THE new campaign has yet to actually get underway but Hull KR back-row Graeme Horne concedes his squad have already had to undergo serious “soul-searching”.
Pre-season friendlies ordinarily hold little relevance, but that is not the case for beleaguered Rovers who, ahead of tomorrow’s league opener against Castleford Tigers, have already been put under intense pressure in light of two heavy defeats in games against Huddersfield Giants and Hull FC.
They certainly do not suffer fools gladly in the rugby league mad city and Horne admits the squad has duly refused to glibly write the losses off as early rustiness.
“It has been a tough couple of weeks as no one wants to go into a new season like this,” he told The Yorkshire Post.
“There has been a lot of soul-searching from everyone involved and we are now looking forward to Sunday as a chance to put a few wrongs right.
“In a way it’s been a blessing in disguise; we’ve known we’ve had stuff to work on and I’d rather it have happened when it did than during the season itself.
“Training has been tough. Not in terms of them flogging us or anything but just doing a lot of stuff that we thought we wouldn’t have to cover again too much.
“Last season we brought in a lot of new players and had loads to work on. You could see it in the games – people doing their own stuff and not being on the same page – but hopefully now, after this last couple of weeks, we are ready and it will click versus Castleford.”
Granted, Hull KR are without their talismanic captain Terry Campese, the Australian stand-off injured since last June and not yet quite ready to return, plus arguably their second most influential player hooker Shaun Lunt, who is also injured.
Their loss, and with France second-row Kevin Larroyer also sidelined, has contributed to their troubled preparations but Horne insisted: “We’ve known throughout pre-season that Campo would be out for the start.
“That’s not a surprise and we had to do it last year; we lost Lunty for a fair bit after he signed and then Campo halfway through, but it’s a tough sport and that’s what happens.
“It doesn’t help, of course it doesn’t.
“Getting Campo back, though, will be a massive boost when it does happen.
“We just have to get cracking on without him and Lunty for now.”
That is true. There is no time to dawdle in Super League’s new format otherwise, before they know it, Rovers will find themselves in the Qualifiers dicing with relegation for a second season running.
Tomorrow’s opponents Castleford were once a club like themselves – always struggling to reach the top eight and unsure of their ability to compete with the best – but that has changed under Daryl Powell, who has guided them to fourth and fifth in the last two campaigns, offering hope to such as Rovers.
Castleford reached Wembley in 2014, just as Rovers did last year, and Horne conceded: “A lot of teams around us will look at them and take it as an example of what can be done.
“Cas are seen as a top-five team now, have done really well and are very good attacking team. But they are also just so resilient – they are never really out of a game and if they do lose, often it is only by a couple of points.
“It’s going to be a tough start for us but we’re at home, it’s the first Super League game of the year and the lads are eager to start correcting what went wrong in those two friendlies before.”
Horne, who turns 31 next month, will be one of Rovers’ main leaders especially in light of the loss of Campese, Lunt and last season’s vice-captain Tyrone McCarthy who has moved to Sydney.
The former Hull FC and Huddersfield player, a Challenge Cup beaten finalist last term, said: “I love getting in and having a chat with the lads, making sure we are all on the same page.
“I have for a few years now, maybe with it being my age and experience, and I want to pass on as much as I can; you don’t have to be a captain to do that.”
Robbie Mulhern. Thomas Minns, Chris Clarkson and Iain Thornley are set to make their debuts while George Lawler is poised to deputise at hooker for the injured Shaun Lunt.
Castleford have sold out their capacity for tomorrow’s game.