HOW can this happen yet again to Hull KR?
After valiantly fighting back from 12-0 and serious first-half injuries to Dean Hadley and Jimmy Keinhorst, the East Yorkshire club looked to have finally cemented their Super League future against London Broncos last night.
Danny McGuire’s try, in the penultimate appearance of his remarkable career, had given them the narrowest of advantages but it would be right and fitting that he got them home.
But the dream ending disintegrated in a horror finish for Tony Smith’s side and London – who knew they would be all but condemned with defeat – staged their desperate last act on a breathless night at KCOM Craven Park.
Just as Rovers crumbled at the death in the Million Pound Game here three years ago – when they suffered relegation – they did so again, conceding a 78th-minute try to London captain and former Hull FC forward Jay Pitts.
The score left the home crowd utterly stunned but, at least as opposed to 2016, their side has another chance to save themselves.
That is because it all goes into the final round now next weekend with, remarkably, Wakefield Trinity, Huddersfield Giants, Rovers and London Broncos all level on 20 points at the bottom fighting to avoid being the one club that plummets.
No one could have envisaged such drama at the bottom end of the Super League table.
The Robins head to Salford Red Devils while London know if they win at Wakefield – who are in the best position to survive in ninth and with the greatest points difference – they will retain their place among the elite.
Few could argue Broncos would not deserve that; they have been superb this season and achieved 10 Super League wins, 10 more than many predicted.
Super League’s greatest-ever try-scorer McGuire must have thought he had signed off in style with his 51st minute effort.
It was his fired pass on the last tackle that saw Ben Crooks met by a wall of Broncos but the KR centre managed to squeeze out an offload to Will Dagger.
He, in turn, found McGuire, who had got up off the floor and stayed alive to the situation to run around his team-mate and find the right corner open up so invitingly.
London were not be happy, mind; replays showed the veteran’s initial pass was forward.
Ryan Shaw could not convert from out wide – as he had done five minutes earlier to improve Chris Atkin’s try – so it meant Rovers only led by two points.
The game then boiled over. Broncos prop Robert Butler appeared to forearm Joel Tomkins on the ground, the prone Rovers captain retaliating with a punch.
Referee James Child gave the visitors a penalty only to see Kieran Dixon, the former Rovers winger, miss from 30m out and in front of the posts.
Maybe it would be KR’s night. Indeed, they defended and defended until finally breaking, Ryan Morgan making the break from deep to splinter them and leave hearts in mouths.
Even then Chris Atkin pulled off a try-saving tackle.
It only delayed the inevitable, though, as Pitts eventually plundered over and Dixon improved.
Rovers were paid to pay for their first mistake when Daniel Murray spilled near his own goalline. A swift pass from Jordan Abdull – the Hull-born half-back due to rejoin Rovers at the end of the season – followed by even better handling from Brock Lamb saw Matty Gee storm over. Dixon improved and things went from bad to worse for the hosts.
Loose forward Hadley was left floored, clutching his shoulder unable to continue, as Butler immediately charged back the restart at him.
When Josh Drinkwater kicked direct into touch, London capitalised again, Lamb taking Abdull’s pass once more before sliding past Drinkwater, streaking down the middle and boldly dummying Craig Hall, the KR full-back who got his gamble wrong.
Dixon improved but the hosts finally flickered into life. It was a lovely score, too, as Tomkins, the former England back-row, provided the killer pass that allowed Hall to slip Dagger over.
Shaw converted and it was the visitors, so clinical early on, who began to err; Rhys Williams coughed up the ball in his own half, Lamb went needlessly high as Hall returned a kick and London were fortunate not to concede again when Shaw’s effort was only ruled out due to Matt Parcell being marginally offside.
Instead, Parcell was penalised just before the break for Dixon to make it 14-6 at the interval, a lead that disappeared when first Atkin and then McGuire scored early in the second period. But London came calling at the end.
Hull K R: Hall, Dagger, Crooks, J. Keinhorst, Shaw, Drinkwater, McGuire, Mulhern, Parcell, Murray, Tomkins, Hauraki, Hadley. Substitutes: Garbutt, Trout, Masoe, Atkin.
London Broncos: Walker, Dixon, Morgan, Kear, Williams, Abdull, Lamb, Battye, Cunningham, Butler, Pitts, Gee, Yates. Substitutes: Fozard, Mason, Hindmarsh, Armitage.
Referee: James Child (RFL)