Keith Bridges (497) was widely regarded as the league’s number one possession-winner from the scrums, the fastest striker of the ball. Playing down the road at Belle Vue was the man widely regarded as the next best after Bridges. So Rovers moved smartly and signed Wakefield hooker Ray Handscombe (553). After starting his career at Leeds, Ray had played for our neighbours between 1974 and 1979, clocking up a total of 132 games. When he arrived at Featherstone he slotted straight into the first team, where he formed a solid front row combination with Mick Morgan (552), Alan Bence (557) and Mick Gibbins (505). Apart from his ball-winning skills, Handscombe was active in the loose, known for his backing up and a tough tackler.
His first job was to get Featherstone out of the Second Division, achieved at the first attempt in 1980. Rovers then consolidated in the top flight. Gary Siddall (551) slotted into the front row, and that was the winning combination that took Rovers to Wembley in 1983. In Ray’s finest hour he combined with Tex Hudson (487) effectively to starve Hull of possession at crucial stages of the match, getting the better of his opposite number Keith Bridges and winning the scrums 11-5.
Over the course of his five years in the number nine shirt he was challenged for his position by a variety of aspirants. John McNeill (560) from Castleford played a few games before moving to Leeds. Neil Gray (562) was signed on loan from Doncaster, Tony O’Toole (572) came through the ranks and was capped by GB Colts, and Craig Wright (579) was another local product. None could move the redoubtable Handscombe.
In a pre-season friendly against Dewsbury at the start of the following year Ray broke his leg and so at 33 quit playing. He did make a single game comeback in November 1984 to help Rovers out of a crisis in a match against Leigh which we won 13-6. After winning the scrums one last time Ray retired again having played 127 games and scored 15 tries for Featherstone. He then turned to coaching and had a successful spell with the Rovers Colts team.