ON THE eve of the game that will celebrate Roger Millward’s life, Hull KR coach James Webster has recalled the time the rugby league legend helped inspire the Robins side he was playing in to their own landmark victory.
Craven Park, or the KC Lightstream Stadium as it is now known, will be an emotional venue when Widnes Vikings arrive tomorrow as thousands of Rovers fans pay their respects to the most successful captain and coach in the club’s long history, who died recently aged 68.
The majority of the former Great Britain stand-off’s teammates from Hull KR’s famous 1980 Challenge Cup Final, including Allan Agar, Brian Lockwood and Len Casey, together with many from the double-winning sides of 1983-84 and 1984-85, will form a guard of honour for his family beforehand.
Millward’s wife Carol will then be presented with the No 6 shirt shortly before kick-off to commemorate it being officially retired in his honour.
“When you think of Hull KR, you think of Roger; the two go hand in hand,” Webster told The Yorkshire Post, about a genius player who made more than 400 appearances for the Robins, scoring 207 tries and kicking 607 goals.
“For him to die at such a young age is a big loss for our club and the sport. When you see tributes being broadcast on news bulletins not only here but in Australia as well you start to realise how great he was.
“He was one of the best ever.”
Webster remembers Millward fondly especially for the advice he offered him during different times in his own Rovers career and, in particular, their famous 2006 National League One Grand Final win over, ironically, tomorrow’s opponents.
“Roger spoke to us the night before we won promotion to Super League,” he said, when Webster was captain of Justin Morgan’s side.
“It was a really, really inspiring speech. He spoke about believing in ourselves.
“We were by far the best team that year; we’d played Widnes three times and beaten them on each occasion but it came down to that one match, all or nothing.
“Roger spoke about the finals he’d played in, the big games like the 1970 Ashes series, and he reminded everyone they might not ever get a chance to do it again, just like he only got that one chance to play at Wembley in ’80.
“He told us it would be an injustice if we didn’t go up so to go out there and make sure that didn’t happen. That’s what we did.
“Everyone listened. You know you’re among greatness when everyone in a room shuts up instantly like that. Roger had that aura about him.”
Webster, who initially joined Rovers from Parramatta Eels as a 25-year-old half-back, added: “Funnily enough, I saw Roger in the pub only about six weeks ago.
“Me and Rich Agar stopped off one Friday evening near Kippax to watch one of the games on TV and he was in there with Carol.
“I got to know him well over my years with Rovers. Playing in the same position as him, he gave me some great tips, and I always enjoyed his company.
“I got to spend some time with Roger as well at Wembley last year – I was sat quite close to him for the Challenge Cup final – and it is just a sad time knowing he won’t be there on Sunday.”
Millward, an inductee in the Rugby League Hall of Fame, won five trophies as Rovers captain and a further six during his 11 campaigns as coach.
On the decision to retire the No 6 jersey, Webster admitted: “There’s probably not much more the club could have done really.
“It’s probably the biggest accolade they could make, retiring the shirt like this.
“There’s been some great players who have worn it but there’ll be some great players who won’t now either and that says how much Roger means to Hull Kingston Rovers.”
Aside from all the emotion the event will undoubtedly bring, there is, of course, a match to be played.
Rovers, having had a free weekend due to their shock exit from the Challenge Cup, hope to see Ben Cockayne, second-row James Greenwood and winger Ken Sio all return from injury although they are without centre Iain Thornley and former Widnes forward Chris Clarkson.
Widnes, however, have not included their former England stand-off Kevin Brown which is a major boost for Rovers’ chances of a much-needed success.
With just three wins so far, Webster’s side need a win to kick-start their bid to secure a top eight spot.