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

Thursday, 13 July 2017

Vince Farrar, 1947-2017, Rest in Peace

Born in 1947, Vince Farrar made his Featherstone Rovers debut in 1965 and started his career as a hooker, competing for a spot with Milan Kosanovic and Graham Harris. When he wasn’t hooking, Farrar often played at loose forward, where his natural handling ability was put to good use. In 1971, with Keith Bridges at hooker, the departure of Mal Dixon left a space at prop which Vince filled ably. He remained a prop forward for the rest of his career.

Once he was established in the first team, it was not long before he won county honours, and after making his debut in 1971 he played for Yorkshire eight times during his career. He suffered a setback in 1972 when he had a serious knee injury, which fortunately cleared up in time one of the biggest days of his career, the 1973 Challenge Cup final at Wembley. A vintage performance was capped by an iconic try as he crashed over the line in fine style. He remained an automatic first choice pick when fit, and his hard work and courage was always an inspiration to his team-mates. In the summer of 1974 he had a brief spell in Australia with the Cronulla Sharks.

By the summer of 1975 Farrar was back to full fitness, and a regular over the next three years at blindside prop alongside Bridges and erstwhile second-rower Jimmy Thompson. For two glorious seasons the Thompson-Bridges-Farrar front-row combination took Rovers to our best ever years in the league. Featherstone finished second in 1976, which was Vince’s benefit season after ten years’ service to the club. Then in 1977 came Vince’s proudest moment as a player, captain of his home-town team as they lifted the game’s biggest prize, the Rugby League Championship, for the first and only time in our history. He played a total of 309 games for Featherstone Rovers.

This awesome pack of forwards was sold off too quickly, and Farrar himself joined Hull in November 1977. He went on to great things for his new club, gaining international recognition whilst at the Boulevard. He won a Great Britain cap when Peter Fox selected him for his country against Australia in November 1978. At 31 years of age, he was surely one of the oldest ever Great Britain debutants. He also played for Hull in the 1980 Challenge Cup final.

When Featherstone Rovers first team coach Paul Daley resigned in January 1981 Vince Farrar came back to Post Office Road for his first senior coaching role. Such had been the turnover of players in the four years he had been away that only a few of Vince’s old team-mates remained at Featherstone. His initial brief was to keep Featherstone in the top flight, and to try and break a losing run of matches. Despite taking Rovers to the Cup quarter-finals, the side didn’t win their first league fixture under Farrar until 29th of March against Salford. Featherstone did just enough to stay up in the end finishing just two points ahead of relegated Halifax.

The following year, 1981/82, Rovers finished 10th, despite winning only 12 of their 30 fixtures. 1982/83 started with high hopes but Rovers won just four of their opening 12 fixtures and inevitably it is the coach who pays the price in these circumstances and after a heavy 45-0 defeat at Wigan Vince Farrar was sacked in November 1982. Within a few months the side he coached would go on to prove just how well they could play on Rugby League’s biggest stage. Vince Farrar coached Featherstone Rovers for a total of 65 games, all of them in the First Division.

Two years later there came the surprising move of taking up playing again when the brand new Sheffield Eagles team was formed in the summer of 1984. Vince proved what a genuine rugby league man he is by playing 22 games that year at the age of 37 and making a lot of new friends at the fledgling club with his whole-hearted attitude.

He continued to be a popular figure in the game for the rest of his life, well loved and respected by everyone at Featherstone Rovers and throughout the game.

Rest in Peace. 

POST-SCRIPT. Vince Farrar’s testimonial brochure was printed by Featherstone Rovers in April 1976. In it, well-respected journalist Joe Humphrys of the Daily Mirror wrote the following:

“Rugby League footballers come in all shapes and sizes. Some are thick-set and short; others long-haired and lanky. Then there are those only too anxious to play their hearts out for the love of the game, contrasting with the ‘grabbers’ who believe the game owes them a living. And of course, there are the hot heads; players who don’t seem to be able to control their tempers and go seeking trouble in almost every tackle. They are all in a cross-section of Rugby League players.

But it is the home-spun players of the calibre of Vince Farrar, that ‘iron man’ of Featherstone Rovers, who form the real backbone of the sport.

Vince has always been the same. A sound, down-to-earth, hard-working, reliable player any coach would be glad to have in his pack - and one of the toughest. A player who has never set out to grab the headlines other than by his unstinting efforts on the field - and one whom I regard as unlucky not to have caught the eyes of the (international) selectors more often.

Vince cannot look back on a string of international appearances; injuries have plagued him at the wrong time. But a player who never complains, he has always played the game the way it was meant to be played…… asking for no quarter and giving none.

Yes, Rugby League footballers come in all shapes and sizes, but few like Vince. He’s the best of a kind.”

Saturday, 22 April 2017

Andy Kain

       After losing promising local star Richard Whiting to Hull after only a handful of first team games, Rovers used youngster John Presley at stand-off for the 2004 campaign. He was more of a scrum-half but played at six quite capably before he moved onto a long and successful career at Sheffield, Keighley and then York. We also used Richard Blakeway, essentially a loose forward but with the distribution and kicking skills to do a good job for us in the halves. Australian import Josh Weedon arrived from Queanbeyan, staying with us for two seasons, and the much travelled Dom Brambani also played briefly at Rovers between spells for Dewsbury and Sheffield.

Andy Kain
      After our relegation into the third tier of rugby league for the first time ever in 2005, Rovers had Paul Handforth at scrum half organising and kicking, and needed a pacy livewire sort of player to complement him at stand-off. Castleford-born Andy Kain was playing for Widnes and he fit the bill perfectly. He slotted straight into Rovers team in June 2007 and scored some vital tries in our promotion push. With two tries on his debut in a defeat at Celtic Crusaders, Kain played all sixteen remaining games including the playoff final victory against Oldham at Headingley. Back in the Championship he was first choice stand-off throughout 2008, his pace and willingness to back up making him a regular scorer. For 2009 new coach Daryl Powell brought in both Kyle Briggs and Iestyn Harris as pivots, so Kain moved equally successfully to scrum-half, and notched a more than respectable seventeen tries that year playing essentially the same role he had in the number six shirt.

      When Rovers signed Liam Finn to partner Briggs for the 2010 season, Kain started most of that year on the bench, being used as interchange hooker where he adapted to the increased defensive duties of tackling in the middle of the park very well, whilst continuing his eye for the try-line. That year brought him twelve tries. When Briggs left for Bradford, Kain & Finn became a half-back fixture at Rovers throughout three very successful seasons, and Andy continued to rack up the tries at a phenomenal rate. His record of 30 tries in the 2012 season was in fact the fourth highest ever for Rovers by any player in a season, behind only Newlove (48) Simpson (34) and Woolford (31). After the departure of Liam Finn, Andy continued for one more year at Rovers partnering Gareth Moore at half-back throughout 2014. He reached his fourth Championship Grand final in five seasons, a record matched by only Ian Hardman and Tim Spears.

     At the end of the 2014 season after 210 first team matches and 128 career tries over eight seasons, Andy Kain moved first to Hunslet, then to Dewsbury. His try tally leaves him fourth on the all-time list behind Don Fox (162) John Newlove (147) and Jim Denton (129).

Saturday, 25 March 2017

Andy Bastow

Martin Pearson played the first full summer season with his home town team then left for a successful super league career and, as so often happens after Featherstone Rovers sell a star player, the club then simply had to do and make mend. At first, coach David Ward turned to Neil Summers signed from Bradford. Although lacking pace, he was a player who showed good skills at Championship level. As a former rugby union fly-half he also inevitably had a decent kicking game, always a useful attribute for a stand-off. Unable to claim a place at scrum-half due to veteran Deryck Fox, former Leeds junior Paddy Handley also played quite a bit of rugby at number six for Rovers. When David Ward left, he was replaced by Steve Sims, who was always ready to throw in any youngster who showed promise. Therefore, Leeds-trained Karl Pratt got an extended run in the halves towards the end of the 1997 season, before playing the following year on the wing. Pratt was an exciting talent with pace to burn at Championship level, but he moved back to Leeds in a big money transfer at the end of the year. What might have happened had his late try in the Championship final against Wakefield not been ruled out hardly bears thinking about. 

Andy Bastow
Handley continued to share the number six role over the next couple of seasons with first Jamie Coventry, signed from Castleford juniors and then with ex-Wakefield half-back Ryan Horsley. In 2000, after so much experimentation, new coach Peter Roe decided on a fixed half-back pairing that played side by side almost unbroken for three full seasons. At scrum-half was Jamie Rooney, and at stand-off former Wakefield junior Andy Bastow. Without being the most dynamic of players, Bastow offered a good foil to Rooney’s creative skills, solid on defence and a good link to the three-quarters. It was a system that worked well for a generally overachieving young Rovers team. Whilst he was never a prolific try scorer himself, Andy offered good distribution to a pacy three-quarter line which at that time contained some steady try scorers such as Richard Newloveand a young Danny Kirmond.

At the end of the 2001 season, Roe left for Wakefield and Rooney followed him there. After 83 games in three seasons, Bastow was sold to Hunslet and new coach Andy Kelly had to go back to the drawing board in his search for half-backs. He began with Andy McNally, an old-style stand-off with acceleration and good distribution. Richard Agar was also used, although he was more of an organiser and tactical kicker. Agar helped guide his team around the park, a thinking man’s footballer who was always destined to go into coaching. For an all too brief period, Rovers enjoyed the talents of Richard Whiting playing for his home town time before moving to Hull FC after just a few months of first team football at Featherstone.

Friday, 17 March 2017

Martin Pearson

Following the controversial departure of Graham Steadman in the summer of 1989, Featherstone Rovers initially turned back to the reliable Alan Banks as their go-to man to cover stand-off. They also used youngster Ian Smales who was making a name for himself across the backline.  Another local youngster Tim Sharp also proved his utility value and regularly partnered Deryck Fox at half-back. 

Martin Pearson
With Smales equally at home in the three-quarters, the half backs or the back row, and with Sharp able to cover 6,7 and 13, Rovers then added another talented local youngster into the mixture. Sharlston bred Martin Pearson had joined Featherstone in 1989 and made his full debut (after some earlier games as a sub) at stand off against Sheffield in 1990. He marked his first start with eight goals in a close Rovers win and then landed a last minute match-winning touchline conversion against Leeds the week after. It was a sensational start and young Martin set about delivering on that early promise.

For the next two seasons Smales, Sharp and Pearson all seemed to swap around as coach Peter Fox was happy to mix and match. When Smales was at stand-off Martin would play on the wing, or cover for Chris Bibb at full-back. When Steve Martin arrived, Smales was settled into the back-row, Sharp lost favour and was transferred to York so Pearson got an extended run at stand-off. He rewarded his coach’s faith with a prolific season, grabbing 28 tries and 140 goals to smash Steve Quinn’s points in a season record.  When Chris Bibb got injured towards the end of the season Pearson switched to full-back where his pace and power were too much for second division defences.

To cover Pearson’s positional switch, Rovers picked up a bright young prospect from Leeds by the name of Francis Maloney. Short and stocky but with pace off the mark, Maloney enjoyed an influential spell until a knee injury ruled him out and Warrington came in with a big offer for his services. The coast was now clear for Pearson to enjoy an uninterrupted spell in the halves under new coach David Ward, but a serious knee injury cost him almost a complete season. Rovers covered that gap with two New Zealanders, both Mark Nixon and Brendon Tuuta partnering Mark Aston at half-back.

After the SKY revolution and enforced demotion, Rovers lost almost an entire first team squad, but Martin Pearson was one of the few players who stayed. He was a virtual ever present at stand-off during the Centenary season and in the first year of summer rugby. Both seasons he was top try scorer and top goal scorer. Inevitably Super League came calling and he served Halifax, Sheffield and Wakefield before trying his hand at rugby union in France. He played 166 games for Featherstone, 103 as starting stand-off. He scored 101 tries and kicked 470 goals. His 1338 points leaves him as our fifth greatest points scorer of all-time.

Saturday, 11 March 2017

Graham Steadman

Throughout our long and proud history Featherstone Rovers have been justifiably well-known for producing outstanding local talent, and less well-known for big money signings. However, when large transfer fees started to become the fashion in the 1980s, Rovers were not afraid to ‘splash the cash’.
Graham Steadman
Graham Steadman was certainly one of those big money signings, as the club smashed its transfer-fee record to bring him to Featherstone for £55,000. Ironically he was also an outstanding local talent, but after occasionally playing for Rovers Under 17s side, a brief trial at Bradford that didn’t work out and even a spot of rugby union at Knottingley, he eventually turned professional for York. He enjoyed five outstanding seasons there and when he arrived at Post Office Road it was with a great sense of expectation that he would finally solve the problem of a fixed half-back partner for Great Britain international scrum-half Deryck Fox. Fox had previously played with Alan Banks and Andy Mackintosh.

At York, Steadman had basically been their only attacking weapon and everything went through him. At Featherstone, exactly how to use his obvious pace, tremendous sidestep and acceleration was more problematic. He also had an excellent short and long range kicking game which needed to be dovetailed with the work of Fox as main tactical kicker. Successive coaches struggled to harness Graham’s mercurial talents into our team pattern. Neither George Pieniazek nor Paul Daley ever managed to resolve this conundrum. Rovers even turned at one stage to veteran stand-off Johnny Crossley, shifting Steadman to the three quarters, which was a waste of his ability. 
When Peter Fox arrived, he immediately switched Steadman to full-back for the first time. However, this experiment lasted just two matches and the rest of his Featherstone career was at stand-off. This was understandable as Rovers had the excellent Chris Bibb at full-back, but it was a shame that the idea was cut short. Years later Daryl Van Der Velde tried the same thing and, with more patience and coaching, Steadman rapidly became a prolific try scoring phenomenon at full-back and was Great Britain’s number one choice in that position for a number of seasons.

After twelve tries in his first year and seventeen the following year as Rovers won promotion from the Second Division, Steadman started the 1988/89 season in outstanding fashion. Combining perfectly with Fox, he scored 14 tries and looked a much more potent attacking threat. This form only made his end of season transfer to our local rivals all the more unfortunate. The acrimonious nature of his departure to Castleford in the summer of 1989 somewhat overshadowed the fact that he served Rovers well for three seasons and that the club had made a handsome profit too. He played 96 games for Featherstone and scored 48 tries.

After retiring he coached at Castleford, and then, oddly enough for a player who was exciting with ball in hand but not as strong a tackler, he plied his trade in international rugby union as a defensive coach. He is a member of the Hall of Fame at both York and Castleford.

Saturday, 4 March 2017

Alan Banks

John Newlove’s departure to Hull FC in 1978 left a big hole to fill in the Featherstone team. A number of quality players were tried in the position with varying degrees of success. Firstly, Rovers had to rely on the dependable skills of utility back Neil Tuffs. When an exciting young speedster by the name of Steve Evans came on the scene he had an extended run at six, before he found his more natural home in the three-quarters. In 1979/80, Paul Daley attempted to copy Peter Fox’s idea of converting a centre into a stand-off. It had worked for Fox with John Newlove and for one year at least it worked very well for Daley because erstwhile centre Steve Quinn had a superb season at stand-off. Quinn won the Second Division Player of the Year award, and shattered club records for goals and points in a season, as well as being leading try scorer. Back in the top flight both Quinn and Steve Evans alternated between stand-off and centre with neither player settling into a fixed role. In 1981/2 Rovers tried Paul Hayden and the year after signed Phil Johnson from Castleford. Still no-one could nail down this elusive yet important position.  

Alan Banks
 When Allan Agar took over as coach from Vince Farrar he had no hesitation in throwing in a local youngster who was just 17 years old. Alan Banks grabbed his chance with some confident displays and never looked back. He had an excellent rugby pedigree as both his brothers Keith and Barry played professionally. Nobody in their wildest dreams could have imagined that Banks’ debut season would end with him as one of the youngest ever players in a Challenge Cup final, but he took it all in his stride. Seeing him, apparently nerveless, being interviewed in the dressing room at Wembley pre-match gave everyone watching the feeling that here was a youngster who knew exactly what he and his team-mates were capable of that famous afternoon. That same summer Rovers signed Deryck Fox and the Banks & Fox half-back combination was a first team fixture for the next couple of years.

Alan offered solid no-nonsense consistency, and was a good tackler and strong runner who would never let you down. In 1985 Rovers signed a talented but injury prone half-back Andy Mackintosh from Leeds. Alan Banks moved into the centres, whilst Mackintosh showed some nice touches before injury struck again and forced him to retire. Banks resumed at stand-off but was destined to spend most of the rest of his career at centre. In total he played 233 games for Featherstone and scored 46 tries, despite having called it a day at a relatively young age.