Hull KR v Wigan Warriors: Chester heeds lessons of past as Robins face ‘Grand Final’

Chris Chester.
Chris Chester.
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CHRIS CHESTER has certainly come a long way and learned some valuable lessons since being the naive youngster failing to make the most of his big shot with Wigan Warriors.

Tonight, as Hull KR’s caretaker head coach, the 35-year-old will look to inspire a vital win over his former club to keep alive faint hopes of securing a place in the Super League play-offs.

The assistant, who stepped up when Craig Sandercock was sacked last month, will not need victory to persuade the East Yorkshire club he is the right man for the job permanently as that is already all but confirmed.

However, defeating the champions would definitely be another sign of Chester being able to bring the best out of his charges.

He admits that was not always the case of himself when, at the age of 20, being bought by Wigan from Halifax for £90,000.

Granted, Chester – who operated at stand-off or back-row – did go on to play in the famous club’s 2000 and 2001 Grand Final losses but he accepts he never made the most of his opportunities.

“I do have some great memories from Wigan,” he insisted to The Yorkshire Post.

“I loved every minute of it and learned a hell of a lot. But, looking back, I probably didn’t help myself as much as I should.

“It was a bit of a shock going there from Halifax and I got to play with fantastic players – Andy Farrell, Jason Robinson, Garry Connolly and Kris Radlinski, who I’m still in touch with now.

“I’ve really fond memories of that place and I was fortunate enough to compete in a couple of Grand Finals with them, too.

“But I can hold my hand up and say I wasn’t a professional rugby league player back then.

“I was always one of the last ones to arrive at training and one of the first to leave.

“I never really did extras, never got massages, never took supplements and it’s something that frustrates the hell out of me now when you see young kids in the game doing that.

“I didn’t know what I really needed to do until later but that was down to me.”

Chester moved on to Hull FC in 2002 and lifted the Challenge Cup with them three years later before joining city rivals Hull KR in 2007. The manner of his Wigan departure, however, still grates.

“I still had another year left on my deal but I got a phone call from Stuart Raper to tell me I was no longer part of his plans,” he remembered.

“It did leave a bitter taste in my mouth, especially as it was over the phone. It wasn’t the right way to do it but that’s a lesson I’ve learned from my bad experience.

“Now, when I’m speaking to players here at Rovers who we want to retain and others who will move on, I just give them honesty and always make sure I do it face-to-face. That’s all they want.”

Hull KR’s squad for 2015 is shaping up with the recruitment of Wigan’s ex-England centre Darrell Goulding plus Josh Mantellato and Ken Sio from the NRL and now James Donaldson from Bradford Bulls.

They still have a chance to rescue this season of inconsistency but, trailing eighth-placed Widnes Vikings by three points after a shoddy loss there last time out, there is no margin for error tonight with four fixtures to go.

Wakefield-born Chester conceded: “It will be a like a Grand Final for us. We just need to make sure we improve dramatically from the Widnes performance. That’s all we’re after.

“We started slowly against them and they got two quick tries in the second half, too, which put the game to bed.

“The completion rates were a massive difference – we were at 41 per cent and you don’t deserve to win any game with that stat.

“Wigan are a champion team who are very, very well coached by a great coach in Shaun Wane.

“He has them playing like he used to – very tough and aggressive – and we have to make sure we meet fire with fire.”

They will also meet Blake Green, their former Australian stand-off who won the league and Challenge Cup double in his first campaign at Wigan last season after being sold by Rovers.

The 27-year-old, who heads back to the NRL with Melbourne Storm at the end of this season, is set to make his long-awaited return after tearing a biceps at Magic Weekend in May.

“We’re expecting Blake to play on Thursday and we’ve prepared for that,” said Chester, with Rovers’ current Australian No 6 Travis Burns strongly rumoured to be Green’s replacement.

“He’ll want to play, too. He was great down here for us and loves playing in front of that East Stand.

“Blake will be a bit rusty as he’s not played for over three months but Wigan are a great attacking side who play real tight and create lots of space around the back.

“Hopefully, we’ve got a plan to try and shut them down but it’s two different things saying it and doing it. We have to do it after what happened versus Widnes.”

Hull KR’s Craig Hall comes in at centre and Rhys Lovegrove is also pushing for a recall while Wigan will go top above St Helens on points difference if they win.