Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Sunday's Coming 1: Hull KR

Polished Performer: Sheens may be
a Rugby League legend, but he's
never won a Law Cup!
Here at TLCRF80mins, we’re not sure who’s most shocked that Sunday’s game sees Hull Kingston Rovers travelling to Championship leaders Rochdale Hornets in a first v second clash - us or them!

Last year the clubs were two divisions apart, but heading in distinctly different directions. Indeed, Hull KR fans have the boot of Salford’s Gareth O’Brien to thank for their trip to Spotland this weekend. His monster Golden Point drop-goal in last season’s Million-Pound game slammed the relegation trapdoor behind the Robins as they slid into the Championship.

And if you’re still having to pinch yourself to prove that Hornets are indeed at the top of the Championship (did we mention that at any point?), somewhere in an office in East Hull the actual Tim Sheens is spending this week trying to work out how to avoid being embarrassed by Hornets.

Sheens is a bona-fide RL legend, with a reputation for turning ailing sides into champions. He took Penrith to their first finals series ever in 1985, coached Canberra Raiders to their first premiership in 1989, winning two more premierships with Canberra in 1990 and 1994.

After a stint at North Queensland Cowboys he replaced Terry Lamb at Wests Tigers in 2003, leading them to a 2005 Grand Final win over the Cowboys.

Having coached four premiership winning teams, only Wayne Bennett has coached more and Sheens was awarded the Dally M Coach of the Year in 1984, 1990 and 2005. And. on 3 May 2010 Sheens became the first coach in Australian rugby league history to reach 600 games. A staggering feat.

At rep level, Sheens has coached both ARL City Origin AND the NSW State of Origin teams; and in
2009 he was appointed coach of the Kangaroos, leading them to a 2013 Rugby League World Cup win in which they conceded just four tries in the entire tournament (interestingly, all v England in their opening match!).

After a stint at Salford as Director of Football, Sheens now finds himself charged with returning Hull KR to Super League.

Depending on who you talk to, Hull KR are estimated to have a 2017 season budget ten times that of Hornets - but on their first two showings, they look to have a decidedly leaky defence: shipping 24 points against Bradford and a further 22 last week as they squeaked past London Broncos in West Ealing.

Perfectionist Sheens is not a happy man. Speaking in the Hull Daily Mail this week, he said: "The scrappy defence will come back to haunt us at this level. Teams will look at that and see that as our weakness. It's only a weakness because of our attitude, not so much anything else.”

“If you're playing poorly and you're still winning, it's much better (than the other way around). But it's not good enough if we have any aspirations to do better than playing Championship for the next two years.”

He went on: ”I think everyone had a part of the day where they weren't happy. I don't think there was anyone really happy with what you would call a great game. There were moments from lots of players, from the skipper (Shaun Lunt) at nine, but overall I don't think anyone will be very happy with their game at all."

"We couldn't shake London off throughout the whole game. We were our own worst enemy. They played with determination and we tackled poorly, that's generally when you turn up thinking 'How good are we?”

"I had plenty to say (to his team)  about it. Your defence always shows your attitude and we weren't good enough. We put 50 on the board (against Bradford Bulls), and you think it's just going to happen again. But again, we gave up the first try softly, and scrambled a number of times to stop possible tries, though we had some chances bombed too.”

"There were some stupid things done by players who should know better."


But expectations are high in East Hull this year - with both club and coach under pressure to deliver a return to Super League at the first attempt.

Described as ‘sloppy’ by the Hull Daily Mail, the Robins allowed the Broncos to eat away at a convincing lead, to end the game hanging on to their six point cushion. And you get a sense of the pressure-cooker scrutiny the club is under from a couple of paragraphs in the same publication, where Paul Cooke writes:

“Players who should know better were guilty of errors, which eventually cost the team energy and the leaking of far too many points. Unfortunately, these types of wins will be all too regular for the best team in the Championship. Playing average will gain two points more often than not, regardless of a narrow six point win or on many occasions throughout 2017, it will even yield a comfortable win.”

“It can breed the bad habits that Sheens will be desperate to eradicate before it catches up with his team in big games. Being professional, ruthless and reaching standards Sheens expects and the players have set, will be a big battle for the squad this year.”

Two interesting insights here. 1.  Hull KR are already being vaunted as ‘the best team in the Championship’. Maybe there’s an underlying case of believing their own publicity going on here. 2. If reaching high, professional standards will be ‘a big battle’, you have to strongly question whether there’s an attitude issue to be addressed - certainly Sheens himself strongly suggests that there is.

Conversely, league leaders Hornets are high on confidence after a dream start to the Championship campaign. Last week’s attritional win at Odsal showed that this group of players is as happy to scrap it out as it is looking to play expansive football. And stern defence has been at the heart of this early success - Hornets shipping fewer points in two games than Hull KR did against Bradford alone.

The more cynical observer could suggest that this weekend sees a clash of ideologies: Small, fan-owned underdogs taking on the multi-million-pound might of what is, essentially a Super League juggernaut on a gap-year to the Championship. But if this is the league we want to play in, these are the games we should relish: a chance to test and measure our club’s progress against the the strongest of opponents.

And - however it pans out - we reckon Sheensy’s looking forward to it a lot less than Alan Kilshaw. This WILL be a cracker. Don’t miss it.