As the clock counted down those final few seconds of the match against Widnes and the reality of a successful promotion campaign hit home, I spent a few seconds reflecting on the last couple of years and the events that had led up to this moment.
Wembley 2015 was the start of something for Rovers I told anyone who cared to listen at the time. I was right – but for all the wrong reasons. Instead of taking the club forwards onto a better stage, it turned out to be the beginning of a dramatic 13 months for the club which ultimately ended in the ignominy of defeat to Salford and relegation. I couldn’t have envisaged anything so dramatic.
Even as Gareth O’Brien’s drop goal sailed majestically between the uprights last September, I didn’t quite believe what I had just witnessed, and I sat in my chair waiting for someone to tell me it was ‘best of three’!! Even by Rovers’ standards the last two minutes of normal time and the first minute of extra time seemed too far fetched to be true – but it was true, and we were down. Gone from Super League, and if you believed what the press had written in the build up to the match, gone for good.
Players out of work and left homeless, contracts null and void, £1m less income and the only thing left to salvage for the fans was – well I don’t think there was anything.
I am usually quite philosophical about most things sporting, but in those first few days after relegation I was walking around in an almost depressed state.
Grumpy with the wife and kids, off my food and sat staring at four walls for hours on end. What would I do without Rovers? I would wake up in cold sweats after dreaming of shopping trips to the supermarket on what should have been a match day. Or images of a bucket and sponge stood next to a filthy car appeared from nowhere as I cycled to work.
I needed picking up quickly – and thankfully something wonderful happened. Everybody connected with the club, owners, staff, players and supporters refused to lay down and die. It would be a positive for the club and not an absolute negative. We would rise from the ashes and EVERYONE had a part to play.
It was obvious that some players would leave as they were too good for Championship football, some had to go due to financial reasons and some because, well they hadn’t played much or been good enough to make an impression. But how many players would we actually have?
The first sign that all was not lost was when Shaun Lunt put pen to paper. His commitment and desire to stay and get the club back up to Super League was the catalyst for others to follow suit. Maurice Blair, Thomas Minns, James Greenwood, George Lawler and so on. The coach was also coming over regardless – could you get anyone more experienced than Tim Sheens? All of a sudden there was a feel good factor being generated and it grew and grew and snowballed over the weeks. Season pass sales surpassed all expectations and fans were optimistic for the season ahead.
Before you knew it, we had a decent squad put together capable of winning the Championship and more importantly being competitive in the Qualifiers. Additions such as Justin Carney and Mose Masoe during the season just reinforced the desire that the club had to make an immediate return to Super League.
The Championship season was probably as expected. We finished top and rarely looked like we had got out of second gear. The fans turned out in numbers every week home and away and I’d like to think we gave the Championship a bit of a shot in the arm. Every team we played raised their game against us as expected, but we usually found a way through to win the match. The question was (and I had asked it myself), could we raise our game for 7 ‘Cup Finals’?
After 60 minutes of the match against Halifax it looked like the answer was NO! We were trailing by 8 points and didn’t look like scoring. We needed to dig deep and find a way to win. Up stepped Messrs Lunt, Lawler and Scruton to create a couple of tries and get us up and running with two points – ‘a win is a win’ I thought to myself as I left the ground (phew). Next up it was Leigh.
Although we’d won there in the Cup, could we do it again? I wasn’t sure. But again, the boys all dug deep and we battled out a hard fought win with a gutsy defensive display. Lunt proving the match winner (I may have mentioned him previously in this write up). To win at the team who had relegated us the season before was very sweet indeed.
I suppose on paper the next two matches were the easier of the remaining fixtures, but if you follow Rovers you know that nothing is easy. Leading comfortably at home against London we managed to put the fans through the mill in the final few minutes ultimately winning by five points when it should have been more. So, three wins from three matches and our points difference was only +13 – it just showed how tight these games were proving to be.
Fev away – a potential banana skin but overcome by a margin of 12 points. With 2,500 Rovers fans there to cheer on their heroes there was now a belief that promotion was within our grasp.
Results elsewhere, and having seem some matches performances elsewhere too were giving fans plenty of optimism. Catalans were looking ordinary and Leigh were struggling.
And so to Saturday 9th September 2017, Widnes Vikings at KCOM Craven Park. The day that could see us promoted. Just 80 minutes of your life, but potentially the most dramatic, enjoyable 80 minutes of your life if we could win. To take my mind off the game I washed the car and went down to the supermarket to do the shopping.
We now know the outcome. We all know that we beat Widnes and with Warrington beating Leigh we are promoted with two games to spare. From my seat in the North Stand looking through the sticks right down the pitch, you could see the effort from both sets of players, especially in defence. With so much riding on these games it was never going to be a classic and a win by any margin was all the players were after. Ultimately it was an interception that proved to be the match winner. Jamie Ellis keeping the nerves jangling by missing the conversion! I’ve not known the last 10 minutes of a match drag on so long either. Again, we dug deep and won in a close contest – a theme during these Qualifiers.
So after the smiles and handshakes and no doubt beers have been exchanged across Hull, let’s remember what losing to Salford meant to us all. And let’s remember how everybody associated with the club pulled together to ensure that those 80 minutes of our lives against Widnes were THE most pleasurable minutes of our time supporting this great club.
I was proud to sing ‘ROVERS TILL I DIE’ at the final whistle – because I will be……..