From Hull FC we continue our journey east and head down Holderness Road to their neighbours, Hull KR. We hear from Robins fans James Purling and Sidney Kidney, who also kindly helped us out last year. James told us last year that one of his 1st weekends away with Mrs. Purling was “…to watch HKR at Knowsley Road in March 2007, followed by a weekend camping in the Lakes. And she still married me!!” Most of you will know the ubiquitous Sidney from Twitter (and for some of you this could be the only place you’ll read his thoughts this year!) Our thanks to them for helping us out again… First of all tell us a little about yourself… SK: I’ve been a Hull KR fan since early 1970s but RL always played second fiddle to my love of football until the last 12 years or so. I grew disillusioned with football and my love for RL has grown. Due to work /family commitments and living in Liverpool it’s difficult to get over to Hull as often as I would like but I try to get to as many away games in the North West that I can. JP: 2020 will be my 42nd year following Hull KR, so I’ve seen many highs & many lows in that time but keep going back for more! I’ve been a season pass holder for most of those years & also go to most away games with my wife. Entering the next lifestage having welcomed 3 beautiful grandchildren to the family in the past 14 months (Congratulations from us all at Redvee!) Sum up last season as a Hull KR fan. SK: Last season was a disappointment and a complete write off for me. The Rugby played under Tim Sheens was dull and his sacking was a relief if somewhat delayed. Tony Smith took over Sheen’s squad and fortunately managed to scrape enough points together to avoid relegation. The relegation battle went right down to the last game mainly due to London Broncos gaining almost a quarter of their points from a rotated St Helens team. Someone mentioned it on twitter!! JP: Nerve wracking! In many ways it was a typical rollercoaster season that Rovers fans have become used to over the past few years. Relegation was avoided by the skin of our teeth which was a relief given the turmoil of a season that had started with some optimism from surviving our first season back in Super League in 2018. There were some highs – beating our neighbours twice, the Golden Point win over Castleford, beating Warrington at home, Leeds away & a magnificent performance to win in Perpignan which was the win that ultimately kept Rovers up. However these were in contrast to some shocking performances to lose successive ‘must win’ home games at the end of the season to Huddersfield, Wakefield & London – the last of which really set the nerves jangling a nail biting last round at Salford. The club had had a massive turnover of squad after 2018 going for ‘quality’ over ‘quantity’, which was great in theory but in reality when injuries hit (particularly in the forwards) mid-way through the season, the strength in depth wasn’t there and youngsters, who probably weren’t ready for SL, had to be blooded. Ultimately Tim Sheens lost his job, but that the club were able to attract a coach of the proven quality of Tony Smith as replacement gave the fans reasons to be optimistic for the future. Yet despite all this Rovers still managed to average home crowds of over 8,100 for the season & travelled in numbers, which says a lot about the resilience of us Robins!! We welcome Toronto into Super League for the first time, meaning we now have 2 teams from outside of the UK taking part in Super League. So in three parts: a) What are your thoughts on Toronto’s promotion, b) would you welcome more expansion teams from across Europe and/or North America and c) what would your ideal ‘domestic’ Rugby League competition look like in 20-30 years (e.g. Toronto to still be part of the Super League structure with other expansion teams, all expansion teams to be in their own strong domestic leagues, UK only super League etc.) SK: We welcome Toronto to Superleague. Yes we do. Honestly. I really mean it. Scouts Honour. It won’t come as a surprise to any of your readers that follow me that I’m not a fan of such distant expansion. For a large part of the season they don’t go anywhere near Toronto. Games are played in blocks whether this gives an advantage remains to be seen. Toronto also bring an awful pitch that looks like a map of the London Underground and an arrogant Coach that has far too much to say for himself. The RFL need to get a grip of the expansion issue because a SL full of foreign teams will just kill the Sport in the UK. JP: a) I’m ambivalent about Toronto’s promotion to be honest. At the end of the day they were promoted on merit & so deserve their place in Super League. However given the squad they’d assembled it wasn’t unexpected but I think they’ll find Super League a totally different proposition. b) I’d welcome more expansion teams but only if they agreed to having a quota of players from their own country. I think the issue a lot of people have with Toronto is they don’t appear be inclined to develop the game in Canada & instead rely wholly on imports. I’m more in favour of Red Star Belgrade gaining entry to League 1 rather than Ottawa or New York, as they are at least using local players. They probably won’t have the meteoric rise through the leagues that Toronto had but at least they seem to be trying to establish roots for the game in Serbia. c) Ideally in the next 20/30 years we’ll see a Super League of UK based teams & thriving separate leagues in North America (including USA, Canada, Jamaica) and Europe (including teams from France, Serbia, Greece, Italy, and Spain to name a few). The season could then climax with a genuine World Club Championship with play-offs including the NRL winners. How do you think the Robins will go in 2020? SK: What do we expect from Hull KR in 2020? Who knows? Tony Smith has signed almost 20 players. Whether they gel remains to be seen. The season has got off to a terrible start with the devastating injury to Mose Masoe and Weller Hauraki needing ankle surgery. It’s difficult to know what Mosoe’s injury will have psychologically on his team mates. If I had to predict a finishing position I would say 9th or 10th. A decent run in the Cup would be most welcome. JP: Rovers are firm favourites for relegation with most of the “experts” so a minimum expectation is to avoid finishing 12th! Finishing around 8th would be fabulous and a sign of real progress from 2019 & be an endorsement of what Tony Smith is wanting to achieve with a younger & hungrier squad. Doing this will mean the club won’t then be scrambling around in recruitment for 2021 & will be able to bring some genuine quality into the squad. If they can achieve this, then I believe Rovers can be genuine competitors from 2021. Until then, a Cup run in 2020 is probably of lower priority – it would be nice but there’s a need to be realistic that staying up is the priority. Are you happy with your recruitment this year – is there anywhere you feel you need to improve? SK: Tony Smith has completely changed the squad but it does look a bit light in the halves. Jordan Abdul will be first choice and it’s possible Mikey Lewis will get some games. Another experienced skilled half wouldn’t go amiss. JP: Once again Rovers have seen a massive turnover in the squad bringing in 21 new players for 2020. Clearly the concern is how long they’ll take to gel. The difference this year is that the focus has been on building a squad of younger players who perhaps have a point to prove. Despite the uncertainty of securing a place in Super League, I believe the club have still been able to recruit some genuine quality such as Shaun Kenny-Dowall and Matt Parcell. Overall I think we are looking good in the backs. However the forwards are once again a concern and looking light. Clearly the loss of Mose Masoe in such devastating circumstances has a massive impact on power in the forwards. Losing Weller Hauraki, who didn’t miss a game in 2019, for a couple of months at the beginning of the season is also a blow. When you add the probability that Mitch Garbutt is only expected to play 15-20 games, it highlights the concerns a lot of the fans have. However one thing that seems clear from the club is an incredible team spirit & unity. As Salford showed last season taking an under-rated squad with great team spirit, a sprinkling of quality & directed by a quality coach can take a team to unexpected heights. So write off this Robins squad at your peril!!! Golden point was used in Super League last year – what are your thoughts on the system? SK: I’m a fan of Golden Point and I do like the Championship’s pioneering idea to give the losers one point. Every little helps! JP: Rovers saw it from both sides in 2019 – beating Castleford & losing to Salford. I don’t have a problem with the system tbh but there’s scope for amending. Too often the outcome was effectively decided by the toss of a coin at the beginning of the extra period with the team winning the toss going on to win the game in the first set. I’d change it so that if team scores in the 1st set then the other team should be given the opportunity to score in a set. If they do score then play continues until the next point. If they don’t score then the game ends. I think we should also consider giving each team a point at the end of 80 minutes & an extra point to the team winning in Golden Point Which one of your clubs players is the one to watch out for this season? SK: Rovers big headline grabbing signing was Shaun Kenny-Dowall from Newcastle Knights. He is a try scoring machine and hopefully will give the team some finish on the opponent’s try line. Greg Minikin from Castleford is another key signing. Rovers should score more points this season. JP: Shaun Kenny-Dowall Which of your young players is most likely to make a name for themselves this season? SK: Young Mikey Lewis in the halves is a hot prospect. He’s extremely skillful and hopefully get’s plenty of game time in 2020. JP: Mikey Lewis. Made his SL debut at Wigan last season & didn’t look out of place. He’ll be pushing Abdull, Brierley & Ellis for a half back spot Prediction time… SK: Top 5: 1. Wigan 2. St Helens 3. Hull FC 4. Warrington 5. Leeds; Grand Final: Wigan v St Helens ; Champions: Wigan and Eamonn McManus will cry about the Ref. Challenge Cup winners: Leeds will win the Cup beating Warrington in the Final; Relegated: Wave good riddance to the Cowbell. Huddersfield are going down. JP: Top 5: Saints, Warrington, Wigan, Catalans, Leeds; Grand Final: Saints vs Catalans; Champions: Saints; Challenge Cup winners: Wigan; Relegated: Huddersfield Who will be Man of Steel? Do you agree with the way the votes are given out? SK: Gareth Widdop. I don’t agree with the points scoring method. It should be decided as they do in Football at the end of the season when the Media decide who was the best player. JP: James Maloney. Yes – it’s better than the previous method & at least has an element of objectivity.