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

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.