Rerun for the glory years

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The Independent Online
FOR EITHER of the Rovers, Hull Kingston or Featherstone, success in today's First Division final eliminator will be a taste of the glory days that both of them might have thought had gone for good.

The two rugby league clubs, who meet at New Craven Park for the right to play Wakefield Trinity in next week's Grand Final at Huddersfield, were rarely out of the running for one honour or other 10 years ago but have not had much to cheer about in the Nineties.

Of the two, Hull KR have been in steeper decline, going from being the most feared side in the game in the early Eighties to bankruptcy and near extinction. Featherstone have had their problems as well, but have kept their heads above water astonishingly well, for a village club swimming against the tide of a game with its sights fixed on bigger centres of population.

They believed that they should have been in Super League from the start and, if they win their last two matches, will press ahead with an application to join. Their tidy Post Office Road ground would not be out of place in the top flight and nor would some of their players, even though they finished three places behind Hull KR at the end of the First Division league programme.

The Humberside team still have, in the shape of Paul and Mike Fletcher, players from their last era of great success. They also have the most prolific try-scorer in the country, in the Papua New Guinean stand-off Stanley Gene. Logically, they should be favourites. But the Hull KR director and Great Britain manager, Phil Lowe, is not so sure.

Superstition - his club had twice beaten Wakefield while he was away - dictated that he watched Featherstone play Dewsbury rather than his own match at Belle Vue last Sunday. The superstition did not work. Trinity qualified for the fast lane to the Grand Final, but Lowe came away highly impressed with Featherstone.

Under their coach, Steve Simms, whose contract expires at the end of this season, they have hit their stride at the right time, grabbing a late place in the play-offs and now giving every impression that they are the side with the momentum.

Featherstone sides of the past might have been synonymous with big forwards straight out of the pit, but the present line-up play a very contemporary game. Smaller, man for man, than any of their opponents, they specialise in keeping the ball alive and moving bigger sides around. Then the gaps appear; for Ty Fallins at scrum-half, for Richard Chapman, running from acting half-back, and most of all, for the gifted 18-year-old Karl Pratt.

Pratt is at present playing on the left wing; not a bad place to hone his skills, but other clubs have seen enough of him in the position he is eventually destined to fill, stand-off, to ask Featherstone to name their price for him. For the time being, that price has frightened off the predators, but the hunt will be on again this winter, with Wigan likely to lead the way.

As a winger, Pratt has proved remarkably effective - evidence that really good players are often the most adaptable - with eight tries in his last five matches. His partnership with another relocated player, the Australian second-rower Danny Baker, who is now at left centre, is one of the main threats to Hull KR.