With Hull Kingston Rovers about to host Wakefield Trinity on Friday night in their first game of the 2020 season, MARTYN SADLER talks to Hull Kingston Rovers coach TONY SMITH about his club’s prospects for the new season.
Before the season has begun Hull Kingston Rovers coach Tony Smith has already been hit by the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.
His co-captain Mose Masoe went into what looked like an innocuous tackle at Wakefield last week and suffered spinal damage that has forced his immediate retirement from the game.
It is a tragedy for Masoe and for the Robins, with everyone connected with the club and beyond hoping that Mose can eventually fully recover his health, although his progress is likely to be painfully slow.
“He is making some progress, it’s slow, but some of the messages are getting to areas they weren’t, so he is getting some feeling back,” says Smith.
“We’re not sure how far that will go or how fast he will progress.
“He is in Pinderfields, the national spinal centre, for six weeks before anything else happens. So he’s getting the right care and he has the right attitude and we hope he can continue to progress like he has.
“He and Rob Burrow are two men with giant hearts. They are both incredibly positive and strong and inspiring.”
Compared to the news about those two Rugby League stalwarts, any other injury news might seem relatively unimportant in comparison, although the Robins have also suffered setbacks for co-captain Weller Hauraki and forward Dean Hadley.
“Weller has had a repair to his ankle and he could be out for anything up to twelve weeks, or he could be back in eight,” explains Smith.
“It just depends on how he recovers and his rehab. Dean has had a repair on a dislocation of his thumb. Their injuries give opportunities for young guys to come through, which we expected at some stage. So it will happen a little earlier for some players than we probably would have expected.”
Perhaps it’s not too surprising that the bookmakers are generally making the Robins the favourites for relegation, although that cuts no ice with the Robins’ coach.
In terms of sheer numbers, Smith has one of the biggest squads in Super League, although compared to some it is relatively short of Super League experience.
“It’s a big squad in comparison to a few, but it’s a young squad that probably isn’t littered with reputations, but I have plenty of guys who want to develop great reputations,” says Smith.
“That’s what we want to do and hopefully they will become the names that the fans will get excited about.”
No team has had a bigger change in personnel during the close-season than the Robins, with the arrival and departure columns crowded with names. Will it be difficult for Smith to integrate so many newcomers to create a team ethic?
“Certainly in terms of friendship and unity the players have been a great group from the start of pre-season,” he says.
“I have been hugely impressed. There have been no big egos and they have been really strong together. That’s one of our strengths, but in terms of experience we are going to find out a lot about each other as the season unfolds. We are a bit of an unknown quantity. We are not sure how far we can go or can’t go. And that makes it hard for other people to predict.
“It will be interesting to see where we get to, and whether the pundit and the bookmakers have misjudged us. I can remember a few people tipping Salford to come last in 2019, and they made the Grand Final. I’m not sure that there were many interviews being done by those people at the Grand Final.
“Salford have had the most successful year of their Super League existence and they have created a template for others to follow.”
In the short term, however, does Smith have any plans to replace his injured stars?
“Like always, we will keep our eyes and ears to the ground and if something comes along that we feel will strengthen us, then we may make a move,” he says.
“We’ll have a look around, but we won’t rush into it. We don’t just have to get the right player, but the right person. Certainly our culture is on the right track and we don’t want to blow it open.”
And how important to the Robins is the club’s major signing, Shaun Kenny-Dowall.
“Shaun is positive and inspiring, with a great outlook on life,” says Smith.
“He deals with situations really calmly. Maybe his signing has been overshadowed in the media by some others, but he is fine with that. He isn’t a headline seeker and he’s quite happy to be under the radar, but when he’s asked to be our representative he does it really well. He’ll play centre or wing, and sometimes he will alternate in matches, depending on who he’s playing with.
“Most of his career at the Roosters was in the centres, but he has the ability to play in several positions.”
And what about some of the younger players, such as halfback prospect Mikey Lewis?
“Mikey is a talent, but I like a lot of them. Matty Storton has had a great couple of pre-season games and has caught the eye, while Matty Gee has done well too. Elliot Minchella has had a really good pre-season with us as well. He has what we need, with a good passing game. He is a bit of an old-fashioned ball-handling loose forward. He has the ability to put people through holes, which is invaluable, and he could do really well for us.”
When the Robins play host to Wakefield Trinity for their opening game of the season at Craven Park on Friday night, both sides will be desperate to win to instil confidence into themselves and their supporters.
Kane Linnett and Greg Minikin are both selected in the 21-man squad, after both players sat out last week’s pre-season game against Featherstone Rovers through injury, while prop Mitch Garbutt is also selected after only returning to full training last week.
With Wakefield also struggling with early-season injuries, it’s hard to imagine a more crucial game on the opening weekend of Super League XXV.
2020 Squad: 1 Adam Quinlan, 2 Ben Crooks, 3 Shaun Kenny-Dowall, 4 Kane Linnett, 5 Greg Minikin, 7 Jordan Abdull, 8 Rob Mulhern, 9 Matt Parcell, 10 Mose Masoe, 11 Weller Hauraki, 12 Harvey Livett, 13 Dean Hadley, 14 Mitch Garbutt, 15 George Lawler, 16 Daniel Murray, 17 Kyle Trout, 18 Jez Litten, 19 Will Dagger, 20 Mikey Lewis, 21 Owen Harrison, 22 Nick Rawsthorne, 23 Ethan Ryan, 24 Joe Keyes, 25 Matty Gee, 26 Will Maher, 27 Elliot Minchella, 28 Matty Storton, 29 Anesu Mudoti, 30 Jamie Ellis, 31 Ryan Brierley.
INS: Shaun Kenny-Dowall (Newcastle Knights), Greg Minikin (Castleford Tigers), Jordan Abdull (London Broncos), Matt Parcell (Leeds Rhinos), Harvey Livett (Warrington Wolves – season-long loan), Dean Hadley (Hull FC), Kyle Trout (Dewsbury Rams), Jez Litten (Hull FC), Nick Rawsthorne (Toronto Wolfpack), Ethan Ryan (Bradford Bulls), Joe Keyes (Bradford Bulls), Matty Gee (London Broncos), Will Maher (Castleford Tigers), Elliot Minchella (Bradford Bulls), Matty Storton (Bradford Bulls), Anesu Mudoti (Bradford Bulls), Jamie Ellis (Castleford Tigers), Ryan Brierley (Toronto Wolfpack)
OUTS: Craig Hall (Featherstone Rovers), Jimmy Keinhorst (York City Knights – season-long loan), Ryan Shaw (Yorkshire Carnegie RUFC), Danny McGuire (retired), Shaun Lunt (Batley Bulldogs), Joel Tomkins (Catalans Dragons), James Greenwood (Salford Red Devils), Tommy Lee (Retired), Lee Jewitt (Barrow Raiders), Chris Atkin (Salford Red Devils), Nick Scruton (Retired), Junior Vaivai (Toulouse Olympique), Danny Addy (Leigh Centurions), Ryan Lannon (Salford Red Devils), Josh Drinkwater (Catalans Dragons), Will Oakes (Dewsbury Rams – season-long loan), Elliot Wallis (York City Knights – season-long loan), Joe Wardill (retired), Adam Rooks (Bradford Bulls – season-long loan).
12 January: Wakefield Trinity 18 Hull Kingston Rovers 6
19 January: Hull Kingston Rovers 16 Featherstone Rovers 14
Head Coach: Tony Smith
Assistant Coach: David Hodgson
Assistant Coach: Willie Poching
Head of Strength and Conditioning: Ben Cooper
Head Physiotherapist: Dan Ramsden
Strength and Conditioner: Owen Livesey
Strength and Conditioner: Kane Daniels
Analyst: James Deighton
Team Doctor: Gemma Phillips
Home Kit: White shirt with red band
Away Kit: Blue shirt with red band