Even before promotion was confirmed and the celebrations began, the speculation and excitement amongst fans and the wider Rugby League world started to grow.
Our squad last season was obviously more than good enough to piss the Championship and the Middle 8s showed that squad could compete with the Super League deadwood but the stark truth is that competing isn’t enough, if we don’t want to be fighting to stay up next August/September that is.
The Qualifiers fight this year promises to be the toughest yet. Three clubs jump out straight away who will be in the ’26 game pre-season’ category in the battle to compete in Super League in 2019. Leigh, Toronto and Toulouse have seemingly very deep pockets and SL standard players and as we did last season will come into the 8s full of confidence hoping to make the move up.
Our overriding objective in our first season back at the top table has to be avoiding been in the dogfight yet again and aim for the top 8. Personally I’d take 8th and a wash out Super 8s campaign in our first season back. Undoubtedly some of you Robins will read this and promptly wipe your arse on this content, screaming lack of ambition. Maybe so, but it’s a realistic viewpoint in my opinion because even though we’ve only had one season away from Super League all the clubs still in there have stole a march on us, well everyone except Widnes are still as shit as ever.
It takes time and money and a strong infrastructure to build and sustain a strong club. Even the strongest clubs (Leeds & Wire) have shown that even having these characteristics doesn’t guarantee a top eight spot. Over on the dark side they chased the dream for years before they become ‘established’ again and actually won something.
Pearson, Radford and Motu Tony, identified what and who needed changing and have made the changes over a few years and it pains me to say it but they have reaped the rewards from this. The FC culture has changed and been built on professionalism and a proven winner (Ellis) and this brings me back to the Robins. Danny McGuire could be our Ellis, his last game for the Whinos as we all know was a Grand final win, it doesn’t get any better then that, and just a year after struggling and having to navigate the dreaded Milles 8s. McGuire like Ellis is in the twilight of his career but if he can inspire us with his professionalism, craft and game management then we could have a comfortable first season back. After all age is just a number as the Dullers have repeatedly told us about Ellis and to be honest this is true.
McGuire will inspire and bring players onto a different level on the pitch alongside Shaun Lunt and Nick Scruton to name a couple. Off the pitch we all know that Sheens is a master coach and adds something to each and every player he works with. He has brought in some players that have had fans scratching their heads but we have to trust his judgement, he knows what they can do and what they bring to the club. Every new player starts with a clean slate and until they play in the famous red and white then judgement on previous performances for other clubs should be held, after all how many of us hated McGuire in a Leeds shirt but expect him to work miracles in a Rovers one. McGuire isn’t going to be the saviour and miracle worker on his own and will need a level of consistently good performances of those around him to succeed, his last season with the Whinos was arguably his best because he was undoubtedly the ‘go to’ player for them and he relished the challenge. The challenge at Craven Park will be bigger but even in his senior years he’s proved he can conquer the challenges thrown at him with the help of his teammates.
It remains to be seen if we acquire the services of anymore overseas stars before we take on Wakey in a few weeks time and I personally wouldn’t hold my breath. If you believe the Hull Daily Fail we’ve been linked with EVERY player this side of Mars and a few more since the season end, but we are competing against big money and stability and as a newly promoted side in a salary cap sport we start a long way behind everyone else. As fans its exciting to be linked with the big stars, but wholly unrealistic. Some of the names linked are merely ‘clickbait’ for the local rag because they haven’t got the ability to distinguish fact from fantasy and most fans know this.
Sheens and Hudgell will be working to unearth a gem but I’m a ‘for the present’ type of fool and as such I’m focusing on the players we have in the squad and expect them to be drilled and worked enough to get off to a good start and maintain it for the season. If anyone comes in then that’s a bonus.
I’m expecting a roller coaster of a season with highs and lows but most of all I’m expecting every player that pulls on the shirt to give 100% to the cause. If that’s not good enough then so be it, as long as they commit to the best of their ability I can take that. Joe