakefield Trinity Wildcats in last season’s Million Pound game.
“Apart from Leigh away, we could probably not have had a harder start but it will give us an idea of where we are at,” said Sharp.
“We are a new team and very much in our infancy and we will only improve as we play together more often.
“It’s a tough start but one we are looking forward to because we know it’s a challenge and a big opening game for us.
“Knowing that we are starting with a big game has been exciting for us all and it has added importance and emphasis to our training.
“We’ve been pleased with pre-season and we’ve played well in every game we’ve turned up in.
“We are disappointed to lose Steve Snitch and Matty Wildie for a few weeks with knee injuries but purely from a performance point of view we’ve been improving every week during pre-season.”
Sharp expects Bradford to again to be one the Championship’s top teams this season.
“Bradford will be looking to build on last year. They have a good set of players and a good coach,” he added.
“They have some stability in the team as well so you’d imagine they will be there or thereabouts at the end of the year.
“The full-time teams have a massive advantage. It’s not just about the time they get to prepare but the rest they get as well whereas our boys are working five days a week and training three nights a week and playing on a Sunday. It’s a punishing schedule for them.”
Sharp is happy with Featherstone’s new-look squad and the improvement in defence since he took over the reins last season.
“We needed to improve our defence on last year. When I came to the club, they were conceding an average of 25 points a game and you are not going to do anything if you concede that many,” he said.
“Our defence is certainly something we’ve worked on but we’ve worked an equal amount on our attack.
“We expect to play some open, expansive football because we’ve got some footballers in our team and players who are really quick. We expect to be a big attacking threat and a lot better in defence this year.
“I’m happy with our recruitment but I’m just a bit concerned about the numbers we’ve got.
“It’s a very thin squad, we’ve only got 22 players, and that’s a concern so we need to keep them healthy and have a bit of luck as well. Hopefully, the Leeds dual registration agreement will certainly help us in that regard.
“From within the club and also externally, I think the aim of everyone this season is the top-four.
“From some of the feedback we’ve had from the fans, they all seem very excited and feel it could be the dawn of a new era but I’m not getting carried away myself because I’m not that type of character. I think we’ve got some hard work in front of us.”
The Rovers boss is delighted with the new half-back combination of Kyle Briggs and Anthony Thackeray who played together for the first time in last Sunday’s 32-16 win against Leeds Rhinos.
He said: “They looked a really good combination and I was pleased with what I saw. Danny Craven was very good as well. He kicks well and he’s quick.
“I was really pleased with our display. I thought defensively we looked strong and we looked aggressive. Attacking-wise I thought we came up with some really good plays.”
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