NO CLUB has made more appearances in a lower division Grand Final than Featherstone Rovers, but captain Tim Spears says Sunday’s showdown with Leigh Centurions at Headingley Carnegie with be extra-special.
The finalists will both be in the title decider for a record fifth time, but after topping the table from 2010 to 2013, Rovers go into this weekend’s clash as the second-best team over the course of the year.
They were runners-up to Leigh on the Kingstone Press Championship table and have endured a difficult campaign which saw coach John Bastian axed after just 10 games, major backer Feisal Nahaboo end his investment and a number of key players sidelined by long-term injuries.
Featherstone, who lost just nine league games during their four years of table-topping dominance, were beaten seven times in the regular season and Spears admitted: “We haven’t had it all our own way this year. It has been a bit of a rollercoaster. In previous years we’ve had a settled side and not many injuries, we’ve been sat on top and everything’s been hunky-dory. This year we’ve never known what we are going to get.
“We lost our coach midway through the year and we’ve had a lot of injuries as well. Credit to Andy (coach Andy Hay) and Danny (assistant Danny Evans), they have done a great job pulling us together. We have done it tough and that makes getting to the Grand Final even more special, having done it the hard way.”
Spears played in each of Rovers’ three previous Grand Finals this century and he added: “We had that run in 2010, 11 and 12, but not getting there last year makes you realise it doesn’t come around every year and it is not just part and parcel of the year. It is a special achievement getting there and it is a huge day. We haven’t had the best of years, but that’s by our standards. We have been second most of the year and we’ve reached the Grand Final.
“A lot of clubs would be happy with that, but by Featherstone’s standards it has been a bad year.”
Rovers wilted under pressure in the 2010 and 2012 finals, but this year the heat will be on Leigh. Spears said: “They are hot favourites. It is something Andy has done a good job of relaying to the players – the pressure is not really on us.
“There was big pressure on us earlier in the year to get into the top-two, because of the financial reward, but going into the play-offs, even against Sheffield last week I think they were favourites.
“It is fantastic to be there, but we don’t just want to make up the numbers. All the pressure is on them and it will be inhteresting to see how they cope, but they are a good side, with not many weaknesses. The half-backs are very dangerous, with how many tries Ryan Brierley has scored.
“They have a big set of forwards and some very good pivotal players, like Sean Penkywicz and Bob Beswick, who have been excellent. “We know how tough it is going to be, but at the same time we are 80 minutes away, it is there for us and our form in the play-offs has been pretty good especially defence, which is something we have been working on.”