BULLS' first three fixtures of the new season are now locked in, and head coach John Kear is particularly excited by one of them.

Bradford will visit Featherstone in the first round of the Challenge Cup on March 20 or 21, the exact draw Kear was hoping for, to the surprise of his fellow coaches.

Fev were just 80 minutes from Super League in October 2019, but lost the Million Pound Game to Toronto.

It is a different team now, with Rovers' fruitful dual registration partnership with Leeds no longer in existence.

But Kear feels they are still a real threat, saying: "I think it's the same challenge. Let's not kid ourselves, the quality they have is as good as it was then, if not even more so.

"They've got 31 players in their squad, and they're all of high quality. They've signed the likes of Junior Moors, Kris Welham and Craig Kopczak too, who were all Super League regulars.

"I think it's the tie of the round. Fev will see the game as a challenge and so will my players."

Kear added: "I was delighted with the draw. When I spoke to the other coaches at the club, I told them I wanted Fev or London and they thought I was crackers.

"But I wanted to see where we're at after not playing competitively for a year.

"If we win, that will give us great confidence, but if it goes against us, it will highlight our weaknesses, which we can hopefully eradicate before the start of the Championship season.

"It can act as a great knockout tie, but also a benchmark for us."

If Bulls can beat Fev, then a home clash with Halifax or Batley is next up the following weekend. If they can win both games, that will guarantee a spot in the 1895 Cup semi-finals.

But Kear said: "We've got to beat Fev before we can think about Fax or Batley.

"My job as head coach is to make sure the players don't look too far ahead. It would be disrespectful to Fev to do that and it's too big a challenge to look past anyway."

As for the long-term though, Kear admitted: "One of us or Fev has to be successful in that game, and after that, you're only 80 minutes from the last four of the 1895 Cup and two games from a Wembley final.

"You have to be realistic about the Challenge Cup, you can have those fairytale runs, like we did beating Leeds the other year, and Fax getting to the semi-finals.

"But it's highly unlikely a Championship team will win the whole thing, so the more realistic goal is to aim to win the 1895 Cup."

Before the Challenge Cup gets underway, Bulls host League 1 side Keighley in a friendly on March 13.

Kear is relishing the challenge, saying: "You look at who they've got there, and the likes of Scott Murrell and Jake Webster are certainly not League 1 players.

"Keighley will be one of the favourites to get promoted, and that's one of the reasons I'm pleased to have nailed this game down.

"We'll get to try out some combinations and improve our fitness, but it will also be very competitive and a real test for us."