Gunning for glory: Two-time Challenge Cup winner Paul Wood has high hopes for his future with Featherstone. Peter Smith reports.
MARQUEE SIGNING Paul Wood says earning promotion to Super League with Featherstone Rovers would be as big an achievement as topping the table and winning Challenge Cup finals for Warrington Wolves.
The 33-year-old front-rower joined Rovers last week on a two-year contract after 15 seasons and more than 300 Super League appearances at Warrington, where he was player of the year in 2006.
Wood is the latest big-name star to drop from Super League into the Championship and insisted the new challenge is exactly what he needs as he looks to end his career on a high.
“I had been umming and aaahing for a few years about leaving Warrington and having a change and I’d always been talked into staying,” Wood said.
“It has just come to a point where I felt like now was the time. I didn’t just want to be at Warrington to see my contract out, I wanted a new challenge and that’s when Featherstone came up.
“I thought it could be a good challenge for me and something completely different as well.”
Wood made only 11 appearances for Warrington last term and said he is keen to get back to playing every week.
“There’s that aspect to it as well,” he admitted. “I had quite a few injuries last season, but I just needed freshening up.
“I spoke to quite a number of senior players within Super League who had spent long periods at clubs and they all came back with the same answers – it’s one of the best things they did and it rejuvenated them.
“I am actually feeling that. I have only been here a week, but I’m really enjoying it. The lads are a good set, Andy (Hay) is a good coach and everybody’s made me feel welcome.
“I am glad I made the decision I did. It was a tough decision to make, but something I needed to do before I retired.”
Wood was a member of Warrington’s Challenge Cup-winning sides in 2010 and 2012 and played in the 2012 and 2013 Super League Grand Finals.
But he stressed he doesn’t see moving from a club challenging for honours in the top-flight to one battling for a promotion spot in the second tier as a step down.
“It is more of a new challenge,” he said. “It’s a different side of things, where the challenge is to get Fev into Super League.
“That is going to be a massive step for us. I think we are concentrating on competing each week, but we have got some big goals at the end of the season.
“There’s no difference between that challenge and trying to help Warrington win Grand Finals or Challenge Cups.
“To me it’s just the same, you are playing rugby, you want to compete every week, you want to win games and you want to be the best team you can be in the division.”
Wood played his first game for Rovers in the 34-20 pre-season loss to Wakefield Trinity Wildcats two days ago.
Three imports from Australia have yet to arrive, but Wood said he is impressed with the squad assembled at Big Fellas Stadium.
“I can see there’s a good atmosphere among the lads and the work ethic the lads have got and the way they train with each other is really impressive,” he said.
“I can see, by looking from the inside now and being part of the squad, why they have been a successful team over the years.
“Work-wise and rugby skill-wise it has been really impressive to see so far.”
Rovers trailed 12-0 at half-time against Wakefield, but matched the Super League outfit try for try in the second period and Wood felt there were encouraging signs.
“Friendlies are just about blowing the cobwebs off,” he said.
“I came away from that game thinking how much improvement we are going to make.
“We’ve taken a lot of confidence out of it because although we lost, personally I was not disappointed with how the game went. I can see there’s a lot of improvement in us and there’s big expectations from the lads and a lot of drive within the team.
“I think there’s loads of positives that have come out of it.”
The top four in the Kingstone Press Championship after 23 rounds this year will go into a play-offs series against First Utility Super League’s trailing quartet to fight it out for a place in the top-flight next year.
Rovers were runners-up to Leigh Centurions in 2014, but with Bradford Bulls and London Broncos having dropped down a level, the competition will be tougher this time.
“It is going to be a tough league,” predicted Wood, who made two appearances on dual-registreation for Swinton Lions last season. “That’s one of the things me and Andy spoke about before I signed.
“Although it’s dropping down a division it’s not going to be easy because the teams at this level are tough.
“London are full-time and so are Bradford and Leigh.
“They are going to be big opposition, but from what I’ve seen so far there’s no reason why we can’t be really strong in this competition and do really well. Training-wise the lads are really ripping in and the work ethic is outstanding.”