Featherstone's derby day dreams
“In Featherstone, they mine coal and play rugby league.”
That simple voiceover, painting a picture of life in the tiny west Yorkshire town, appeared in the 1969 film “The Game That Got Away”.
This weekend, Featherstone’s part-timers, who have topped the Championship for the past two seasons, are looking forward to one of the biggest games in their recent history when neighbours Castleford arrive at Post Office Road to renew hostilities in the Carnegie Challenge Cup.
It will be the fierce rivals’ first meeting in the competition in 20 years, with Super League Castleford seeking a first cup win over their lower-league opponents since 1941.
Featherstone's captain, Malcolm Dixon (right) holds the Rugby League Cup aloft with the help of a team mate after they had beaten Barrow at Wembley in 1967. Photo: Getty
There are rugby league derbies which attract far bigger crowds, but few are more passionate.
I spent a week in Featherstone a couple of years ago, filming a piece looking back at that iconic 1960s documentary.
It was plain to see the rugby league fire still burns as fiercely as it did in the old coke ovens of Glasshoughton, where Featherstone coach Darryl Powell’s father worked when Powell was a pupil at Castleford High School.
Powell, a Challenge Cup finalist as a player with Leeds in 2003, supported both clubs as a youngster. His uncle was a Rovers fan and, therefore, took him to Featherstone. He then started watching Cas when his family moved there.
“Castleford actually offered me a contract when I was 17 but I decided to join Sheffield instead because I thought I had a better chance there of getting on,” says the Rovers coach, a former Great Britain international.
“I’ve been involved with both clubs as a supporter so I know exactly what this club means to both sets of fans. I just hope we can do the game and its proud history justice.”
There is some distance between the clubs in terms of standing, although Rovers are working hard to ensure they are in a position to apply for a Super League licence, but the close ties Powell has with both sides are shared throughout.
Featherstone’s chief executive Craig Poskitt left Castleford last month, after five years as commercial director, to take up his new role five miles down the road.
Another famous former Tiger, Lee Crooks, joined Featherstone two weeks ago as general manager, a sign of the club’s remodelling to shape itself into a Super League side to enhance their shot at a licence in two years’ time.
Crooks, like Powell a former Great Britain international , spent seven years at Castleford and has played in four Challenge Cup finals - three for Hull and one for the Tigers.
His first outing as a Featherstone employee was to join me to conduct the fourth round draw and, you might have guessed, he pulled the 1983 cup winners out against Castleford.
It immediately struck me as the tie of the round and, given the way the two sides were playing, it looked a perfect draw, with the Tigers on a run of seven straight defeats.
That slump has been arrested in the past fortnight, while Rovers were left reeling by a surprise 60-40 home defeat by Sheffield last weekend.
Rovers players Tom Saxton, Andy Kain, Jon Hepworth, Tim Spears, Dominic Maloney and Anthony England are all Tigers. In fact Hepworth’s in-laws are huge Castleford fans.
There should be plenty of points and drama, with the possibility of an upset. And, if you are looking for a sign that the underdogs may have fortune on their side, then talk to Sam Smeaton.
The Featherstone centre won the £500 top prize in the club lottery last week. It is a prize usually won by fans. Coach Powell has promised “if we win, that money is going behind the bar, whether Sam likes it or not.”
As Rovers continue their off-field preparations to challenge for a Super League licence, this is an ideal opportunity to showcase their credentials on it.