Rochdale on the Rise

Gareth Walker, the Championship correspondent of League Express, pays tribute to Rochdale Hornets as they prepare to face Hull Kingston Rovers on Sunday in a clash between two unbeaten clubs.

Eighteen months ago, while Hull Kingston Rovers were featuring in a Challenge Cup final at Wembley, Rochdale Hornets were missing out on the League One play-offs.

Fast-forward to this weekend, and the clubs will face each other as the top two teams in the formative Championship table, both unbeaten after two games.

There is no surprise at the Robins’ position – following the disappointment of last season’s relegation, there’s a train of thought from some that their 2017 squad is actually stronger than their top-flight group.

In their opening two Championship matches they have beaten two of the other three full-time sides in the competition, Bradford and London Broncos, although vastly experienced coach Tim Sheens was far from satisfied with Sunday’s effort in the capital in a 28-22 win.

“It all boils down to attitude and I expect a huge improvement in that next week against a Rochdale side that has also won two from two,” Sheens mused after the game.

“If we want to have aspirations to climb out of the Championship, we have to improve and we will.”
Those kind of words, from a former Kangaroos coach no less, could be enough to strike fear into the heart of some teams.

But that appears unlikely to happen at Rochdale, who are bristling with confidence after head-turning wins over Dewsbury and Bradford see them sit top of the Championship on points difference.

Coach Alan Kilshaw will have one of the smallest budgets – if not the smallest – of any club in the competition this season, having guided Hornets to promotion from League One last year.

But in thrashing the Rams 46-0 and then producing a gritty 22-14 win at the full-time Bulls, his side have sent a warning to the rest of the competition that they should not be underestimated this season.

To put Sunday’s win into perspective, it was the first time in 46 years that a Rochdale team had won at Bradford – and 27 years since a win of any kind against the same opposition.

Facing a Hull KR team packed with top flight experience is another step up again, of course.

But it is unlikely to faze Rochdale, who seem to have thrived in the underdog role during Kilshaw’s time in charge.

He has put together a balanced squad including players with Championship experience, Super League Academy backgrounds and others with a point to prove at this level.

Whether that will be enough to topple red hot Championship favourites Rovers remains to be seen – but Hornets are already becoming one of the stories of the 2017 season.

A full report and photos from Sunday’s game at Rochdale will feature in Monday’s League Express.