Rarely does a side lose a game but win.
But as Hull Kingston Rovers slogged it out with Super League champions St Helens, narrowly falling to a Golden Point defeat, it felt like an evening that was far more important to the club than an increased win percentage could ever achieve.
For years, the Robins have plodded on without purpose and identity. They’ve sought to survive and sustain. But when that’s all you seek, that’s all you get.
It has been telling in their recruitment for years. Seasoned campaigners and veteran pros were what their squads were built around. They paid over the odds for players who knew how to get the job done and who would be able to fulfil the remit of securing another year in Super League.
But it wasn’t fun, it wasn’t exciting and it wasn’t ambitious. It was a means of living, but not a means of pleasure. Something had to change.
Change they have and they did so drastically. They threw out the formula and devised a completely new one. It was out with the old and in with the new. Players with minimal top-flight experience were to be given a chance.
It was a risky strategy, to some it was too risky, to build a squad unproven and unknown and sprinkle a smidge of experience on top.
But a chance is what the Robins have provided and now they are reaping the benefits. Now, with their exciting brand of rugby and bright young talent, they have an identity. With their young stars improving weekly there is a clear and obvious pathway for them to climb the league and do more than survive year on year.
Let’s not get carried away. The removal of relegation has helped massively and not tested their willingness to give youth a chance. Even despite drawing plenty of admirers, they boast just two wins in ten Super League games. It’s unlikely that they would be receiving the credit they are if they were currently staring the Championship square in the face.
But they aren’t. That’s the reality. There’s no suggestion they would, or will, finish the season bottom anyway.
They took on the all-conquering Super League champions and gave them a run for their money for the second time in three weeks. They could have won; they may even argue they should have won. But looking at the bigger picture, their recent performances, including a win over Wigan, are a vindication of the Robins’ change of tack with enough proof to suggest they’re on the right path.
There will be some bumps along the road no doubt and their recruitment over the next two years is absolutely essential. Already the club has lost Mitch Garbutt, one of their few experienced performers, next season. Another in Jamie Ellis is on his way to Leigh. The need to add some senior, top-liners who can provide a dynamic for the up-and-comers to thrive, is evident. Some of those players given a chance are perhaps not quite up to standard and will need to be replaced. Others, through no fault of their own, may be moved on.
But with their 19-year-old halfback Mikey Lewis already leading the side around the park and the likes of George Lawler, Ethan Ryan, Elliot Minchella, Matty Storton and Jez Litten already looking competent at this level, there’s a reason to believe Hull Kingston Rovers is a club that has for so long felt stagnant.