Super League: 4th (P27 W16 L11 F589 A498 PD+91 Pts32); Play-offs: Semi-finals; Challenge Cup: Runners-up
A new head coach – and one untested at this level – always brings uncertainty and that was the case for Hull KR ahead of 2023. But the club had confidence in Willie Peters and the Aussie had confidence in a group that, just a year earlier, had reached the Super League semi-finals.
Since promotion back to the top-flight in 2006, Hull KR had finished fourth in the league once, reached a play-off semi-final once, and reached the Challenge Cup final once. By doing all three in one season, 2023 has been their best year in modern times.
It was a season that began with a bang, beating Wigan at Craven Park, and finished with defeat to the same opponents with a Grand Final place on the line.
They enjoyed excellent form at the start of the season and at the end, and while they faltered somewhat in the middle, they still excelled in the Challenge Cup.
By beating Wigan – that team again – in the semis in golden-point, they went to Wembley confident of victory against another club not used to such occasions in Leigh.
Again it went to extra time, but this time their hearts were broken. A commendable performance brought no rewards.
But they redoubled their efforts in Super League, finishing the regular season on a five-match winning run to nick fourth place from Leigh and then dispatching their Cup foes on home turf in the first week of the play-offs.
Ultimately the eventual champions proved too good at the DW Stadium, but it was a season Hull KR can take real pride in.
They had to adapt as events went against them, like Lachlan Coote’s early retirement and Jordan Abdull missing most of the season through injury.
Shaun Kenny-Dowall and Kane Linnett enjoyed fine final seasons before hanging up the boots, the forward pack proved a match for anybody, and Mikey Lewis enjoyed another great year, finishing with an England debut.
And with a provisional ‘A grade’ earned at the end of the season, things really are looking up for the Robins.
Shaun Kenny-Dowall will go down as one of Super League’s best overseas imports of recent times, and his final season was as good as any of the other three.
At the age of 35, the former Kiwi star made 91 tackle busts and 37 offloads, and his influence will surely continue to be felt in his new role on the club’s coaching staff.
Another serial offloader, and all-round driving force, was Elliot Minchella, who has developed into one of the competition’s premier loose-forwards.
Along with 29 offloads and a big part of Hull KR’s attacking game came 649 tackles in defence, and the hard-grafting Minchella might just be a ready-made replacement for Kenny-Dowall as club captain.
If Minchella’s influence often goes under the radar, that of Mikey Lewis does not. The Robins’ star prospect took another leap forward in 2023 with some sensational individual displays.
The halfback – and occasional fullback – scored 12 tries, assisted a further 19, made 20 clean breaks and finished the year by sprinkling his magic on the England team too.
“My wife wants me to be 100 percent in 20 years’ time and so do I, for the kids. That weighs on you, knowing that I wasn’t suffering now but wondering if I would be in 20 years… Knowing that there were signs of bleeding played a massive part. I was worried about the future but I’ve come to terms with accepting it… I chose to play the game and I’ve played it and loved it and enjoyed every moment. I wouldn’t take that back.” Lachlan Coote after having to retire because of repeated concussions.
“Before the game we talked about regret and disappointment, and how they’re different. Obviously we’re massively disappointed, but none of us can come off with any regret. We’ve left the field with no regret because we stuck to our guns.” Ryan Hall after Hull KR’s Challenge Cup final defeat.
“Words can’t describe how I feel at the moment. I loved every second of that. The whole week, the whole build-up from when I got told I’d make my debut this week, I haven’t let it go by. I’ve enjoyed every moment… It’s massive for me and my family. From where I’ve come from to making my England debut, if you’d said to me at the beginning of the year I’d make my England debut I’d have just laughed at you.” An emotional Mikey Lewis on the BBC after a man-of-the-match performance for England in their first Test against Tonga.
1 Hull KR were the first team to ever lose a Challenge Cup final or Grand Final on golden-point.
8,770 average home league attendance in 2023, their highest since the 1981-82 season, although the club refused to provide crowd figures for each individual game, the only Super League side to do so.
2 match-winning, golden-point field-goals by Brad Schneider in his first two games for the club, both at Headingley (against Leeds in Super League and Wigan in the Challenge Cup semi-finals), and the first two field-goals of his career.
A record 40-0 defeat of their city rivals would be the obvious highlight of an ordinary Hull KR season, but this has been no ordinary season.
So instead the highlight was perhaps their Challenge Cup semi-final win over Wigan, securing a trip to Wembley in dramatic circumstances.
Ethan Ryan’s try levelled the scores at 10-10 with almost a quarter of the game still to play. But only two minutes into golden-point was a winner found, as Brad Schneider kicked the decisive one-pointer.
Heading into their Super League semi-final, Hull KR had played Wigan three previous times in 2023 – beating them twice, and coming within seconds of winning the other.
Between that record and their six-match winning run, they were justifiably confident heading to the DW Stadium – yet were hammered 42-12.
They were 18-0 down after twelve minutes, having barely touched the ball. Already hope had been extinguished, a huge travelling support silenced, and a great season was over.
PICTURE OF THE SEASON
Mikey Lewis during Hull KR’s Challenge Cup semi-final victory against Wigan (above).