The long and rich history of Featherstone Rovers Rugby League Football Club

Thursday, 28 December 2017

Matty Dale, Jonny Hepworth, Jack Bussey, Tim Spears, James Lockwood

With Daryl Powell at the helm, the Rovers pack enjoyed some previously unseen stability. The structure was simple. Strong running front-rowers up the middle, wider running second rowers, mobile enough to run through gaps and cover defensively inside the half-backs, and the midfield defence bolstered by a bulky loose forward. He preferred a couple of no-nonsense workers for that role.

Matty Dale
Matty Dale first played for Featherstone on loan from Hull FC towards the end of the 2007 season. When he signed again full time two years later season he operated mainly at second-row, with Tommy Haughey sharing the loose forward role with Jamie Field. Towards the end of that season, Iestyn Harris also packed down at the back of the scrum.  From then on though, loose forward was Matty’s job and he moved inside to defend the middle third, and his place was settled for the next three years. 2011 was our most successful season of the Daryl Powell era, and part of that success was due to having a very settled pack. Tony Tonks, Ben Kaye and Stuart Dickens were the unchanging front row. Jon Grayshon and Tim Spears the second-rowers and Matty Dale at loose forward.

The following year, coach Powell experimented with more distributors and ball handlers, so many times pivot Jonny Hepworth played at thirteen. We also saw youngster Jack Bussey get the occasional run, and for the first time in his career Kyle Briggs started at loose forward. On those occasions Dale moved into the second row. The following season, Rovers went more for power than guile with Dale once again at the back of a pack that included Steve Crossley, Kaye and Matt James, with James Lockwood and Spears in the second row. A serious knee injury finished Matty’s career after 166 Featherstone games and 54 tries.

Tim Spears
Tim Spears’ career started at Castleford, before he found regular first team football at Batley. He came to Featherstone at the same time as Matty Dale in 2009 and spent six seasons offering sterling service as a willing runner and indefatigable tackler in the second row. Dale’s departure created a gap at 13, initially filled by James Lockwood, then under Andy Hay and also Jon Sharp, it was increasingly Spears in that position. He continued to play the same whole-hearted role, and was rewarded by being made club captain for three seasons from 2014 to 2016. He left for York at the end of the 2016 season after 201 first team appearances.

Matt Lambert, Paul Darley, Danny Seal, Adam Hayes, Richard Blakeway, Tommy Haughey

The departure of the reliable Richard Slater at the end of 1999 left Featherstone without a recognised number thirteen, and over the next few seasons, a number of players stepped forward to make a claim. It was a reflection of the new requirements of coaches of their loose forwards that a contrasting selection of players filled the role.

The summer of 2000 saw veteran Australian Matt Lambert return to Post Office Road as pack leader and first team skipper. Lambert had previously played at Hunslet, before a spell at Featherstone in 1997 and then York. He brought a wealth of experience to a youngish pack. Lambert played a total of 57 games for Featherstone, and helped the club through a transition period. From time to time that year, erstwhile second-rowers Steve Dooler and Neil Lowe both also had the opportunity to show their running skills from the base of the scrum.

Richard Blakeway
For almost all the 2001 season Paul Darley was used at number thirteen. Originally from Castleford, Paul did a very good job for the club under coach Peter Roe. In later seasons, he switched to hooker before a serious knee injury ended his career after playing 106 games for the club. For the following season, Rovers went to Halifax to sign Danny Seal, a different style of back-rower to Darley’s handling and distribution role. Seal was a diminutive forward, but a strong runner and a decent tackler. He did a good job for us over two seasons, despite a persistent hand injury, and his 68 games brought him 31 tries. In 2004, Rovers took on Adam Hayes from Huddersfield. Alternating between second row and loose forward Adam played some 58 games, but lost his place to Steve Dooler and went on to have a decent career at Sheffield and Dewsbury.

Tommy Haughey
Rovers then signed ex-Castleford junior, Richard Blakeway. Richard was more in the role of a classical loose forward, tall, with distribution skills and a kicking game. He was even used at stand-off from time to time, but settled down to play most of his rugby at Featherstone in the second-row. After 117 games and 31 tries with Rovers, he went on to play for Hunslet and York. In a bid to win promotion back into the Championship in 2007, we signed Castleford forward Tommy Haughey, who had also played at London and Wakefield. Tommy helped the club achieve that aim and won a place in the National League Two ‘dream team’ for that season alongside Stuart Dickens. More than any other player throughout the whole decade, Tommy made his mark at loose forward. He was a frequent try scorer, 45 in 90 games, and aggressive tackler on his day. He later played for Hunslet and York. When Daryl Powell took over in 2009 he switched the experienced Jamie Field to 13. After a long super league career at Leeds then Wakefield, Jamie continued to play his natural strong running and tackling game, and over four seasons played 86 times for Rovers before retiring.

Thursday, 14 December 2017

Richard Slater

Following in the footsteps of Brendon Tuuta would be a daunting prospect for any loose forward. Joining a club amidst the trauma of enforced demotion from the Super League would be equally onerous. But the hard-working Richard Slater was unfazed by this background noise, and gave four years of solid service to Featherstone Rovers from 1995 to 1999.

Richard Slater
Born in Normanton, Richard Slater signed for Wakefield Trinity as a teenager. He quickly made his mark there, playing the Yorkshire Cup final in 1992 and representing Great Britain Under 21s. He played alongside future Rovers player and coach Gary H. Price and also Australian legend Ray Price, who once memorably described young Slater as ‘pound for pound, the best tackler in the league’. He played a total of 134 games at the Belle Vue club, and when he became available, Rovers snapped him up for a considerable fee. He made his debut on the 1st of November 1995 in the most inauspicious fashion, a midweek game at home to Rochdale during the much disliked centenary season. Rovers contrived to lose the game 24-16 although Slater did score the only try for Rovers that evening.

From then on, he offered a model of consistency during a turbulent period both for the club and the sport as a whole. His forte was his tackling, a classic round-the-legs technique which never failed him. Defending in the middle, he always got through a lot of work, although not the biggest of forwards. In the first summer season, he missed just two games, and packed down behind a very experienced second-row combination of Roy Powell and Jon Sharp. During the following season, he lost his place following a knee injury, and Danny Evans filled in for the rest of the season so successfully that Slater found it hard to break back into the team. In 1998 he was back as first choice pick at loose forward and had another hard-working campaign which resulted in Rovers coming within a cat’s whisker of super league, only to be denied by Richard’s former club Wakefield.

For the 1999 season, Rovers re-signed kiwi loose forward and local hero Brendon Tuuta, but Slater kept his place at the back of the scrum, with Tuuta now operating at second-row, and even occasionally at prop. At the end of the 1999 season and after four years of sterling service, Slater moved on to Hull Kingston Rovers where he spent a couple of years, before finishing with two seasons at Dewsbury. In total he played 111 games for Featherstone and scored a modest 12 tries.

In some ways, Slater’s departure and the subsequent retirement a few years later of Danny Evans marked the end of the old-fashioned role of the loose forward. From then on, ever more prevalent were coaching tactics that included a third prop at the back of the scrum. The ball handling skills of previous generations of number thirteens were now the preserve of half-backs and hookers at acting half-back, and the loose forward role became less distinguishable from that of prop or second-row.

Sunday, 3 December 2017

Brendon Tuuta

Hailing from the Chatham Islands, Brendon Tuuta played much of his junior rugby in the Canterbury region of New Zealand before treading the well-worn path of young Kiwis to the ARL in Sydney. There he signed for Western Suburbs and played for them for two seasons, sharing the loose forward role with Ellery Hanley. In the summer of 1989 he made his test debut for New Zealand against Australia, whacked Wally Lewis, and his hot-head “baby-faced assassin” reputation was firmly established in the Sydney press. It was something Brendon himself never liked as, although no-one who ever saw him play would accuse him of lacking aggression or enthusiasm, there was far more to his game than this lazy ‘hit-man’ image the media had created for him.

Brendon Tuuta
Brendon arrived at Featherstone in the autumn of 1990, already known to English fans for his performances on the 1989 Kiwi tour, not least against Rovers themselves when the Kiwis won 44-20. Initially signed on a short-term off-season contract, his impact at Featherstone and his rapid adaptation to local life was such that this short sojourn became a five year love affair with the club and its fans.

Smaller in stature than the majority of rugby league forwards, Brendon always ran and tackled well about his weight and enjoyed nothing better than being in the thick of the action. His fearless disregard for his own well-being in the cause of the team was what ultimately endeared him to the fans. When Rovers were surprisingly relegated in 1992, writer Dave Hadfield memorably described the following Divison1 season without Brendon Tuuta like “a hotdog without the mustard”. As a ball handler, he was also a skilful distributor and line breaker as extended spells at stand-off attest. On such occasions the loose forward shirt was filled by Ian Smales, Tim Sharp and later Neil Roebuck. His tackling style inevitably led to occasional red cards and suspensions, an occupational hazard for such a combative character.

Having helped the club back into the top flight and played at old Trafford in the Premiership Final, Tuuta came close to a Wembley appearance in 1995 when we were beaten at the semi-final hurdle by Leeds. All good things come to an end, and when Rovers were compulsorily demoted that summer, Brendon moved on, firstly to Castleford where he spent three seasons, then a further year at Warrington. Having decided to retire at the end of the 1998 season, he was persuaded to give one last year to his favourite club, and played the 1999 season with the same infectious enthusiasm with which he always played. After retiring, he was elected to the Featherstone Rovers Hall of Fame. He played a total of 177 games for Rovers, and scored 32 tries. He also won 16 New Zealand caps, the majority of them as a Rovers player.

Sunday, 26 November 2017

Paul Lyman

Featherstone's loose forward at Wembley in 1983 was Peter Smith, who offered yet another wonderful exhibition of loose forward play on the biggest stage, a master of his craft. Paul Lyman was a just fresh faced seventeen year old, used as a first half substitute in the centres that afternoon after John Gilbert’s injury. The young apprentice would quickly learn from the master though.

Paul Lyman
Within a couple of years of that fairy-tale start to his career, Lyman was good enough to fill Smith’s boots at loose forward for Featherstone Rovers. He went on to become one of the most talented players that the club produced in the 1980s. Like many promising youngsters, his pedigree in the game was impeccable. Both his father Barry and his grandfather Ray had played for Featherstone. Paul signed for his hometown club on his 17th birthday in 1982, but he could have hardly dreamed about how quickly his career would take off. That Wembley final was only his tenth game for the club.
Paul’s career developed in the ensuing seasons, as Rovers, with Smith suffering from a long-term injury, searched for new back-row talent. In his first full season he was limited to 16 games, just seven of which were at loose forward. This was due to Terry Hudson switching from scrum-half to the back of the scrum. But the following year, Lyman gradually took over from Hudson and made the number thirteen jersey his own. Paul had his own unique style, ideally suited to the duties of a loose forward. He was a strong runner, especially onto Deryck Fox’s passes, he could break the line regularly with his strength and his side-step. He was also blessed with sufficient pace to finish many of those breaks himself. On defence, he was a copybook cover tackler. He won county honours as a substitute in 1985, and the following year he marked his full Yorkshire debut with a trademark try against Lancashire.
One of his finest matches was a Cup game against Widnes when, despite some fearful punishment from a bruising Widnes pack, he scored a magnificent hatrick in an honourable defeat. At the end of that season he scored the all-important match-equalling try as Rovers stayed up in a heroic performance against Champions-elect Halifax. 
In the autumn of 1986 he was selected for the Great Britain squad to play the touring Kangaroos, but bafflingly he was discarded without getting a chance to show his skills. Unfortunately, that was the closest he came to full international honours after having won Under 21 caps earlier. Undeterred, Paul continued to score consistently over the next two years, including 17 tries in our promotion year of 1988.
From then on he was troubled by a persistent knee injury, and in the end it was good business for Featherstone that saw him transfer to Hull KR in exchange for a hefty fee and Chris Burton in 1989. He gave Hull KR good service over four seasons playing 99 games. For Featherstone, Paul Lyman played a total of 159 games and scored 62 tries.