COACH Daryl Powell is confident Featherstone can achieve their second Co-operative Championship win in five days in tonight’s televised clash at Halifax (7.30pm).
It is the first time the teams have met since last season’s Grand Final at Warrington which Rovers lost 23-22 in extra time after they led 22-4 midway through the second-half. Featherstone won the previous three matches against Halifax last year.
Injury-hit Rovers picked up their first league points by beating Batley last Sunday while Fax were without a game last weekend after trouncing Whitehaven 60-6 in a re-arranged midweek Northern Rail Cup group game.
Powell said: “Halifax will be feeling pretty confident about themselves.
“They had a good win last week at Whitehaven and they’ve had a rest and will feel fresh coming into the game.
“We’ve had a tough start to the season for a number of reasons and this is another tough challenge for us.
“It’s going to be a pretty difficult ask but we are confident we can go there and do the job.
“We are building our game now all the time and we are looking for some consistency so it’s an important match for us.
“We lost to them by one point in the biggest game of the season but apart from that we were pretty dominant against them last year. It’s now a new season and they’ve got new players and we’ve got new faces. We’ve also got new players as well because of the injury situation.
“It will be interesting to see how both teams have changed and adapted.”
Matty Dale and Liam Welham missed the Batley game after joining Featherstone’s growing injury list.
Welham sustained a knee injury in the defeat at Leigh Centurions two weeks ago and Dale tore his calf in a practice session last week.
Iain Morrison is set to return on the bench tonight after recovering from a broken finger and Ross Divorty is also getting closer to returning to action.
Powell said: “I don’t think Matty Dale is going to be back against Halifax and Liam Welham is three or four weeks away. He’s got a similar injury, although not quite as bad, as Ross Divorty.
Powell is pleased with prop Dave Williams who made his second Rovers appearance against Batley after being signed on a dual registration from Super League club Harlequins.
He said: “”Dave is a big kid and he’s slotted in well. It’s taken him a while to adapt to our game but he’s getting to grips with it now and he’s been really useful for us. We’d have been down to one prop when we played Leigh if we hadn’t brought him in so he’s done a good job for us.”
Powell was delighted with his side’s performance against Batley when Tim Spears and Sam Smeaton both played through the pain of ankle injuries.
“We needed a response and I thought we got a really positive effort from everyone,” said Powell.
“Considering some of the guys out there were only 80 per cent fit, I think it was a top-quality performance that got us back on track and started to grow our confidence.
“We were really solid defensively. We conceded a try at the end from a mix up on a kick but apart from that we looked solid. We didn’t look like conceding.
“We dominated territory with our kicking game which was an important development on what we did at Leigh where we didn’t really get to grips with our kicking game and were under pressure for large parts of the match. We flipped that on its head which was good. We sorted some of the issues out in our game and we applied what we wanted pretty well.”
Spears and Smeaton both played after late fitness tests.
Powell said: “I wasn’t sure Sam was going to get through the match but he did and Tim Spears was also excellent considering he was only about 85 per cent fit.
“Andy Bostock had had a kidney infection and he had only trained on Saturday morning so it was a big effort from him as well to get through the game when he’d had an illness that caused him to lose five or six kilos.”
Zak Hardaker, who is Featherstone’s leading try scorer this season with six touchdowns, is set to be sidelined for a month after suffering a broken finger during his Leeds Rhinos debut in the 30-16 home defeat against Super League rivals St Helens last Saturday.
Hardaker spent the first five weeks of the season on dual-registration at Featherstone but was recalled by Leeds last week when they hit by a crop of injuries.
Winger Jon Steel, who has not figured in the Rovers first-team this season, has been sidelined by illness.
Powell said: “Jon is off ill at the moment. Obviously, he has not featured so far this year. He has not been able to force his way in and I’ve been pretty happy with the way our wingers have been going.”
Meanwhile, North Derbyshire based web development company 2and7 have joined Rovers as business partners.
Already a player position sponsor, they are now official sponsors of head coach Powell, who said: “I’m delighted that a high quality business such as 2and7 are interested in both Featherstone Rovers and myself as head coach of the club and would like to welcome them as a sponsor.
“I look forward to them becoming part of Featherstone Rovers, helping to grow our community links and raising our profile in North Derbyshire.”
Ged Connolly-Thompson, managing director of 2and7, said: “We are delighted to be associated with both Featherstone Rovers and with Daryl Powell who is not only head coach of Rovers, but assistant coach of the England team as well.
“The success of last year will be a hard act to follow, but we look forward to playing our part in supporting the club and the players in pushing for league and cup glories.”
“We appreciate the opportunity to be associated with Daryl who has succeeded at every level within the sport and continues to inspire successive generations of rugby league players.”
The draw for the Northern Rail Cup quarterfinals will take place live on Sky Sports this evening during the half-time interval in the Halifax-Featherstone match.
The teams that have progressed to the open, unseeded draw are Widnes Vikings, Featherstone, Dewsbury Rams, Toulouse Olympique, Leigh Centurions, Halifax, Batley Bulldogs and Hunslet Hawks.