Shaun Kenny-Dowall | Player's perspective
Hull KR are set to travel to the South of France on Saturday in what will be their first game in 36 days. After a Covid-19 outbreak wreaked havoc at the club, the Robins have faced fixture postponements and changes to their playing schedule in what has been a tumultuous five weeks.
This week, Rovers headed into training preparing to face newly crowned Challenge Cup winners St Helens. However, more disruptions due to Covid-19 threatened to stifle the Robins chances of taking the field once again.
After Catalans Round 15 opponents Castleford also fell victim to Covid-19, the Robins agreed to take on the Dragons this Saturday on short notice, ensuring both clubs could still fulfil a fixture. An act from Tony Smith's side that has been rightly commended, a last minute trip to France beckons for Hull KR to face the current Betfred Super League League Leaders.
Looking back on the past five weeks, Hull KR's imminent concern was the health of their players. Captain Shaun Kenny-Dowall pulls no punches about the challenges the club has faced.
He explained: “It’s been tough - the initial 10 days of isolation and worrying about your health. Your health is the most important thing you have, so that was the main priority in the first 10 days.
“But after that, I think everyone has banded together really well - the club’s been great with their programmes and making sure the lads have been showing up with an intensity and a level we’re happy with.
“It’s been frustrating not being able to get the continuity of the season going but it is what it is, and I think the boys have adapted and overcome it really well.”
At the time of the club’s Covid-19 outbreak, Rovers had just won their third game in a row following an impressive victory away at Wigan Warriors. Of course, there is never a good time to experience such disruption caused by the ongoing pandemic, but the timing of Hull KR’s outbreak seemed especially cruel.
Nevertheless, the squad have embraced the challenges they’ve faced and refuse to make any excuses on the eve of restarting their 2021 campaign.
On the timing of the outbreak, SKD said: “It’s just one of those things that you have to overcome and deal with. You can’t make any excuses.
“It was unfortunate but hopefully we’ve been through the worst of it now and our focus has got to be solely on this weekend and building for the rest of the season.”
And that focus will need to be razor sharp going into this weekend’s game. A late change in schedule brings a new challenge in the form of the current League Leaders, Catalans Dragons – a team that have won their last nine matches.
Despite what will be a baptism of fire for Rovers as they look to get their season up and running again, the squad are undeterred about the challenge ahead.
SKD explained: ““The character of the group has been awesome. The group aren’t fazed by the late cancellations and changes. It’s something the squad have welcomed and taken in their stride.
“The character of the group comes out in spades during tough times. We’ve all pulled together and it’s been great to be back around each other at training.
“The camaraderie and energy levels of the group haven’t changed at all. Everyone’s excited and upbeat.”
Ultimately, it doesn’t matter who the Robins faced this weekend. The main goal was to get back out on the paddock doing what they love.
“We just want to get on the plane and get out there on the field. It’s been a long five weeks - we really enjoy playing rugby, so we just want to get our season back on track and get in front of some other players.
“There’s no intensity like game intensity. You can’t replicate that game intensity on the training field so we’re just excited to get there on Saturday.”
That excitement stems somewhat from their position in the league table – they currently occupy sixth place and more importantly, a play off spot.
This year is a stark contrast from their 2020 season - a difficult year ended with the wooden spoon for the Robins. As such, their form this year and the fact they are in the conversation to make the playoffs at the end of the year, is testament to the club's work to turn their fortunes around.
And unlike other teams chasing a Play-Off spot, there is little pressure on Hull KR. Expectations, albeit externally, revolve around survival for the Robins in 2021. However, the club is exceeding those expectations, and there is genuine excitement in East Hull about where the side could finish this year.
“We’re excited about the position we’re in and we’re getting excited about the end of the season - hopefully we’ll be playing in the Play-Offs.
“We’re giving ourselves the best opportunity to do so and won’t be making any excuses.”