Hull KR 26 Catalans Dragons 18: Rovers underline credentials with another statement win
A lesser team would have crumbled in the aftermath of a gut-wrenching Wembley defeat but Rovers are made of sterner stuff under hard taskmaster Willie Peters.
Seven days on from gaining a modicum of revenge for their Challenge Cup heartbreak with a first win over Leigh Leopards in four attempts in 2023, Rovers ended a nine-game losing run against Catalans Dragons with a wholehearted performance that will put their title rivals on notice.
The result takes the Robins up to fifth in the table – although that could change when Warrington Wolves host Castleford Tigers on Saturday – and knocks Catalans off top spot following Wigan Warriors' victory over Salford Red Devils, who began the night in the play-off positions.
Rovers scored twice in the first half through Shaun Kenny-Dowall and Kane Linnett but found themselves 14-12 behind at the break after Romain Navarrete and Ben Garcia crossed for the visitors.
Jack Walker, who will be a free agent at the end of the year, underlined his undoubted ability with a classy finish and Mikey Lewis had the final word to secure the points for the Robins in reply to Fouad Yaha's try.
In the end, the Dragons were left to rue Manu Ma'u's sin-binning that led to Lewis' vital try.
Rovers are not there yet but they can feel optimistic about securing a play-off spot after clearing another mental hurdle against a formidable side that felt the pressure at Craven Park.
Navarrete's early try aside, Catalans were penned inside their own half in the opening quarter after hampering themselves with a string of mistakes coming out of yardage.
Former Rovers loanee Yaha – a replacement for the injured Tom Johnstone – set the tone with a sloppy error at the ruck inside his own 20 but that was quickly forgotten when Navarrete crashed over on the back of a powerful carry by fellow prop Julian Bousquet.
After falling silent momentarily, the Craven Park faithful found their voices with the help of the generous Dragons.
Tom Davies was particularly charitable in the early exchanges, dropping the ball coming away from his own line just minutes after being penalised in possession.
The winger was punished in the set from the scrum, Rovers quickly shifting the ball out to the left where Kenny-Dowall cut back inside to finish despite losing his footing.
Brad Schneider was on target from the touchline to bring the Robins level after 14 breathless minutes.
The hosts lost Elliot Minchella to a match-ending head injury and found themselves behind again after Adam Keighran knocked over a penalty from in front of the posts following a high shot by Rhys Kennedy.
Catalans remained on the front foot and opened up a 14-6 lead before the half-hour mark thanks to Ben Garcia's try.
The Dragons forced an error after pushing at a scrum 10 metres from the Rovers line and turned field position into points once again, Garcia proving too strong for Lewis.
Referee Ben Thaler bore the brunt of the home crowd's frustrations but the Robins only had themselves to blame after conceding two soft tries.
Lewis had a try ruled out for a knock-on by Kenny-Dowall challenging for Schneider's high kick as Rovers came again before half-time.
The Robins got the try they craved three minutes from the interval when Linnett finished Schneider's grubber just before the dead-ball line.
After going into the break with a two-point deficit thanks to Schneider's conversion, Rovers hit the front for the first time just two minutes into the second half.
Schneider gave Walker the ball in space on the right edge and the full-back did the rest by dummying his way over.
Walker's try was improved by Schneider who knocked over a penalty minutes later to extend KR's advantage to 20-14 after Davies dropped a high kick and Catalans were penalised for offside from the scrum.
A pulsating contest took another twist when Yaha finished in the corner but Keighran's first miss of the night meant Rovers took a slender lead into the final 28 minutes.
After a run of results that made the Robins question whether it was meant to be in 2023, fortune favoured Peters' men as the game took a decisive turn.
First Bousquet was adjudged to have knocked on in the act of scoring before Ma'u saw yellow for a swinging arm.
The former Hull FC forward was duly punished, Lewis diving over under the sticks after a well-worked run around with Kennedy.
Schneider maintained his perfect record from the tee to give Rovers a precious two-score lead with 16 minutes remaining.
Craven Park held its breath as Catalans laid siege to the KR line after forcing back-to-back drops-outs.
But the Robins demonstrated their defensive resolve to see off the Dragons' last charge and should have put the game to bed when James Batchelor was sent into open field by Schneider, only to find opposition hands with his return pass.
In the end, it mattered little as Rovers saw out the rest of the game with the minimum of fuss to record another statement victory.
Hull KR: Walker, Senior, Opacic, Kenny-Dowall, Hall, Lewis, Schneider, Kennedy, Parcell, King, Batchelor, Linnett, Minchella. Substitutes: Litten, Storton, Hadley, Luckley.
Catalans Dragons: Tomkins, Davies, Keighran, Romano, Yaha, May, Pearce, Bousquet, McIlorum, Navarrete, McMeeken, Whitley, Garcia. Substitutes: Mourgue, Goudemand, Dezaria, Ma'u.
Referee: Ben Thaler.