THE Super League launch was like a Sydney Roosters homecoming for Hull KR’s Shaun Kenny-Dowall but tonight it is back down to business.
The former New Zealand centre is one of a myriad of stellar NRL captures ready to strut their stuff in the competition in 2020.
He was able to catch up with some of his Roosters alumni at Emerald Headingley last week with Sonny Bill Williams (Toronto Wolfpack) and James Maloney (Catalans Dragons) – who won the NRL Grand Final alongside him in 2013 – central in the throngs of the media scrum.
Catalans chief Steve McNamara, the former England coach who joined Roosters as an assistant soon after that title glory, was milling around, too.
“It has been like a little reunion of coaches and players,” Kenny-Dowall told The Yorkshire Post.
“It’s been really good but it goes to show the calibre of player that Super League can attract.
“We’re banding together as a club and as a team. We’ll miss those two guys through the middle of the park but it gives opportunity to a couple of our young guys to stand up and fill those roles in their absence.Hull KR’s Shaun Kenny-Dowall
“It will be an exciting comp’ this year with not only the English players but those from abroad.
“I’m sure it will build up plenty of hype and people will get behind it.
“Personally, I’m just looking forward to getting out there now.”
The 32-year-old was always going to be a key acquisition for Rovers who finished joint-bottom last term and are in dire need of a positive campaign.
However, when the club lost both its captains – Weller Hauraki and Mose Masoe – to injuries in the recent friendly against Wakefield Trinity, his influence became all the more important.
Kenny-Dowall, who won 21 Test caps with the Kiwis, is, then, set to lead Rovers this evening when they face the same opponents in their opening Super League game at Hull College Craven Park.
“This period has been tough and very emotional for us,” he admitted, with the stricken prop Masoe still in hospital and uncertain if he will ever walk again following his horrific spinal injury.
“But we’re banding together as a club and as a team.
“We’ll miss those two guys through the middle of the park but it gives opportunity to a couple of our young guys to stand up and fill those roles in their absence.
“I think we’ll see the best out of a few of them on Friday.”
Kenny-Dowall arrived from Newcastle Knights on a two-year deal in the autumn and his experience will be crucial as a youthful squad, massively overhauled by Tony Smith, looks to find redemption for the club.
“The quality people in and around the club have made the transition really easy,” he added.
“They’ve supported me and there’s some people that I knew before who have made it a lot easier.
“That’s helped me and my family settle in really well. It’s been pretty seamless so far.
“Tony’s a very successful coach and you can see why; he’s got the boys playing an exciting brand of football and I think that suits the calibre of players that we have at Rovers.
“He’s doing a great job with the boys so far.”
Tonight’s game will be intriguing; when the Yorkshire rivals last met at the same venue in August, Wakefield emphatically prospered 38-10, easing their own relegation fears and deepening those of the hosts.
Admittedly, it took until the last night of the campaign for both sides to finally secure safety but each now enter a new campaign fresh and emboldened.
Rovers, for instance, have made 18 new signings although perhaps do not expect them to be too fluid too soon given they have also lost a third senior forward – Dean Hadley – to injury.
Wakefield will look to Jay Pitts and Joe Westerman to add some steel and guile to their pack with Danny Brough and Jacob Miller behind them plotting, as ever, to unleash some talented backs.
Kenny-Dowall, who was born in Brisbane but grew up in Auckland, will face someone he knows well from the NRL: Bill Tupou.
“Bill’s a physical presence and I saw that obviously in the trial game,” he said, about a former Dream Team centre.
“It’s always a tough battle coming up against Bill and one that I’m looking forward to,
“The last time I played him in the NRL he was on the wing and I was on the wing as well. Now we get a battle in the centres which I’m sure will see a different aspect of the game.
“He’s a fierce competitor who carries very strongly and that’s something we’re going to have to combat this weekend.
“Wakefield are very good through the middle and like to play an exciting brand of footy.
“We’ll have to be better on Friday but I think we’re up to the challenge; we’ve worked on some combinations since that last game and I’m confident they’ll come good.”
If Kenny-Dowall comes good as well – and there is nothing to suggest he will not – then Rovers could be in for a good night and a good season.