HULL KR’s Chris Chester last night described the “toughest day” of his coaching career after informing some players they will not play at Wembley – and there could be more “tears” today.
The Robins’ chief has some notable selection decisions ahead of Saturday’s Ladbrokes Challenge Cup final against holders Leeds Rhinos, the first time the East Yorkshire club have played in the showpiece since 1986.
With just captain Terry Campese unavailable, there have already been some disappointed faces in Rovers’ ranks after Chester told the players his 19-man squad yesterday.
That will be trimmed down again today although he will not publicly name his 19-man squad until Thursday and there remain doubts about star scrum-half Albert Kelly, who will be given until the eve of the final to prove his fitness after a knee injury.
Chester, who revealed he would happily throw young scrum-half Matty Marsh in at Wembley despite playing only his second Rovers first-team game on Sunday, admitted: “I named my 19 and there was a lot of unhappy people. People were upset and there was a few tears.
“It’s certainly the toughest part of the job and this has probably been my toughest day – letting players know they’re not in my thoughts for the Cup final.
“I know from experience how upsetting and disappointing that is. I was left out of the 2006 Grand Final (for Hull FC) and got told the day of the game at lunchtime. I was led to believe I’d be in the team all week.
“I feel like I’ve learned from that experience; I just think these guys need to know as early as possible.
“I’ll sleep on it [last night] and then make the decision. No doubt there’ll be some more disappointed faces and players then. I’ll let everybody know [today] what the starting 13 will be and the bench.
“I’m still undecided on the bench. There’s a few selection dramas for me there, but it’s my job and I’ve got to make sure I make the right decisions. Then I’ll live and die by that.”
Australian Kelly has been a revelation in his debut season with the club, scoring 16 tries in 22 games and arguably proving their most dynamic creative presence.
But he has not played since the semi-final against Warrington almost four weeks ago.
To have any chance against huge favourites Leeds, it is felt he must play and Chester conceded: “We’re definitely a better team with Albert Kelly in it. On the flip side, if he’s not 100 per cent fit on Friday he won’t play. That’s genuine. We can’t afford to go into that final with 16 fit players.
“We saw what happened in ’86 when Gavin Miller went in with an injury.”
The legendary Australian loose forward Miller, who won Man of Steel that season, was carrying a damaged hamstring going into their final with Castleford and clearly was not fit as they lost leaving 1980’s heroics as the club’s solitary Challenge Cup win.
There is generally at least one such issue heading into the final – Craig Huby played the role for Castleford against Leeds 12 months ago – and everyone fully expects Kelly to appear.
But, having seen him impress in the Qualifiers win at Widnes on Sunday, Chester insisted: “Watching Matty Marsh there I will throw him in if Alby’s no good. I’ve no qualms with that.
“I thought he showed a maturity beyond his years. He’s a tough little kid, kicks the ball well and is an exciting talent.
“He deserves it after that performance and I’ve no issue with giving kids a chance.
“Alby will have until the team run to prove his fitness. He’s out on the field now running straight lines and multi-directional stuff, but it’s different to doing a bit of contact, getting tackled and making some tackles.
“If Alby says he’s 100 per cent ready to go then he’ll play.”
Chester’s biggest conundrum is who to play at full-back – the more reliable and experienced Ben Cockayne or the attacking flair of the exciting youngster Kieran Dixon although there is still a small chance he may find a place for both in his 17.
Meanwhile, he said he was leaning towards Maurice Blair as one half-back and that Marsh had jumped ahead of Dane Chisholm, the Australian stand-off signed on a short-term deal from Melbourne Storm as cover for Campese, in the pecking order if Kelly’s knee fails him.
Leeds head coach Brian McDermott named his 17 at the corresponding press conference 12 months ago but opted against such “theatrics” yesterday. He has no dilemmas similar to those facing Chester.