Saxton set to return for trip to Hunslet

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FEATHERSTONE are set to welcome back winger Tommy Saxton for Sunday’s Co-operative Championship game at Hunslet Hawks.

Saxton (pictured), who has signed a two-year contract extension that will keep him at the club until at least the end of the 2014 season, is poised to return after missing the last three games with a groin injury.

Hooker Andy Ellis, signed on loan from Wakefield, and winger Jack Briscoe, who has joined Rovers on dual registration from Hull, are set to retain their places after making their debuts against York on Saturday.

But Rovers are likely to be without centre Sam Smeaton who sustained a rib injury in the early stages of last weekend’s game.

Kyle Briggs is sidelined after having an operation to cure a troublesome shoulder injury.

Rovers coach Daryl Powell said: “I think Tommy Saxton will be back but Sam Smeaton will be a doubt. He hurt his ribs and they tend to take a while to clear up. I’d have thought he would be unlikely to feature.

“I spoke to Kyle Briggs on Tuesday morning. He’s had his operation but he’s not quite sure what he’s had done and he needs to speak to the specialist to see what the prognosis is.

“I think there is a strong chance both Andy Ellis and Jack Briscoe will play at Hunslet. They both came through okay against York and I thought they both had pretty good debuts.

“Jack grew into the game and at the end he set up a try for Nathan Chappell with a great run in which he got out of three or four different contact situations and then he supplied a really smart left-handed off-load.

“I thought Ellis was sharp and will compliment Ben Kaye pretty well.”

James Lockwood and Jon Grayshon were both left out of the first-team last weekend.

Said Powell: “We keep talking about competition for places and players playing well.

“Dom Maloney had been left out the previous week and he responded in a pretty positive fashion with his performance against York.

“What I am looking for at the moment is for individuals to drive the performance levels up.”

Young half-back Jack Bussey, who sustained a broken cheekbone in the Challenge Cup win against Hunslet Old Boys in March, scored three tries in his comeback with the reserves in last Thursday’s 68-6 win against Sheffield Eagles.

“Jack played really well in the reserves. He is a good quality young kid. He’ll get opportunities in the first-team in the not too distant future,” said Powell, who is expecting a tough challenge at South Leeds Stadium on Sunday.

“It’s a pretty tough place to go. It’s a smallish pitch and Hunslet will be pretty desperate,” he added.

“They will be keen to win and everyone is raising their game against us at the moment so we won’t be going there expecting anything other than a pretty tough game.”

With just four points separating the top six teams, the Championship could hardly be tighter.

Rovers, who have won their last two matches against Batley and York, are just one point behind leaders Halifax who lost 23-16 at Batley last weekend.

Powell said: “There are a few teams who have knocked each other off and obviously it was a big win for Batley last weekend against Halifax.

“It’s a tight competition and there’s not much between quite a few teams. It’s about hanging on in there and finding consistency.

“I thought there were loads of positive signs for us last weekend against York even though it wasn’t a full on performance for 80 minutes.

“I thought we looked at times that we were getting back to where we want to be so it was pretty pleasing, particularly in the second-half.

“We are focusing on things game to game and just trying to improve every week and I think in some areas we are really doing that.

“We’ve had a few injuries to deal with that have forced the team to re-shuffle a bit but I’m really pleased with the squad we’ve got together.

“We’ve added a couple of new recruits that have freshened us up a bit and we are just working hard at the moment to get consistency in what we are delivering on the field.

“The last two games were crucial for us. Obviously, the one at Batley was an excetionally dangerous game and York are improving all the time. They took Sheffield close the previous week and they showed some really good signs against us that they are going to win in the not too distant future.

“I was pleased to get the last two results and it has stabilised us a bit. We are working hard every time we practice to get better.

“I think one of the things people need to understand is that it’s a tough league and you are not going to win every game convincingly.

“We had to dug deep to win at the weekend. We got away from York a bit at the end but you’ve got to earn the right to score points. I thought the finish of our sets in the first-half didn’t give us an opportunity to do that.”

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