For a side with dreams of Super League, Featherstone had started the 1997 season poorly and David Ward resigned after a home defeat against Hull in April. Rovers then turned to an Australian coach for only the second time in their history. Steve Sims, who had previously been in charge of Leigh and Halifax, had a good coaching pedigree and was used to working on a tight budget at his previous two clubs and so looked a good choice. His first game in charge was a convincing thrashing of Widnes and things augured well.
As the season developed however, the inconsistencies that had spoiled Ward’s reign continued. Rovers enjoyed good wins at Hull KR and a tremendous party-spoiling performance at the Boulevard in front of the TV cameras on the day Hull FC thought they were going to win the title. But we were also heavily beaten at home by Dewsbury and Huddersfield. Sims gradually started to make an impression on the squad, favouring young Ty Fallins to veteran Deryck Fox at scrum-half, and trying out a new stand-off from the Academy team called Karl Pratt. With the forwards led by Molloy, Powell and Slater a final position of 7th was a baffling disappointment.
In 1998 though, things looked decidedly better for two reasons. Firstly, Rovers’ rejuvenated young policy started to bear fruit and knocking on the door of the first team came a whole raft of youngsters. Alongside Pratt were Stuart Dickens, Neil Lowe, Danny Evans, and then Steve Dooler. It was the richest seam of young talent that Rovers had seen in some time. Secondly, Sims wisely recruited classy full-back Steve Collins from Australia and started to get the best out of some underachieving first teamers, most notably Richard Chapman and Danny Baker. Progress was slow however and the good results (nilling both Wakefield and Whitehaven at home) were counterbalanced by some awful stuff (getting mauled at home by Deryck Fox’s Rochdale). On the final day of the season Rovers found themselves needing a 31 point win at home to lowly Leigh to secure a merited playoff spot. Leigh were duly dispatched and the playoff games showed the real quality of the side Sims had moulded. Good wins over Swinton and Dewsbury were followed by the clinical destruction of Hull KR and a place in the grand-final against Wakefield. The rest, as they say, is bitter memories and the “what ifs” from that evening carried on for years. Suffice to say that Rovers fell a knock-on short of Super League status.
As far as Steve Sims was concerned, it was the end. When it became immediately apparent that funds would not be available to continue the push for Super League in 1999, he resigned. He later became the director of football at Salford, a post he still holds. Rovers 1998 grand final team started to break up as Leeds poached Karl Pratt, and Steve Collins also won a Super League contract at Gateshead. Rovers turned nearer to home for their next coaching appointment.
Steve Sims’ coaching record:
1997: Won11 Lost 10
1998: Won 21 Drew 1 Lost 14
Total: Won 32 Drew 1 Lost 24 = %