Ahead of tonight’s Betfred Super League clash with Hull Kingston Rovers we spoke to Hull Daily Mail’s Gareth Westmorland (@G_Westmorland) about all things Hull Kingston Rovers.
Hull KR got promoted back to Super League last season and currently have one win and two losses. How do you think they’re adapting to life back in the Betfred Super League?
Gradually, we’ve seen a steady improvement from Rovers across the first three rounds. Though riding on the wave of positivity ahead of the season opener against Wakefield, Trinity knocked KR down a peg or two and I think the pace of the game shocked a few Robins players. That said, to come out the following week and push the defending champions close, but for a clinical period by Leeds in the final ten minutes of each half, says something about the mental toughness of the team. Finally, a win against Catalans last time out was clinched and it appears Rovers are learning their lessons.
Hull KR made quite a few new signings in the off-season. Who’s impressed you the most?
Danny McGuire is the obvious choice here. He’s yet to get off the mark in terms of try-scoring in Red and White but the all-round calmness he brings to the team cannot be underestimated. In years gone by, Rovers have been erratic in their play but McGuire – along with coach Tim Sheens – has tried to keep things simple and against the Dragons last week, it paid off. I’m also interested to see the progress of Will Dagger, the young full-back signed from Warrington Wolves, across the course of this year if not his three years in east Hull.
Danny McGuire hasn’t been named in the squad. How do you expect KR to set up on Friday especially in the halves?
Tim Sheens is likely to field Chris Atkin and Matty Marsh in the halves first up. They’re the two recognised, specialist play-makers but the trick up KR’s sleeve is that they have numerous players who can also play with ball in hand well. Maurice Blair, Tommy Lee, Adam Quinlan have all played in the halves at some stage of their career, so expect them to also get in on the action. Quinlan returns at full-back with Andrew Heffernan likely to come straight back into the team at centre. Nick Scruton should come off the bench as he returns from a shoulder injury, with the impressive Robbie Mulhern and Lee Jewitt beginning up front for KR.
Of course, there’s a lot of connections between Hull KR and Salford with the likes of Tim Sheens and players such as Justin Carney. Do you think this could have an impact on the game?
It would be silly of Sheens not to use his thorough knowledge of the Salford players. He signed a lot of the Red Devils stars that are currently at the club and of course, poached some from them to Rovers in Carney and more recently prop Jordan Walne, youngster Connor Williams and formerly of Salford, Tommy Lee. Sheens doesn’t entertain talk of politics or a real rivalry between the two sides. Obviously, a lot has gone on in the last 18 months – that Gareth O’Brien drop-goal remains in the nightmares of KR fans to date – but we’re back to square one, in a way.
Quite a rivalry has built-up between the two sides in recent years. What do you expect from the game?
I expect a similar battle to that of the Challenge Cup game last year. Rovers started like a house on fire and built up a healthy lead before Salford found their way back into the game. I think the home side have been unlucky in both of their games this season. Wigan got the bounce of the ball plenty of times, whilst Wakefield just hung on a fortnight ago. Rovers have to remain in the contest throughout and having a win under their belts last week may just be the catalyst for some momentum gained. Salford, in contrast, will be desperate for their first victory and I’ll tip them to come out all guns blazing.
Overall, what do you think the season holds for Hull KR?
Survival is the ultimate aim, no matter how it comes. Reaching the top-eight will be tough but as Salford and Wakefield have shown in previous years, it’s not impossible. It’ll take an almighty effort to escape the Qualifiers for the first time but even if KR do finish in the bottom-four, I am tipping them to secure their place in Super League 2019. Eighth would be a massive achievement and everything after that is a bonus, however many Robins fans, I’m sure, would take a comfortable finish in the middle 8s once more.
Score prediction: Salford 16 Hull KR 24