After Peter Roe left to join Wakefield Trinity, Rovers appointed his erstwhile assistant Ian Fairhurst as team manager, his first senior appointment after a number of years as Roe’s number two at Keighley and at Featherstone. Rovers had finished fifth in the 2001 season, and at the end of the year Ian Tonks and Jimmy Carlton were added to the squad, but we lost Australian full-back Michael Rhodes replaced by Nathan Graham. On paper it was a competitive looking team which had made the playoffs in each of the previous three seasons.
The NFP, as it was then called, was attempting to move back to a winter season so the previous year had finished in mid-July and the 2002 season actually kicked off on the 3rd of December 2001. In Ian Fairhurst’s first game in charge Rovers won 28-16 at Chorley. A narrow defeat at home to Workington and a desperately disappointing 12-all draw at Gateshead (the only point they would win all season) represented a sluggish start which set the alarm bells ringing. However, on Boxing Day a spirited display against Huddersfield, who were widely regarded as title favourites, resulted in a narrow 20-21 defeat.
Rovers then found some form and won eight of their next nine fixtures. Their only defeat came against Hull KR in the Challenge Cup. The side sat comfortably in fourth spot having won eight and drawn one of their first 13 fixtures. Mixed in there were big home wins against Batley and Oldham, a narrow win against Whitehaven, and a revenge win at Gateshead after the embarrassing draw earlier in the season. Jamie Rooney was in particularly prolific form and Richard Chapman leading the forwards. However, the break for the mid-season Buddies Cup brought some poor form as Rovers lost their way and failed to qualify from the group stages. A heavy defeat against Doncaster was especially disappointing as a side lying fourth in the league table were bafflingly thrashed 42-18. Ian Fairhurst never really recovered from this body blow to the club’s confidence. A narrow 18-16 defeat at Sheffield meant that Rovers didn’t make the knockout stages. This gave the side a few weeks off before resuming the league campaign and the board took the opportunity of the break to make some changes and Ian Fairhurst lost his job after just 20 games in charge. He could justifiably feel aggrieved that he hadn’t been given more time to impose his methods on the team, especially given the relatively good league form, but modern day coaches inevitably pay a harsh price for even a short run of poor form.
What happened next was a perfect example of just what a merry-go-round club coaching can be at times. When Peter Roe went to Wakefield it was to replace Andy Kelly. Now, with Roe’s job on the line at Belle Rue (he was eventually sacked in mid-July, just seven months into his new job), Rovers moved for Kelly to replace Ian Fairhurst as Featherstone’s head coach in May 2002.
Ian Fairhurst’s coaching record:
2002: Won 11 Drew 1 Lost 8 = 57.5%