KRIS WELHAM has described today’s Ladbrokes Challenge Cup semi-final with Warrington Wolves as the East Yorkshire club’s biggest game in a decade.
It is hard to argue otherwise. Not since Rovers defeated Widnes Vikings in the National League One Grand Final in September, 2006, and duly earned promotion to Super League, have they faced such a potentially rewarding contest.
Welham was just a fresh-faced teenager then, a gangly centre making his initial tentative steps into the world of first-team rugby, but he remembers it well.
Rovers had also reached the Challenge Cup semi-finals a couple of months earlier although, unsurprisingly, they were vanquished 50-0 by a St Helens side who would end the year as Super League and Cup double winners.
Hull KR have not got to the last four of the competition since until now.
Welham, the only surviving member of that ’06 vintage, recalled to The Yorkshire Post: “I didn’t play in the (Grand) final but I did make my debut that year.
“It was the last time we’ve ever been in anything like that and just being part of the squad was great.
“I didn’t play in any of those games – I made about two or three appearances in my first year – but being around the boys then and being part of what they went through was special.
“It’s something I want to capture again this year and experience fully.”
The task before them is, admittedly, an arduous one; Rovers are on a four-match losing streak, their worst run of the year, while opponents Warrington have won the Challenge Cup three times in the last six years alone.
Rovers, for their part, have won it just once in their 123-year history, albeit in joyous and famous circumstances against fierce rivals Hull in 1980.
This woeful current sequence, though, heading into the lunchtime kick-off at Headingley, includes a painful derby defeat against Hull that left them out of the running for the top eight.
Instead, they now have the qualifiers to contend with and the threat of relegation once today’s business is dealt with.
Head coach Chris Chester has urged his squad to address the Challenge Cup as a separate entity and simply concentrate on rediscovering some of their earlier season panache to shock Warrington.
“We started again Monday morning,” admitted England Knights star Welham, after last Friday’s dismal 52-12 loss at St Helens cemented their spot in the bottom four facing the Championship high-fliers.
“We said we just had to forget about that, forget about the last four weeks, as this is a massive game for the club, probably the biggest they’ve had in the last 10 years.
“And, so, we’ll start from scratch, forget everything that’s happened in the last month.
“This is a one-off game, we’re 80 minutes away from Wembley and everyone’s fighting for a spot this week and raring to go.”
Welham, who has scored eight tries in 21 games, says the squad will take confidence from their last meeting with Warrington which saw them run riot 36-10 at KC Lighstream Stadium in June, even though they are without captain Terry Campese, the influential stand-off who is missing for the rest of the year after rupturing his anterior cruciate ligament.
“They are a bit similar to us,” he said, Rovers having also pushed Wolves close on their travels in March before falling 32-24.
“When they play well, they can really dominate teams and I think that’s what we do as well.
“But they have their off-days and can get turned over quite easily, too.
“We’ve beaten them already at our place and this will be a brand new week. Hopefully, we’ll get the job done.”
Hull KR certainly have the potential to do that and, with scrum-half Albert Kelly fit again, prolific winger Ken Sio benefitting from a week off and Kevin Larroyer returning from a one-game ban, Chester’s squad is bolstered.
Hull boxers Luke Campbell and Tommy Coyle are battling it out at Rovers’ Craven Park tonight in their WBC world title eliminator fight.
But Welham rightly thinks the Robins can land the first knockout punch of the day – and set the city on their way for a sporting day to remember.