Briggs set to play in Hardman’s testimonial game

Rovers coach Jon Sharp: "Ian has been a good player for a long time."
Rovers coach Jon Sharp: "Ian has been a good player for a long time."

Featherstone coach Jon Sharp has paid tribute to Ian Hardman ahead of the long-serving full-back’s testimonial match against York City Knights at Big Fellas Stadium on Sunday.

Half-back Kyle Briggs is set to make his first appearance this year when Rovers take on League One outfit York (3pm).

Admission is £10 adults and £5 concessions/juniors.

“Having had a testimonial myself at Hull, I know how difficult they are to actually attain in this day and age with freedom of contracts and movement of players,” said Sharp.

“It is testimony to Ian’s loyalty, longevity and his professionalism. He’s been a good player for a long time.

“I remember him back in 2002-03 when I was at St Helens. He was coming through the ranks there as a junior/academy player.

“I’ve known him for a while and his testimonial game is richly deserved and hopefully the fans will turn out in numbers to watch it.

“Ian has been really good in off-season and he’s shown lots of good leadership as well so there’s plenty of football left in him.”

Former St Helens, Hull KR and Widnes player Hardman, who has scored 114 tries in 236 appearances for Rovers since 2009, underlined his versatility last season by playing at centre.

“Last year he certainly helped with regard to covering the centre positions when we were struggling,” added Sharp.

“Hopefully, we won’t have to use him as much in those areas with the signings we’ve made and he can concentrate just on doing his job at full-back.”

Sharp is looking to build on his side’s performances in their first two pre-season matches.

He was pleased with the form shown in a 38-14 win at Halifax on Boxing Day and a 52-6 victory over Hunslet last Sunday.

“We are looking smooth early in the year which is really encouraging,” he added.

“Last year was very much built around being able to defend well and protecting our line and this year is no different.

“We are just trying to add an attacking dimension that we didn’t have last year particularly with the strike and punch of some of the new recruits we’ve brought in.

“Pre-season games are not so much about the opposition but about us and where we are at and maintaining the standards we’ve set in the last two games.

“We are very much focused really on individuals who are fighting and competing with one another for spots in the opening league game at Halifax on February 5.”

Sharp is set to field a strong side against York whose line-up could include former Rovers captain Tim Spears who joined the Knights last month.

“I am expecting to put out a strong team to support Ian,” he said.

“There will be some new combinations. Briggs will probably have a run out this week. His ankle looks like it has settled down and he looks like he’s ready to go so he will have an opportunity to play this week.

“He’s rested it up and we’ve looked after him and he’s reporting that it feels as good as it’s been for a long time so we will give him a chance this week.”

Josh Hardcastle and Aaron Lyons are again set to play while fellow trialist James Kitchen will have a late fitness test after missing last Sunday’s game with a minor knee injury.

Sharp was delighted with the form of Frankie Mariano, Hardcastle and new signing Jason Walton against Hunslet last Sunday.

“Frankie Mariano looked good and Jason Walton was excellent to say he’d had just two training sessions with us,” said Sharp.

“I felt Frankie created a lot of problems for the opposition and we had opportunities to play off the back of his work. Jason was a absolute handful. He looked like a player who had played at another level and he did everything I expected of him.

“Josh Hardcastle has been wonderful and the encouraging thing for me is that he has been really good in training. I am scratching my head why he has not been a professional before now.

“He has played two games and done really well. We have been impressed with him and things are looking positive for him.”

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