SAMOAN international centre Tangi Ropati will start his Featherstone Rovers comeback in tonight’s Reserves Championship game against Oldham at Whitebank Stadium.
Ropati (pictured) has been sidelined since he sustained a broken jaw in Featherstone’s 23-16 victory over Castleford Tigers in the Challenge Cup fourth round in April.
After a three-month lay-off, he is unlikely to play in the Northern Rail Cup final against Halifax at Blackpool on July 29.
Rovers coach Daryl Powell said: “Tangi will play on Thursday in our reserves. He needs to play and we’ll take it from there.
“I would have thought the Northern Rail Cup final would be a bit too early to be honest. You never say never but I would think that would be too soon for him.
“He needs to build his confidence and I won’t be putting too much pressure on him.
“He just started training on Monday night so he will have got a bit of contact there and it’s then a case of growing his confidence because he has had a pretty significant injury.
“We haven’t seen him on the field for a fair while and it will be like having a new player.”
Featherstone will be aiming to stretch their winning run to 11 matches in Sunday’s home Co-operative Championship match against Batley Bulldogs.
Rovers have a two-point lead over closest rivals Halifax. Batley and Sheffield are a further two points adrift.
“It’s an important game for us. It’s absolutely crucial that we stay focused and we get our game right and never worry about what is down the track,” said Powell.
“It’s really important for us and the players will know that anyway. We’ve talked through quite a few things over the last few weeks and they are aware of where we are at and what is in front of us.
“We will not be going into this game thinking about anything other than playing against Batley.
“We just need to concentrate on every game as it comes and if we do that we’ll be okay. We are playing pretty well and we’ve got plenty of confidence about us.
“It will be a tough game this Sunday and we want to be hardened before the Northern Rail Cup final.
“Even though last Sunday against Hunslet would seem, on the face of it, to be an easy game for us, it was our mentality and how we approached it that was most important. We didn’t drop our standards.
“I thought defensively we were spot on and with the ball we were effective for the vast majority of the game so even though it was a softer game I thought our approach to it was outstanding.”
Batley won 34-22 at Bigfellas Stadium in the Northern Rail Cup group stages in March and Powell is expecting another difficult match on Sunday.
“I will be a tough game because Batley are going pretty well. They will see it as a crucial game for them and no doubt they will see us as being vulnerable as well,” he said.
“Batley are physically big and their forwards are exceptionally tall so that will be a fair challenge for our pack.
“They’ve got some tricky players like Ben Black and Gareth Moore who have smart kicking games.
“Batley got us with a couple of things last time and we need to be aware of that. They are a difficult team to play against and we’ll need to be absolutely spot on.”
Andy Bostock (groin) and Dominic Maloney (hip) were late withdrawals from last Sunday’s match against Hunslet but both are expected to be available this weekend.
Rovers will also be checking on Nathan Chappell who scored two tries on his comeback game in the reserves against Keighley.
Powell said: “Andy Bostock has had a groin problem for a while and we are managing him through it at the moment. He was in a fair bit of pain and he couldn’t play last weekend. I think he’ll definitely need an operation once the season has finished.
“I am hoping both Bostock and Maloney will be available this weekend. Obviously, it then depends on whether they get selected or not - that’s another issue.
“Nathan Chappell played pretty well in the reserves. Whether he is fit to play against Batley would be a doubt. We’ll wait and see as we go through the week.”
Rovers half-back or hooker Tom Hemingway has joined Championship One side Whitehaven on loan for the rest of the season.
Powell said: “Tom is struggling to get into our first-team. Obviously he’s been around a while and wants to play at a higher level as possible and it makes sense for him to go out to play somewhere else that it is a slightly higher standard than under 23s.”