FEATHERSTONE ROVERS will be in an unfamiliar situation when they face Leigh Centurions in tomorrow’s Kingstone Press Championship Grand Final at Headingley Carnegie (7pm).
It will be Rovers’ fourth Grand Final in five seasons and after going into their previous title deciders as favourites – and slipping up twice – the pressure is off them this time.
Leigh finished 15 points clear of second-placed Rovers in the league table and have beaten Featherstone three times this season, twice in the league and in a Challenge Cup tie.
“It was before I came here, but Featherstone have been heavy favourites in big games in the past,” coach Andy Hay said.
“They were very similar to Leigh one season a few years ago, when they almost went through unbeaten, but slipped up in the final.
“It is anyone’s game and we know that.
“We can go into the game and get stuck into Leigh and disrupt them a bit.
“They are coming in confident, they have had a great season, but in the last couple of games they’ve played I don’t know if nerves have got to them a bit.
“A couple of injuries over the last few weeks have caught up with them a little bit and it’s not always the favourites who win.”
Leigh scored 1,024 points in their 26 regular-season games and conceded only 396, an average score of 39-15.
Hay admitted: “It is a massive task. They’ve only lost once in the league and to Leeds in the Challenge Cup, they have eight or nine players in the All Stars team and they have beaten us three times already.
“We are under no illusions, but we said all along we wanted a top-two finish and once we’d got that we were going to enjoy the rest of our season.
“By that we meant challenge for silverware.
“We have got to the final, it’s down to 80 minutes now and it’s usually the players who have got the most desire who come through.”
Hay has just one selection decision to make ahead of tomorrow’s game. Jamie Cording returned from injury in last week’s semi-final victory over Sheffield Eagles, so the coach will have to decide whether to stick with that line-up or recall fit-again centre Greg Worthington.
“I’ve got to decide whether to change a winning team and whether to bring someone who has been injured into such a big game,” Hay said. “We have had the same 17 or 18 players for the last four or five weeks. We’ve not had any new injuries, apart from Greg.
“We have quite a few players out, but we have got a bit of consistency towards the back end of the year, with players playing week-in and week-out.”
NEW CHIEF executive Pat Cluskey is confident Featherstone Rovers have a bright future.
Cluskey was appointed yesterday as the permanent successor to Craig Poskitt, who resigned midway through the season. He previously worked for Leeds Rhinos and Widnes Vikings and also had spells as general manager and then chief executive at Chester Football Club.
His most recent involvement in rugby league was in commercial and management roles at Kingstone Press Championship One outfit London Skolars.
Cluskey said: “I’m really looking forward to working for an ambitious club like Featherstone Rovers and have been impressed already by the enthusiasm shown by everyone at the club.
“Being appointed in the lead up to a Kingstone Press Championship Grand Final against Leigh Centurions is certainly an exciting time for the club.
“I’m passionate about sport and with the new era commencing in 2015 in rugby league, I think Rovers are well placed to grasp and take advantage of the new opportunities that are being presented.”
Cluskey’s first match in his new job will be tomorrow’s title decider at Headingley Carnegie.
He added: “I went to the game on Sunday evening against Sheffield Eagles and the passion shown on and off the pitch at the Big Fellas Stadium was great to see.
“The work currently being undertaken by the volunteers at the stadium is remarkable and a great story and similar to ethos at Chester FC, which was a fan-owned club.
“I know (coach) Andy Hay from my time at Leeds and Widnes and I’m looking forward to working with Mark (chairman Mark Campbell) and the rest of the team to help Featherstone Rovers grow and fulfil our aspirations.”
Meanwhile, Rovers half-back Gareth Moore is hoping tomorrow will be second time lucky in a Championship Grand Final.
The former Leeds academy star was a member of the Batley Bulldogs team beaten by Sheffield a year ago and he said: “Last year was unexpected for Batley to get to the final and we surprised everyone.
“It was a special moment for all involved. The experience against Sheffield has definitely helped me shape the way I am approaching this final. I’ll be changing a few things here and there.”
Leigh are hot favourites after finishing 15 points clear at the top of the table. “They’ve had a great season and have some quality players, but they are beatable,” said Moore.