Having failed in an off-field bid to take Toronto Wolfpack’s place in Super League, Featherstone, who are celebrating their centenary as a senior club, have set their stall out to do it the proper way, by winning the Championship title.
That campaign begins in two weeks’ time, but coach James Webster’s side made a statement with an impressive 41-16 defeat of Bradford Bulls, another club with top-flight ambitions, in the opening round of the Challenge Cup yesterday.
Rovers play host to Batley Bulldogs in round two this weekend and will be at home to the same opponents for their opening league match on Good Friday, having already beaten them in a pre-season encounter.
The Championship is Featherstone’s priority, but if they come through their Cup clash with Batley they will not only secure a potential meeting with a Super League side in round three, but also a place in the 1895 Cup semi-finals, leaving them 80 minutes away from a Wembley appearance.
Considering, like their opponents, it was their first game since March 13 last year, Rovers’ seven tries to three win over Bradford was hugely impressive, but – perhaps aware of the need to keep expectations in check – their coach James Webster was not entirely satisfied.
Bradford made the better start to both halves, leading 6-0 and then wiping 10 points off Featherstone’s 24-6 interval lead, but the early loss of Sam Hallas with a suspected broken jaw was a huge blow.
Webster reflected: “It was a tough contest, I thought Bradford were very committed and they made few errors early on, which was in total contrast to us; we made a thousand errors and made it really hard for ourselves.
“I am very happy to be in the next round, but I am hoping we can improve in a couple of areas.”
Webster reckoned individuals who “could break a tackle and come up with some plays” made the difference for his side. One of those was Fa’amanu Brown, a Samoan half-back who appeared destined for a long career in Australia’s NRL before a foot injury almost forced him into early retirement.
After almost two years on the sidelines, it will take him a while to hit his stride, but he had some good moments, providing the final pass to Thomas Minns for Rovers’ second try and sending Ben Blackmore over for their third.
Craig Hall, at full-back, was also influential, scoring a superb solo try in the second half and kicking six conversions and a drop goal, while James Harrison put the experience gained during a loan spell at Leeds Rhinos last year to good use, crossing twice.
Danny Brough, the arch-schemer signed from Wakefield Trinity, set up and converted Bulls first touchdown, scored by Reece Hamlett, but tries from Connor Jones, Minns, Blackmore and Harrison gave Rovers a grip on the game.
Hamlett and Ebon Scurr crossed after the interval, Brough adding a second conversion, to give Bulls some hope, but Harrison ended their fightback and Dean Parata and Hall inflated the hosts’ lead.
Hall’s one-pointer completed the scoring moments after Rovers’ Gareth Gale had been sin-binned for a professional foul.
Bradford coach John Kear was disappointed with the result, but “heartened” by his men’s performance.
He said: “If we keep improving, we will be okay.
“They are a good team, they are the benchmark, but I don’t think we are far off that benchmark.
“We showed in patches how good we can play, but we have got to eliminate the inconsistent periods.”
Featherstone Rovers: Hall, Blackmore, Minns, Hardcastle, Gale, F Brown, Chisholm, Kopczak, Jones, Lockwood, Day, Halton, Bussey. Subs Parata, Harrison, Cooper, Ferguson.
Bradford Bulls: J Brown, Hamlett, Evans, Oakes, Sanderson, Pickersgill, Brough, Fleming, Doyle, Crossley, Rooks, Gallagher, Hallas. Subs Flanagan, Scurr, England, Walker.
Referee: C Kendall (Huddersfield).