Thirty Years On.....
With the Post Office Road pitch snow covered and frost bound, our first round tie versus Batley was postponed, but played the following Wednesday night at Wakefield’s ground due to our own lack of floodlights.
Inevitably the crowd figure was hit with just 1,374 fans making the trip over to Belle Vue on a chilly evening to see what looked on paper to be an uncomplicated task. Given the way the campaign progressed in the coming months, it was a real feather in the caps of those loyal fans who attended to be able to say “I was there!” when the whole run started. By this stage of the season, Rovers had established a relatively settled pack, with plenty of experience and talent including Peter Smith, who had just been selected to play for Great Britain against France. Half-back though had been a problem with Neil Pickerill in and out of form and fitness at scrum-half, and neither Phil Johnson nor teenager Alan Banks fully established at stand-off. The outside backs had a settled look, spearheaded by John Gilbert and Steve Quinn. In Batley’s side, some recognisable faces included player-coach Terry Crook, future GB international and Rovers favourite Carl Gibson, future Rovers coach George Pieniazek and future referee Steve Presley.
Batley started the better and were soon 5-0 up through a Mick Wilson try. With no sense of urgency Rovers got back into the match, and gradually took control. Phil Johnson scored the equalising try, unfortunately injuring himself in the process and he took no further part in the game. Featherstone wasted a number of chances before David Hobbs sealed the win, and Rovers superiority, with a brace of tries. Terry Hudson, operating at loose forward and John Gilbert also grabbed tries, with Steve Quinn managing three conversions to make the final score Featherstone 21 Batley 6. It was a satisfactory though unspectacular performance due to Batley’s defensive perseverance and Rovers’ profligacy.
The Rovers team was: Nigel Barker, John Marsden, Steve Quinn (3 goals), John Gilbert (try), Ken Kellett, Phil Johnson (try), Neil Pickerill, Mick Gibbins, Ray Handscombe, Steve Hankins, David Hobbs (2 tries), Peter Smith, Terry Hudson (try). Subs: Alan Banks, Tim Slatter.
In other first round ties, Cup kings Widnes were knocked straight out at home by Leeds, Castleford triumphed at Wigan and most other big sides moved comfortably through to round two, except Hull KR who were shocked by lowly Hunslet. When the draw was made, the pick of the round looked to be Leeds v St. Helens. Holders Hull FC were handed a home tie against Wakefield Trinity, and Castleford, after disposing of Wigan, faced another tricky away test at Barrow.
Rovers themselves faced an awkward-looking tie away to Salford, led by our old friend Steve Nash who would be doing us no favours. Although they were in the lower league having been relegated the previous year, they had a side full of experience who were well-placed for promotion.