TO say this season has barely yet got underway for Hull KR’s frustrated James Donaldson is a real understatement.
The industrious back-row will make only his second appearance tomorrow for the club he joined over the winter from relegated Bradford Bulls.
But what exactly happened in the first?
“I dislocated my thumb in my first tackle in the first game of the season,” recalled Donaldson, about the incident that occurred on his debut against Leeds Rhinos last month.
“It’s definitely been disappointing. It wasn’t an ideal start. But my luck seems to go that way!”
Donaldson can afford a wry smile at that point – he underwent two knee reconstructions before his 21st birthday at Odsal – as he has always overcome adversity and remains one of the game’s real effusive characters.
He is in Hull KR’s squad tomorrow as they head to Widnes Vikings, fit again and looking to come straight back into their pack, maybe even as an auxillary front-row given prop Mitch Allgood starts a two-game ban.
Donaldson, 23, believes he is in “better nick” than when facing Leeds given all the extra one-to-one, personally-specific work he has been completing with the East Yorkshire club’s conditioning staff.
“I’ve maybe lost a kilogram in weight as upper body weights are the only thing I’ve not been able to do but that’s not a problem,” he said, after his six-week absence.
“Running wise I’ve been getting a full flogging every day. It’s not been easy but will make me better when I do come back.”
Rovers head coach Chris Chester will be glad of Donaldson’s defensive assuredness especially if he starts with the England Knights man tomorrow.
They emphatically defeated Catalans Dragons 50-20 on Sunday but only after trailing 20-4 with the common theme in most of their five games so far being a slow start.
That victory was only their second so far, both at home after also defeating Wigan Warriors, and Cumbrian Donaldson admits it is key that they now start building some momentum.
“That is massive,” he said. “We’ve been consistent at home and it will be a tough place to come for any team this year.
“We’re doing really well there, the crowd carry us home and the boys buzz off it. If we carry that on no one will want to come to Hull and that’s good but we just need to back it up with away wins as we’ve been close a few times.
“We just need to make sure we get over the line this time at Widnes and, it’s true, every game this season we’ve been good in the second half.
“Everyone just kicks into a different gear and it’s all come together like against Catalans.
“But that first 20 minutes is so vital for us; we need to switch on against Widnes and get stuck into them from the off.”
Despite three defeats from five so far, Rovers’ points difference is just minus six which demonstrates their competitive nature.
They pushed Warrington Wolves close on their last visit to Cheshire, losing just 32-24, and will be confident of ending a three-game losing streak against Widnes who have just a solitary victory to their own name.
The contest takes place on their much-maligned artificial pitch and Donaldson said: “I know a few people will bag me for this but I do think it’s absolutely awful. I dread playing on it but we can’t do anything about it and it’s a reality of the game now so you just have to get on with it and try do your best.
“I think Widnes know how to play their pitch best as they train on it every day but obviously it’s a disadvantage to them when they come to a grass field so it’s equal each way.
“They look physically really strong this year and have got some big boys.
“Nas (Manase Manuokafoa) has gone there (from Bradford), they pushed St Helens last week and I’m sure they will us too but if we can go with the mentality of our second half against Catalans we can give them a good game.”
Rovers duo Ben Cockayne and Graeme Horne, meanwhile, are each set to rack up their 250th career game tomorrow.
Donaldson replacing Allgood is the only change to the 19-man squad selected for Catalans.
However, ex-England centre Darrell Goulding is hoping to be recalled after not being risked last Sunday due to a slight injury.