LEAGUE EXPRESS previews the season ahead for a Hull Kingston Rovers side looking to upset the big boys again.
When a club overachieves in the way that Hull KR did last season, keeping hold of their best players is typically a difficult challenge in the aftermath.
Happily for the Robins, the damage in that regard has been relatively limited, with only two of their top performers snapped up by Super League rivals.
George Lawler was excellent in the back-row for Rovers last season but has chosen to take a leap by leaving the club where he started his career and has made over 100 appearances to join Castleford Tigers.
The other regular who will be lining up in different colours next season is centre Greg Minikin, who has reunited with Daryl Powell at Warrington after two years in East Hull.
Adam Quinlan has also left the club, returning to Australia and retiring from professional Rugby League after a five-year spell with Rovers that has been riddled with injury.
Like Quinlan, Muizz Mustapha played around half of Hull KR’s games in 2021, but the prop has returned to his parent club Leeds following his season-long loan.
On the fringes of the team, Anesu Mudoti was released from the final year of his contract to join League 1 side Keighley Cougars, while halfback Joe Keyes and Owen Harrison have signed for Halifax Panthers and Dewsbury Rams respectively in the Championship.
There is little doubt about the headline addition for Hull KR in 2022, as the club pulled off one of the best singings in Super League this year with the capture of Lachlan Coote.
The fullback remains at the top of his game but, after three consecutive title-winning seasons at St Helens, the champions couldn’t keep everyone on board and their loss is most certainly Rovers’ gain.
Coote will bring huge experience and quality into their team, especially to their defence, and could hold the key to matching or even surpassing the impressive standards set last season.
Sam Wood is the only other signing to come from another Super League club, joining from Huddersfield Giants after having never quite managed to nail down a regular spot for long. He’ll be aiming to make one of the centre positions his own at the Robins.
The rest of their business comes from the Championship, giving a variety of players the chance to show what they can do in the top flight.
Greg Richards has been there before, with St Helens, Leigh and London, and will want to show he’s still a Super League-level prop.
For fellow forwards Tom Garratt and Frankie Halton, a first opportunity as full-time players awaits, having proven themselves to be among the cream of the Championship crop at Dewsbury and Featherstone respectively.
Then there is Phoenix Laulu-Togaga’e, technically signed last season as he returned to finish the season back on loan at Keighley, but an exciting addition nonetheless, and an 18-year-old fullback to watch for the future.
Few clubs can have better options for the fullback position this season, with a new star in Coote complemented by the emerging talents of Will Dagger and another arrival in Laulu-Togaga’e.
At halfback, Jordan Abdull emerged as a player of the highest quality with a phenomenal season that put him in contention for the Man of Steel award and brought an England debut too.
The challenge now is to ensure that it was not just a great season, but the new standard for Abdull approaching his peak years. Whether he can build on last season will be pivotal to Hull KR’s chances of doing likewise.
Alongside him, there is huge excitement around Mikey Lewis after the 20-year-old’s breakthrough half-season in the first team. England Knights honours came his way at the end of last year and he should be a key player this season as he continues to develop.
Rowan Milnes is the other halfback in the squad and while he will do well to oust the aforementioned duo should they be fit and firing like last season, he’s still only 22 himself and has great potential.
Finally at hooker, the options look sweet again. Former Super League winner Matt Parcell had a fine year and the Australian will be complemented again by Jez Litten, fresh off the best season of his career to date and still only 23.
The forward ranks are led again this season by Albert Vete, who is entering his second season as a Robin, and George King, who has been promoted to the number ten jersey in place of Korbin Sims.
Rovers look strong in the second row, not least with Kane Linnett, the only Rovers player to make it into the Super League Dream Team last term.
Dean Hadley will hope to get through the whole season without any injury issues and, if he can do so, will be another valuable figure in the back-row.
He’s swapped squad numbers from 13 to 12, accommodating former Bradford player Matty Storton to a starting jersey for the first time after making 19 appearances last season.
Elliot Minchella and Luis Johnson provide competition in the back row, along with newcomer Halton, while Richards and Garratt will look to play significant minutes in the front row this season, as will Will Maher.
Few centre pairs were as devastating last season as Brad Takairangi and Shaun Kenny-Dowall, and the experienced duo will look to play crucial roles in those positions again in 2022.
Out wide there’s no shortage of finishing ability. Ryan Hall scored 16 tries in Super League last season, a figure bettered only by top scorer Ken Sio of Salford, and continues to hunt down the competition record held by former Leeds team-mate Danny McGuire.
Nobody has scored one quicker than Ben Crooks though, and on the opposite wing he’ll be looking to add to his ten tries last term, which included a record-breaker inside seven seconds.
Ethan Ryan provides competition for the wide men while, at centre, Jimmy Keinhorst will be looking to force his way into the picture alongside new boy Wood.
Phoenix Laulu-Toagag’e is on everyone’s lips, while Mikey Lewis is now a first-team regular before he has celebrated his 21st birthday.
And there is a good crop of youngsters on the fringes of the team who have come through the Rovers system.
Will Tate has seven Super League appearances to his name, limited to just three off the bench last season, and the 20-year-old outside back will want more opportunities.
Charlie Cavanaugh, also 20, is well regarded and this will surely be the year that the hooker gets his first-team debut.
Max Kirkbright will do well to force his way into the picture at centre after signing a first-team contract last year, at the same time as forwards Connor Moore and Daniel Okoro.
A REALISTIC AIM FOR 2022
Hull KR overachieved last season in the opinion of many observers in reaching the play-off semi-finals but their ambitions will now be to go and do that again.
Having kept most of the squad, added to it with a serial winner in Coote, and seen many of the stars grow a year older and wiser, there is no reason why they can’t finish in the top six again.
They also have a strong enough squad to have a real go at the Challenge Cup, which is probably their best hope of a first major trophy since 1985.
Squad numbers: 1 Lachlan Coote, 2 Ben Crooks, 3 Brad Takairangi, 4 Shaun Kenny-Dowall, 5 Ryan Hall, 7 Jordan Abdull, 8 Albert Vete, 9 Matt Parcell, 10 George King, 11 Dean Hadley, 12 Kane Linnett, 13 Matty Storton, 14 Jez Litten, 15 Luis Johnson, 16 Korbin Sims, 17 Elliot Minchella, 18 Jimmy Keinhorst, 19 Will Dagger, 20 Mikey Lewis, 21 Rowan Milnes, 22 Will Maher, 23 Ethan Ryan, 24 Sam Wood, 25 Greg Richards, 26 Tom Garratt, 27 Frankie Halton, 28 Will Tate, 29 Phoenix Laulu-Togaga’e, 30 Charlie Cavanaugh, 31 Connor Moore, 32 Daniel Okoro, 33 Max Kirkbright
Ins: Lachlan Coote (St Helens), Tom Garratt (Dewsbury Rams), Frankie Halton (Featherstone Rovers), Greg Richards (London Broncos), Sam Wood (Huddersfield Giants)
Outs: Owen Harrison (Dewsbury Rams), Joe Keyes (Halifax Panthers), George Lawler (Castleford Tigers), Greg Minikin (Warrington Wolves), Anesu Mudoti (Keighley Cougars), Muizz Mustapha (Leeds Rhinos – loanee return to parent club), Adam Quinlan (retired), Tom Whur (Rochdale Hornets – loan)
Head Coach: Tony Smith
Assistant Coach: Danny McGuire
Assistant Coach: David Hodgson
Coaching Assistant/Support Staff: Stanley Gene
Head of Academy: Jason Netherton/Ben Lazenby
Head of Performance: Ben Cooper
Head Physiotherapist: Dan Ramsden
Sports Therapist: Jimmy McDaniels
Analyst: James Deighton
Club Doctor: Gemma Phillips
Kit Man: Alan Fellows
Owner: Neil Hudgell
Chief Executive: Paul Lakin
Finance Director: Pat Collins
Head of Marketing & Communications: Craig Franklin
Head of Events: Zoe Westlake
Multimedia Manager: Chelsea Smith
Multimedia Executive: Tom Forward
Home shirt: Red with blue and white bands
Away shirt: Yellow and blue featuring Icons of Hull
Betfred odds to win the Grand Final: 25/1
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