Hull Kingston Rovers v Oldham - Neil Hudgell eyes Wembley return to boost Robins' flagging season

AROUND eight months on after their last Ladbrokes Challenge Cup quest ended in embarrassment and heartache, Hull KR chairman Neil Hudgell sees no reason why his club cannot make an immediate return to Wembley.

FLASHBACK: Hull KR suffered a day to forget last August when their first visit to Wembley in the Challenge Cup Final for 29 years ended in a 50-0 humiliation at the hands of Leeds Rhinos. Picture: Steve Riding

Granted, there was little he could say in the aftermath of last August’s showpiece, when having reached their first such final since 1986, they were vanquished horrendously by Leeds Rhinos, losing 50-0 in record-breaking fashion.

Rovers start out on the road there once more this afternoon, tackling part-timers Oldham in the fifth round at KC Lightstream Stadium, one of the bi-products of finishing in Super League’s bottom four last term and scrapping for their survival in the Qualifiers.

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The top eight received a free bye into the last 16 but not Rovers who subsequently face in-form opponents who have defeated Sheffield Eagles and Batley Bulldogs in their last two outings, making a good fist of life in the Championship after earning promotion from League 1.

There is a familiar backdrop for the East Yorkshire club, too; they are struggling in Super League again with just two wins to their name and head coach Chris Chester, the man who guided them to Wembley, long since replaced by James Webster.

Dogged by injuries and inconsistencies – they followed up victory at treble-winning Leeds by being annihilated 40-0 at home to Catalans Dragons last Thursday – the club is in urgent need of a fillip.

Asked what memories the competition brings for him now after last year’s mixed bag, Hudgell told The Yorkshire Post: “It is an interesting one.

“I suppose having to play in this round, and with no disrespect to the side we’re facing, it is probably a reminder of how we ended up falling short last season.

“But it’s also a bit of an opportunity to gain some confidence after a quite energy-sapping Easter period. I thought the performance against the French showed that.

“Oldham will come into the game in form and we’ll have to play well to beat them but rugby league is a funny old game. This season shows that.

“Chris Chester parted company with us and he goes on a four-match winning run with Wakefield which I don’t think they’d done for a long time. They beat Wigan 62-0, too, so it is very difficult.

“But I think our luck will change as well. There’s no panic within the club. It’s just one of those times where you find out who your friends are and who aren’t.

“On a whole, our fans have stuck with us and it’s given us the chance to blood a few youngsters more so than in previous years.”

The likes of Matty Marsh, George Lawler and Joe Wardill, the teenage centre set to win his first start possibly on the wing today illustrate that, while Rovers also welcome back former Bradford Bulls loose forward James Donaldson for the first time since injuring his wrist in the opening day draw with Castleford.

French hooker John Boudebza returns, too, but typically the hosts lose two more players – Thomas Minns and Mitch Allgood – to injuries.

Nevertheless, a victory of any sorts would see them into the last 16 and Hudgell harbours hopes of venturing to London once more.

“It took 29 years for us to get to that final but it’s so unpredictable at the minute, why not get there again?” he said.

“We lost a 20-point lead in the derby, pushed Wigan close with so many youngsters in, won comfortably at champions Leeds but then got nilled by the French.

“You just can’t say what will happen but I wouldn’t put it past us.

“That said, all the other Super League sides will be saying the same and a few Championship ones, too.”

Clearly, Super League is Rovers’ main priority and Hudgell refuses to be downbeat after their torrid start, despite captain Terry Campese being injured for another two months and fellow half-back Albert Kelly still not fit

“I’m used to it – the ups and downs,” he said.

“I’ve been doing it so many years now – 12 in total – that I realise not to get too happy or too low whatever’s happening.

“When we brought JP (Peacock) in that was very much to take the club forwards and I’m convinced we will do but we also realised we might have to take some steps back first.

“For instance, Chris (Chester) is a good kid and he is thriving in another environment at the moment.

“But we have got to stick to our long-term vision and that takes time.

“Our ranking is eighth or ninth at the moment at best and it’s not easy to push on into that next level.

“Looking at Catalans’ squad, I can’t see how they are able to accommodate all that, with so many internationals, into the salary cap.

“But what we’re doing under JP is putting in place long-term planning to get the best out of our homegrown players.”

Meanwhile, on the subject of plans, Hudgell says they do have their head coach sorted for 2017 – Webster is acting as an interim – and that could be announced as soon as June, with Steve McNamara, the former England chief currently working as Sydney Roosters’ assistant, deemed by many as the favourite.