In this same match at the Provident Stadium last season, Rovers emphatically beat Bradford 37-18. A lot has changed since then. Jy Hitchcox, the hat-trick hero on that evening, has moved on to Castleford Tigers while the coach, Andy Hay, was replaced with Jon Sharp who then led the club to a Championship Shield triumph.
Bradford recovered well from defeats to both Featherstone and Sheffield in the backend of the regular 2015 season to go on and book their place in the Million Pound Game. A defeat to Wakefield has left James Lowes’ side in the Championship for a second consecutive season and their first game will be a good indicator to see how their new signings have settled in. Among those incomings include Kris Welham from Hull Kingston Rovers. A consistent performer at Super League level, Bradford have done very well to snap up the centre who will easily get into double figures on the try tally this year. Forwards Jonathan Walker and Kurt Haggerty have both joined from Leigh Centurions while Oscar Thomas and Johnny Campbell have also hooked up with the Bulls from Championship clubs – London Broncos and Batley Bulldogs respectively. The pre-season schedule has been a good experience overall for the Bulls, in which they lost the annual festive fixture to Leeds Rhinos but went on to beat a youthful Castleford Tigers outfit last week.
Featherstone, in their first full season under the stewardship of Jon Sharp, are going into the campaign with renewed hope and energy after impressive performances from their youngsters and new signings in pre-season. Ex-Sheffield trio John Davies, Misi Taulapapa and Scott Turner have brought a great ethos of team chemistry with them from the steel city while Super League duo Michael Channing and Darrell Griffin will provide pace and power respectively. Kyran Johnson and Jack Ormondroyd have featured heavily in pre-season matches and the pair will be hoping to go from strength to strength over the course of 2016. Wins have come against Hunslet Hawks and an inexperienced Leeds Rhinos side in pre-season while a spirited second half against Castleford Tigers gave the Rovers fans some optimism about the character of their current group. A top four finish will be the aim for this season, as will picking up a few wins against a couple of full-time sides if possible.
The battle on the wings will be a very entertaining one at the Provident Stadium this weekend. Scott Turner has been one of the best wingers in the past few seasons while playing for Sheffield and he is a brilliant replacement for Will Sharp. On the other Rovers wing, coach Sharp has placed his trust in Kyran Johnson by giving him the number two shirt. Turner and Johnson will come up against the likes of James Clare and Omari Caro at the weekend. Both Clare and Caro have played in Super League before so it will be a tough test for the Rovers duo as they try to keep the Bulls’ speedsters quiet.
Prediction – Bradford by 10