Championship Focus: Will Featherstone Rovers ever make it to Super League?

WHAT now for Featherstone Rovers?

As the dust settles on yet another season with dashed dreams of finally making Super League, the West Yorkshire club will be taking stock as they contemplate yet another Championship campaign – and how their future looks under IMG’s club-grading system.

Whether their bid to reclaim the top-flight spot last held in 1995, when they missed the cut for the new Super League by a place and two points, has been on paper or by deeds on the pitch, it’s been a case of so near, yet so far.

Denied by neighbours Wakefield in 1998, when the pair met in the then-Division One Grand Final at Huddersfield, and Trinity beat them 24-22, Featherstone missed out in the first round of Super League licensing, which ran from 2009 until 2011.

The club decided against making an application for the 2012 to 2014 phase, but continued to build on and off the pitch.

And under Daryl Powell, coach between September 2008 and May 2013, when he moved to arch-rivals Castleford, they three times both topped the Championship and reached the Grand Final, winning in 2011, when Sheffield were defeated 40-4 at Warrington.

Featherstone lost Grand Finals to Halifax and Sheffield either side of that, and in 2013, finished as leaders of the second tier again before losing at home to Batley in the play-off semi-finals.

That was under the the leadership of Danny Evans and Sean Long, as incoming John Bastian completed that campaign in his existing role as youth chief at Warrington.

Since then, coaches have come and gone – after Bastian, Andy Hay, Jon Sharp, John Duffy, Ryan Carr, James Webster, Brian McDermott and Long (again) – but that Super League spot has remained stubbornly out of reach.

Featherstone finished well adrift in the Qualifiers in both 2016 and 2017, the middle two of the four seasons for which that system was in use.

Then they went down in the promotion-deciding play-off finals of 2019 (24-6 to Toronto in Canada) and 2021 (34-12 to Toulouse in France) while in between being one of four clubs to lose out to Leigh in a bidding process to move into Super League after the Covid-hit Championship campaign of 2020.

After the disappointment of last year, when Batley won at the Millennium Stadium in the play-off semi-finals, surely the same thing couldn’t happen again?

After all, Featherstone claimed the Championship’s League Leaders’ Shield with three rounds still to go, and had comfortably beaten semi-final foes London Broncos twice during the course of a regular season in which they suffered only two losses.

Long’s services were dispensed with in August, as the club cited concerns over performances against sides close to the top of the table.

And James Ford, the former York coach who after a short stint as assistant to Mark Applegarth at Wakefield, had been made director of rugby in May as Featherstone continued to make themselves ‘Super League-ready’, had won all six of his previous games at the helm.

But when it came to the crunch, Featherstone once again flopped, going down 36-26 at home to the Broncos despite home advantage and having had a weekend off when Mike Eccles’ men were winning at Sheffield in their play-off eliminator.

Some have questioned the validity of a system under which a team can top a table over 27 matches, finish twelve points clear of their nearest rivals, tot up more than 1,000 points in the process, and not win promotion.

But, as the old saying goes, them’s the rules, and now Featherstone must reflect and formulate their next steps, with chairman Mark Campbell saying the club’s future financial sustainability is of the utmost importance.