The consensus at the Betfred Championship launch in Keighley less than six weeks ago was that the second tier would be more wide open than ever before. Yet just five games into the campaign Featherstone Rovers are looking more than prepared to blow the rest of the league away.
It is not just in their five-from-five record so far, nor their 254 points scored and just 44 conceded. It is also the attitude of the players and their coach Sean Long which suggests Fev mean business this time around in their latest tilt for Betfred Super League rugby.
On Monday night they saw off a tough Bradford Bulls side, condemning Mark Dunning’s outfit to a second defeat of the season by coming from behind to register a 26-12 win at the Millennium Stadium. In a ding-dong battle, Joey Leilua’s vital interception at 14-8 to set up the position for John Davies‘ try early in the second half was a gamechanger. From Bradford knocking on the door for a share of the spoils at 14-14, suddenly Rovers were 20-8 up and primed to kick on and secure their fifth straight win.
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But that was nowhere near enough for rookie head coach and former playing great Long, who told Viaplay Sports afterwards: “I just thought we had no respect for the ball and we lacked a lot of composure with the ball. We tried to score on every tackle, every set, but on the flip side our defence was really resilient.
“I think we dodged a bullet there, if I’m being honest. We were way off where I want us to be.”
And that insistence on driving up the standards will not only inform their upcoming performances in the Championship but should also tee them up for a real crack at the Betfred Challenge Cup, with their knockout campaign beginning live on The Sportsman on Sunday at home to Halifax Panthers.
Fev have already beaten the Panthers once this term, dispatching Scott Grix’s side 46-22 in week two of the Championship. But Long’s warning will serve as a timely reminder that teams are going to come at Rovers hard in 2023 now that they are firmly installed as favourites to win promotion to Super League.
“Our D was pretty much faultless all night, but we just couldn’t deal with their kicks,” Long continued after the Bradford win. “We just need to rein it in, realise when it’s not going your way in those particular moments in a game and think ‘Let’s get back to running hard, bury your nose, kick long, chase hard, get back into the grind set for set, play the long game and then try to turn it around.
“It’s a great learning day for us. You always get something from a game, and I thought our lads learned a lot today from a good Bradford team who kept coming and coming after us. The boys are not happy in there and I’m not happy, but we’re learning each week.”
The Panthers head into Sunday’s live game off the back of a 20-16 win over Batley Bulldogs which extended their 100 per cent home record this season. But they’ll travel the short distance to Featherstone knowing that they face an almighty challenge again the in-form Championship leaders who continue to be pushed to even greater levels.
Sunday’s clash kicks off at 3pm, with coverage beginning on The Sportsman and on our dedicated rugby league YouTube page at 2:45pm.
*18+ | BeGambleAware | Odds Subject to Change