Four Rovers players set to return for opener

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CHAMPIONS Featherstone Rovers are set to welcome back Ian Hardman (pictured), Jon Grayshon, James Lockwood and Mick Haley for tomorrow’s (Sunday) game at Keighley Cougars.

The quartet are all available after missing last weekend’s 34-22 home defeat against Batley Bulldogs but Rovers have been hit by suspensions for their opening Co-operative Championship game at Cougar Park.

Skipper Stuart Dickens has been banned for two matches for a headbutt and Andy Bostock suspended for one game for punching in Featherstone’s Northern Rail Cup game at Halifax on February 26. The RFL disciplinary panel took no further action against Haley who was sent off for punching in the same match.

All three Rovers players entered early guilty pleas which were accepted.

Dickens will also miss next Thursday’s first home league match against Leigh Centurions.

Rovers prop Tim Spears and centre Sam Smeaton, who have been charged with offences in last Sunday’s Batley game, will have their cases dealt with at next Tuesday’s disciplinary hearing.

Coach Daryl Powell says Rovers need to “tidy up” their discipline.

“There were a couple of fights last weekend and obviously it’s not acceptable to be throwing punches. I do think there’s a bit of provocation which the referees need to get a grip of but we can’t afford to respond to that sort of stuff,” he said.

Powell is confident Rovers can bounce back after their 15-match winning run ended last weekend.

“We’ve been excellent in responding to losses and I think that is the hallmark of a quality group of people who we have worked hard to build up over the last couple of years,” he said.

“There are not many teams who go through a season undefeated and there’s always a loss or two during a season that you don’t expect but I thought Batley played really well and put us under pressure.

“The conditions suited them a little bit and for our part we didn’t manage the conditions well.

“It’s always disappointing when you lose and at times we probably forget what it feels like when we’ve been as consistent as we have.

“We are going to lose games and it’s not about how you lose, it’s how you respond and obviously I’ll be looking for a pretty strong reaction at Keighley on Sunday.”

Powell expects a difficult game against newly-promoted Keighley who, like Rovers, have qualified the Northern Rail Cup’s knock-out stages.

“It’s going to be a tough challenge because Keighley is always a difficult place to visit. They’ll be up for it at the start of a new competition and we need to improve,” he said.

“Potentially, the conditions could be heavy again. It doesn’t look like it’s going to be too bad this week but it’s not going to be firm.

“We need to learn to adapt to what the weather throws at us and deal with it a little bit better.

“It will tough game and we are not going to go there thinking anything else. We need to go there ready to put in a high quality performance and make sure we are tough to break down.

“We know we’ve got work to do and we are not going to hide from it. We are going to work hard and get ourselves sorted as quickly as we can.”

Powell will be looking for an improved defensive performance at Keighley.

After conceding just one try in their opening two matches against Oldham and Dewsbury, Rovers have conceded six in each of their last two games against Halifax and Batley.

“We are conceding too many points at the minute,” he said.

“We have conceded 30-plus in each of the last two games and that’s certainly not what we are looking to achieve. It’s an area we need to tidy up.

“The tries we are conceding are things we need to work on but it’s not leaky defence.

“We gave two tries away from errors last weekend and another two from kicks. At Halifax the previous week we conceded four tries from kicks.

“There are some things we need to tighten up on and we need to nullify but we are not going to throw the baby out with the bath water.

“We’ve got to sort it out and get on with it - that’s what coaching and playing is about. You are dealing with adversity at times and coming back a little bit stronger.”

Rovers finished runners-up to Batley in Group A of the Northern Rail Cup after winning three of their four matches.

Said Powell: “Ultimately, three wins from four games gets you through in the Northern Rail Cup and we’ve done that.

“I don’t think we’ve been at our best by any stretch of the imagination but we’ve got ourselves through and it’s about improving.”