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 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’ 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.