FOR Hull KR head coach Chris Chester, the news he has lost influential captain Terry Campese for tomorrow’s crucial game against Widnes Vikings is acquiesced at least in part by the sight of prop Adam Walker rumbling around in training once more.
Available front-rows have been a rarity of late at KC Lighstream Stadium given Australian Mick Weyman had to retire in March due to a knee injury, big signing Ryan Bailey was released soon after due to “personal problems”, former NRL star Mitch Allgood is sidelined and so too is on-loan Wigan Warrior Greg Burke.
So, Walker’s return after a five-week absence due to a fractured cheekbone is more than welcome for a side whose early pedigree has dipped off markedly and now leaves them in danger of finishing invidiously in the bottom four.
The 24 year-old himself is just as cheered as Chester.
“It’s been hard watching,” he told The Yorkshire Post, with Rovers having lost all three league games he has missed against Leeds Rhinos, Hull FC and Castleford Tigers since he was injured in the 54-6 rout of Wakefield.
“After seeing what the lads did at Wigan in the Cup (a shock win the week after that Wakefield game), to see them slip away with a few losses it has been tough as you can’t do anything to help.
“We need to get back to winning ways now and hopefully I can help us do that.
“We have had a few props out of the team recently. There’s been some young lads who have tried to step up and fill in and they have done a good job. They’ve got some experience now as well.
“But it will be good personally to get back out there myself and start making up for some lost time.”
The inevitable question, though, is can Rovers prosper without Campese, their chief playmaker and inspiration, after he was ruled out by a knee injury, which was scanned yesterday with everyone nervously awaiting the results.
The only other time Hull KR have played without the former Australia stand-off since he joined from Canberra Raiders resulted in an embarrassing 60-0 Super League loss at Wigan.
“We can definitely win without Campo,” insisted Walker, with second-row Graeme Horne also making a timely return following a torn pectoral.
“He is a big player for us and gets us through games as he’s such a leader.
“But it’s time for some others to step up and show what they can do.
“Campo is a great player but we can do this.
“Horney’s got all the experience in the world and is a great player so that’s another positive for the team as well.”
Chester has named loose forward Tyrone McCarthy as his stand-in captain.
Maurice Blair, the second-row who filled in at half-back admirably during that Cup win at Wigan, will play alongside in-form Albert Kelly, his former Gold Coast Titans team-mate, as Campese’s replacement.
Tomorrow’s game is deemed crucial given Rovers, dropped into 10th, will slip fully five points behind ninth-placed Widnes if they lose; the teams in the final play-off berths of seventh and eighth are another point ahead.
Former Huddersfield Giants forward Walker admitted: “It is a big game as that gap between us and the eight has started to widen.
“We need to win to claw some points back especially as Widnes are just above us as well.
“It is a massive game for us and if we want to make the play-offs then we really need to win it.”
Hull KR cannot even rely on Widnes’s traditional problem of being weaker away from their artificial pitch – Denis Betts’s side have won their last two games on the road at Salford and Wakefield and defeated leaders Leeds at home before that although they were disappointing in defeat to Hull FC last week.
Widnes are without Danny Galea (broken hand) but Chris Dean is fit again as they attempt to complete a double over Hull KR following a 20-16 success in the reverse fixture in March.
Campese, meanwhile, was in Wales yesterday seeing a specialist about the knee injury suffered against Castleford nine days ago which remains “very sore”.
The East Yorkshire club remain hopeful it is just bruising but an earlier scan proved inconclusive.