Clearing the decks as Chester targets good start

Hull Kingston Rovers head coach Chris Chester.
Hull Kingston Rovers head coach Chris Chester.
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WHEN a head coach literally signs a new team you know he wants and needs to make significant changes.

Hull KR’s Chris Chester is intent on doing just that in 2015 as he prepares for his first full season in charge at Craven Park.

Promoted from assistant after Australian Craig Sandercock was sacked last July, the 36-year-old had plenty of time to, firstly, assess what was at his disposal and, secondly, deem just what was required to turn around the East Yorkshire club’s ailing fortunes.

They limped in at ninth last term, too many inconsistencies meaning they were never likely to qualify for the play-offs, and have since lost the spine of their team with England hooker Josh Hodgson sold to Canberra Raiders and stand-off Travis Burns bought by champions St Helens.

But ahead of Hull KR’s opener against Leeds Rhinos a week tomorrow, Chester is buoyed by the progress being made.

“I’ve brought 13 new players into the team and every single one of them excites me,” he told The Yorkshire Post.

“We’ve signed some good quality from over in Australia but also from in England as well and I think we have the balance right this year.

“I’ve enjoyed the recruitment process and think the changes we’ve made needed to be made.

“Over the last two or three years we’ve been inconsistent and we needed a fresh approach,” he said.

“We just needed to clear the decks really.

“And just to work with the quality of Terry Campese and Albert Kelly every day is a fantastic job.”

Those Australians are the club’s new half-back pairing who have quickly made a mark in pre-season.

Some of their other captures include ex-England centre Darrell Goulding from Wigan Warriors, England Knights flier Kieran Dixon from London Broncos and, of course, Leeds Rhinos’ six-time Grand Final winner Ryan Bailey.

But improving discipline has been one of Chester’s key priorities; prop Jonathan Walker and Wayne Ulugia were both sacked last season for off-field issues and, when asked what his main concern was, Chester admitted: “Discipline-wise. And that’s not just towards the back end of the year but the whole season.

“Little things were creeping in that I wasn’t too happy with both off and on the pitch, like when they were coming into training and it is something I really wanted to tighten up this pre-season.

“We wanted to freshen the place up but also I needed to sort the discipline out.

“When I took over the job that is the one thing the board was insistent on and I think I’ve gone about it okay and it’s helped I’ve been able to bring in good quality people to the club.”

Rovers lost eight home games last season, another source of concern that has to be addressed.

“The biggest thing for me we’ve focused on this year is the fitness,” he added.

“There was quite a number of games last year where we were either winning at half-time or in the game there but just got blew away in the second period.

“There was a lot of contributory factors but for me I just didn’t think we were quite there fitness-wise and (conditioners) Billy Mallinson and Paul Hatton have done a great job getting these current players fit. I’m confident we’ll improve on that this year and we want to turn this place back into a fortress.

“It’s a place not many teams like to come and in previous years not many have come here and got a result.

“It’s important we get back to that. We can do that by being consistent every week.

“If we do that and put the effort in these guys will be cheering us on.”

Under the new structure, the same finishing position of ninth would see Rovers facing Championship clubs this summer and in danger of relegation.

On that new format, Chester added: “It excites me and puts more emphasis on the start.

“We’ve not had a good start since 2009.

“Last year we were one point from 10, the year before two from eight, so it’s really important this year – as there’s fewer games to catch up – that we get off to a good start .

“We get to do that against Leeds hopefully. But we’ve got to aim higher than just saying we want to get in the eight and avoid that bottom four.

“If we put in the effort every week, results will look after themselves.

“I, for one, will be very, very disappointed if we’re anywhere lower than eighth this year.

“We’ve set certain targets and goals and as we go along we’ll keep ticking them off.

“And we’re confident we’ll be ready for February 8; there’ll be no excuses from us.”