GIVEN the emotional tribute Hull KR made to the late, great Roger Millward before this game, it would have been understandable if they struggled to actually get to grips with the main matter in hand – tackling Widnes Vikings.
Thankfully they did not as they set about securing a hard-earned win that, for all it lacked the flair of Millward’s pomp, certainly demonstrated the rugby league legend’s courage.
Rovers defended bravely for long stints and came up with a myriad of last-ditch tackles, Ben Cockayne and Albert Kelly each making try-saving efforts on the Widnes full-back Rhys Hanbury, with James Donaldson and Graeme Horne similarly denying Vikings, too.
With such resilience, it meant they were always able to stay in front from the moment Shaun Lunt, as influential as ever to KR’s success, scored their first try in the fourth minute with a trademark dummy from acting-half.
As is so often the case, the former England hooker was involved in most of their best moments, creating two of their other three tries and generally tormenting Widnes with his craft. Scrum-half Albert Kelly also displayed some classy touches.
It was only a fourth win of the season for ninth-placed Rovers but, crucially, the gap between them and eighth spot – where Widnes have now fallen after an alarming seven successive defeats – is down to just three points.
If James Webster’s side can gain some momentum, therefore, they can still conceivably force their way into the top eight when it matters most and avoid the pain and relegation risk another Qualifiers series would bring.
Their next game, though, is the derby against Hull FC, joint-leaders of Super League, at Newcastle’s Magic Weekend on Sunday so the task does not get any easier.
Nevertheless, Rovers know form means nothing in such encounters and they will be confident of going there and denting their rivals’ own impressive progress.
Credit, meanwhile, to the club for what was a brilliantly-crafted farewell for Millward, their greatest-ever player, captain and coach, who died recently, aged 68.
From the film featuring interviews with his former team-mates and clips of his greatest moments, to the lone piper playing Abide With Me through a guard of honour of Rovers players from the 1980 Challenge Cup win and 1984-85 double-winners, it was perfectly planned.
There was, of course, the retiring of Hull KR’s No 6 jersey, too, which was presented to Millward’s wife Carol and family, after the teams had been led out by fellow Rovers legends Brian Lockwood and Phil Lowe.
“It was a fitting day for the great man,” admitted Webster.
“We handled the occasion really well, starting on the front foot.
“It was a difficult and tough day for everyone involved with the club, but fitting for a very inspirational person.
“We train here every day and to have seen people come in with flowers and tributes every day for the past two weeks – sending stuff into the club, putting memorials up out of their own pocket – it’s been amazing.
“We’re glad to have got the win to round it off.”
After Lunt’s bright start, young winger Joe Wardill almost scored, too, but was somehow denied by Dean and Corey Thompson.
Rovers’ second-row James Greenwood, who made more than 50 tackles, was fortunate not to get sin-binned after holding on to Ed Chamberlain when the winger was denied by Ben Cockayne.
It was the hosts, however, who had the better chances only for the wrong option being taken at the critical point so it remained just 6-0 at the interval, Cockayne having slotted the first of his four conversions.
Ken Sio stretched that lead, though, just two minutes into the second period when the winger – who dislocated his shoulder barely a fortnight ago – finished off after Kelly had done brilliantly to claim Maurice Blair’s hanging kick.
After some intense pressure on their own line, they did finally crack on 57 minutes when Joe Mellor slipped Gil Dudson through from close range, Hanbury converting.
Nevertheless, soon after, Lunt seared into space to put Greenwood over and give the home side welcome breathing space once more.
Wardill’s poor error, seeing a kick bounce straight through his hands, gifted Thompson a try in the 65th minute but Hanbury’s failed conversion attempt left them eight points behind.
When Widnes dropped another pass – their play was shambolic at times – Lunt hacked on for Kelly to confirm victory with eight minutes left and leave Rovers in good shape for that derby.
Hull KR: Cockayne; Sio, Minns, Horne, Wardill; Blair, Kelly; Tilse, Lunt, Walker, Greenwood, Donaldson, Allgood. Substitutes: Moran, Boudebza, Lawler, Green.
Widnes Vikings: Hanbury; Thompson, Runciman, Dean, Chamberlain; Mellor, Heremaia; O’Carroll, White, Dudson, Houston, Whitley, Cahill. Substitutes: Johnstone, Manuokafoa, Sa, Leuluai.
Referee: Robert Hicks (Oldham)