George Pieniazek arrived at Post Office Road with an unenviable task in front of him. Rovers had started the 1985/86 season badly, and were at a low ebb in terms of form and confidence which had led to the departure of Allan Agar. The dressing room was clearly not the happiest place, but Pieniazek’s first bold actions raised eyebrows and gave fans confidence that things were going to change. He axed all four of Rovers overseas imports and Paddy Burgoyne, Mark Roiall, Rod Pethybridge and Scott Durrough had to look for new clubs. As a statement of intent, the message couldn’t have been clearer: hard graft was what would get the team out of trouble and there was no room for holiday-makers.
The new boss’s reputation as a strict disciplinarian which had served him well in his previous post at Batley was already to the fore at Featherstone then. On the field however results were not immediately favourable. With a tough run of fixtures, Rovers won just one game in December, against Warrington. Despite a few good performances (a draw against Hull and narrow defeats against Leeds and Widnes) that first victory was followed by a run of eight matches without a win and things were starting to look desperate until we finally triumphed, beating Castleford 21-6 in March. The relief was tremendous, coming on the back of winning just one of the previous seventeen fixtures! It was the first of four successive victories which took Rovers towards salvation. A memorable 13-all draw against Champions-elect Halifax took Rovers to safety on the penultimate day of the season, but in truth two excellent away wins at Bradford and Oldham had laid the platform for the escape act at Thrum Hall.
Pieniazek had made a number of significant changes in playing personnel in his first few months in charge. Firstly, he moved for a promising young prop called Karl Harrison from Bramley. Then Rovers surprised the rest of the league by capturing York stand-off Graham Steadman for £55,000. These were two smart moves that firstly improved the quality of the team, and then later generated plenty of profit when both players were resold within 3 years. Some of the money outlaid on Harrison and Steadman was recuperated with the departure of long-serving centre John Gilbert to Widnes.
Season 1986/87 opened in a much more positive frame of mind with a brand new main stand to baptise and the atmosphere on matchdays at the ground transformed. What wasn’t transformed was the patchy league form of what looked on paper to be a relatively talented squad. Our first league win didn’t come until the sixth game of the season and by November George Pieniazek was sacked. In reality, Rovers didn’t seem to have any real contingency plan for this event. Paul Daley, well known to Rovers fans as a promotion specialist, came in with the tough task of turning the team around mid-season which he failed to do and Rovers were relegated in April 1987.
George Pieniazek’s coaching record:
85/86: Won 7 Drew 2 Lost 14
86/87: Won 4 Drew 2 Lost 8
Total: Won 11 Drew 4 Lost 22 = 35.14%