THE challenge is considerable but, given their impressive defensive solidity, Featherstone Rovers captain Tim Spears sees no reason why the Championship part-timers cannot blunt Super League champions Leeds Rhinos.
They meet at Post Office Road in the opening Qualifiers game on Saturday, Jon Sharp’s side hoping to spring a major surprise at Post Office Road. Featherstone earned their place in the competition, where they face the top-flight’s bottom four sides, by virtue of a thrilling end-of-season run.
They won 34-6 at Batley, who qualified third directly above them, 24-20 at Halifax and then, arguably most impressively, defeated Bradford Bulls 20-0.
Considering the calibre of players they will face now, such steeliness may come in useful.
“We’ve had the best defence in the comp’ all year,” said Spears, Featherstone conceding on average just 16 points per game.
“We really challenge ourselves there and are proud of that while it should serve us well now.
“In three games against top-quality sides we conceded only 26 points – just over eight per game –and you are always in with a good chance of winning with a record like that. We know what Leeds will bring – they have wall-to-wall internationals, brilliant players – and are under no illusions of the task ahead. But we’ll certainly give it our best shot and enjoy.
“The Middle Eights is unchartered territory for us but we’re testing ourselves. It will be brilliant coming up against top opposition. It doesn’t come any bigger than Leeds at home.”
Second-row Spears led the side out with cult hero Brendon Tuuta ahead of the definitive victory over Bradford – a game they needed to win to secure fourth spot.
There was approaching 6,000 at Post Office Road for that, creating a thunderous atmosphere, but the ground is expected to be an 8,000 sell-out on Saturday.
“Tuuta was my hero as a kid and I was talking to him about games I remember in the mid-90s,” recalled the second-row.
“That was back in the old Bullock Shed days when the place was packed out. That Bradford game was as busy as I’ve seen the place for a long, long time probably going back to those days in the Stones Bitter Championship.
“It’s great to see the ground full and rocking again. I played against Cas in the Challenge Cup and that’s the only one I can compare it to for atmosphere.
“I think it will be the same if not better when Leeds come here.”