Brian McDermott building for promotion at Featherstone Rovers

There was a point during yesterday’s press conference that Featherstone Rovers head coach Brian McDermott wondered out loud who Leigh Centurions even were.

By Dave Craven
Thursday, 27th January 2022, 6:00 am
Championship Launch 2022. Chris Clarkson of York with Craig Hall of Featherstone. Picture: Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com
Championship Launch 2022. Chris Clarkson of York with Craig Hall of Featherstone. Picture: Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com

Admittedly, he said, in his mind, there was some confusion.

The former Leeds Rhinos chief had been posed a question about how his side and Leigh will be the frontrunners when the Betfred Championship campaign gets underway this weekend and it could even be suggested that it is just a two-horse race for promotion.

“Lee? Lee? Lee?” responded McDermott, before realising.

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Featherstone Rovers head coach Brian McDermott. Picture: Tony Johnson

“I’m not being funny. I was thinking who’s Lee? I thought you meant Lee, the name.

“Yes, absolutely they (Leigh) are the frontrunners. I think they are the frontrunners.

“They’ll have the biggest spend, they have the experience, they have that muscle memory of getting promoted into Super League.

“I think we’re in a really strong position. I’m really confident for us. If you’re a betting man, though, I think you put your money on Leigh.”

The mind games have begun ahead of a fascinating campaign.

Granted, Leigh – looking to immediately bounce back after relegation last term – have invested heavily in their squad, with former Wakefield Trinity coach Chris Chester leading that recruitment as their recently-installed head of rugby.

Nevertheless, Featherstone’s squad is impressive, more so now given the main purpose of yesterday’s media call: the announcement of another three signings.

Do not forget, either, they have already captured Joey Leilua, the star Samoa centre who played for Canberra Raiders in the 2019 NRL Grand Final and was stood at the back of the press conference taking in McDermott’s musings and his new surroundings having flown in this week.

Furthermore, the competition’s sponsors have the West Yorkshire club – who missed out to Toronto Wolfpack and Toulouse Olympique in the last two promotion deciders – as slight 5/4 favourites.

Leigh are priced at 6/4. With Halifax third favourites at 12/1, though, it is easy to see why it is regarded as a two-horse race.

But what of Featherstone’s latest captures?

Australian scrum-half Ryley Jacks has spent four of the last five seasons at Melbourne Storm, no less, and his imminent arrival could be timely if Dane Chisholm’s appeal against an eight-game ban tonight is not successful.

Featherstone have also added veteran prop Adam Cuthbertson from Championship rivals York City Knights.

The Australian won two Super League Grand Finals under McDermott at Leeds and arrives at Post Office Road as player/coach. Cuthbertson turns 37 next month and his coach readily admits he will not play every match.

Still, unlike the other two who are yet to arrive, he is ready to face York in Monday night’s league opener at his former club and his experience could be crucial in the months ahead.

Lastly, Featherstone have added Ben Mathiou, the 26-year-old prop from Townsville who has been playing Queensland Cup for Norths Devils and is the son of Jamie Mathiou, the Australian front-row who helped Leeds win the 1999 Challenge Cup.

Jacks, 29, only played once for Storm last term but has 35 NRL appearances with them along with another 13 games for Gold Coast Titans.

“I had a discussion with Martin [Vickers] and Brian [McDermott] about a week ago about coming over to play for Featherstone,” he explained.

“I’ve always wanted to [play in the UK], and knowing the story of how Featherstone have come so close in recent years, I really fancied the challenge of teaming up with Joey [Leilua] and the other boys to go that one step further.”

Cuthbertson added: “The chance to work with Mac [McDermott] again was a brilliant opportunity for me. We’ve got a great relationship which continued well after our time at Leeds.

“With a passion for performance and coaching it was a no-brainer when Mac approached me about joining him at Featherstone as a player/coach. I certainly feel I’ve something left in me that I want to show; there’s a fire that hasn’t gone out so I’m raring to go for one last challenge.”

Featherstone continue to do things right off the pitch; 2,000 secondary school pupils from the area have season tickets for 2022 while chief executive Vickers has found £250,000 of new commercial deals to help offset the £180,000 fall in broadcast money.

That has helped fund these signings.

Now it is time to deliver. Against Leigh, Lee or whoever.