Friday, 29 June 2018

Sunday's Coming: Featherstone

The win at Sheffield sparked wild
celebrations in Featherstone
With just five games remaining, Championship teams begin their last mad scramble for regular season points - and Alan Kilshaw and John Duffy come into Sunday’s game looking for wins. But for decidedly different reasons.

A form-book-busting win for Hornets could lift us off the bottom of the Championship (if Swinton were to slip-up at home to Dewsbury). And if you think that never happens, you only have to go back to last year when a late Lewis Palfrey penalty snatched the points for a jubilant Hornets. It’s likely, however, that conditions on Sunday will be somewhat more favourable for a potent Rovers: the village Pit Ponies intent on sticking it to the cashed-up show-ponies of Manchestoronto, TOXIIIC and Leigh.

A Rovers win on Sunday would see John Duffy’s side maintain their hot pursuit of Toulouse in second place (the French side travel to Sheffield - flogged 40 to 6 by Fev last week - so we can’t see past an Eagles defeat there).

Having lost half-backs Martyn Ridyard (shoulder - 2 months) and Tom Holmes (knee - season-ending), Duffy is talking a lot about ‘grinding out wins’ at the moment as he’s adjusted his side’s playing style to compensate for the loss of his first choice halves.

This week he said in the Yorkshire Post: “We are grinding out some good results at the minute, we are sticking to our plan and I’m really happy for the boys.” On Fev’s website, the theme was similar: “We have simplified things over the past month or so, given the injuries we have suffered, and are grinding out the results. It is now about kicking on and sticking to the plan as we work towards the end of the regular season.”

‘The plan’ seems to be to take on teams up the middle of the park. Of new halves pairing Matty Wildie and Anthony Thackeray, Duffy said: “(They have) really bought into how we want to play. They have got that game plan going for us with Keal Carlile through the middle…” and: “ (against Sheffield)… we stuck to what we wanted to do and built pressure and scored some fantastic tries with just pushing through that middle area, which is where we wanted to go.”

A big fev pack going up the middle -  whoever would have imagined such a thing?

But it’s a plan that seems to be working. in the last three games Featherstone have ‘ground out’ huge wins: 42-18 at Dewsbury, 52-4 against Barrow and 40-6 last week. That’s 134 points in three games - suggesting it’s not all forward grunt at Post Office Road.

Thackeray grabbed a brace of tries as Featherstone cruised to their easy win at Sheffield. Rovers ‘wunder-winger’ Luke Briscoe (signed by Leeds two weeks ago, played for them against Catalan and loaned straight back to Fev) weighed in with his 30th Featherstone try of the season after backing up a break by former Hornet Shaun Robinson. Keeping him off the scoresheet would be an achievement in itself.

Ian Hardman and Josh Hardcastle also scored two tries each in what looked like a fairly straightforward win: so threats all over the field. And Gareth Hock - the archetypal loose cannon.

Duffy has also added Hemel’s ex-Bradford Academy prop James Thornton to his squad and he could be in line for a debut on Sunday.

Hornets were buoyed this week by the loan signing of Gav Bennion for a couple of months. Gav was an absolute bulwark of last season’s side - and comes to us knowing exactly what its takes to grind out a win at Featherstone.

Hornets come into the game having shown noticeable improvement against Toulouse last week. Despite a scoreline blown-out by three late tries, Hornets looked purposeful and capable of creating chances. Certainly the necessary addition of new faces doesn’t help with continuity, but the effort was there for all to see and new boy Jack Fox looked a threat every time he carried the ball.

The whole point of playing in the Championship is to test yourself against teams with genuine Super League ambitions, to grow, to learn, to improve. That hard lesson continues on Sunday, but it’s still a privilege to watch our club play at this level. We should remember that sometimes.  And it’s a privilege that clubs very similar to us - Oldham, Keighley, Hunslet, Whitehaven, York - don’t have.

And - as we saw last year - miracles do happen at Post Office Road.  You wouldn’t want to miss another one, would you?

See you Sunday