Super League. It has been a Promised Land Featherstone Rovers have never reached. They’ve been close. Really close. But it has always just eluded them.
They hoped 2020 would be their year, having come within 18 minutes of promotion the year before. They were, in the eyes of some, unlucky not to be handed a place at the end of the year anyway.
But now they have another chance, another opportunity, and this could be their best yet.
On paper, it could be argued they have the best squad in the competition. They certainly have one of the strongest. The financial clout of Leigh and Toronto is no longer a threat, even if that of Toulouse, and the full-time status of London, remains.
Internally, it’s a club that believes it is ready for Super League. The challenge is for James Webster and his squad to prove it.
“I think we’ll be competitive and I’m confident it will be one of the hardest competitions on record,” is Webster’s outlook.
“Lots of clubs have recruited well. York have signed well, Bradford have recruited really well, Toulouse have spent a lot more money, London have just recruited fantastic players, Widnes have a fantastic spine, Fax as always, have recruited well and will be amongst it.
“I’ve been in the country 16 years and no part-time team since I’ve been here has been promoted. It’s a real challenge, but we understand what we’re chasing.”
The last point is significant. Featherstone remain part-time and, unlike previous years, are unlikely to be able to call on dual-reg partners Leeds Rhinos as often as before due to the concept being abolished.
That could also help them too. Fev have bolstered their squad with quality, but also more depth. The positives of that are already clear to see.
“What people don’t realise is that last pre-season was really poor for us.
“We only had 18 first-teamers on our books and 5-6 had pre-season ops, then players were at weddings. We were down to 11 players most nights. To win our first six games was good given the circumstances, though I thought we were scratchy. We currently have to be careful and cautious in how we train but to have 23 to 24 in every session been fantastic.
“We’ve got a good mixture of players I think. We wanted to recruit players with a hunger to improve but we’ve a full understanding of how tough it is.”
Webster isn’t in coaching for emotion. He’s clear about that. But delivering promotion to the club’s supporters is an experience he wants to share.
“I started Rugby League at Balmain, a working-class club with players, plumbers, electricians. We’d train at five in the morning or night. I see a lot of the same attributes within the town here. It’s what Rugby League is about and built on, why those people support you because of what you stand for.
“From a personal level, you want to be successful, I’d love for the people around Fev and the board who have given plenty to be able to experience that and compete with some of the big teams in Super League.
I’m not into coaching for pats on the back but don’t get me wrong, if we got promoted I’d get a lot of satisfaction out of it.”
Challenges are ahead, some more glamorous, others less so. But Webster is ready to embrace them all one by one.
“I honestly believe that’s what gives the flavour to the Championship. I hear people talk of their disdain of the tough places but I think totally differently. It’s great, you have to find a different way to play.
“Golfers love the British Open because they have to prepare differently. This league has pitches with hills, pitches not full size in length or width, a whole abundance of different styles and atmospheres you’ve got to overcome. People should embrace that more and we certainly will.”
Featherstone Rovers 2021 squad numbers: 1 Craig Hall, 2 Ben Blackmore, 3 Kris Welham, 4 Josh Hardcastle, 5 Gareth Gale, 6 Tom Holmes, 7 Dane Chisholm, 8 Craig Kopczak, 9 Fa’amanu Brown, 10 James Harrison, 11 Brett Ferres, 12 Brad Day, 13 James Lockwood, 14 Connor Jones, 15 John Davies, 16 Jack Bussey, 17 Thomas Minns, 18 Luke Cooper, 19 Callum Field, 20 Frankie Halton, 21 Dean Parata, 22 Jake Sweeting, 23 Joe Summers, 24 Dale Ferguson, 25 Louis Sheriff, 26 Jimmy Beckett, 27 Loui McConnell, 28 Jacob Doyle, 29 Harvey Spence, 30 Liam Whitton, 31 Junior Moors.
Ins: Fa’amanu Brown (Free agent), Jacob Doyle (Castleford Tigers), Callum Field (Leigh Centurions), Frankie Halton (Swinton Lions), Tom Holmes (Huddersfield Giants) Connor Jones (Salford Red Devils), Craig Kopczak (Wakefield Trinity), Loui McConnell (Leeds Rhinos), Junior Moors (Castleford Tigers) Louis Sheriff (Keighley Cougars), Harvey Spence (Leeds Rhinos), Joe Summers (Castleford Tigers), Kris Welham (Salford Red Devils), Liam Whitton (Leeds Rhinos)
Outs: Conor Carey (Released), Brandan French (Released), Louis Jouffret (Ottawa Aces), Jack Render (Sheffield Eagles), Jack Richardson (Released), Alec Susino (Released), Bradley Wright (Released), Nathan Wright (Released).
Head coach: James Webster
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