IT WOULD be easy for Hull KR fans to believe that the return of three key players will signal a stunning return to form at just the right time of their season.
Head coach Tim Sheens, though, is too old in the tooth to blithely suggest the two necessarily go together.
Granted, the sight of veteran playmaker Danny McGuire successfully coming through yesterday’s final practice session will have cheered him no end ahead of tonight’s crucial game with Huddersfield Giants.
The former Leeds Rhinos captain has been missing since mid-May with a blood clot in his leg.
Likewise, prop Robbie Mulhern – arguably Super League’s leading front-row before suffering a knee injury six weeks ago – and Tommy Lee, the experienced hooker, also proving their fitness will do the Robins the world of good as they attempt to pull away from the wrong end of the table.
However, if there is to be that critical renaissance (Rovers are 11th, six points adrift of eighth with just five games left before the Super 8s split) there must be a sustained, improved effort from everyone across the board.
But I said to the boys it starts Friday; this is a five-week plan and it’s like a new season from my point of view.Tim Sheens
Sheens, who rubbished reports linking the club with Leeds’s England winger Ryan Hall, said: “We need to be very professional for the next five weeks in how we handle ourselves.
“To either avoid the Middle Eights or finish in a good spot in the Middle Eights whatever happens will happen.
“But I said to the boys it starts Friday; this is a five-week plan and it’s like a new season from my point of view.”
Rovers have had plenty of time to prepare; it is 12 days since their last outing – an encouraging draw at Castleford Tigers – and the coach reported players have returned re-energised after time off during the international break.
They take confidence, too, from the fact one of their four wins was a 38-6 victory at Huddersfield in March, arguably their best display since winning promotion.
Sheens said: “It was (one of the best) but that scoreline really belies the effort by Huddersfield.
“We weren’t out of trouble until about 10 minutes to go.
“A couple of tries pushed the scoreline and it was a very, very tough game.
“They’ve improved a lot since, sparked with a new coach (Simon Woolford) and have won five on the bounce in Super League so that makes a huge difference.
“But we are closer now than we have been for a long time to full-strength.
“McGuire brings massive game experience and we have a lot of Super League games coming back into the squad this week with Tommy Lee and even Mulhern now has quite a few.
“There’s a second game for Joel Tomkins as well since he joined so there’s a lot more experience in the side.”
Sheens will look to McGuire, in particular, to bring calm when previously there has been chaos, not least with their kicking.
For instance, full-back Adam Quinlan twice sailed restarts dead at Castleford.
“The effort needs to be there but it needs to be a very controlled effort,” said the Australian.
“We get near their goalline and don’t panic, we construct the plays correctly and we come up with better results rather than get frustrated by silly passes that go to ground, poor kicks that go dead or other issues we have like kicking off out on the full.
“Although, with that last one, I see we’re not the only side – the Kiwis (against England) did it three times at the weekend!
“We can’t blame altitude, though, so we’ve had to work hard on making sure it doesn’t happen again.
“They’re the things that murder you.
“The little things. Simple piggy-back penalties for a little slap around the chin and ridiculous things like that.”
Woolford has challenged his side, though, to maintain their new-found momentum.
The West Yorkshire club are one of Super League’s form sides and, ahead of this round, were up to eighth although only a point ahead of Catalans Dragons.
Australian Woolford, who arrived last month and played under Sheens in his Canberra Raiders days, realises the work is still far from done.
“The goal is to keep doing enough to stay in that top-eight and once we’ve done that then take it from there,” he said.
“But, by all reports, KR is a tough place to go get a win.
“They throw the footy around and will ask questions of our defence.
“Mose Masoe carries the ball well, Shaun Lunt is pretty good out of nine and the full-back (Quinlan) is sharp and we need to do a good job on him.
“But our ‘d’ has been really strong of late and we’ve prepared well. It’s most important we get our house in order and not worry about Hull KR.”