For a number of weeks now, there have been question marks hanging over the head of Chris Chester and the Hull Kingston Rovers team.
In what has been quite an underwhelming off-season Chris Chester has made minimal changes to his personnel while the clubs situated in close proximity to KR in the table have, generally, had large overhauls to their playing roster.
Meanwhile, Chris Clarkson, Kevin Larroyer and Iain Thornley came in at the Robins alongside a number of unproven yet promising youngsters like Rob Mulhern, Ryan Shaw and Thomas Minns.
Their recruitment was treated in and underwhelming manner by their supporters, probably because their competitors recruited more evidently. Admittedly, it would appear that Rovers have not been as active in their recruitment as they should have been. Although the players they have brought in are established at Super League level, they are only replacements for what was previously at the club and with no evident improvement. Thornley replaced Kris Welham, Larroyer a replacement for NRL-bound Tyrone McCarthy, while the younger arrivals offer some much-needed depth.
In effect, the Robins have gone sideways, perhaps a tiptoe or two upwards, which is simply not enough in an ever-improving competition like Super League. Wakefield have brought in the likes of Ben Jones-Bishop and Tinirau Arona, Salford have brought in Jonathan Thurston’s understudy Robert Lui and even Widnes, another team that many have been quick to write off this year, have brought in NRL finalist Corey Thompson and the established Chris Houston to add some high-quality performers to their squad. That’s something Hull KR have failed to do.
Sunday’s battering at the hands of Hull FC has only escalated the concern among Rovers fans, and rightly so given the lacklustre nature of the performance. In the words of Chester they ‘couldn’t cope’ with their city rivals.
@hullkr_online it’s going to be a long hard season
— Kim Acey (@kim_acey) January 24, 2016
Their current predicament is, of course, a viable reason to be concerned from a Rovers perspective, but to write them off for the year now is foolish.
OK, they’ve had two bad defeats in pre-season, but in those games we have yet to see a number of key players enter the pitch. In Terry Campese and Shaun Lunt, they have two irreplaceable players on the sidelines. It’s the equivalent of removing George Williams and Michael McIlorum from the Wigan team, or Todd Carney and Paul Aiton from Catalans, both of those teams would struggle just as much.
With Liam Salter and Kevin Larroyer also recovering in the treatment room, Rovers have four first-team players currently unavailable despite the season not yet underway. The amount of injuries, not the pre-season performances, should be the major concern at this moment in time.
What’s unfortunate for Rovers is that the players occupied with injuries are in positions where they lack quality. Thomas Minns, the man likely to deputise for Salter, has minimal Super League Experience while Matty Marsh just isn’t in the same bracket as Campese. The influential halfback is likely to be replaced by Maurice Blair at stand-off for the Super League games, but following the injury to Larroyer, that leaves them light in the back-row. As for Lunt’s replacement, Hull KR simply don’t have one. John Boudebza is their alternate hooker, but he is the only other player specialised at number nine, which does make you question why a third hooker has not been brought into the squad.
Again it comes back to recruitment. Although injuries are unfortunate, they are an inevitable factor over the course of the season and just like last year, they aren’t in a position to replace their key players adequately when they are injured.
At the same time, when Campese and Lunt return, the effect it is likely to have on the team is staggering. How long they remain on the sidelines is an issue that KR need to resolve quickly. If they do so, the people who have slated them will likely eat their words throughout the year.