IT would not be far-fetched to say some people feared for Kieran Dixon’s mental well-being after watching the young Hull KR player suffer a truly awful 80 minutes at Wembley.
Anything that could go wrong did go wrong for the error-ridden full-back as Rovers, on the club’s biggest day for almost 30 years, were vanquished 50-0 in the Challenge Cup final by a rampant Leeds Rhinos.
So painful was it that some onlookers were begging for head coach Chris Chester to rescue calamitous Dixon from his personal torment, to take him off – even if replaced with a prop – as mistake after mistake was routinely punished in front of 80,000 people.
How would he react thereafter? Would the clearly-talented but fragile 23-year-old ever get over such a demoralising ordeal?
Thankfully, just a fortnight later, Saturday’s blistering performance against Bradford Bulls, in which Dixon scored four tries to help secure Rovers’ Super League safety for 2016, clearly shows he has.
Positive signs had already been there the previous week when Chester put him straight back into action against Wakefield and the Londoner crossed twice to force a fourth successive win in the Qualifiers.
Against a severely troubled Bradford, the recovery looked complete as a confident Dixon, switched from the exposure of full-back to the relative safety of wing, demonstrated his finishing prowess and dynamism once more,
How bad had it been, though, in the “dark times” assistant coach Willie Poching had mentioned when praising this man-of-the-match display?
Dixon, 23, said: “These performances are something I think I really needed coming off the back of Wembley.
“Obviously I had a shocking game there last month.
“Everyone has a bad day at the office, let’s be honest.
“Mine happened to be on the biggest stage of my career so far, which was unfortunate – and naturally the pressure came down on me after it and I copped a lot of stick.
“But to pick myself back up, bounce back and put in two good really performances has been really good to build confidence again for myself.
“It has been really positive for me going forward, without doubt.”
Being given the chance to redeem himself immediately was crucial especially given many expected Ben Cockayne – the experienced full-back restricted to 18th man against Leeds – to return.
“It was very reassuring to stay in the team the week after Wembley,” admitted Dixon, who has now scored 21 tries in 25 games since joining from London Broncos last autumn.
“Chezzy could have replaced me with a few players in the squad, but he decided to stick with me, keep me in and that’s helped me to react and respond as well as I have done.
“I always wanted to play against Wakefield – if I’d have missed out after Wembley I’d have been disappointed but thankfully Chezzy showed his faith in me, put me back in and it’s really helped to build my confidence back up.
“It was great to score two then and then to get four tries as well versus Bradford is brilliant.
“It’s a great run of form from us in the league; we’re on track for not losing a game in the middle eight. We’ll have our work cut out but it’s definitely doable for us to win all seven.”
The damage would have been so much worse for lamentable Bradford if Josh Mantellato had not been successful with only three of his nine conversion attempts. Dixon showed him how it is done by taking over to casually boot the touchline conversion of his fourth try after the hooter had sounded.
Mantellato (2), Graeme Horne, Kris Welham – with his 100th for the club – Ken Sio and Dane Chisholm scored the other tries and they head to Sheffield Eagles on Friday night before rounding off at home to Salford Red Devils.
Trailing just 12-4 at half-time, Bradford should have been poised to potentially add a second Super League scalp having already stunned Salford.
However, for a second week running, they capitulated badly after the break.
Lowes, with searing honesty, accepted the blame for this performance himself afterwards questioning whether he had the motivational qualities required to see his squad deliver in such circumstances. One thing is for certain, he faces a massive week preparing his side for this Saturday’s televised game at fierce rivals Leigh Centurions, a fixture which effectively could decide whether they secure a place in the Million Pound Match.
If they lose that, the season could be written off as a failure.
They were not aided by two utterly avoidable yellow cards during which they conceded three tries, Danny Williams firstly for petulantly holding back Dixon as the winger tried to swiftly resume play with a 20m restart in the seventh minute.
Then Epalahame Lauaki’s foolish act did not help them either, the maverick Tongan prop sin-binned for allegedly gouging Dixon in the 39th minute, an offence which could see further action from the disciplinary.
Their only try came from James Mendeika, the 23-year-old who otherwise suffered a mistake-ridden afternoon at full-back after coming in for the dropped James Clare.
Dixon, for one, will be able to tell him not to dwell on such things too long.
Hull KR: Sio; Dixon, Horne, Welham, Mantellato; Chisholm, Marsh; Allgood, Puletua, Blair, McCarthy, Donaldson. Substitutes: Tilse, Boudebza, Burke, Green.
Bradford Bulls: Mendeika; Caro, Nielsen, Walker, Williams; Purtell, Addy; Clough, O’Brien, Sidlow, Olbison, Ryan, Pitts. Substitutes: Siejka, Lauaki, Crossley, Ferguson.
Referee: B Thaler (Wakefield).