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Hull KR better equipped for qualifiers despite visa problems

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CHAIRMAN Neil Hudgell says Hull KR are “confident, not complacent” ahead of the Qualifiers but admits it is “ridiculous” they are still unsure whether some players can travel to Toronto.

The East Yorkshire club begin their bid to retain Super League status when they host Salford Red Devils tomorrow night – the side who relegated them in the ‘Million Pound Game’ two years ago.

Visa problems: Hull KR recruit Todd Carney could miss out.

Visa problems: Hull KR recruit Todd Carney could miss out.

Rovers bounced back from that trauma immediately last term, finishing top in the Championship and brilliantly negotiating the Middle Eights by beating Super League opponents Widnes Vikings and Leigh Centurions.

Granted, it has been a difficult first year back but, with the return to fitness of a number of key players and some astute signings, they finished the regular campaign strongly, winning four of their last five outings.

That has given Tim Sheens’s side belief they will not be dragged into the relegation mire again. Hudgell said: “We’re confident, not complacent. It’s our fourth year in the Qualifiers so we know what it’s about. The teams who do well come into it with form, a fit roster and new faces.

“We’ve a bit of all these, although bans will bother us the next two weeks. We seem to have had more issues with the disciplinary – particularly the match review panel – the last couple of weeks, which is puzzling, as I see us as a fairly disciplined team.”

Second-row Maurice Blair saw his ‘other contrary behaviour’ charge – making a gesture to Hull FC fans during the recent derby win – down-graded by the disciplinary on Tuesday night.

The Australian received a two-game ban instead of a three to five-match suspension but Mose Masoe serves the final game of a two-match ban against Salford while Danny McGuire and James Greenwood return from recent one-match suspensions.

There is also that added issue of uncertainty about players – recent recruit Todd Carney is likely to be one – being able to actually gain visas for Canada.

Three had to visit the Canadian High Commission in London earlier this week and, though one received his paperwork yesterday, Hudgell said: “We are still awaiting confirmation that some of our players will be allowed entry.

“Ten days before the game and a week before we travel, sums this up as rather a ridiculous situation as far as I am concerned.

“We are spending hundreds of hours of time on this in conjunction with Toronto Wolfpack and the RFL and hope for a satisfactory outcome, although it’s hardly commensurate with operating an elite professional sporting outfit.”

It is another reason why the long-serving chairman believes it is “huge” to get off to a positive start against Salford, who finished 11th and were beaten 52-22 by Rovers last month.

“Going to Canada next week, still uncertain we will get all our players in, means we need to make sure we ease a little pressure by starting well at home,” explained Hudgell. “Salford got a great win at Leeds recently, have players back and have recruited well, too.

“So it’ll be nothing like the blow-out game here a few weeks ago. We will settle for any sort of win Friday, as the next two games are arguably even tougher, with a trip to Leeds following Toronto.”

Rovers retained full-time status in the second tier and maintained excellent crowds but cannot contemplate demotion again.

“Another relegation would be a disaster,” conceded Hudgell.

“For a number of reasons we got what we deserved last time. As a club, we are a different animal now, and are really well set to build on this year.”

“I expect the system to change next year. The number of clubs in jeopardy is too many; up to Round 22, more than half faced the threat of relegation.

“That just undermines any long-term planning and investment, and it’s crazy. My preferred outcome is a straight ‘one up, one down’ but there needs to be a mechanism for ambitious clubs in the Championship to come up.

“We cannot be a closed shop; it’s healthy to refresh.”