Modest Powell shames short-sighted Super League

Featherstone are thriving under the Championship's top coach – so why aren't the elite clubs interested?

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The Independent Online

If Daryl Powell took a balanced view of his prospects, he could be excused for having a chip on both shoulders.

The most successful coach outside Super League, he has this week been voted Championship Coach of the Year again after steering Featherstone Rovers to the League Leaders' Trophy for a second year.

On Sunday, he will direct them in the Championship Grand Final against the club where he spent most of his playing career, Sheffield Eagles. That career brought him 33 Great Britain caps, since when he has coached Ireland and assisted with England.

It all adds up to an impressive set of credentials, but when four Super League vacancies loomed towards the end of this season in Yorkshire alone, Powell was ignored. Three of those jobs went to relatively unknown Australians and the other to Richard Agar, displaced by one of the imports at Hull.

"I didn't apply for any of those jobs and I wasn't approached," says Powell. "I'm not disappointed for myself, because I'm enjoying what I'm doing.

"But I'm disappointed that 10 out of 14 Super League coaches are going to be Australian."

It isn't just Powell who finds himself looking through a glass ceiling. Two of the best-qualified English coaches, Karl Harrison and John Kear, will be in the Championship next season, with Huddersfield and Batley respectively. "And don't forget Mark Aston," says Powell, name-checking the Sheffield coach who will be in direct opposition to him at Warrington this weekend.

He and Aston go back a long way. Powell was the Eagles' first-ever signing and the scrum-half always known as "Tubby" was not far behind. Powell had moved on before Aston led the Eagles to their finest hour, the 1998 Challenge Cup final triumph over Wigan at Wembley.

"I would have been proud to have been involved in that, but I don't have a lot of regrets about what I have done in my career. Besides, I was there [at Wembley] the following year with Leeds."

He went on, at the relatively young age of 36, to be appointed the Rhinos' coach. Two years later, he was shunted into a "director of rugby" role when the Australian Tony Smith was brought in.

Powell set about broadening his coaching experience, including becoming head coach to the rugby union club that was then the Leeds Tykes, until Featherstone brought him back to his first love.

There, his success has been remarkable. Although Rovers were beaten by a single point by Halifax in last year's Grand Final, they have lost just one game in the Championship this season.

"That sort of consistency is very pleasing," says Powell, "but we have had some really close games with Sheffield and I'm not expecting this [weekend's] to be any different."

Although this final does not lead directly to Super League, that is where Featherstone – who were once feted as the game's most successful village club – aspire to be. They did not apply for a licence this time, but they are already committed to doing so for 2015.

That, says Powell, is why he does not cast envious glances at anyone currently working in Super League.

"I'm waiting for sense to prevail and for Featherstone to get there," he says. "That's how I want to get into Super League – with this club."

From his vantage point, it does not seem to be an unbridgeable gap to get across – something that he believes will be illustrated by another game this weekend.

In the centres for Leeds against Warrington tomorrow night will be the 19-year-old Zak Hardaker, who a year ago was playing for Powell at Featherstone before signing for the Rhinos.

Having seen his young protégé score a hat-trick of tries against Huddersfield last week, Powell insists: "I'm not surprised in the slightest by how well he has done.

"I've always thought he was going to be an outstanding player. He's got pace, skill and a great attitude.

"He just goes to show that there is talent in the Championship. Super League clubs don't go looking for it as much as they should do, but it's there."

And, although Daryl Powell is too self-effacing to say so, that applies as much to coaches as it does to players.

Leigh battle cashflow 'blip' as players remain unpaid

Leigh's players have not been paid this month as the Championship club goes through its latest cash-flow crisis.

The club's board was meeting yesterday afternoon to try to find a way through their problems.

"Hopefully, it's just a blip which we can sort out and carry on, but it's tough," admitted the Centurions' chief executive, Trevor Barton.

Leigh have failed to reach the Championship Grand Final this season, having been knocked out by Sheffield a week ago, and that has been a body-blow to their finances.

"But those are the vagaries of sport," Barton said.

Keith Senior (pictured) is wanted in French rugby union. The former Great Britain centre, released by Leeds, had signed to play for Crusaders, but that contract was cancelled when the Welsh club opted out of Super League.

There is a supporters' meeting in Wrexham tonight to gauge the interest in a team playing in Championship 1 next season.

Warrington have a major boost for tomorrow's qualifying semi-final against Leeds with the return of Ben Westwood after a seven-match absence with a knee injury.

Leeds have Carl Ablett back, but are still without Kallum Watkins.