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).

Saturday, 19 December 2015

Carl Hughes, Paul Hughes, Gavin Swinson, Joe McLocklan, Kevin Eadie, Jack Lee

Carl Hughes
The departure of Richard Chapman (#748) left a void difficult to fill. Stuart Dickens (#774) took over as team leader but filling the hooking role was more problematic. Coaches were now using two hookers, one starting and one off the bench, who could offer different skills at different stages of a game, although both needed to possess the basic attributes of strong defence and quick service from acting half-back.

For the 2005 season coach Gary Price turned to Carl Hughes (#859). Carl joined Rovers from Stanley Rangers in 2004 but broke his leg and missed all his first season injured. The following year he made the first team and proved a lively presence with good service from acting half-back. He played for Featherstone for three years, and as other hookers emerged (including his own brother) Carl carved out a niche for himself at loose forward. After 73 games and 34 tries he left to join Keighley, and then York and Doncaster.

Paul Hughes
When David Hobbs took over he preferred Carl’s younger brother Paul Hughes (#875) and Paul settled down to a decent run in the first team. With a similar build to Carl, he also had his brother’s bustling style, speedy service from acting half-back and eye for the try-line. Paul played 58 games for Rovers and scored a useful 19 tries. He later played with York, Dewsbury and Doncaster, often teaming up with his brother again. In 2007 Hobbs brought local lad Gavin Swinson (#764) back to Post Office Road after four years at Rochdale.  Gavin was an integral part of our promotion push and came off the bench in the playoff final at Headingley to help Rovers beat Oldham. Gavin played a total of 126 games for Featherstone in two spells. Starting hooker that evening was Joe McLocklan (#905), signed from Doncaster and who impressed from the start with his work-rate on defence.

Gavin Swinson
Throughout 2008, with Rovers back in the Championship, McLocklan was first choice hooker with a couple of local lads, Kevin Eadie (#907) and Jack Lee (#918) getting the odd chance. Both Kevin and Jack had come through the local junior ranks and got early opportunities to show their potential. When the head coach changed, Daryl Powell’s first year in charge saw him continue to use a combination of McLocklan and Lee. However, at the end of that year both players moved on. Joe had played 63 games for Featherstone and he joined York, then South Wales and Hunslet. Jack had played 42 games and he moved on to a successful career at Keighley and then York. 
Joe McLocklan

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Richard Chapman

Before the start of the 1997 season coach David Ward made an unheralded signing from Sheffield when he snapped up their second choice hooker. Although he had started his professional career at the Eagles after signing from Dewsbury Moor, Richard Chapman (#748) was originally from Featherstone and his family had moved to Dewsbury as a youngster. Signing for Featherstone Rovers was therefore a homecoming and a great move for both parties. Although he was unusually tall for a hooker, Richard’s play-making skills, both handling and kicking, marked him out as one of the top performers at Championship level over a number of seasons. Many of Rovers attacking moves were based around his unorthodox creativity from acting half-back. He also had a penchant for try scoring and an eye for a gap in the defensive line. In short, a real handful for opposition defences.

Chapman’s impact on the first team was immediate. He took over from Colin Maskill (#744), and shared the hooking role throughout his debut season of 1997 with Paddy Handley (#752). The following year Rovers went all the way to the Grand final with Richard now an integral part of our attack and defence and with youngster Gavin Swinson (#764) as back up. In the final itself Chapman had an outstanding game and won the Man of the Match award as Rovers missed out on Super League by a whisker. The following season Swinson left for Rochdale and Andy Heptinstall (#737) took over as Chapman’s interchange partner. In 2002 Andy Kelly appointed Richard club captain, a role he proudly held for two years.

Richard’s durability and consistency brought him close to an historic milestone. Never in the history of the club had a hooker scored 100 tries in his Featherstone career. Chapman’s impressive season by season try-scoring returns of 9/18/11/15/19/19/10/3 saw him move towards three figures, more or less at the same time as winger Jamie Stokes also approached his ton. Chapman finally reached that total in July 2003 against Dewsbury, his 213th game for Featherstone. What an achievement.

During 2004 Paul Darley (#808) converted from a back-row forward into a hooker and he was preferred in the number nine shirt to Chapman. After eight seasons Richard was prematurely released and then gave good service to Dewsbury Rams. In total, he played 240 games for Featherstone Rovers and scored 104 tries as well as 128 goals, kicked mostly in 1998. His try scoring record leaves him in 13th position on our all-time list, the only forward who has scored more is Peter Smith (#518).

The sign of any class player is how difficult he is to replace, and for Featherstone Rovers replacing Richard Chapman was a tough job, which was offered to a number of players over the next few seasons.

Friday, 11 December 2015

Neil Roebuck, Lee Whiteley, Mark Gibbon, Mark Wilson, Richard Gunn, Graham Southernwood, Andy Heptinstall

Neil Roebuck
With Rovers back in the second division in 1992, new coach Steve Martin just couldn’t make up his mind who his best hooker was. The departure of Trevor Clark (#656) to Bradford looked to have left the way clear for either Lee Whiteley (#671) or Mark Gibbon (#677) to stake a claim for the Featherstone Rovers number nine jersey, but it was two new faces that shared the role in the Championship winning year of 1992/93. Mark Wilson (#691) was signed from Bradford originally as a scrum-half. With Brett Daunt used as Deryck Fox’s replacement, Wilson slotted into the hooking role, as the two positions became evermore interchangeable as rugby league rules altered. Mark played about half the matches of that season as Rovers’ hooker. The other half Richard Gunn (#693) played. Richard had played all his junior rugby at Travellers Saints but had been a big money buy for Leeds as a teenager. He came home and enjoyed the best rugby of his career at Featherstone Rovers. Unusually, both Mark and Richard were named co-captains by their coach, a responsibility they shared throughout the year.

Mark Wilson and Richard Gunn
Back in the first division Wilson suffered a knee injury and was replaced by a signing from Castleford. Graham Southernwood (#706) staked his claim for the hooking role in a battle with Gunn. Southernwood eventually won, and was hooker throughout 1994/95 and played for Rovers in our last Challenge Cup semi-final in a front-row alongside Steve Molloy and Leo Casey. After our exclusion from Super League, Southernwood left to join Hunslet after 44 games for Rovers, and Richard Gunn was dogged by injury, finally retiring after 110 appearances. Graham’s son Cain Southernwood now plays stand-off for Batley.

It was around this time that Neil Roebuck (#696) began to emerge as a quality hooker. Neil had begun his career in the back row, and had been regarded as a utility forward. Perhaps his career had suffered as a result, but he now found a new lease of life in the middle of the front row and was our first choice throughout the 1996 season in a combination with Steve Molloy and Simon Tuffs. Credit for this transformation had to go to coach David Ward who had been a very fine hooker himself at Leeds in the seventies. In 1996 local youngster Andy Heptinstall (#737) started to make a name for himself in the reserves, but when Roebuck suffered a career-ending knee injury (having played 103 games) Rovers took on the experienced Colin Maskill (#744) to help out in the short term.

Sunday, 6 December 2015

Trevor Clark

When Peter Fox came back to Featherstone in the summer of 1987, one of the first things he had to do was sort out the hooking role. He plumped for the familiar face of Keith Bell (#509) to help him through Rovers’ Division Two season in 1987/88. Back in the first division Fox made a move for a player he knew well from his time at Headingley. 

 Leeds hooker Trevor Clark (#656) was a Maori international player who had been a Headingley regular for four seasons. He came to Featherstone to form an effective front row combination with veteran Jeff Grayshon (#655) and another Kiwi, Glenn Bell (#660). What a buy Clark turned out to be. Always lively in the loose, his backing-up skills were vital in an expansive Rovers team. He put in a lot of work on defence with his tireless tackling. Quick service from the pay-the-ball was also a feature of Trevor’s game, as changes in the laws of rugby league started to make ruck speed ever more important. In many ways therefore, Clark was the prototype of the modern hooker where ball-winning skills from the scrum were becoming less and less important. There were now far fewer scrums, referees became more lenient of scrum offences and the possibility of ever actually winning “one against the head” virtually disappeared. These changes suited Clark’s ball-handling athleticism down to the ground, and his dashes from acting half-back led to numerous breaks.

Over four successful seasons Trevor was first choice hooker, and the efforts of rival hookers to wrest the number nine shirt from him proved in vain.  Mark Gibbon (#677) signed from Doncaster but failed to hold down a first team slot, but gave good service to the A team. Local youngster Lee Whiteley (#671) showed some promise but a serious leg injury impeded his progress. Some career highlights for Trevor included the 1989 Yorkshire Cup final, and in the same week playing (and scoring) against his fellow-countrymen the New Zealand tourists.

After racking up 125 games and scoring a very useful 30 tries, Clark’s Featherstone career came to an end. When Rovers were relegated in 1992 he left and linked up with Peter Fox at Bradford (the third different club where they had worked together). He was later joined at Odsal by Deryck Fox and Paul Newlove. Trevor is fondly remembered by Rovers fans as one of our most successful imports, and one of the first of the modern style hookers in the ever-changing game of rugby league.

After he finished playing he coached a number of clubs back in his native New Zealand.  Trevor’s son Mitch played prop forward for Doncaster in the 2015 season.