Featherstone Rovers boss Andy Hay says his team are under no real pressure ahead of their Championship elimination play-off against Sheffield Eagles, which takes place at the Bigfellas Stadium on Sunday with an unusual 6.30pm kick-off time.
Hay believes the Eagles go into the match as favourites after their recent run of results and the fact they beat Rovers at the ground not so long ago – but is confident his players will be ready and fresh after a vital week without a game.
Hay told the Express: “Sheffield are hitting form and talking themselves up about how confident they are at this time of year and aiming for a fourth Grand Final on the trot. So we are probably going into the game even though we are at home as underdogs and that doesn’t happen very often at Featherstone.
“There’s not much pressure on us. We achieved the second spot, which we needed, and we’re going into the play-offs treating it as a separate competition and as a chance to go and enjoy ourselves.
“Sheffield have been a bit of a bogey side in recent years, but this year it’s one apiece. They seem to be the form team at the moment. We have stuttered a little bit, but we played pretty good stuff against Halifax and there’s big improvements within the team so we’re looking forward to Sunday.”
Hay was unhappy with the players’ display when they lost at home to Sheffield towards the end of the regular season and reckons Sunday’s game gives them a big chance to make amends.
He said: “When we played Sheffield a few weeks ago we didn’t display our best wares on the day. We didn’t give it our best shot and I thought some of the players were a little bit off.
“Not many players came off the field that day with much credit. Only a couple of the young kids, Luke Teasdale and Shaun Pick, stood up. Most of the senior players didn’t show their best quality so they’ve all been waiting and are ready to prove themselves in this game.
“Since then the players have been itching to get back and play against good quality opposition. I’m not knocking Halifax, but Sheffield have been the best team we’ve played in the last few weeks.
“There’s been a little added spice to training and everybody seems ready to play.
“Featherstone have been in big games like this before and a lot of the players have as well so they know what it takes and what they have to do to win these games.”
Hay is expecting a tough game against a team that has won the last two Grand Finals.
He said: ”Sheffield have got a good side. I know Mark Aston well from my time playing with him at the Eagles and he’ll have them up for the game.
“They’ve got threats all over with a big pack and pace in the backs. Their players have been there and done it in the last couple of years so they know how to get to the final as well.
“Their overseas players are very good and they seem to step it up at this time of year. Menzie Yere caused us a lot of problems last time so we’ve got to be better on him.
“In their forwards Andrew Henderson wants to sign off his career at Sheffield with some success and Mitch Stringer with his offloads in the last few games has been getting them tries with players supporting on the back of him.”
Hay says his team is likely to be similar to the one that beat Halifax with none of his injury victims likely to be recovered in time.
He added: “We’ve probably got a very similar team to what we’ve had in recent weeks.
“Most of our injuries have been long term so I don’t probably see anyone coming back for this game.
“We got through the Halifax game pretty well untouched and we’ve had a good chance to recover.
“We’ve got a good group of players in contention and it will be down to some selection processes with me and the coaching staff to get the right team and get the right balance for this game.
“We know what Sheffield can do and we’ve got to select a team that can overcome them.
“We had a good week training last week without a game and it gave us a chance to freshen up a little bit and give the competition the credit it deserves. It’s a massive game on Sunday and we’ll be ready.”