The Championship, aka the part-time league with the decorators, the electricians, and the plumbers, is becoming tedious. Everyone associated with Rovers is itching for the Middle 8’s to arrive.
This season has been a frustrating one. I’m far from content with us, in some cases, scraping past part time opposition each week. Sometimes we are running away with games with ease, whilst not playing particularly well, and others, like against Rochdale and Fev, have left us with our tail between our legs.
We are effectively waiting for the Middle 8’s to roll around so we can try to make amends for what happened last season. It’s imperative that we go up. We must be challenging ourselves against the likes of Castleford, Wigan and the old enemy, and not at Batley, Swinton and Oldham.
The Championship has been a walk in the park most weeks for Tim Sheens and his side with the two blots in the copybook being the two defeats to Toulouse—though as mentioned, the manner of some of the victories has been disappointing too. It’s not as plain sailing and as rosy as some of the fans on the forums make out.
We have brought in Zach Dockar-Clay who has had a good start to life at the club while the loan half back partnership of Jordan Abdull and Jamie Ellis is blossoming.
The club excellently crafted the capture of winger Justin Carney, and although he waited a few weeks for his debut, he’s looked really good when he’s played.
Carney can be brilliant as we all know, and if he is he will make a real difference in the Middle 8’s but he can also be uncontrollable. Having worked with him at Salford Sheens will be hoping he can tame the beast and use him as a strike weapon in the battle to regain our Super League status—which is going to be tough.
In the Challenge Cup campaign, and I find myself cursing when I mention that trophy now that the dark side won it last season at the Holy Grail, Rovers have had two opportunities to face Super League opposition.
Against Leigh we played well, but lets be realistic they were terrible. Against Salford we got into a lead, but we blew it once the Red Devils decided to turn up for the second half.
This worries me. It’s not going to a walk in the park like some of our fans think and with former top flight powerhouses set to be in that battle for survival, it only makes the challenge in hand tougher.
We did though play well at Salford—for forty minutes anyway. What will not have pleased Sheens, and the lads in the pub, was the way we faded in the second half
We conceded 24 unanswered points and that saw Salford run out comfortable winners in the end. Their forward pack had far too much power up the middle and rolled through Rovers’ pack with ease.
Despite the positive start this was something of a reality check. It has to be remembered though that despite coming within two minutes of losing the Million Pound Game at Craven Park last October, Salford are a changed side this season and are competing at the top end of Super League.
A more accurate insight into the imminent Middle 8’s challenge may therefore be the 23-10 win at Leigh in the previous round. I’ve said for a while now that we will contest the MPG this season against Leigh, and having beaten them once already, we should be confident.
Leigh clearly didn’t give two shits about the Cup that day. They were woeful. But lets not take any credit away from us. We were good, we controlled it, and it was a good day out.
Tim Sheens will be hoping his side can replicate that sort of performance on a weekly basis in the 8’s against the likes of Leigh and Widnes. If we can do that we will almost certainly make the Million Pound game. I don’t think we’ll finish in the top three, especially with the likes of Warrington and Catalans coming down.
We must be consistently good. Whilst we have only lost once all season in the league, we will face much tougher opposition in the Middle 8’s.
That is why Sheens is not quick to drown his players in praise despite their easy victories. Let’s not forget that hasn’t always been the case.
He knows there is lots we can and will need to improve on if we want to make it back to the top flight but having achieved so much in the game he will be confident in his ability to motivate his players enough to achieve the ultimate goal this season, a return to Super League at the first attempt.