THREE close-season signings will make their Featherstone Rovers debuts in the pre-season match against Hunslet Hawks at Bigfellas Stadium tomorrow (Sunday).
Former Hunslet stand-off Danny Grimshaw (pictured), ex-York prop Nathan Freer and former Dewsbury forward James Lockwood will make their first Rovers appearances in a strong line-up in the annual Gareth Swift Memorial match on New Year’s Day (3pm kick-off).
Rovers coach Daryl Powell said: “It will be a really strong side. We are looking forward to getting everybody out on the field that’s available.
“Danny Grimshaw is keen to play against Hunslet and it will be good to see him get his opportunity.
“His dad played for Featherstone years ago and he told me how proud he’s going to be when Danny takes the field so it should be great for the family.”
The majority of Featherstone’s first-team squad will be on duty, with around eight players on the substitutes bench.
Forward Anthony England, signed from Dewsbury, is unlikely to play because of groin trouble.
Samoan international centre Tangi Ropati arrived in England on Thursday after obtaining his work visa and he will probably make his debut against Hull Kingston Rovers the following Sunday. He will be introduced to the crowd against Hunslet.
Ex-Halifax prop Dominic Maloney, Featherstone’s other new recruit, arrives back from Australia the second week in January.
Rovers have announced they will unveil a “major new signing” at half-time in tomorrow’s game.
Powell said: “I don’t think Anthony England will play against Hunslet. He’s got a bit of a problem with his groin that has cropped up in the past week and we’ll have to get him checked out as quick as we can.
“Tangi Ropati arrived on Thursday. We’ll get him checked in training to see where he is at physically and he’ll probably play against Hull KR.”
“We are delighted that Ropati has been granted a work visa and we are looking forward to welcoming him to the club on Sunday. With our new major signing also being unveiled at half time, it would be fantastic if there was a healthy crowd to give them both a warm welcome to kick off the New Year.”
Rovers will be without Liam Finn, Jonny Hepworth, Nathan Chappell and Tom Hemmingway tomorrow.
Finn, Hepworth and Chappell are all recovering from surgery and Hemmingway has a groin injury.
Powell is expecting a competitive game against Hunslet whose line-up likely to include a handful of ex-Featherstone players. It will be new coach Barry Eaton’s first match in charge of the Hawks.
“We’ll be taking it pretty seriously, there’s no doubt about that,” said Powell.
“Even though these games are early, they are an important part of individual preparation.
“We want to play well. Obviously, in terms of our preparation, we won’t be at 100 per cent but we expect our attitude to be pretty good and we are looking to defend exceptionally well.
“With the ball we haven’t done a massive amount in terms of structure but it’s about integrating new players and giving an opportunity for people to put their hand up in terms of what they are going to be able to deliver this year and you are always looking for that in every game you play.
“It’s important you get new players used to the systems and structures you’ve got in place and understanding people around them and how they play. That’s a crucial element of all pre-season games.
“Hunslet have plenty of players who enjoy playing against Featherstone because they’ve been here in the past. They have a new coach as well and there are people who are wanting to put their hand up just the same as our players are. It should be a competitive game.”
Tomorrow’s match will be in memory of Featherstone player Gareth Swift who died in a road accident in April, 2010.
Said Powell: “We’ll never forget Gareth Swift. He was a fantastic young person and player. Having this game every year just helps to remind us all about Gareth and what a tremendous person he was at the club.”
Admission prices tomorrow are £10 adults, £5 OAPs/students and £2 juniors.
After playing Hunslet, Featherstone have pre-season home matches against Hull KR and Bradford Bulls on successive Sundays before playing Leeds Rhinos in Rob Burrow’s testimonial game at Headingley on Friday, January 20.
Powell said: “We’ve got some tough pre-season games. Hull KR also have a new coach so I’d be expecting them to be putting out a pretty strong team. We’ve got some really interesting pre-season matches this year which will challenge us and help prepare us for the season coming up.”
Powell was pleased with Featherstone’s display in the Boxing Day game against Sharlston Rovers Select at Bigfellas Stadium. Featherstone’s young side, featuring players from the under 23s squad, won 26-18.
He said: “It was a decent hit-out. Sharlston gave us a good challenge.
“I thought our hooker Dave Nurse was outstanding - he was the best player on the field. I thought he gave a really eye-catching performance. Jack Ormondroyd stood out on his debut. He looked pretty physical and athletic. Jack Bussey was pretty good at scrum-half as well.
“The Sharlston boys did well. They put us under some pressure and we had to work hard to win the game. Obviously, our young players have plenty to work on. They’ve not done too much in terms of field sessions but there were some good performances out there.”
A New Year’s Eve party in the Rovers clubhouse this evening (Saturday) starts at 6.30pm. Top band Black Sheep provide the live entertainment. Admission costs £5 and is by ticket only. Tickets are on sale at the club office.
The club have introduced a limited edition Featherstone Rovers 2011 champions polo shirt to celebrate last season’s achievements.
The shirts cost £22 and are being made to order and need to be paid for at the time of ordering. The closing date for orders will be tomorrow (Sunday) after the Hunslet pre-season game.
Meanwhile, Rovers have announced that Castleford-based recruitment and training agency Lime People, who have offices throughout the North of England, will be one of the club’s commercial partners in 2012.
The agreement will see Lime People make a significant financial contribution to Rovers for any new business generated.
Rovers commercial manager Paul Taylor said: “As a club we are always interested in generating new revenue streams and we hope that working in partnership with Lime People will be beneficial not only Featherstone Rovers and Lime People, but also our other business partners and associates.”
Lime People founder Mark Miller said “We are all very excited about working with Featherstone Rovers over the coming years.”
Latest £500 Featherstone Rovers lottery winners are B Harris (C6960), S Yates (K6975), A Hall (S3948), M Nicholls (V6606), N Joynes (B1945), J Tate (B0368), G Bullivant (W5966), R Bradburn (Y4698), D Sidebottom (J2844), T Bossons (F5690).