Featherstone Rovers 42 Halifax Panthers 10: Craig Kopczak eyes Super League return
AS someone who has captained his country at Wembley, finished top of Super League and played for Bradford Bulls when they were World Club Challenge champions, Craig Kopczak has seen plenty in rugby league.
However, the chance to help Featherstone Rovers finally win promotion to the elite when they face Championship leaders Toulouse Olympique XIII at Stade Ernest Wallon on Sunday will rival any of what has come before.
Two years on from losing at Toronto Wolfpack in the Million Pound Game, the West Yorkshire club must travel overseas once more to achieve their long-held ambition but, regardless, they have their shot at glory again.
Former Wales prop Kopczak was among the try-scorers as Featherstone – who finished second behind Toulouse – swept past Halifax in Saturday’s semi-final at a rain-drenched Post Office Road. Unbeaten Toulouse vanquished Batley Bulldogs 51-12 and are slight favourites to seal their own place in Super League.
They have home advantage, boast a plethora of stars such as Remi Casty, Dominique Peyroux and Mitch Garbutt and are the only side to defeat Featherstone in the Championship this term.
But Kopczak believes Rovers – who he joined from Wakefield Trinity over the winter to add yet more quality to James Webster’s stellar side – are ready to complete the job.
“It will top the season off,” he told The Yorkshire Post. “We spoke about it way back in pre-season; this was the main aim – to get to the final. We’re there now. And just 80 minutes away from the big prize. In terms of intensity, it (Halifax game) had that semi-final feel, with the rain and everything. It will be different over there in Toulouse but that warmer, drier weather suits us; we like to play expansive football and the boys are ready.
“Toulouse have a few ex-Super League players in there and we know we have to be a lot smarter, be a bit more clinical and turn them over in the right areas.
“They have a big pack but we have a big pack. It’s going to be fireworks. It will be one of those games where hopefully we come out on top of them.
“It’s two of the best clubs in the competition, going head to head.
“I’ve been around a few different scenarios in my career and this one would top it off.”
Against Halifax, Featherstone only led 14-4 at the break going up the slope courtesy of Frankie Halton and Kopczak tries but – even after seeing Tom Holmes sin-binned for a marginally late hit – they always looked too strong for their opponents.
The tireless James Lockwood, Brett Ferres, Halton and Kopzcak all set the tone up front and it was no surprise they ran clear in the second period.
Connor Jones (2), Ferres, the excellent Kris Welham and Josh Hardcastle all crossed while Craig Hall finished with seven goals.
Kopczak has only been with Rovers one season but the 34-year-old knows how important the forthcoming 80 minutes is for all involved.
“It’d be massive for the club,” said the Bradford-born forward, who has also starred with Huddersfield Giants and Salford Red Devils. “It’s that next step they have been waiting for for a while now and we’re just 80 minutes away from getting there. It’d be great to see them in Super League.
“Personally, I’ve been enjoying myself. I had a bit of a stale patch at Wakefield last year but I came here and really expressed myself and found myself again.
“It’s been great to have this at the back end of my career.”
Saturday marked the end for Scott Grix, the veteran Halifax full-back playing the final game of his fine career which included winning the 2013 League Leaders’ Shield with Huddersfield alongside Kopczak and Ferres.
He did create their second try for Liam Harris after Connor McGrath scored in the first period but Simon Grix’s side were always up against it facing such determined and experienced foes.
Featherstone’s Luke Cooper and Halifax’s Ben Tibbs were both sin-binned for separate offences towards the end.
Featherstone Rovers: Walker; Gale, Hardcastle, Welham, Hall; Brown, Holmes; Kopczak, Jones, Lockwood, Ferres, Halton, Field. Substitutes: Chisholm, Davies, Cooper, Bussey.
Halifax Panthers: Woodburn-Hall; Saltonstall, McComb, Worthington, McGrath; Harris, Grix; Tangata, Moore, Murray, Garside, Kavanagh, Fairbank. Substitutes: Robinson, Larroyer, Morris, Tibbs.
Referee: Robert Hicks (Oldham).