Champions Featherstone Rovers have suffered a massive blow on the eve of their Co-op Championship Grand Final showdown with Sheffield Eagles.
Rovers will go into the final without star centre Sam Smeaton, who is facing surgery after being injured in training on Thursday night.
Coach Daryl Powell revealed: “He has damaged his patella tendon and dislocated his kneecap, so it’s not a great injury.
“We’ve only got one game left in the season, but we start training again in six weeks. I’m not sure how long he’ll be out for.”
Smeaton is a member of this year’s Championship All Stars team and Powell added: “It is really disappointing for Sam and us. He has been great, but it is an opportunity for somebody else.
“We have got a strong squad and we’ll adjust as best we can.”
Former Bradford Bulls academy player Liam Mackay, who has made just two substitute appearances this season, has been drafted into Rovers’ squad as 19th man.
Jon Grayshon and Jonny Hepworth are also in contention, with long-term casualty Michael Haley (broken foot) being Rovers’ only other absentee.
Rovers are aiming to retain the title in a repeat of last year’s Grand Final, which they won 40-4.
“I didn’t expect a scoreline like that last year and I don’t expect it this year,” said Powell – who is a close friend and former Sheffield team-mate of Eagles boss Mark Aston.
“I am expecting a tough game. It started out really tough last year – we went 12-0 up and they came back at us.
“It was hard up to half-time, then we got away from them a bit. I think it will be closer this time.
“We are going out to play to the best of our ability and we know Sheffield will do the same.
“It will be tight, they are a good side and they are in a bit of a groove, so it’s a really tough challenge.”
For the second successive year it is top of the table versus fourth.
Rovers – who lost to Halifax in the 2010 Grand Final – have played just twice in more than a month, including a 32-14 win over Leigh Centurions in the qualifying semi-final two weeks ago.
By contrast, Eagles have been in action in every round of the play-offs, beating Batley (42-12), Halifax (54-12) and Leigh (32-22)– since the end of their league campaign “They are the form team and they are probably favourites,” Powell claimed.
“They’ve had three outstanding victories in the play-offs and they’ll be feeling fantastic about themselves.
“We are going to have to be right on top of our game. There will be no under-estimating anybody in our camp.
“We’ve played them twice this year and we haven’t beaten them – they had a big win and there was a draw at their place.
“We have not played well against them and we need to sort that out this week.”
Eagles are without front-rower Joe Hirst, who suffered a broken jaw in last week’s win over Leigh.
Coach Aston said: “The guys have worked really hard this season. We’ve achieved what we set out to achieve and now we want to put a few wrongs right from last year.
“We weren’t great against Leigh. We were giving penalties away and looked a bit lethargic at times, but the character and attitude came through. We showed we are capable of playing right to the final whistle.
“I am sure it’s going to be a fantastic final, we’re over the moon that we’re there and this year we intend to participate.”
Featherstone Rovers: from Hardman, Saxton, Hepworth, Worthington, Ropati, Kain, Finn, England, Kaye, Lockwood, Dale, Spears, Briggs, Chappell, Bostock, Maloney, Dickens, Grayshon, Mackay.
Sheffield Eagles: from Knowles, Davey, Taulapapa, Brown, Yere, McDonald, Turner, Brambani, Stringer, Howieson, Hepworth, Higgins, Szostak, Morrison, Henderson, Green, Scott, Lauulu-Togagae, Straughier.
Referee: Tim Roby (Preston).
Kick-off: 4.30pm Sept 30, at HJ Stadium, Warrington.