HULL KR chairman Neil Hudgell last night boldly claimed finishing outside of Super League’s top eight might be good for his club as it will see their season avoid a potentially “slow, painful death.”
He was speaking ahead of tonight’s home derby with “arrogant” Hull FC which Rovers must win to have any hope of securing a Super 8s spot.
Reaching the play-offs is traditionally the goal of all sides but, under the competition’s new structure, Hudgell argues that might not now be the case.
“This game is a must-win for us, it’s do-or-die and you always want to win the derby regardless,” he told The Yorkshire Post.
“But there’s a bit of a caveat to that; if we finish eighth, maybe six points behind fourth, it is going to be a slow, painful death to the end of the season.
“It would be very difficult to get into the top four and the semi-finals from there.
“It doesn’t detract from the fact we want to win the derby and head towards our Challenge Cup semi-final (against Warrington next month) in good spirits.
“But it is a real difficult one – without talking the competition down, it would be virtually impossible to get into that top four.”
After next week’s 23rd and final regular round, Super League splits into two with the top eight all playing each other once and the bottom four heading into the Qualifiers alongside the Championship’s leading quartet.
In the Qualifiers, clubs start on zero points but in the Super 8s, points are carried over with the eventual top four playing semi-finals to reach the Grand Final at Old Trafford.
For their part, Hull KR are currently six adrift of fourth-placed Huddersfield Giants, an invidious position to say the least.
Furthermore, the way the new system is ranked, whoever finishes eighth will get only three home games – including facing the top two – and then four away fixtures so it is an arduous itinerary.
Of course, those who finish in the bottom four do, dangerously, open themselves up to the risk of relegation.
However, Hudgell – one of the chairmen who initially opposed the new structure when it was voted in last year – countered: “I’d be heartbroken if, with the squad we have, we got drawn into that.
“The top eight is not the Holy Grail. Under the old system, if you finished eighth at least you had a chance of winning it (the title).
“But now, you’d have to be a very good mathematician to find an equation to make it into the top four from there as teams will beat each other.
“Fans aren’t mugs. They’ll see this happening. Hopefully it’ll be easier after this first year to see where the system works and where it doesn’t.”
Hull KR – who have never featured in a Grand Final – are presently ninth, two points behind their city neighbours but with an inferior points difference.
This campaign has been one of the closest in years and, to that end, the RFL is achieving what it wanted from the new structure – a more exciting competition where “every minute” matters.
But Hudgell added: “The fact we’re in the position (ninth) we are in is because we suffered one big blow-out against Wigan Warriors when we lost 60-0.
“Even if we beat Hull we’ll probably still lose out to them for eighth because of that one game and our inferior points difference. So, there are still some one-sided results.
“But now it is just about seeing how the whole thing (structure) pans out.
“We will see that soon when this second phase of the season begins.”
There is the fiscal argument that clubs would earn more money being in the top eight with bigger matches but, given season-ticket holders gain free entry anyway, Hudgell believes that sum would be marginal.
Nevertheless, one fact remains – they are desperate to beat their fierce rivals in the 226th derby.
“We owe them one given they humiliated us in Newcastle,” said Hudgell, referring to their last meeting at Magic Weekend in May, when Hull prospered with a comfortable 46-20 rout.
“And Hull do have a big club mentality without the results to support that; there is an arrogance about them.
“We’re a funny side. We go from highs to lows in the space of 40 minutes.
“We were out of sight against Salford last Sunday then lost the game (from 18-4 to 31-18).
“It’s been indicative of our season; no two weeks are the same,” he said.
“However, in the big scheme of things, this is like any derby – it hurts you more to lose it than the joy you get out of winning it.
“It just means you get more flack from them for longer if you lose the last derby of the season and we don’t want that.”
Hull KR won 20-6 at Hull in April when they were as high as fourth but have been badly hit by the loss of talismanic captain Terry Campese who endured a season-ending knee injury in June.
Watts’s hope for Hull FC: Page 25