THE Super League play-offs start early for Hull KR this year.
Caretaker head coach Chris Chester has labelled tomorrow’s crucial trip to Widnes Vikings as an effective knock-out contest when it comes to their chances of securing a place in the end-of-season shake-up.
Their hosts, of course, currently occupy the all-important eighth place, but if Rovers can deliver a victory they will usurp their rivals with just four fixtures then remaining.
“It is like a play-off game for us and we’ve been preparing the best we can to get the win,” said Chester, who is helped by the return of experienced full-back Ben Cockayne following a seven-game absence.
“I would agree with those saying that it’s a must-win game.
“If we lose, it puts us three points behind Widnes with four games remaining and it would be a tough ask to claw back those points.
“It’s a massive game for the club and we need to win to keep our chances of reaching the top eight alive.
“If we do get the two points, it’s in our hands from there and that’s all we can ask for.”
Rovers will feed on the knowledge that Widnes, whose recent form has been erratic to say the least, must surely have one eye on next weekend’s Challenge Cup semi-final with Castleford Tigers.
They play at Leigh next Sunday, a huge appointment for the Cheshire side as they seek to reach Wembley for the first time since 1993.
Widnes did produce a stunning 28-14 victory over double-chasing Warrington Wolves in their last home game, reminding everyone of the early season form that saw them challenging for the top four.
But, just as quickly, they fell back into their old inconsistent ways with a 44-22 defeat at St Helens last time out.
They have prospered just twice in eight games since setting up their Challenge Cup semi-final meeting with Castleford – Warrington and winless London Broncos the sides vanquished.
Hull KR, though, were edged out 34-29 when the sides met in East Yorkshire in May.
Kevin Brown, the ex-Huddersfield Giants and England stand-off, was to the fore that day in inspiring Widnes’s victory and Chester has made sure his side have done extra work targeting him this week.
“Widnes is a tough place to go,” he insisted.
“They have a pretty good record at home and the i-Pitch there isn’t the best surface to play on.
“They are pretty physical and also have one of the best half-backs in the competition in Brown.
“He crucified us in the game at our place with a bit of individual brilliance that cost us.
“There has been a lot of talk about him being injured, but I fully expect him to play and we are preparing for him to play.
“We’ve done our preparation and we know we need to be switched on for 80 minutes.”
Chester – who knows Widnes coach Denis Betts well having been team-mates with him at Wigan for two years between 1999 and 2001 –looks set to be proved right as Brown was yesterday named in their opponents’ 19-man squad.
Betts has also recalled Irish international Eamon O’Carroll, the ex-Hull FC prop who has been out injured for the majority of the campaign with a shoulder problem.
Former Bradford Bulls forward Phil Joseph and prolific winger Jack Owens return, too, with Cameron Phelps missing out due to a clavicle injury.
Rovers, meanwhile, put 11 tries past London with a 62-10 rout in the capital last Saturday although that came at a cost with Craig Hall, Aaron Ollett and Mick Weyman all suffering injuries which keep them out of tomorrow’s game.
Cockayne does return from his knee injury while Kris Keating – the Australian scrum-half dropped for that trip – Keal Carlile, Omari Caro and Graeme Horne are also recalled, Macauley Hallet and David Hodgson the others to drop out.
Chester added: “We had a pleasing performance last week; it was a professional showing.
“It could have been a potential banana skin as I always said London will win a game this season.
“We kept the tempo up throughout and really strangled them. We now just have to back up what we did last week.”