WHOEVER takes charge of Hull KR will at least know there are plenty of positives to work with.
Granted, they had been booed off after Sunday’s listless 14-12 loss against Wakefield, a sobering defeat that ultimately cost head coach Chris Chester his job.
However, there was mainly only characteristics to be proud of last night as under Willie Poching, the assistant put in temporary charge before Rovers name their new appointment – in all likelihood early next week – they rediscovered their spirit if not that crucial winning ability.
It is thought Steve McNamara, the former Hull FC captain recently relieved of his role as England head coach, could be the frontrunner.
Hailing from Hull, the Sydney Roosters assistant whose NRL side had vanquished Saints 38-12 in the World Club Series a week previously, certainly knows just what rugby league means to people in the East Yorkshire city even if it is the black and white half he has always been associated with.
Last night it was one of his old international players Jon Wilkin, who started out at Hull KR more than a decade ago, who popped up to finally break Rovers’ brave resistance.
The hosts had led until Luke Walsh’s 55th-minute penalty levelled an absorbing game at 16-16 and then, soon after, and with already-depleted Rovers having lost Albert Kelly and Chris Clarkson to further injuries, Wilkin applied the killer blow.
It means Hull KR are still without a win from their opening four games of the season, or a Super League victory in eight fixtures dating back to last June.
They got off to the worst possible start when they conceded a try after just four minutes but the fact it stemmed from them being positive in attack was a sign of things to come.
Ben Cockayne had chimed into the line at pace and caught Alex Walmsley off balance, the Saints prop catching the Rovers full-back around the shoulder and seeing the ball go loose.
Saints picked up and though Kelly tirelessly chased down Adam Swift, former Rovers full-back Shannon McDonnell was on hand to support and score on his first appearance of the season.
Walsh slotted the first of his five kicks but Rovers’ desire in defence was obvious as, from the restart, Andre Savelio was forced back behind his own goalline to concede a drop-out.
At the end of that set, Cockayne grubbered towards the line and capitalised as Travis Burns fumbled to gift a try that Ryan Shaw improved.
Wilkin thought he had replied for Saints but Graeme Horne helped force the ball from his grasp as the former England second row fell over the line.
Just seconds later, Rovers were over at the other end courtesy of a sublime try.
Kelly, who continually probed at the Saints line, sent prop Dane Tilse crashing through the middle and then looped around to take the return pass before finding Maurice Blair, the stand-off having just another pace to reach the corner from 30m out.
Shaw failed with his conversion attempt but his side proved stubborn in defence, Ken Sio chopping down Matt Dawson with one crunching tackle and Adam Walker doing likewise to Jordan Turner.
Shaw was caught flat-footed, though, as Tommy Makinson rose above him to gather Walsh’s kick to score in the 25th minute.
It mattered not; more pressure from Rovers saw a Saints kick charged down in their own half and Horne’s lovely flat pass saw James Green almost over-run but just claw in the ball to emerge between the post from 15m out.
Shaw converted but then Green and Burns blew up at a play-the-ball in the restart set, the Rovers prop taking unkindly to some sort of contact from his former club colleague.
Both players received yellow cards once the fighting had been sorted but the home side hit more problems with Kelly limping off.
Nevertheless, after Wilkin dropped another ball in his own half, it was Blair’s immunity – a fine cut-out pass – that helped Salter put Shaw scampering for the corner.
Referee Phil Bentham awarded ‘no try’ but sent it upstairs. Replays suggested the score was fine but James Child had to have 100 per cent proof and he deemed it not enough, sticking with the onfield decision and, yet again, making a mockery of the process.
It was mainly all Saints in the second period, Matt Dawson crossing in the 48th minute to ease them closer to a first win at Craven Park since 2008.
Atela Vea claimed their final try, Walsh tagging on a penalty and drop goal, but, fittingly, KR broke away in the final seconds for Shaw to score the last of the night and his first for the club, improving from wide out too.
Hull KR: Cockayne; Sio, Salter, Thornley, Shaw; Blair, Kelly; Walker, Lawler, Tilse, Horne, Clarkson, Allgood. Substitutes: Holker, Green, Greenwood, Mulhern.
St Helens: McDonnell; Makinson, Peyroux, Dawson, Swift; Turner, Walsh; Walmsley, Burns, Savelio, Vea, Wilkin, McCarthy-Scarsbrook. Substitutes: Roby, Amor, Tasi, Thompson.
Referee: Phil Bentham (Warrington).