Last season was a season of massive upheaval at Craven Park, practically half a squad’s worth of new signings coming in at Hull KR. It was a sign that Justin Morgan knew changes had to be made to compete at Super League level and compete last season Rovers did, ending up just outside the playoff spots. By contrast this season has seen much less player movement, which seems to imply that Morgan doesn’t think that KR are that far off with what they’ve got.
Most of their off-season action has seen the introduction of more props to add a new layer of depth to an already talented forward pack. In Nick Fozzard they have a potentially destructive front rower who brings experience of winning to the KR pack. In Scott Wheeldon they have a player who looked like a potential world-beater but never really lived up to that expectation. He’s still a more-than-adequate player and I suspect he’ll benefit from a change of teams and also from the greater strength in depth up-front that KR now have.
Since the forwards look like they should do the business this season, there’s a burden of sorts with the backs. The key to Hull KR’s success will probably be the play of Paul Cooke and Michael Dobson. Both have proven to be highly effective in Super League, and if they can move the forwards around the pitch in a productive manner it could prove to be a fruitful season. However both are distributors more than attacking threats, and there seems to be a lack of out-and-out firepower in the side. Cooke in particular might find himself having to engineer attacking opportunities for the backs.
If the current playoff system was in effect last season then Hull KR would have scraped themselves into the postseason, so that should be a minimum target for this season. There’s a definite glut of teams who could scrape into the bottom half of the playoffs, and KR will struggle to elevate themselves above that pack, but a playoff game should be within their grasp. Now it’s up to the Robins to show that they can exceed the expectations put on them from last year and show their talent on a consistent basis.
Pros: They start the season as the best team in Hull, and they will be up for keeping it that way. They are on an upward swing as well, with last season being a significant improvement on the one before, and they will be hoping for improvement again this year. They have a smart coach in Justin Morgan and he has recruited pretty well, snaring some underrated youngsters from other sides (including one of FC’s more promising talents in Scott Wheeldon). They’ve also definitely got strength in depth in the forwards this year.
Cons: Not so sure about the depth of talent in their backs. Peter Fox had a good season last year, and Liam Colborn did well in his opportunities with Wigan, but neither of them are exactly electrifying. Shaun Briscoe apart, they don’t seem to be a particularly penetrative side.
Coach: Justin Morgan has proven to be a very talented young coach. After taking a semi-pro Toulouse outfit to the semi finals of the Challenge Cup, he then led Hull KR (then a semi-pro outfit in National League One) on a similar cup run, whilst also guiding them to victory in NL1. After a rocky first season in Super League, he made adjustments last season and saw Hull KR finish just outside the playoff positions. To continue that rate of improvement Morgan will definitely be targeting a postseason berth this year.
Captain: Mick Vella captains the side from prop.
Key Man: Considering all the hoopla they went through to get him in the first place, now is probably the time for Paul Cooke to re-establish himself as a dominant stand-off for Hull KR. Having been so successful for the Robins’ cross-town rivals Hull FC, Cooke decided to play the club he supports, even though that meant a suspension for violating his registration with FC. Now coming off his first pre-season for KR without any other matters hanging over his head, look for Cooke to reassert his influence in midfield.
Young ‘un: There are hopes of big things from Liam Watts at Craven Park. Having made his debut last season as a 17 year-old, Watts will be hoping this season to cement a place in the KR matchday squad. He’s got a fair amount of competition for a front-row position at Craven Park but that could prove to be a good thing, as he’ll have fine tutelage under which to serve his apprenticeship.
Wild Card: Ben Cockayne isn’t the starting full-back any more, but he’s been at the club a while and he’s proven to have attacking threat. He’s also shown that discipline isn’t his strong point. If Cockayne can keep himself in check, look for him to make the most of the opportunities he gets in attack.
Gains: Ryan Esders, Nick Fozzard, Liam Colbon, Scott Wheeldon
Compared with the plethora of players that came to Craven Park last year, this years incoming batch is positively minuscule. Still, Dobson impressed in his last spell in Super League, and Fozzard should add some oomph to the pack. I think Wheeldon might get a second wind on the east side of Hull.
Losses: Luke Menzies, Jon Steel, Chris Chester, Kirk Netherton
Again, their losses aren’t particularly large either. Steel and Netherton were mostly bit-part players, and Chester is still at the club in a coaching capacity.