ALBERT KELLY must have left Hull KR fans wondering ‘Terry who?’ after a half-back master class last night.
Rovers supporters were understandably concerned after their influential captain Terry Campese was ruled out for the season earlier this week due to a knee reconstruction.
However, his fellow Australian Kelly, more renowned for his flair at scrum-half so far, stepped up to prove he can organise as well as excite as he steered the East Yorkshire club to a crucial victory in terms of their top-eight ambitions.
He was involved in four of their six tries with a mixture of precise kicks and telling passes, ignoring the relentless rain as the confident hosts, who were 6-0 down just before the break, ran riot to record their biggest winning margin over Warrington in Super League.
After beating Widnes Vikings on Sunday, it means Chris Chester’s side have moved up to ninth, joint with Hull FC – who visit Leeds Rhinos today – in that final play-off berth.
Perhaps more importantly, however, this success, in which Italy winger Josh Mantellato and recalled full-back Kieran Dixon were superb, also sets Rovers up perfectly for Thursday’s Challenge Cup quarter-final against Catalans Dragons in East Hull.
Chester has funds to replace Campese, if desired, but he will have been reassured by the manner in which Maurice Blair once more comfortably slotted in alongside Kelly at stand-off after switching from second-row, illustrating that move into the transfer market may not be needed just yet.
Warrington, whose own top eight ambitions are threatened after three defeats in four league outings, again looked rudderless and the need to sort their own half-back conundrum is now desperate.
The first half had few chances but the visitors did take the first clear one after 1o minutes.
Daryl Clark charged down Kelly’s kick – Rovers had that problem early on – and, though the Man of Steel was reined in, they were over soon after when Ashton Sims combined with Chris Hill to send his fellow prop charging through a gap and around a rooted Dixon.
Declan Patton converted but, after the predictable moans at referee James Child – missing a blatant forward pass from Gene Ormsby, then Tony Puletua clearly having the ball stolen as he charged near were his early offerings this week – it was Rovers who saw Graeme Horne and Kieran Dixon scramble over.
They were denied by great Warrington defence, something which would soon disappear for Tony Smith’s side.
Rovers took until the 35th minute to get moving, but it was worth the wait as Kelly’s fine cut-out pass helped unleash Ken Sio down the right flank, the winger producing a great finish from halfway for his 15th try of the year.
Then –with barely 90 seconds of the half remaining – Kris Welham clattered into Joel Monaghan as the Warrington winger waited for Kelly’s hanging kick.
Monaghan spilled, Blair picked up and Mantellato – who you would never have guessed had been stretchered off with a neck injury on Sunday – was on hand to dive over and improve for a 10-6 interval lead.
Rovers’ hunger was clearly stronger in the second half, plain to see as soon as Dixon produced a stunning individual try, showing his electric pace to leave the Wolves’ defence grasping at thin air again in the 47th minute.
The visitors’ discipline disappeared and Chester’s men capitalised fully.
Kelly’s next crossfield kick saw Sio palm down for Liam Salter to score in the 54th minute.
Although Dixon blotted his copybook by dropping a kick to allow Ormsby to respond, the hosts were always in control.
Kelly’s smart grubber set up Tyrone McCarthy – the former Warrington player who has taken over the captaincy from Campese – and then Mantellato added a couple of penalties either side of Welham’s 72nd minute try to finish with six goals from eight attempts and leave Chester in a positive frame of mind after a difficult week.
Kelly, such a hit after joining from Gold Coast Titans this year, was given a standing ovation as he was afforded a breather late on. He deserved both.
Hull Kingston Rovers: Dixon; Sio, Salter, Welham, Mantellato; Blair, Kelly; Walker, Boudebza, Puletua, Larroyer, Horne, McCarthy. Substitutes: Donaldson, Cox, Ollett, Greenwood.
Warrington Wolves: Ratchford; Monaghan, T King, Atkins, Ormsby; Bridge, Patton; Hill, Clark, Sims, Westwood, Laithwaite, Harrison. Substitutes: Dwyer, Asotasi, Philbin, G King.
Referee: James Child (Dewsbury)