Why the Super League door was slammed shut on Featherstone Rovers in 1996 as they aim for top-flight return

Featherstone Rovers face Toronto Wolfpack in the Championship Grand Final on Saturday. PIC: Dec Hayes.
Featherstone Rovers face Toronto Wolfpack in the Championship Grand Final on Saturday. PIC: Dec Hayes.

Featherstone Rovers are just one victory away from a return to the top flight, 24 years after they lost their place in the top tier following the formation of Super League.

In 1996 the British top flight switched from a winter to a summer season, with a 16-team league cut to 12 teams.

Rovers finished 11th in the final winter campaign, but were unceremoniously dumped out of Super League before the competition had even kicked off to make way for London and Paris Saint German.

Sky Sports, the backers of the new-found Super League, wanted a number of clubs to merge. Historic rivals Wakefield, Castleford and Featherstone were suggested to form a new club called Calder.

This was unanimously rejected by Rovers and things would get worse for Featherstone before they got better.

This hasn’t been the first time Featherstone have been one game from promotion as Ryan Carr’s men prepare to travel across the Atlantic for this year’s Championship Grand Final.

Jack Render celebrates scoring a try against York. PIC: Dec Hayes.

Jack Render celebrates scoring a try against York. PIC: Dec Hayes.

Last time, the journey was much less arduous, as they made the short journey to Huddersfield but were beaten 24-22 by Wakefield Trinity - who have been in Super League since - in the Division One Grand Final in 1998.

In 2005, Rovers were relegated to the third tier for the first time in their history but earned their place back in the second division in 2007.

Featherstone fans celebrated some great times in the years that followed as they reached three-successive Championship finals from 2010 to 2012, winning one, under then head coach Daryl Powell.

Now big-spending Toronto Wolfpack, littered with a number of former NRL and Super League stars, stand in the way of promotion.

Connor Jones at Leigh in the first round of the play-offs. PIC: Dec Hayes.

Connor Jones at Leigh in the first round of the play-offs. PIC: Dec Hayes.

Rovers, who finished fifth after the regular season, have won on the road against Leigh Centurions, York City Knights and Toulouse Olympique in the play-offs.

They lost 22-18 in Toronto in July and have been beaten in three of their four meetings with the Wolfpack.

However, Featherstone became the first team to win in Canada when they won 30-12 last year and have never been beaten by more than eight points against the transatlantic outfit.

“The players deserve to be where they are because they work hard for each other and play as a team really well,” said head coach Carr.

“We are just enjoying the journey we are on. Another week we get a win, it is another week we get to spend together as a team.

“We have had a hard season, from where we have started. We had nine players in pre-season, and with myself not here until January.

“When you put it all into perspective, it is a huge achievement that these boys have managed to get here.

“We are working really hard together and it is about turning up on game day and doing our best.”

Carr added: “For me, it already means enough. If promotion happens, it happens. But the whole experience we have had as a group, I wouldn’t change a thing.

“Whatever happens, we can look back and know that we really played for each other.”

Featherstone have been on the road - and the air - for all of their play-off games.

Carr and his squad left for Toulouse - where they won 36-12 - at 3.30am on Saturday morning before landing back in Bristol on Monday afternoon.

They fly out to Toronto today (Thursday) before facing the Wolfpack, who have lost just once all year, on Saturday night (7.30pm). Rovers have scored 100 points in three play-off games and conceded just 34.

And Carr said: “Everyone is playing for the team not for themselves. We our sticking to our plan and everyone is buying into the plan.

“Sticking to it for the full 80 is so important because you are up against such good opposition that if you switch off for a 10-minute period it could cost you the game. Everyone is putting the team before themselves.”