League Express checks out Hull Kingston Rovers prospects for the new Super League season.
Hull Kingston Rovers coach Tony Smith has overseen a considerable turnover of players in the close-season, with some notable names leaving the club, including last season’s co-captain Weller Hauraki, prop forwards Robbie Mulhern, Mitch Garbutt, Daniel Murray and Nathaniel Peteru, backrowers Harvey Livett, Kyle Trout and Matty Gee and halfbacks Ryan Brierley and Jamie Ellis. And of course they lost their other co-captain, Mose Masoe, before the start of last season to a career-ending injury.
In total, the players who have departed played 96 games for the Robins last season, which amounts to a third of all the games played by the entire squad in 2020. It’s a massive turnover rate.
Of all the departures, Hauraki was perhaps the most surprising, given the key role he played last season, but at the age of 35 it was perhaps inevitable that time was catching up with him, after a UK career that took in six clubs and 216 Super League games.
The new signings
Hull KR have recruited heavily from the NRL this year with no fewer than four stars heading to the club from Australia.
One is a very familiar face as Ryan Hall returns to Super League after two frustrating years with Sydney Roosters, for whom he failed to score a try while making just eleven appearances.
He will add even more experience to Hull KR’s backline and perhaps, more importantly, some significant metres in yardage, which is Hall’s undeniable strength.
The other three players travelling to Hull from the southern hemisphere will help to bolster their pack, particularly in view of the departures in that department. Korbin Sims, younger brother of former Warrington star Ashton, is made in the same mould as his eldest brother; a big no-nonsense prop forward who should get Hull KR moving through the middle of the field, while Albert Vete could well provide plenty of impact off the bench or even as a starter.
Brad Takairangi has been given the number 11 shirt. But coach Tony Smith explained to fans they shouldn’t read too much into the squad numbers as players won’t necessarily be used in those positions exclusively. The former Parramatta Eel can also be used in the centres.
The Robins have also brought in young duo Muizz Mustapha and Luis Johnson from Leeds and Warrington respectively and George King joins after two years with Wakefield Trinity, having arrived at the club for the latter part of the 2020 season.
Jordan Abdull is a key member of Hull KR’s spine in the halfback position. His kicking game will allow the Robins to apply pressure and wear their opposition down, as well as creating tries with his pinpoint kicks to the corner.
The Australian duo of Adam Quinlan (fullback) and Matt Parcell (hooker) add plenty of experience to Hull KR’s spine. Parcell has been the standout player for the Robins on a number of occasions, while Quinlan is always a tricky customer with his speed and evasion skills, as long as he can avoid injury.
Jez Litten was impressive for Hull KR last year as Parcell’s deputy at hooker and he will be looking to have an even bigger impact this season.
The question facing Tony Smith is who will partner Abdull in the halves. Both Mikey Lewis and Joe Keyes will be near the front of the queue to take that slot, while Rowan Milnes, who only played three games last season but showed plenty of promise, will also be looking to make an impact.
Lewis showed what he could do in some quality performances last year, and he is highly thought of by Tony Smith, so he perhaps holds the trump card at this early stage.
Hull KR’s forward units have greatly expanded over the off-season and only two members of the pack – Matt Parcell and Dean Hadley – retain their squad numbers in the first thirteen.
The Robins have recruited heavily from Australia for pack strength but also have some handy players already on their books to complement their Aussie imports.
The key squad numbers have gone to the NRL new arrivals, with Albert Vete given shirt number 8, Korbin Sims number 10 and Brad Takairangi number 11, while Kane Linnett will swap last year’s number 4 shirt for this year’s number 12.
George Lawler has made the fashionable transition from hooker into the loose forward position, or even the front row, and has proved to be a consistent performer for the Robins in recent years.
The signing of Elliot Minchella for 2020 from Bradford Bulls proved to be an inspirational choice as he performed solidly all season in most pack positions.
It’s fair to say that Tony Smith has plenty of cover for key positions in the forwards, which should help them out in the event of injuries cropping up.
Tony Smith has awarded squad numbers 3 and 4 to Greg Minikin and Shaun Kenny-Dowall, with Ben Crooks retaining the number 2 shirt and new arrival Ryan Hall taking number 5. But don’t be surprised to find a Brad Takairangi and Kane Linnett partnership in the centres at some point during the season, perhaps even at the start.
Crooks scored seven tries in five matches at the start of 2020 before suffering a neck injury in the defeat to Castleford Tigers in February. Then, later in the season he suffered a calf injury that kept him out again. He will be hoping for more luck in 2021.
Ryan Hall is the lone newcomer in the backs while back-up options include former Toronto star Nick Rawsthorne, Ethan Ryan and Will Tate, as well as the utility value of Will Dagger.
Hull KR have significant number of young players knocking on the door who could look to make an impact this year, while some have already smashed it down.
George Lawler and Jez Litten are both likely to feature regularly, while Mikey Lewis proved himself useful throughout the spine last year after debuting in 2019.
Matty Storton was a superb signing from Bradford Bulls and he too will be expecting big minutes this year for the Rovers, this year having forced his way into the top 20 squad numbers.
The new signings of Luis Johnson and Muizz Mustapha add depth to the Robins’ young squad while Rowan Milnes could also be called upon in the halves after spending time back on loan with Bradford Bulls last year.
Will Tate enjoyed a profitable opening run in the team late last year, registering a try against Huddersfield in his second of four appearances after debuting against Leeds Rhinos in round 13.
Last but not least, Anesu Mudoti is a 20-year-old prop who joined the Robins from Bradford Bulls. Big things are expected of him and he will be looking to make his debut this season.
The coaching team
Head Coach: Tony Smith
Assistant Coach: Danny McGuire
Assistant Coach: David Hodgson
Coaching Assistant/Support Staff: Stanley Gene
Head of Academy: John Bastian
Head of Strength and Conditioning: Ben Cooper
Head Physiotherapist: Dan Ramsden
Assistant Strength and Conditioner: Owen Livesey
Sports Therapist: Alan Silvester
Sports Therapist: Jimmy McDaniels
Analyst: James Deighton
Club Doctor: Gemma Phillips
Kit Man: Alan Fellows
Chairman: Currently unfilled
Chief Executive: Paul Lakin
Finance Director: Pat Collins
Head of Marketing & Communications: Craig Franklin
Head of Events: Emma Patterson
Head of Education and Business Development: Liz Winn
Multimedia Executive: Luke Hopkins
A realistic aim for 2021
Hull KR’s aim has to be to avoid fighting for relegation and they can achieve that.
They don’t want a season of constantly looking over their shoulder at the trapdoor lurking behind them.
If their new Aussie signings work for them, then they can look to work their way up the table and perhaps even threaten those play-off spots.
As usual, however, the best chance for Hull KR to win a trophy is through the Challenge Cup. They will want to put right the wrongs of 2015 six years on.
1 Adam Quinlan, 2 Ben Crooks, 3 Greg Minikin, 4 Shaun Kenny-Dowall, 5 Ryan Hall, 7 Jordan Abdull, 8 Albert Vete, 9 Matt Parcell, 10 Korbin Sims, 11 Brad Takairangi, 12 Kane Linnett, 13 Dean Hadley, 14 Jez Litten, 15 George Lawler, 16 George King, 17 Elliot Minchella, 18 Matty Storton, 19 Will Dagger, 20 Mikey Lewis, 21 Owen Harrison, 22 Nick Rawsthorne, 23 Ethan Ryan, 24 Joe Keyes, 25 Rowan Milnes, 26 Will Maher, 27 Luis Johnson, 28 Muizz Mustapha, 29 Anesu Mudoti, 30 Will Tate, 31 Tom Whur, 32 Charlie Cavanaugh, 33 Jimmy Keinhorst
Ryan Hall (Sydney Roosters), George King (Wakefield Trinity), Muizz Mustapha (Leeds Rhinos – loan), Korbin Sims (St George Illawarra Dragons), Brad Takairangi (Parramatta Eels), Albert Vete (Melbourne Storm), Luis Johnson (Warrington Wolves)
Ryan Brierley (Leigh Centurions), Jamie Ellis (Leigh Centurions), Weller Hauraki (Released), Mitch Garbutt (Toulouse Olympique), Matty Gee (Leigh Centurions), Harvey Livett (Loan expired), Dan Murray (Halifax), Will Oakes (Dewsbury Rams), Nathaniel Peteru (Leigh Centurions), Adam Rooks (Bradford Bulls), Robbie Mulhern (Warrington Wolves), Kyle Trout (released)
Home shirt: Red with three white chevrons
Away shirt: Turquoise with white and navy blue
Charity Shirt: Grey and purple in support of ‘Mind’
Betfred odds to win the Grand Final: 66/1
The above content is also available in the regular weekly edition of League Express, on newsstands every Monday in the UK and as a digital download. Click here for more details.