James Ford: ‘Improvements’ needed for Featherstone Rovers in play-offs despite sealing league leaders’ shield at Bradford Bulls
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Tries from Dan Smith, Gareth Gale and Craig Aekins helped Rovers to secure top spot in the Championship for the first time in a decade after consecutive second-place finishes in 2021 and 2022.
But the Bulls, who have their own dreams of reaching Super League after dropping from the top tier in 2014, produced a valiant effort against the runaway leaders.
After the game Ford said: “First and foremost we want to celebrate being league champions. It’s the first time Featherstone have won this league since 2013 so congratulations to the players, supporters and to the owner and board who have created a Championship-winning side.
“But the job’s not done. We need to obviously find some improvements and make sure we go into the play-offs in better form than that. I thought Bradford had a go and they were very good and were pretty physical.
“They’re third in the competition, they have got some good players in their squad, some good players in the team today and it was a home game for them and if there is one team that can play in this field it should be them. But we have come out on the positive side of the scoring ledger, as John Kear says.
“I knew today was going to be a challenge. Bradford did a really good job of building the game up and tried to make it a hostile environment for us. But we enjoyed it.
“I never felt that we weren’t going to win the game but I didn’t think we played anywhere near to our potential. I think we can all play a lot better.”
And Ford also insisted his players would need to be better against the Bulls if their paths crossed again in the play-offs. Asked if he thought Bradford would be a challenge in the knock-out format, Ford responded:
“Absolutely. If they can get a home tie here, I’m not sure where they’ll finish but they will be a challenge for anybody on this surface. They are a good team and if we come up against them in the play-offs we know we will have our hands full.”
Ford made five changes to the 17 which saw Fev beat Keighley Cougars 36-6 last weekend, with Craig Hall, Gadwin Springer, Matthew Wildie, Brad Day and Ellis Longstaff all coming in for Luke Briscoe, Craig Kopczak, Arama Hau and Jonathan Ford.
Praising the “depth” of his squad, the club’s former director of rugby said:
“All enforced (changes), minor injuries and people unavailable for certain reasons. The owner and the board have put together a great squad with quality in depth.
“We have missed five, six, seven players who, in my opinion, would get into any Championship team and we’ve still beat the third placed side away from home.”