Half-backs hope for new lease of life at Hull KR

Ryan Brierley.
Ryan Brierley.
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THEY waited so long for one half-back and then two came along at once for Hull KR last night.

The news that the Robins had secured not just Castleford Tigers scrum-half Jamie Ellis but also, more surprisingly, Toronto Wolfpack’s Ryan Brierley, will appease many fans who may have been getting slightly worried as the new Super League season nears.

Jamie Ellis.

Jamie Ellis.

The East Yorkshire club had needed to entirely reshape their playmaking options after former Leeds Rhinos star Danny McGuire retired at the end of the campaign and Josh Drinkwater moved back to Catalans Dragons.

Head coach Tony Smith had hoped to bring in at least one half-back to add to Jordan Abdull, who had already rejoined from London Broncos for 2020, exciting youngster Mikey Lewis and Bradford Bulls signing Joe Keyes yet now has a plethora of options.

Both Ellis and the prolific Brierely have signed one-year deals and have plenty to prove although admittedly for differing reasons.

Ellis, 30, had been in his second spell at Wheldon Road after rejoining the club from Huddersfield Giants in 2018.

He still had a year left on his contract at Castleford but with the arrival of St Helens No 7 Danny Richardson would have struggled for game-time.

Ellis missed most of the last campaign after undergoing knee surgery and did not play until August, making just six appearances.

But he is now hoping to kick on at KR where he has happy memories having spent a season on loan from Huddersfield Giants in 2017.

He played a major role helping the Robins earn promotion back into Super League, forming a successful half-back combination with Abdull and scoring nine tries and kicking 157 goals in 30 appearances.

The likelihood is they could reignite their partnership in 2020 but Scotland international Brierley, who played alongside Ellis at Huddersfield in 2016, will be desperate to make his own mark.

Unlike Ellis, and for all his obvious promise, he has still to prove himself at the elite level.

After coming through the Castleford academy (but not playing a first-team game), he rose to fame at Leigh Centurions in the Championship, with his electric pace and prolific strike rate of 133 tries in 125 games.

However, after the unexpected departure of his coach Paul Rowley, Brierley caused controversy by triggering a clause in his Leigh contract which led to Huddersfield signing him for a sizeable fee on a four-and-a-half year deal in March 2016.

Brierely struggled to replicate his form in Super League, though, failing to stamp his mark on games and often found wanting defensively. Just 13 months later he was sold to Toronto – where Rowley had taken over – and he helped them ease to promotion from League 1.

Brierley scored 12 tries in 23 games for them in 2018 but, once Brian McDermott took over this year, barely featured and spent most of the campaign back on loan at Leigh.

Approaching his 28th birthday, this will surely be his last chance at proving he can perform at the top level.

The worry is that both Huddersfield and – in the Championship – Toronto have deemed him not good enough and, indeed, there have been question marks over whether he has the right character to succeed.

Nevertheless, the experienced Smith is renowned for getting more out of his players and improving them, certainly more so than McDermott. Furthermore, McGuire – one of the finest half-backs of the Super League era – will work with the club’s playmakers as part of his myriad roles post-retirement so the player is clearly in safe hands.

Ironically, one of Brierley’s best games for Huddersfield was at Craven Park in the 2016 Qualifiers when his two tries in a 23-22 win helped secure Giants’ Super League safety and condemned KR to the Million Pound Game.

Smith said: “Ryan has developed a lot more aspects to his game over the last few years.

“By his own self-admission he was known as a terrific support runner and scoring plenty of tries, but he has worked hard to do more. We are happy to develop those skills further and he is coming to a place where he feels he can develop his career further.

“He convinced me that whilst he too does not fit our recruitment brief entirely, he has a real desire to be successful and the best that he can be.”

On Ellis, who could be sidelined for another six weeks with a slight knee issue, Smith added: “Jamie probably does not fit into the main brief of our 2020 recruitment criteria in terms of being ‘young and ambitious’.

“But upon meeting him and listening to his passion for the club, having already played with this team, it was great to hear. He loved his time here, still loves the club and had a very strong desire to express that. He convinced me he is really ambitious and wants to do his best here.”