Making a major positional switch at the age of 25 is hardly ideal but when coaching legend Tim Sheens is the man with the idea, players do tend to listen.
The current battle for the veteran Australian, who led the Kangaroos to the 2013 World Cup, is guiding Hull KR out of the perils of Super League’s bottom-four.
Indeed, rarely have they needed a derby victory as much as they do tomorrow evening when Rovers face Hull FC in the final match of Magic Weekend at Newcastle.
However, like their opponents, the struggling Robins are bereft of key players, not least Danny McGuire, the ex-Leeds Rhinos star who the club confirmed yesterday will be missing for the next two months – possibly more – due to a blood clot in his leg.
He is one of 10 players currently unavailable with another instrumental absentee being captain and hooker Shaun Lunt, who has been sidelined by a knee injury since last month.
It was that which prompted Sheens to make the surprise decision to recently switch scrum-half Chris Atkin – in his first Super League season after joining from part-time Swinton Lions last July – to the No 9 role with Tommy Lee going the other way.
At first, onlookers could not quite understand the thinking but now there are signs the experiment is beginning to bear fruit for KR, who remain joint-bottom with Catalans and Widnes.
Atkin told The Yorkshire Post: “I think with losing Shaun Lunt for quite a few weeks he just wanted to bring a little bit of speed back in and around the ruck area.
“He felt we were a little bit slow there and obviously Tommy has played at half-back before so we have that versatility.
“We can swap players without necessarily losing too much and I have really enjoyed it.
“I’ve played there a few years ago, had a couple of games there with Swinton and back in my younger days at Academy, too.
“It is a position as a half-back that you sort of know. You know the calls for a few positions.
“He’s talked about how he’s done the same with a few players in the past like Robbie Farah. He’s done it similar to when he moved him from half-back to hooker.
“I’m just enjoying playing each week and trying to learn as we go along.”
I know people are saying that there’s a bit of a split between the top-eight and bottom four now but a couple of wins and you can be straight back in there.Chris Atkin
If it is good enough for Farah, the former New South Wales and Australia star whom Sheens worked with at Wests Tigers, then you can understand why Atkin is so happy to oblige.
But, as everyone at Rovers knows, as much as there is plenty to like in their current performances – they are consistently competitive – there is now an urgent need for actual victories.
They have only won one out of their last seven Super League games and the derby is not a happy hunting ground either.
It is more than three years since they last defeated their fierce rivals, losing the last six encounters, including the previous two Magic contests in Newcastle.
The Robins were also eliminated from the Challenge Cup 28-10 by Wigan last Sunday despite a gutsy display, being down to 12 men after Danny Tickle’s first-half red card but still being level heading into the final quarter.
“There were a couple of tries at the end where we were probably fatigued and tried too hard to get points on the board,” explained Atkin, with Cup-tied Aaron Smith and Kieren Moss recalled tomorrow along with fit-again Chris Clarkson and Ben Kavanagh.
“But it’s a similar story to a couple of games this season where we’ve put a massive effort in only to be so close at the end.
“It was like Leeds two weeks before and Leeds earlier in the season. I think with the young squad we’ve got, we’re lacking that bit of experience but it is something we are learning each week and we’re getting better in different scenarios.
“Hopefully, at some point, we’ll start winning those tight games.
“There’s not many tighter games than the Hull derby. We’re going to approach it like there’s no pressure.
“I know people are saying that there’s a bit of a split between the top-eight and bottom four now but a couple of wins and you can be straight back in there.
“There’s still plenty of games to go before it does split.”
Atkin, whose promising displays as a No 7 earned him a call-up to the England Knights earlier this season, knows another game that got away was the Good Friday derby.
Back then, it was Hull who had a man sent-off – winger Bureta Faraimo who, coincidentally, starts a two-game ban tomorrow for his latest red card – yet Lee Radford’s men still prevailed at Craven Park.
“The first derby was a really good experience for me,” insisted Atkin.
“I know we didn’t win but it was a tough game and Hull – with 12 men – decided to bar up.
“We weren’t as smart as we could have been and saw opportunities wasted but Sunday will be another game and we’ll look to learn from that.
“I’m looking forward to it especially after going up on Monday to see St James’ Park for the first time. It’s a great stadium. I’m a big football fan and, being from Widnes, have followed Liverpool for most of my life.
“Knowing some of the great players that have played at Newcastle, it’ll be great to get out there on that pitch myself.”