FORMER NRL player Sam Irwin will be taking a leap in the dark when Featherstone Rovers kick off their Kingstone Press Championship campaign next month.
Irwin, 22, has joined Rovers on a two-year contract after making 10 appearances for Gold Coast Titans in Australia’s elite competition – but he admits he has no idea what he is letting himself in for.
The half-back/hooker has played in Rovers’ two trial games so far, against Super League sides Castleford Tigers and Wakefield Trinity Wildcats and will get his first look at Championship opposition when Featherstone visit Batley Bulldogs on Sunday.
“I have no idea,” he said, when asked what he is expecting in the Championship this term.
“I have never seen a game. I have only played the two games here, against Super League teams, so it will be interesting.
“I want to help Featherstone get into Super League and hopefully we can do that this year.
“The club’s good. The fans are very vocal and honest, which I like.
“Everyone has been very welcoming, so it is going well here so far.”
Rovers, who are awaiting the arrival of three more Australian-based players, have lost their opening two pre-season games, but Irwin is convinced they are on track for a strong season.
“I think we’ve got a good side here,” he stated. “There’s been a few glimpses of some good footy. It is only early days, we haven’t been together for very long and we can only get better from here.
“We were a little bit better (last week) than we were the game before.
“We haven’t done much work on attack yet, so that’s going to improve.
“We’ve done a fair bit of work on defence. That can get better as well, but we’re looking pretty good in that area.”
From Darwin, in the Northern Territories, Irwin joined Gold Coast from Burleigh Bears in 2011 and made his NRL debut two years later.
A former Australian Schoolboys international, he moved to Rovers after playing for Burleigh last season.
“I will just give it my best and do whatever they ask of me,” he said. “I prefer hooker (to half-back), but I will play anywhere to get on the field.”
He has interchanged with Andy Ellis during pre-season and that could be a key partnership for Rovers this year.
“He is very good,” Irwin said. “I will get to learn off him and I think we can work well together.” The biggest stumbling block for Irwin so far has been England’s winter weather – though he reckons the cold here is easier to deal with than the heat of Australia’s far north.
“The weather takes a lttle bit of getting used to, but so far so good,” said Irwin, who played in freezing conditions against Castleford and a gale in last Sunday’s game at Wakefield.
“It is hard to get warm, but once you get going it is a good temperature to play in. I would certainly rather play in the cold than the heat, that’s for sure.”
Meanwhile, Sunday’s game has been shifted to Batley after originally being scheduled for Rovers’ Big Fellas Stadium.
Problems with a section of the newly-laid pitch have led to two pre-season matches – against Hunslet Hawks and Salford Red Devils – being called off and the clash with Castleford was moved to The Jungle. Featherstone officials are hopeful the playing surface will be ready in time for the Championship round-one clash at home to Hunslet on Sunday, February 15.
If not, it could be switched to South Leeds Stadium or a neutral venue, with Wakefield Trinity Wildcats chairman Michael Carter confirming that they have offered to host Rovers’ matches if an alternative has still to be found.