After the sacking of Steve Martin, the club realised that a lot of money had been spent on buying players who had not really bonded together as a team. There was also a feeling that this influx of players was at the expense of developing junior talent. So when the board turned to David Ward, it was with the specific remit that he rebuild the confidence of the first team and turn his attentions to the club’s own player development programme. Ward had made his name as a no-nonsense hooker at Leeds, and had coached Hunslet (3 seasons), his hometown Leeds (2 seasons) and Batley (3 seasons) before taking up the Featherstone challenge.
It would be fair to say that David Ward’s reign as Rovers coach was one of the most turbulent and traumatic in the club’s history. With a backline full of pace and experience and a mobile and skilful pack Rovers comfortably held their own among the big boys in 1994/95. Unfortunately, due to circumstances beyond David Ward’s and Featherstone’s control all that was ripped apart. Despite finishing 11th in the league, and appearing in the Challenge Cup semi-final, Rovers were demoted in 1995 to make way for an all-singing, all-dancing “Super League” which looked suspiciously like the old First Division with London & Paris tagged on and a few famous old names kicked out. Rovers squad was decimated, as they lost players of the calibre of Tuuta, Butt, Banquet, Aston, Divet, Calland and Price in rapid succession.
A great deal of credit has to go to David Ward for the calm and calculated way he steadied the ship through those trying times. Although some quality players such as Molloy and Pearson remained, gaps in the squad needed plugging. Ward re-signed old favourite Deryck Fox and added Richard Slater, Roy Powell and Jon Sharp to the pack as the club set about picking up the pieces and trying to regain top-flight status. No-one really knew what to make of the final winter Centenary Season and we finished disappointingly mid-table with just 11 wins from 22 fixtures. Given the quantity of changes in playing personnel it was inevitable that would be a transition period.
When the first summer season kicked off, it became apparent Rovers didn’t quite have what it took to win the league as Salford set a blistering pace. Rovers did however come a creditable 4th ahead of Huddersfield, Wakefield and Widnes. The year finished with a convincing win over Super League bound Salford. But as other clubs built for the following year, Rovers lost Martin Pearson to Halifax, and Deryck Fox was starting to show his age. A poor start to the 1997 season led Ward to offer his resignation, which the club reluctantly accepted. With a strong Academy side, the junior development of the club was now back on its feet, but the first team needed a new direction. As Ward headed back to Batley, Featherstone turned to their second Australian coach, who had been recently sacked by Super League club Halifax.
David Ward’s coaching record:
94/95: Won 11 Lost 16
95/96: Won 11 Lost 11
1996: Won 12 Drew 2 Lost 6
1997: Won 4 Drew 1 Lost 6
Total: Won 38 Drew 3 Lost 39 = 49.38%