Rovers are back where they belong among the elite in Super League. After a fantastic Qualifiers campaign last season Tim Sheen’s guided the Robins back to the promised land at the first attempt and I’m sure everyone is eager to get the season underway. Let’s not kid ourselves it’s going to be a tough season and to make the top eight would be a massive achievement. So what can we really expect from 2018?
Strong start needed
Tim Sheens will know that for his side to have any hope of making the eight after 23 rounds they need to get off to a good start. Rovers face last season’s top four in their opening ten games but they also face six fixtures that should be targeted for wins. Rovers kick off the season at home to Wakefield. Trinity had a brilliant 2017 under Chris Chester but will they be able to back that up this season? Hopefully Craven Park will be rocking and we need to be the 14th man to get the lads off to a winning start that night. Our first away game is at the champions Leeds but they may well have one eye on their trip to Melbourne for the World Club Challenge and Rovers have to take advantage of that.
Games against Huddersfield, Salford, Catalans twice and Widnes in the opening ten rounds will also go a long way towards determining our fate this season and we need points from those games.
Them Black and White bastards need knocking off their perch don’t they? Well hopefully Rovers have a similar record against them this season as they did the first time they were promoted to Super League. We had a great record against them and always seemed more up for it than they did. They will probably underestimate us and we have to use that to our advantage. Tim Sheens will need to get the lads fired up and ready to “welcome” them to Craven Park on Good Friday. Our lads will be chomping at the bit for the game after missing it last season and we need to send their gutter rat fans back to West Hull writing some fresh Radford out banners. Thanks to the fixture planners we have to wait until the final game on the Sunday to play them at Magic Weekend but the Red and White army will be ready and waiting on the Toon to celebrate another Magic Weekend win over the black and white shite. The final game of the regular season is that lot away and that could be absolutely vital for us but we know we have had the beating of them in the past and we can do it again.
It will probably all come down to the final few games of the regular season and on paper our final five games could save us. We face Huddersfield, Salford and Warrington at Craven Park as well as Widnes and Hull FC away to end the regular season. Craven Park will need to be a fortress for us this season and those final three home games will be pivotal. Warrington and Hull will be fighting for the top four but Huddersfield, Salford and Widnes are all teams we should be looking to beat.
Another stint in the Qualifiers wouldn’t be a disaster as we have been there and done it before and seen both the good and bad side of it. Toronto are sure to be in there and that’s another reason why we need to avoid such a scenario in the summer months.
Every side in the league (definitely Wigan) will have injuries but we could be more affected than most. We were behind the eight ball in terms of recruitment as we had to go through the Qualifiers and that has limited the recruiting power available to Tim Sheens. Danny McGuire is a fantastic signing, just look at the Grand Final he bossed the game and played Gale and co off the park. We will need him to be like that consistently for us and here’s hoping he can stay fit.
Our squad is a little light in general especially in the pack and this is an area of the squad we simply can’t afford an injury crisis. The conditioning team will certainly earn their money this season and if they can keep the squad as fit and healthy as possible we will have a much better chance.
We have to be realistic this season—a top eight finish would be amazing and would show just how far Tim Sheens has taken the Robins in a short space of time. A cup run would be nice but the league has to come first. Should we fall into the Qualifiers again at least we will have experience on our side to keep ourselves in Super League for 2019 and beyond.