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Rugby League: Chapman has flying start at Featherstone

Featherstone Rovers 32 Rochdale Hornets 12
RICHARD CHAPMAN collected his trophy as man of the match in last season's First Division Grand Final after this opening fixture in the newly branded Ford Premiership. He would probably have swapped that honour for victory in the final and the chance to move up to Super League with Featherstone. Having failed to do that, the mystery is why no existing Super League club has given him the opportunity.

Although other members of the side that lost narrowly to Wakefield Trinity that night have moved on, Chapman has committed himself to Featherstone and, on the evidence of his display yesterday, that is very good news for them indeed.

One reason Super League coaches might be suspicious of Chapman is that there is so much unpredictable variety in his work from dummy half. That also makes him a nightmare to play against, as Rochdale will vouch after this resounding beating.

No one has had a worse winter than Hornets, who lost two of their forwards to premature deaths within a few weeks of each other. The loss of Roy Powell, also a former Featherstone player, was marked by a minute's silence before the match. No sooner was that over and before Rochdale had even had the ball in their hands than Chapman had twice opened them up with accurate and perceptive long passing, first for Jamie Stokes to score and then to spark the attack that ended with Mickey Clarkson going over.

When Chapman exploited the new 40/20 rule to gain a scrum feed in Rochdale territory and Featherstone's new captain, Carl Hall, went over directly from that scrum, Rovers were running away with it. Only Chapman's goal- kicking failed to match the rest of his play, with just one success from his first three attempts towards his eventual total of four from nine shots.

Hornets had little to offer beyond the well-honed kicking game of their player-coach and former Featherstone icon Deryck Fox and it was his precise boot that put the ball between two defenders for Andy Eyres to produce their only try of the half.

When Fox tried to squeeze a crafty pass to Willie Swann soon after, however, the ball went to ground and Featherstone went to the other end of the field through clever handling by another of their good young players, Stuart Dickens, to help to create another try for Martin Law.

Another probing long pass from Chapman sent Steve Dooler crashing over as Featherstone ended the 40 minutes of their advantage on the Post Office Road slope a clear 20 points ahead.

That was the match effectively over, but with more possession and the sniping runs of Mick Shaw from dummy half at last giving them some momentum, Rochdale were more competitive after the break.

They limited Rovers to one more try, a second from the Great Britain Academy winger Stokes after Paddy Handley, another of their outstanding players on the day, had kicked ahead.

The otherwise anonymous Swann got a late second try for Rochdale, but they had never been in the same class as a Featherstone team that will again be a force in the division under its new format and new name.

Featherstone Rovers: Bramald; Thompson, Law, C Hall, Stokes; Horsley, Handley; Okesene, Chapman, Dickins, Clarkson, Dooler, Slater. Substitutes: Coventry, Amone, Evans, Padgett.

Rochdale Hornets: Wilde; Eyres, Hilton, Coult, Coussons; Swann, Fox; Knowles, Shaw, Aston, McKinney, Burgess, Stephenson. Substitutes: Hudson, R Hall, Bunce, Sculthorpe.

Referee: I Smith (Oldham).

Young half-back Paul Deacon upstaged the Paul brothers as Bradford Bulls romped to a 62-6 victory over Super League newcomers Wakefield in yesterday's friendly at Odsal.