Featherstone Rovers No2 Paul March ready to help make most of unexpected Wembley chance

A FEW days ago, Paul March could never have thought he would tomorrow be leading Featherstone Rovers out at Wembley.

Featherstone Rovers' Brett Ferres, left, and assistant coach Paul March take a look around Wembley today. (ALLAN MCKENZIE/WPIX)

With head coach James Webster ruled out of the 1895 Cup final against York City Knights having contracted Covid, his experienced assistant will take charge of matchday duties.

But, after a chaotic build-up and with the game still under threat, March told The Yorkshire Post: “Two days ago I was in isolation myself.

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“I got Covid and was in isolation until last night.

“I was speaking to James throughout the week and then he got tested positive and he said am I OK taking over for the day.

“Obviously, it’s an honor, not just for myself but for Featherstone; I know how much it means to our loyal supporters and people in this community so I'm looking forward to experiencing tomorrow.”

After suffering a number of positive tests earlier in the week, Feathertsone were required to conduct a full round of PCR testing on their squad on Thursday evening.

With no further positives and an additional round of negative lateral flow tests today, they were given the all-clear to play - only for opponents York to suffer their own issues with a third positive forcing a further round of testing tomorrow morning before kick-off at noon.

York City Knights/ Ben Jones-Bishop takes in Wembley before tomorrow's 1895 Cup final. (ALLAN MCKENZIE/WPIX)

Ex-Keighley Cougars coach March, 41, said: “If they pass we’re good to go.

“If not, it’s game over. We were exactly the same on Thursday night.

“We got through PCR testing after all the lads traveled to Hull and the results came back in 45 minutes.

“We know what York will be going through; it’s a very stressful time but hopefully they can come through and we can get this showpiece on.”

Indeed, everybody will be hoping for that - especially Featherstone captain James Lockwood.

Fortunately, he avoided any of the Covid issues at the Championship club and travelled with them down to London today - only to discover his partner had gone into labour.

March explained: “We arrived in London about 3.30.

“He got a phone call that her waters broke so he went straight to the underground and got a train from Kings Cross to Wakefield straight away.

“He’s coming back. I'm hopeful he’ll be back in the early hours so he can get some rest before the game.

“But in the worst case scenario he says he’ll be ready to be on the bus at a quarter to ten to leave for the stadium.

“He’s going to play regardless.”

The population of Featherstone is only around 14,000 and plenty of those took to the streets of the small former mining town this morning to wave off the squad as they set off in readiness for this curtain-raiser to the Challenge Cup final.

“It is great to see,” said Dewsbury-born March.

“They really get behind us. I do a lot of work in schools for Featherstone Rovers Foundation and all the schools in the local community and wider area have taken hold of it and embraced what we're doing.

“It was good to see them all out there, cheering their heroes on. “Hopefully we can make them proud and take the Cup home.”

Featherstone have not been to Wembley since inflicting a shock Challenge Cup defeat on Hull in 1983 but York’s solitary appearance at the famous stadium was as long ago as 1931 when they lost to Halifax.

March, the gritty former Wakefield Trinity and Huddersfield Giants half-back, was player-coach for York in 2008.

“It was a great experience,” he recalled.

“It was my first professional coaching role at York.

“I had a great 18 months there and - even when I’ve been at other clubs - I’ve always looked out for them and wanted them to do well.

“When I was at Hunslet and Keighley we always had battles against York and I remember when - with Cougars - playing them in the 2016 iPro Cup Final at Blackpool, Charlie Martin charging over in the last minute to just get us over the line there.

“It’s a different game tomorrow - two Championship sides at Wembley - but I’ll be hoping for the same outcome.”

March, meanwhile, missed out on his own Challenge Cup final in cruel circumstances.

“In 2006, I played for Huddersfield in the quarter-final against Salford and then got injured against Catalans the week after,” he said, being ruled out for the season with a ruptured ACL while Giants went on to lose against St Helens in the showpiece.

“But Huddersfield did look after us that day. I was part of the matchday squad that went down and experienced all that.

“It was at Twickenham, though, not Wembley.

“Getting to the final of the 1895 Cup at Wembley is going to be a good occasion and it’s certainly going to be up there with everything I've achieved in my career.”

The competition was launched in 2019 as a second and more realistic opportunity for clubs from outside the Betfred Super League to experience Wembley, Sheffield Eagles winning the inaugural event before the pandemic scuppered any hopes of running it last year.