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

Tuesday, 29 December 2015

Andy Ellis, Ben Kaye

Ben Kaye
After using Joe McLocklan (#905) and Jack Lee (#918) as his main hookers during his first year in charge, Daryl Powell decided to ring the changes for the 2010 season. At the start of that year Powell signed Liam Finn (#867) and gave him the number nine shirt, which was a clear indication of how he saw Liam’s role in the Rovers team developing. After just a couple of games that experiment was abandoned, and Finn returned to his natural scrum-half berth. Although there are a lot of similarities nowadays between the roles for seven and nine, with some players successfully interchanging between the two, it does not necessarily mean that this will always work. For Finn it didn’t. However, another player who did manage to shine in both roles was Andy Kain (#901), who was equally at home as a half-back and as interchange hooker, coming on to find the gaps in a tiring defence. 

With Finn at scrum-half, Powell took on loan former Leeds junior Ben Kaye (#945) who had been playing with London Broncos to complement Kain’s attacking prowess. With his solid tackling and infectious enthusiasm Ben’s work-rate offered something different and balanced out Rovers side nicely. His loan period was extended and then he signed for the Rovers permanently, finishing his first year with a Grand final appearance.

Andy Ellis
Ellis signed on a permanent basis at the end of 2012, so he and Ben shared the hooking role the following year, with Jack Bussey (#968) also playing a few games as acting half-back. At the end of the year Ben left to join rivals Halifax having played a total of 98 games for Featherstone Rovers. When Kaye left, Rovers signed George Flanagan (#989) from Batley to share the hooking role with Andy Ellis in 2014. Unfortunately, a broken leg ended George’s time at Featherstone prematurely. Later in the season there were also opportunities for both Jack Bussey and Luke Teasdale (#996). The following year Ellis (#973) completed his fourth season with the club and scored his 100th career try. He was assisted by Luke Teasdale (#996), Sam Irwin (#1012), Sam Day (#1027) and Remy Marginet (#1015) who all covered the acting halfback role in 2015.

I think it’s fair to say that the position of hooker is the one that has undergone the most radical change in rugby league over the decades. In the 1920s, 30s and 40s, such hookers as Percy Morris (#85), Charlie Flaherty (#27) and Pep Hepworth (#7) were in the team for one main reason: to work with their scrum-half and open side prop to ensure the maximum amount of ball possible from the scrums. When not in possession, the hooker simply did as much tackling as he could in the middle of the park. Hookers developed good backing up skills too, but it was always his ball-winning ability on which he was judged. Past master at this was Rovers first representative hooker, the England international Arthur Wood (#286) who started at Featherstone in 1948.

Luke Teasdale
From there, the game developed through the 50s, 60s and 70s where the scrums were still of upmost importance, but hookers started to develop other aspects of their play. For example, the evergreen Willis Fawley (#323), Croatian import Milan Kosanovic (#434), and then perhaps the best hooker Rovers have ever produced, the Great Britain international Keith Bridges (#497). Even up to the time of Ray Handscombe (#553) and Bob Spurr (#587), two masters of the scrummaging arts who offered contrasting styles, the scrums for and against statistics were as keenly kept as the score itself as far as the hookers themselves were concerned.

The handover rule introduced in 1983 reduced at the stroke the quantity of scrums in the game and was the beginning of the radical transformation of the hooker into the modern athlete he has become. As successive laws aimed at speeding up the game by cleaning up the pay-the-ball area were introduced, the hooker’s role as ball winner from the scrum now became obsolete, and his new role was as distributor of possession at acting halfback, a vital pivot in any side to give his team momentum direction and attacking options.

George Flanagan
Thus mobile and lively players such as New Zealander Trevor Clark (#656) emerged and he was followed by Richard Gunn (#693) and Graham Southernwood (#706). Then we saw the emergence of out and out play-makers in the number nine shirt such as the influential Richard Chapman (#748) who orchestrated Rovers’ attacking moves. Since then we have seen a variety of styles, from the more conservative and defensively solid Ben Kaye (#945) to the more direct running style of converted half-back Andy Kain (#901).

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