Changing fortunes at two Super League clubs

Upfront: The League Express opinion – Mon 16th August 2021

Wakefield fans might well be casting envious glances along the M62 in the direction of Hull KR.

There are a number of connections between the clubs, and Trinity are no doubt hoping Willie Poching has learned more than a thing or two from his mentor Tony Smith.

The New Zealand-born former second rower was right-hand man to the seasoned Australian coach at Leeds, Warrington and Hull KR before becoming, alongside Andy Last, an assistant to Chris Chester at Wakefield at the end of last season.

Now Chester, who led Hull KR to Wembley in the 2015 Challenge Cup final during his two-year tenure as coach, has parted company with Trinity, who lost 13 of the 17 Super League matches he was in charge for this year, with Poching stepping up to take the reins on a caretaker basis.

While plenty of names have been linked, including Brian McDermott, Danny Ward and Andrew Henderson, the 47-year-old Poching, who was a popular player at Wakefield during the club’s early years in Super League as the nineties gave way to the noughties, has the chance to stake a claim to the job on a permanent basis during what he terms an “audition”.

The first priority is to seal Super League survival by ensuring Trinity don’t finish bottom, and the 28-22 win over Warrington first up was a real boost ahead of a tasty derby trip to Castleford.

That was where Hull KR ended up last season, when they were spared a second fall from Super League (after that via the dramatic Million Pound Game single-point defeat by Salford in 2016) because relegation was suspended.

Even allowing for the impact of the pandemic, there was little cheer for the Craven Park faithful, especially with owner Neil Hudgell having signalled his intention to step down and sell the club.

The lifelong supporter’s reign stretched back to 2004, with the first of the club’s two promotions to Super League coming two years later, when Widnes were beaten in the National League 1 Grand Final (Hull KR hadn’t been in the top flight since 1994, and were beaten by Wakefield in the play-offs when Trinity won promotion to Super League in 1998).

Given the uncertainty surrounding the club, how many could have foreseen that Smith’s side would win more than half of their first 14 Super League matches, including a double over Wigan, putting themselves in genuine play-off contention, and do so by playing an entertaining brand of rugby?

Hull KR have also launched an ambitious programme of player recruitment and retention, with the signing of St Helens’ star Australian fullback Lachlan Coote on a two-year contract to start next season especially eye-catching, while Hudgell has now taken the club off the market and will remain in charge.

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