Hull KR Yorkshire's last Super League hope as county's struggles continue - James O'Brien comment

If the Super League season ended today, Hull KR would miss out on the top six by the barest of margins and Yorkshire would have no play-off representation for the first time in the competition's history.

The Robins are behind Salford Red Devils only on points percentage after finishing round 23 with an identical record to their rivals.

Fortunately, Rovers have four games to rescue the situation and spare Yorkshire the ignominy of sitting out the race to Old Trafford.

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The current picture shines a light on Yorkshire's struggles in recent times and highlights just how reliant the county has been on Leeds Rhinos in its quest for Super League glory.

Since the demise of Bradford Bulls, Leeds have carried the flag with little support.

Hull FC and Castleford Tigers have appeared in Grand Finals but only the Rhinos (eight titles) and Bradford (three) can boast Old Trafford success.

In the absence of a strong Leeds, Hull KR are Yorkshire's last remaining hope in 2023.

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Willie Peters' side host Catalans Dragons on Friday before a trip to Huddersfield Giants and a potentially decisive home clash with Salford.

Hull KR are leading the way in Yorkshire. (Photo: Ed Sykes/ KR are leading the way in Yorkshire. (Photo: Ed Sykes/
Hull KR are leading the way in Yorkshire. (Photo: Ed Sykes/

In the final round, the Robins travel to relegation-threatened Wakefield Trinity.

Leeds, Huddersfield and Hull are bunched up behind Rovers with four points to make up and a minor miracle required.

Every club in Super League could spin a hard luck tale and point to injuries but the truth is that Leeds and Huddersfield in particular have fallen well below expectations.

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The Rhinos hinted at a bright new era when they reached the Grand Final last season, yet are considerably weaker as they turn their attention to 2024.

The Rhinos continue to struggle. (Photo: Ed Sykes/ Rhinos continue to struggle. (Photo: Ed Sykes/
The Rhinos continue to struggle. (Photo: Ed Sykes/

Instead of using the return to Old Trafford as a springboard, Leeds are in a situation where only seven players that walked out against St Helens are guaranteed to be at the club next season.

For a club stuck in a state of flux since the golden generation, 2024 has the makings of yet another transitional year.

The Rhinos have not finished in the top four since their last Old Trafford win in 2017 and there is little to suggest that record will be addressed next season.

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In contrast to Hull KR and Wigan Warriors who have clear, considered recruitment strategies, Leeds' approach has been haphazard for a while now.

Kevin Naiqama, left, has found the going tougher on his return to Super League with Huddersfield. (Photo: Paul Currie/ Naiqama, left, has found the going tougher on his return to Super League with Huddersfield. (Photo: Paul Currie/
Kevin Naiqama, left, has found the going tougher on his return to Super League with Huddersfield. (Photo: Paul Currie/

Their answer to losing Blake Austin and Aidan Sezer was to bring in a full-back in Lachie Miller, while a potential deal for a genuine half-back in Matt Frawley – who struggled in Super League with Huddersfield in 2019 – has done nothing to improve the mood of a disgruntled fanbase.

The club may yet rescue the situation but the link to Frawley suggests they have left it too late to make their move in the recruitment market.

If the masterplan is to build a successful team around a strong core of players that have come through the ranks, Leeds need to do more to keep talented youngsters such as Sam Walters and Jack Broadbent.

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Nobody has a divine right to be successful but at the very least a club the size of the Rhinos should be in the title conversation at this stage of the year.

Huddersfield were arguably Yorkshire's best hope of success at the start of the year after seemingly improving the squad that finished third and reached the Challenge Cup final in 2022.

All the focus was on the impressive list of incomings – headed by Jake Connor and Kevin Naiqama – but the loss of influential pair Ricky Leutele and Danny Levi has had the biggest impact on the Giants' season.

Tony Smith is overseeing a rebuild at Hull FC. (Photo: John Clifton/ Smith is overseeing a rebuild at Hull FC. (Photo: John Clifton/
Tony Smith is overseeing a rebuild at Hull FC. (Photo: John Clifton/

With Esan Marsters and Nathan Peats both struggling to contribute, the Giants have not carried the same threat since Leutele and Levi moved on.

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Big things were expected of a spine that boasts the likes of Connor, Tui Lolohea and Will Pryce but it has been a case of too many cooks for Huddersfield.

Ian Watson's side have the ingredients to come again in a 2024 campaign that will act as a crossroads for the club.

Hull were outsiders by comparison at the start of this year and their campaign has more or less gone as expected as Tony Smith gets to grips with a rebuilding job at the MKM Stadium.

The Black and Whites have shown some promising signs along the way and appear to have ditched the mental baggage that has hindered the club in recent times.

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Hull will ultimately pay the price for a dismal seven-game losing run that underlined the size of the challenge facing Smith.

It could get worse before it gets better as they prepare to bid farewell to Jake Clifford, Chris Satae and Adam Swift but Smith will back himself to turn the ship around.

For a little while, Hull appeared in danger of joining Castleford and Wakefield in the scrap for survival.

As it is, one of the West Yorkshire rivals will drop into the Championship next year in another blow to rugby league in the region.

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Castleford in particular will be wondering how it came to this after missing out on the play-offs in the dying minutes of last season.

Hull KR, too, found themselves on the outside looking in but have reached new heights under Peters.

If they back up their Challenge Cup final appearance with a top-six finish, the Robins will be the new standard-bearers in Yorkshire.

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