Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Sunday's Coming: Featherstone

Featherstone’s been a graveyard for as long as we can remember. Since we started watching Hornets back in 1971, we’ve seen us win there twice. The first of those on a rainy Tuesday night in about 1993 was our first win there since 1948! The other was Deryck Fox’s first game in charge at Hornets when he took a decade’s experience of playing Fev’s tiny pitch back and kicked them to a standstill. That was 1999.

It's Twins! Jon Sharp hones his Keith Hill tribute act
by contemplating a heavy pitch.
Even when we’ve been compelled to play other teams there, the curse has stood firm. Ian Talbot’s high-flying Hornets comprehensively flogged by York City Knights at Post Office Road in 2013. So can Alan Kilshaw continue his run of hoodoo-breaking results?

These days, Featherstone has a full-sized pitch - and the Rovers sit second with four straight wins so far in 2017. Having started with a couple of close-run affairs (26-32 at Halifax and 8-6 v Oldham),  Jon Sharp’s side has hit the straps the last couple of weeks - an impressive 6-32 win at Batley and a comprehensive 13-30 demolition of Swinton (Swinton led 7-6 at the break - how does that  drop goal look now?).

Much has been made of Fev’s Dual Reg partnership with Leeds this season (Rovers used to be fervent opponents of the inititative) and, just this week, they’ve added Leeds half-back Corey Aston to their squad on loan. But it’s up front where Fev have placed their real firepower.

Fev Massive: the biggest bench Jon Sharp has ever picked
Last week, Keith Hill lookalike Sharp ran with what he described to the Ponte & Cas Express as: “… the biggest bench I’ve ever picked…”

Comprising Frankie Mariano, Richard Moore and Rhinos’ dual-reg. forwards Anthony Mullally and Brett Delaney they outmuscled Swinton over the 80 minutes.

On Radio Leeds post game, Sharp re-iterated his commitment to wheeling out the big guns, saying that if we have the threat of heavy conditions going into Sunday’s game, he’ll run with the same tactic. So expect a forward battle.

Back in the Ponte & Cas Express he said: “Big players sap energy out of the opposition…we had some big blokes on the bench… and (it) worked a treat for us.”

“I thought Mariano was great and added a real good dimension over on our right. Mullally was awesome and Delaney got through a big workload”

Last week, Fev lined up as follows:
Featherstone Rovers: Ian Hardman, Luke Briscoe, Jason Walton, Chris Ulugia, Ash Handley, Anthony Thackeray, Matt Wildie, Andy Bostock, Keal Carlile, Jordan Baldwinson,  Michael Knowles, John Davies, Bradley Knowles-Tagg.  Subs: Brett Delaney, Anthony Mullally, Frankie Mariano, Richard Moore.

Knowles-Tagg - who was banned for 8 matches in 2013 for racially abusing a Salford City Reds player in an Under-20s fixture - is doubtful after picking up an ankle injury last week.

Hornets come into the game off the back of two defeats - but both were steps up the learnng curve rather than a wobble. From our point of view, the key lessons have been that if you switch off for a single play at this level you’ll get punished and, however you let the opposition off the hook, they’ll punish you too. But these are the challenges of stepping up a level and, despite the disappointments of the last couple of results, Hornets have shown that we can mix it with the best at this level.

Indeed, when you feel disappointed that Hornets have slipped out of the top four of the Chamopionship, you know you’re in a very different world.

So, get yourselves over to Featherstone. Let’s get together, make some noise and give the lads a lift. Hoodoos are there to be broken - and in this of all seasons, why not on Sunday? It’s an intriguing one for sure. See you there.