Tough test for in-form Rovers

Coach John Kear will bring his Batley Bulldogs side to Featherstone's Big Fellas Stadium on Monday.
Coach John Kear will bring his Batley Bulldogs side to Featherstone's Big Fellas Stadium on Monday.

Featherstone coach Jon Sharp expects a difficult test against relegation-threatened Batley Bulldogs in Monday’s Championship Shield clash at Big Fellas Stadium (3pm kick-off).

The Bulldogs, coached by John Kear, are third bottom, just four points ahead of Hunslet Hawks, who won 41-24 at London last Sunday.

Table-toppers Rovers are already guaranteed a play-off place and a fourth successive victory on Monday could clinch a home semi-final.

“Batley will be desperate for points and I know they will be a challenge,” said Sharp.

“They have a very good coach who knows his stuff and knows how to get teams ready for big games.

“We’ve got to be on our mettle and at our best. There’s a lot riding on this game for us as well. If we win and other results go our way we’ll have a home tie in the semi-finals.

“There’s a lot at stake for both teams so I’m expecting a really tough encounter.”

Sharp is set to field a similar team to the one that won 24-10 at Workington Town last Sunday.

“There won’t be wholesale changes for Monday. I might make one change, that’s all I’m looking at,” he added.

“The team has earned the right to play together again.

“The performances of the young lads for the last few weeks has warranted them keeping their places. The team won’t change very much this week, irrespective of whether blokes declare themselves fit or not.”

Sharp was delighted with his side’s display as they ended Workington’s five-match winning run last weekend.

Featherstone, who were without Matt James (toe), Ben Blackmore (shoulder) and Gareth Moore (hamstring), bounced back from 10-4 down at half-time to score 20 unanswered second-half points.

“The circumstances behind it made the performance an even greater achievement,” said Sharp.

“Three players pulled out and didn’t make themselves available due to injury as late as Wednesday and Friday.

“We had some adversity and we had a really good team meeting to discuss the late withdrawals. We spoke about the young kids coming in and about how important it was for us to come together as a group and be confident in one another and realise that these young fellows will bring vigour, enthusiasm and energy and they certainly did that.

“At half-time, we spoke about how well we completed and how well we kicked. We were in front in every facet of the game apart from the scoreboard.

“I just spoke to the players about sticking with the process. Afterwards, Paul Cooke and Tim Spears both came to me individually and said they thought the half-time discussion was pivotal. It gave them confidence and belief that what we were doing was right and they stuck with that process and we won the second-half 20-0.

“We got an early score in the second-half and we defended a couple of sets back to back after the referee gave Workington three penalties on the bounce. After that, we grew in confidence.

“It’s the first time we’ve played for 80 minutes since I came to the club.

“I only made two changes in the first-half because the guys are starting to look fit and energised and capable of playing longer minutes.”

Sharp was again thrilled with the performances of the side’s young players.

“We had a bench that averaged 22 years of age and collectively had around eight first-team appearances between them. We also took up two 18 year olds as 18th and 19th men,” he said.

“Will Milner was fantastic. He came in for Moore and was really good. Luke Cooper came in to replace James and he was also excellent. Jack Coventry made his debut from the bench and did well in the short spell he had on the field.

“Kyran Johnson was outstanding and has been every week since he’s been in first grade. Sam Day came on and looked a threat around the ruck and Luke Cooper added some punch.

“I started Jack Ormondroyd at 13 because I wanted to pick the biggest team I could and get off to a good start against a really big Workington pack. Although we were behind on the scoreboard, I thought that physically we were dominating them.

“I’ve introduced a lot of young players into the side who would probably be playing reserve grade and they’ve grasped their opportunity in the first-team and they are doing ever so well.

“The trio of Cooke, Spears and Ellis have also been magnificent in galvanising the team this week.

“The youngsters who have come in have been great for us but I also think the senior players are playing as well as I’ve seen them play. Spears and Ellis are in great form at the minute.

“I also think Steve Snitch has added a new dimension and Alex Foster has been outstanding playing at centre the last three weeks.”

Sharp believes Rovers are now moving in the right direction.

“Winning is a good habit and the players are starting to reap the rewards from the hard work they are putting in,” he said.

“I am pleased with the young players who are coming in and I am pleased with how training has gone.

“I think the players are adapting to a different type of training regime that is tough but also geared towards playing well.

“The challenge now is maintaining the momentum.We do that by practising well and keeping our standards high in practice and keeping the pressure on the players to perform.”

Monday’s Championship Shield game against Batley will incorporate a family fun day at Big Fellas Stadium.

Activities will include bouncy castles, tombola and face painting.

For all Featherstone’s home Championship Shield fixtures admission is £10 for adults and concessions, with free admission for under 16s.