THEY WERE second-best last year, but rising star Jack Bussey reckons Featherstone Rovers can be the top team outside Super League in 2015.
Rovers’ four-year reign as Kingstone Press Championship league leaders was ended when Leigh Centurions topped the 2014 table, with Featherstone a massive 15 points adrift in second spot.
Leigh also knocked Rovers out of the Tetley’s Challenge Cup, completed a home and away league double and then beat them in last October’s Grand Final.
The competition will be even stiffer in 2015, with relegated Super League outfits Bradford Bulls and London Broncos added to the mix.
Under the new league structure, finishing in the top-four after 23 league rounds is all-important, as the Championship’s leading quartet will then go into a play-off series against the sides finishing ninth to 12th in First Utility Super League.
The ultimate goal is to finish in the top half of that mini-league, securing a place in the elite competition for 2016.
But Bussey insisted Rovers’ initial aim is to be the best team in the Championship and he is convinced they have a squad capable of regaining pole position.
“It is a massive year for us,” Bussey said. “We want to be at the top of the 12.
“We are striving to be the top team in the Championship and at the end of the year we want to be in the middle-eight as well and to be top of that if we can.
“There was a gap last year, to be fair to Leigh. They looked great all year and they only lost one game in the league.
“But with the team we have got now – and we’ve got a few players to come back from injury and some new signings to fly over – I really think we will trouble them.”
It will also be a key year for 22-year-old Bussey, who began to emerge last season as one of the brightest prospects outside the top flight.
“I am looking forward to a big season,” he confirmed.
“I am looking to challenge myself. When we get into the middle-eight I want to challenge myself against the lower teams in Super League – so-called better teams than ourselves.”
Bussey, who was a substitute in last year’s Grand Final, can play a variety of roles, including in the halves, hooker and loose-forward.
“I feel I am getting to be established in the team,” he said. “I have played just over 50 games now.
“I think this year I will mainly be at loose-forward, hopefully, but I am just willing to play anywhere Andy (coach Andy Hay) puts me.
“I can play a bit of nine or stand-off, but I think loose-forward is the position I am most suited for.”
Rovers’ pre-season campaign began with an 18-0 defeat at Castleford Tigers last weekend.
But Bussey felt they did better than the scoreline might otherwise suggest.
“For most of the game I thought we defended well,” he said.
“We haven’t done much attacking play in training, but what we did do I thought sometimes looked to trouble them.
“Just the final pass on a few occasions didn’t come off and they defended really well, to be fair to them.
“They did have quite a decent team out and some big lads in there.
“We were pretty happy with our defence for the most part, for our first run out.
“We were a bit rusty and we’ve got a lot to fix up in training, but that’s what these pre-season friendlies are made for.”