Staying in the elite is Rovers’ biggest Challenge

Hull KR's focus must now switch to preserving their top-flight status, insists experienced loose forward Graeme Horne (Picture: Steve Riding).
Hull KR's focus must now switch to preserving their top-flight status, insists experienced loose forward Graeme Horne (Picture: Steve Riding).
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THE TALKING has all been done, now it is time for business and Hull KR forward Graeme Horne readily concedes: “We have a massive fight on our hands.”

He is, of course, not yet talking about Super League leaders Leeds Rhinos in the Challenge Cup final at Wembley.

All of that will come three weeks from now.

No, the experienced second-row refers to the less glamorous but similarly difficult prospect this afternoon of heading to Leigh Centurions in the club’s opening Qualifiers fixture.

As well as bidding for only a second Challenge Cup success in their 133-year history, Hull KR are simultaneously striving to hold onto their Super League status.

If any side is going to earn promotion from the second-tier’s top four then Leigh, the Championship Grand Final winners and table-toppers for the last two seasons, are clear favourites.

Given they have internationals of Gareth Hock, Fuifui Moimoi and Mickey Higham’s ilk in their ranks, it is no surprise.

Just seven days on from their Challenge Cup semi-final heroics against Warrington Wolves, and a week of bedlam as shock finalists Rovers prepare for their big day out, reality now hits.

Horne, 30, told The Yorkshire Post: “Leigh have some great players and we do have a fight on our hands. It’s a massive fight and a big challenge. We have to make sure we are up for this Saturday.

“We enjoyed last weekend –words can’t describe what that win means to Hull KR – but come Monday we were back to it knowing what’s ahead. There’s four teams wanting to get into this league and, if anything, they want to prove people wrong.

“A lot are saying Super League teams will just run away with it in the Qualifiers (against Leigh, Bradford Bulls, Sheffield Eagles and Halifax) but it’s not the case.

“They are four quality teams so we have to play well every week and make sure we’re right every week. We won’t be taking Leigh lightly, that’s for sure.”

As one of Super League’s bottom-four finishers, Rovers have been consigned to the new division along with the Championship top quartet which – over seven crucial rounds – will decide who operates among the elite in 2016. It is a nervous time; many presume Hull KR, who only narrowly missed out on the top eight, will be too strong.

But Leigh and Bradford, in particular, are very serious about displacing a big name from the upper echelons and Rovers do have that Wembley date looming.

On that subject, Horne concedes it is a magical prospect for the East Yorkshire club whose only other triumph in the prestigious competition was against fierce rivals Hull in one of the most famous finals of all in 1980.

“It’s great for this club,” admitted Horne, who hails from east Hull but played for Hull FC and Huddersfield Giants before finally signing for his local club at the end of 2011.

“It’s been crying out for something like this for a long time and to be a part of it is brilliant.”

The durable Horne has mixed fortunes in the Challenge Cup.

“With Hull FC I missed out on the ‘05 one,” he recalled, referring to when the Airlie Birds memorably stunned Leeds at Cardiff.

“I played in every game but the final. I was a bit narked about that! I obviously got a winners’ medal at the end of it which was nice and all a good experience.

“I did get to play in the one at Wembley in ‘08 but we lost to Saints. So, I’ve been there but it’s totally different every time.

“It’s one of those special things about the sport and I’m sure the lads will go enjoy it and put in a good performance.

“But I never thought my chance had gone of getting back there. Never. I believe in this Rovers team and we’ve showed all the way through the comp’ this year that we’ve got real team spirit.

“We dig in for each other and it’s shown with those wins over Wigan, Catalans and then Warrington. We’ve not had the best results in the league this year – form and injuries have cost us a bit there – but in the one-off games we’ve done well.

“That’s what upsets me; we know what we are capable of.

“Sometimes our attitude hasn’t been right going into game so we’ve only ourselves to blame.

“But we have to be right for Leigh and these Qualifiers.”