The Garry Schofield Column: Hull KR right to make Tony Smith call but experienced boss will be back

Things can change pretty quickly in sport.

It doesn’t seem very long since we were raving about Hull KR reaching the play-offs, where they swept away Warrington before going down fighting against Catalans Dragons in their semi-final in France.

All the talk was about whether they could push on even further under Tony Smith and make it all the way to Old Trafford this time around.

The Robins had an indifferent start to the season, with only two wins from the first six matches, but seemed to be gathering pace as they won five in a row, two of those games in the Challenge Cup to seal a semi-final showdown with Huddersfield, the first club Tony coached.

Then came the unexpected announcement, from Tony himself, that he would be leaving when his contract ran out at the end of the year.

While I can believe there had been disagreements in private, going public seemed to take the powers-that-be at the club by surprise, and while there was a home win over Wakefield next time out – and given Trinity’s troubles, perhaps it wasn’t that impressive – the results that followed were awful, with just one win in eight and culminating in that 28-6 loss to Toulouse in France.

The seven defeats included a dismal display against Huddersfield, which ended the Wembley dream, and before facing their old rivals Hull at Magic Weekend, Rovers were two places and as many points outside the play-off zone.

So it wasn’t a complete surprise when the news emerged a week ago that Tony was leaving with immediate effect and that his assistant Danny McGuire, who had signed a three-year contract to work under incoming coach Willie Peters from next season onwards, would be in charge between now and then.

I wrote at the time that Danny would have been a great choice to succeed Tony, and I’d much rather Rovers had put their faith in a bright young Briton who knows the game and the club well rather than followed the trend of turning to Australia.

At least Danny will be staying put, and I’m delighted to see him get the top gig, if only for a matter of months.

Let’s hope he can make a big impression in that time, and resurrect a play-off bid, because there are still enough games to do that, and we all know it’s all about coming into form at the right moment.

Looking back, when it became clear Tony was unsettled for whatever reason, perhaps Rovers should have grasped the nettle and agreed his departure straight away.

I suspect the relations behind the scenes at the club were, shall we say, difficult, and that might have had an effect on the training ground. 

But Rovers are where they are, and now Danny has the chance to get some valuable experience and show what he’s about.

Now he can carry on learning under Willie Peters, and perhaps when he departs, the head coach’s job will be passed down.

As for Tony, he has left the club in a far better state than when he arrived midway through the 2019 season, and unless he chooses to step away from the game, I’m sure he’ll get the opportunity to return somewhere.

As I’ve also written previously, it wouldn’t surprise me if he winds up across the city at Hull at some stage, and I reckon the Black and Whites fans would really enjoy the style of play he favours.

Can Jake take Hull higher?

One new face certainly coming on board at Hull is Jake Trueman, who is leaving Castleford on a three-year contract beginning next season, although he may miss the start of it due to a nasty knee injury.

He was a top prospect at one time, and certainly burst onto the scene back in 2017, when Castleford had that memorable campaign that ended in disappointment at the Grand Final.

Jake didn’t feature at Old Trafford, but he did make it to Wembley for last year’s Challenge Cup final, scoring a try in the 26-12 defeat by St Helens.

But I’m not sure he’s developed as expected, and I’m not sure he’s the answer for Hull, who need an effective organising halfback and a player who can cope with the weight of fans’ expectations.

George Williams has struggled with that at Warrington, and I think Jake will be in a similar situation at Hull.

Regan and Tom heading to France

Regan Grace’s impending move from St Helens to rugby union with Racing 92 is hardly a surprise, because there’s been talk of interest from the 15-a-side code for some time.

It’s a shame to lose him, but it’s been a while since there has been a high-profile code-switcher and I can see why the financial rewards available over in Paris are tempting.

And even though a winger has a different role and duties in union, I think if Racing use him properly, he’ll score for them, just as he has so regularly for Saints.

Okay, it might cost Regan a World Cup campaign with Wales, but he will have factored that into his decision. At the age of 25, he’s at a key stage of his career, because while still relatively young, an opportunity like this might not come around again.

I wish him all the best in his new surroundings, and the same goes to another France-bound winger, Tom Johnstone, who is joining Catalans Dragons from Wakefield.

It’s a real shame Tom has been so troubled by injuries down the years, because he’s a great player, and really good to watch.

I’m wondering who will make way for him, and I’m also wondering whether Trinity regret not cashing in a a year or two ago rather than seeing him leave for nothing as his contract expires.

My tips for Round 19

A possible Grand Final dress rehearsal, Leeds looking up the table and Wakefield glancing nervously over their shoulder.

It was an entertaining opening day at Magic Weekend – and well done Wigan for showing they aren’t worried about taking on St Helens, and the reigning champions for showing the value of keeping going for the full 80 minutes.

These two clashing at Old Trafford would be something to savour.

I’ve been saying for a while that having Blake Austin and Aidan Sezer alongside each other doesn’t work, and that was shown by the influence of the latter when the former was absent for the win over Castleford.

Meanwhile Wakefield will be worried – and rightly so – after another dismal game, this time against a Toulouse team they badly needed to beat.

Trinity have to find a way out of the hole they’re digging for themselves, but I can’t see  them getting anything at Hull KR, who I’m tipping to win by 14.

Having said that, even with home advantage, I don’t see Toulouse beating Leeds, who I reckon will be victorious by 16.

I think St Helens will see off Huddersfield by 14 while Wigan will defeat Hull by 24.

And I’m going Castleford by ten against Warrington and Catalans by the same margin against Salford.

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