FEATHERSTONE ROVERS are confident former NRL player Jy Hitchcox will arrive in time to make his debut in their Kingstone Press Championship opener at home to Hunslet Hawks on Sunday, February 15.
Hitchcox has signed a two-year contract, subject to receiving a visa, and is regarded as a key signing for Rovers in their bid to win promotion into First Utility Super League for 2016.
The 25-year-old back has experience with Gold Coast Titans, Melbourne Storm and rugby union outfit Manly Marlins, and made his debut in Australia’s elite NRL last season, playing four times for Wests Tigers.
Rovers missed out on the signing of a Cook Islands player after his visa application was rejected, but coach Andy Hay believes Hitchcox – who scored a try on his first senior appearance, against Sydney Roosters – will have no such problems.
“We’re hoping it will be done by the end of January,” Hay said.
“I’d like to think we’ll have him here for the start of the season.
“We’ve got Christmas coming up and it’s not ideal, but we’ve been looking for quality recruits and it does take time.
“It is not as easy as it is for Super League clubs, but we’ve registered his contract with the RFL and hopefully the process will be quick.
“We’ll get stuck into it after Christmas and he should be here for the first game.”
Hay reckons Hitchcox, who toured this country with Australia at under-18 level, has the potential to light up the second tier.
“He’s 25, he has had loads of games in the New South Wales Cup and he made his NRL debut this year,” he reported.
“He has massive potential. He is a really quick, strong and agile player and he’s someone who can play all positions in the backline.
“He even filled in at hooker at one point last year, so he is versatile and that’s what drew us to him.”
Hay said the Aussie recruit will cover the full-back, wing and centre positions next season, allowing former Great Britain man Paul Sykes – brought in from Wakefield Trinity Wildcats – to specialise at stand-off.
“We want competition for places and he fits into what we are trying to do,” Hay added.
“I think the squad now is stronger than last season, because of who we’ve brought in.
“Sam Irwin (an ex-Gold Coast Titans half-back, signed from Burleigh Bears) looks something special and Will Milner, from Huddersfield, has got a big future.
“Paul Sykes has been outstanding for us in pre-season training and he will be a dimension we didn’t have last year.
“He will probably be playing more at stand-off, with Jy coming in to cover full-back, wing and centre. Stand-off suits him and it suits the team.”
Aussie prop Ryan Verlinden – signed from Newtown Jets – will arrive in England once his official paperwork has been completed.
Hay said Rovers are still looking to add to their squad and one deal – potentially bigger than the signing of Hitchcox, according to the coach – could be finalised as early as today.
Rovers begin their pre-season campaign on Sunday, December 28, when they visit Castleford Tigers.
That game has been switched to the Jungle because of problems with the pitch at Rovers’ Big Fellas Stadium.
Featherstone’s Gareth Swift memorial fixture at home to Hunslet Hawks and scheduled for Sunday, January 4, has been postponed.