When Carl Gibson decided to hang up his boots in 1996 after a distinguished career, Rovers looked overseas to fill the gap. This turned into a habit, as the next four occupants of the full-back shirt at Featherstone were all Australian. In the past, Rovers had occasionally dabbled with the idea of an Australian full-back without too much success. In the 1983/84 season, Kangaroo tourist Allan MacMahon was signed up on a short term deal. An international footballer with an excellent pedigree having been a Kangaroo tourist in 1978, he was approaching the end of his career. However, he failed to live up to expectations and appeared in just nine games. Two years later, NSW Premiership veteran Rod Pethybridge was brought over from Balmain, but he lasted just seven games before being sacked along with three other antipodeans in a purge of foreign players by George Pieniazek. After these disappointing experiences it was to be more than a decade before Rovers signed another foreign full-back.
1997 John Strange
1997 John Strange
Youngster John Strange arrived early in the 1997 campaign with much less weight of expectation on his shoulders. He saw off challenges from both Steve Lay (signed from Halifax) and Lee Maher (signed from Leeds) to establish himself as first choice full-back throughout the year. He did a sound job during a difficult phase for the club, playing 23 games, and scoring 7 tries, but his contract was not renewed and he left for York, and then later Sheffield.
1998 Steve Collins
The following season Rovers went decidedly more upmarket. With a wealth of top flight experience down under having played for Parramatta and Canberra, Steve Collins immediately slotted into the first team as a classy-looking player. With plenty of pace, and good positional sense he rapidly became one of the stand-out players in the league and was instrumental in helping Rovers to within a whisker of Super League at the end of the year. Collins played a total of 32 games in 1998, notching 22 tries, four of which came against Keighley in April. He also scored two tries in the rout of Hull KR in the playoff semi-final, and scored again in the final against Wakefield. Inevitably, when our push for promotion failed, a top flight club came in for his services and Steve signed in 1999 for Gateshead Thunder in Super League. After their so-called merger he played a year for Hull FC, where he was used a lot at centre. The gap in the Featherstone first team left by Collins was filled by further Australian signings.
1999 Wayne Simonds
Under new coach Kevin Hobbs Rovers opened the 1999 season with new signing from Dewsbury Matt Bramald at full-back. Matt went on to be a consistent feature in the Rovers first team over the next three years, often filling in at full-back but mainly as a winger. He played a total of 123 games in four seasons, scoring a very respectable 65 tries. When Australian Wayne Simonds arrived, he originally took up a wing slot opposite promising youngster Jamie Stokes who was just starting out. Simonds had some pedigree in the top flight of the game in Australia. At 32 years old, he was now approaching veteran status. Having started his career at Western Suburbs Magpies where he spent six years, he had then had spells at Parramatta Eels, and the two new clubs, the South Queensland Crushers and Adelaide Rams.
Simonds was somewhat short in stature but he had real pace. He did well on the wing, but really flourished after switching to fullback where he enjoyed more space to run. In total, Wayne played 27 games, and scored 19 tries. His best afternoon was scoring four tries at Keighley in April. At the end of that season he decided to retire, and so for the 2000 season there was another Australian on the scene. This time however it was not a player with proven NRL experience.
2000 Michael Rhodes
At 24 years old, Michael Rhodes was much younger than Simonds when he was signed. He had been playing for Brisbane Norths in the Queensland League, a feeder club to the then recently formed Melbourne Storm. After an unsure start at Featherstone, Rhodes found his feet in English conditions and became a safe, if unspectacular, last line of defence under Peter Roe’s coaching. In all, Rhodes played 55 games over two seasons, and scored a total of 19 tries.