David Clegg Relives The Climax To The Million Pound Game Alongside Head Coach, Ian Watson
Whilst the players, as we have seen over the past few days, were fully focused on the job they had to do with the greatest of efficiency, for Head Coach, Ian Watson, who had spent the majority of the game sitting in his seat in the stand, the point came at which he felt it incumbent upon him to move down to the touchline, in order to have a greater level of contact with his players.
The first occasion came when a degree of frustration was exhibited by the ball being flung into touch, following a disappointing error, and he realised they needed some words of encouragement, which were passed on to all the players, but the spine of the team especially, via Assistant Coach, Martin Gleeson.
“I knew that there was still sufficient time left for us to have enough sets to win, even though, at that moment, we were facing a set of six on our own goal-line,” he explains. “We had to ensure we defended that set, then believe in ourselves, and back ourselves with the ball. That was the message I sent out to them.
“The boys responded magnificently by defending that set really well, and we were rewarded with another set of six, which ended with Niall Evalds scoring in the corner.”
The break in play, whilst Gareth O’Brien took the conversion attempt, not only gave Ian chance to send Martin Gleeson on to give further words of encouragement and direction, Ian also took the opportunity of speaking directly with Michael Dobson, his captain, as Michael ran past.
“Dobbo’s a smart player, and picked up, immediately, on what I had said. He then produced exactly what the team needed,” Ian divulges.
“We had a nice offload from Josh Jones, and then Josh Griffin burned Graham Horne on the outside.”
It ended, of course, with Niall’s being tackled in possession, and it is at that point when Ian believes Hull KR missed their chance to save the game. He expecting them to give away a penalty by holding Niall down, which, thankfully, they chose not to do.
“Sometimes, in a game situation, you’d normally get off quickly, because you wouldn’t want to give away a penalty, and so restart the tackle count. The Rovers’ defender has reacted to that situation as he normally would, whereas, in fact, with seconds left, conceding the penalty wouldn’t have mattered to them.
“As it was Niall got in the play-the-ball, and slick hands got it over to Greg Johnson for the try.”
The process of organising the extra time gave Ian a welcome period to be able to address all his players as a group.
“We spoke about being composed, and being back level again,” he recalls, “and that that meant we now had as much chance as Hull KR. We also knew that the belief we had shown in ourselves, together with doing the right things effectively, were what had got us through.”
So it was for him, then, just a case of standing back and letting the players take control, which for a further fifty-three seconds they, did, until Gareth O’Brien came up with that phenomenal drop-goal.
“I knew he had got it from the moment he kicked it, because he had struck it so sweetly,” Ian recollects. “I was standing next to Glees, and I heard him say, ‘He’s gone for it’, and I replied, ‘He’s got it’.
“Glees raced off, and I turned round to see all the medical team in tears of joy. I went over to the players to remind them that we shouldn’t over-celebrate, in respect to Hull KR.
Ian’s confidence and faith in his players must have been of great comfort and encouragement to him during the most difficult periods of the game.
“The boys have a never-say-die attitude, and will keep going, and compete, to the very end,” he proudly proclaims. “That’s the process we’ve been going through this season – about winning games like that.
“The only way you learn to win them is by being in them, and we have been in a few of those, such as away at Wigan, and then when Warrington visited us the following week. Every experience helps you develop the way to win them.”
Among that type of game, he also includes the away encounter, at Batley, the week before, which he believes was a good precursor to the trip to Hull.
“The Million Pound Game proved to be a high quality match with high completion rates in the nineties,” he remarks. “That is unusual in such a high pressure game when you would expect nerves to get the better of players. Instead it seems to have put them all on their mettle, that day.”
“There were very few errors, so, therefore, it was just a case of taking opportunities when they came.”
Which is exactly what they did, in sufficient quantity, immediately before, and throughout, that vital one hundred and six seconds.