Coach John Bastian believes Featherstone Rovers are the underdogs in tomnorrow’s (Sunday) Kingstone Press Championship clash against in-form Doncaster at the Keepmoat Stadium (3pm kick-off).
Doncaster are level on points with Featherstone in the table after winning three of their first four matches. They won 36-24 at the Big Fellas Stadium the last time the teams met nine months ago.
“Doncaster are a side who are going to really challenge the top teams and they won’t be far off this season,” said Bastian.
“They will certainly be favourites going into this game. They are on their own pitch and they had a good win at Batley in their last league match and another good win last weekend in the Challenge Cup.
“They are a team that are running pretty hot at the moment and we’ve got to be on our A game this Sunday. We’ve got to be mentally very focused for a big challenge at Doncaster.
“I’m sure Doncaster are very pleased with how they’ve started. They are certainly up there with the top cluster of teams and I think they will be very competitive this year. They’ve some good individuals who will be a threat on Sunday and I’m sure their confidence is really high.
“The stakes are high this year when it comes to final league placings. Financially, there are some very strong rewards, certainly for teams that finish in the top six and Doncaster are aiming to be one of those teams.
“Teams are certainly setting some very good standards and there won’t be easy games this year.”
Rovers will be close to full strength apart from long-term casualties Liam Walmsley (broken arm) and Matt Nicholson (knee). Walmsley has suffered a setback and will be out for a further two to three months.
“Liam’s arm just didn’t re-set properly and it’s just one of those things. It slightly moved so they had to do a minor operation on it,” said Bastian.
“Liam is disappointed but he will come back stronger from this. He’s had a tough month or two but he is certainly a strong willed person and he’ll be back training this week and we’ll soon get him up to speed. He’ll be far stronger in character after he gets through all this.”
Bastian has plenty of selection options for Sunday.
Andy Kain and Ian Hardman both made their first league appearances of the season when Rovers beat Rochdale Hornets 56-6 in their last outing. Senior players Jamie Cording, Matt James, Josh Sunley, Jamel Chisholm and Colton Roche had a run out with the Rovers under 20s in a friendly against Championship One side London Skolars last Sunday which Featherstone won 52-18.
“We’ve got some depth in our first-team squad and we’ll need that throughout the season,” added Bastian.
“From time to time, we will rotate and pull players out and give players a game we think deserve it and need a run out.
“Players will have to understand that. It is part of our philosophy this year and it’s working okay. You are always going to get disappointment when players are not selected and I fully expect that. It’s important that players react and respond appropriately when that happens.”
Rovers were without a first-team fixture last weekend because they had a bye into the Challenge Cup fourth round but there was no rest for the players.
Bastian said: “The lads were put through a really strenuous conditioning programme last week.
“We combined that with lots of skills out on the field so they had a really arduous week last week. The players were great and worked really hard as a group.
“We had the under 20s game against London Skolars on Sunday when a few of our senior players played.
“It was great for our younger guys to have a run out against a Championship One club and they did particularly well. It was a good performance and a good result.”
Bastian is pleased with the current crop of youngsters at the club.
“We’ve some good young players and Mark Butterill (under 20s head coach) is doing a good job with them.
“They’ve got to be patient and keep working hard. If they do that eventually their opportunity will come.”
Rovers under 20s start their competitive season tomorrow evening (Friday) against Halifax at Big Fellas Stadium (7.45pm). Admission on the gate is £3 adults and £1 concessions/ juniors.
Bastian and the club’s head of statistics and analysis Steve Mills helped amateurs Normanton Knights in their preparations for last Saturday’s Challenge Cup tie against Workington Town at Big Fellas Stadium. Normanton gave an excellent account of themselves in a 38-12 defeat against Championship opponents.
Bastian said: “We did a few things with them when it came to the analysis and how Workington would possibly play against them.
“Steve Mills did some great work alongside Richard Blakeway (Normanton coach) and it was a pleasure helping them out. I’m sure if it was reversed and we were playing a team in the Workington area I’d expect the Workington staff to do exactly the same thing. It’s not just about what we are doing here at Featherstone Rovers. It’s important we do connect with the community clubs around this area.”
Rovers are running a supporters coach to Sunday’s game at Doncaster. The cost per seat is £7 return fare. The coach will leave the Big Fellas Stadium at 1pm. To book a place ring the Rovers main office on 01977-702386 or visit the office which is open Monday to Friday 9am until 5pm.
Rovers have a special hospitality package available for their next home match against Swinton on Mother’s Day on Sunday, March 30 (3pm).
For only £20 (normal price £40 for non-members or £25 for members) supporters can threat their mums to hospitality in the clubhouse’s 1921 Suite. It includes a three-course meal meal, with waitress service, private cash bar, interviews and half-time refreshments.
Guests also have the option of watching the game from the 1921 Suite or going outside.
For more details contact Paul Taylor on 01977-702386, email firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter @fevcommercial.
Featherstone Rovers Past Players Association will hold their 26th annual dinner in the Rovers clubhouse on Friday, April 4 (7.30pm). Tickets cost £22 which includes a three course meal and quality wine. Tickets for the male only function are available until March 31 on a first come, first served basis.