Promotion is the priority but Hull KR still aim to get the better of the side who replaced them in Super League in the Challenge Cup. Dave Craven reports.
FOR the first time since they made their vastly different transition, Hull KR and Leigh Centurions will meet again today.
We know it’ll be very, very hard over at Leigh. When we won there it was the first time in over two years in all competitions they’d been beaten at home.Shaun Lunt
It has been more than six months since Rovers dropped out of Super League.
Their place among the elite was taken by Leigh who had earned promotion via the Qualifiers three weeks before that dramatic ‘Million Pound Game’ decided the East Yorkshire club’s fate.
The randomness of the Challenge Cup fifth round draw, though, sees them pitched together with Leigh, especially given home billing, favourites ahead of this afternoon’s tie.
Does it still seem surreal that Rovers are now actually a Championship side and their opponents are in the top flight?
“Not really. It’s sport. It’s all sport,” Hull Kingston captain Shaun Lunt told The Yorkshire Post. “People come and go. Yes, we’re the first team to be relegated for a while but I stand by the old saying: adapt or die.
“We just crack on with it. Credit to Leigh. They went up and they had been knocking on the door for a couple of years.
“They’d been making a lot of noise down there but talked the talk and then walked the walk.”
It is now Hull KR’s job to plot the same path back although you will not hear them being as publicly bullish as Leigh once were.
Even before losing their first game of the season 14-6 in Toulouse on Easter Monday – after winning their first 10 – they have always been respectful of their new surroundings.
Lunt, the former England hooker, was one of eight regulars to miss the French trip but he hopes to return this afternoon.
Leigh made an encouraging start in Super League, winning three of their first six games but have lost all five since.
Former Huddersfield Giants star Lunt, who turned 30 a week ago, admitted: “They are struggling at the moment but started like a house on fire and I’m sure they’ll be looking to rectify it quickly. We’ve played them twice in the last couple of years.
“We beat them first time around in the Middle Eights but they beat us at our place last season. They definitely deserved to go up; they were brilliant in those Middle Eights.”
Promotion is the main aim for Rovers – they could meet Leigh in the Qualifiers again – but that is not deterring them in their pursuit of a decent cup run, especially having reached Wembley two years ago.
“We’ll be going there to win and show what we can do, not to see how we can do,” added Lunt.
“We know it’ll be very, very hard over at Leigh. When we won there it was the first time in over two years in all competitions they’d been beaten at home.
“They’ve recruited a great coach since, too, in (former Huddersfield assistant) Kieron Purtill, who I think is one of the best in the game. It’ll be a tough test but we’re looking forward to it.
“It was a very, very youthful side that played in Toulouse. There was very little experience in there. But I was listening in on the radio and we ran them close.
“It was only in the last four minutes they scored a late try so all credit to the lads who went out there, backing up from Good Friday, travelling over to France and putting in a great effort.”
Lunt missed the Good Friday win over Featherstone, too, and explained: “I got an infection and had cellulitis in my foot.
“I was in hospital on a drip on the Thursday morning and was then on antibiotics for five days.
“I started feeling better by Tuesday and I’ve not got a clue how I got it. They say sometimes it just needs a break in your skin or anything as minor as that. It wasn’t nice, I know that for sure.”
A 2012 Grand Final winner with Leeds Rhinos, Lunt could easily have found another Super League club after relegation.
But like so many others he stayed. “All credit to the club. They’ve been unbelievable. We’ve had great backing by (owners) Rob (Crossland) and Neil (Hudgell). They’ve been absolutely brilliant and stood by us.
“We’re better prepared for this season than we were last year. The coaching staff and Tim Sheens have been unbelievable; we’re so lucky to be able to work with someone like him.
“Players can go through their whole careers and not get opportunities like this. We’re very privileged.”