Paul Lakin convinced Hull KR set for bright future after changes make immediate positive impact

COME what may in their battle for the Betfred Super League play-offs, chief executive Paul Lakin believes Hull KR have made “really good progress” in the last year – and it is only the beginning.

Lakin is approaching the 12-month anniversary of taking charge at the East Yorkshire club and has already overseen some significant developments.

In his second spell at Rovers having originally left in 2008 to take up roles with Wolverhampton Wanderers and then Stoke City, Lakin has helped breathe fresh life into a club where even owner Neil Hudgell had grown disillusioned and frustrated.

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Having finished bottom last season, Rovers are fifth heading into the final regular round.

If they win at Leeds Rhinos tomorrow, they will be in the play-offs; indeed, if rivals Castleford Tigers lose against Warrington Wolves tonight, they will already be certain of a top-six spot prior to kick-off at Headingley.

Among other things, Lakin has overseen improved recruitment, the launch of Craven Streat – a fans’ food and drink village which also offers live music at Hull College Craven Park – and a rebrand of the club badge last week which has largely been well-received.

In an exclusive interview with The Yorkshire Post, Lakin said: “I am genuinely really pleased.

“But I am also grounded enough to know it’s just one year.

“I really hope to move the club forward for several years to come.

“There’ll be bumps along the way but we’ve made a really good start. I was asked last November about what my expectations were for this year and I said ‘progress’.

“That’s exactly what we’ve done; we’ve made really good progress and the season is not over yet. It’s in our control whether we get in the play-offs or not.

“I don’t think we could have asked for anything more than that. Whether we do or not, we’ll see. But if we finish seventh I would still say it’s been an excellent season. And I think nearly everyone would agree.”

TOUCHING DITANCE: Hull KR's players celebrate victory over Castleford Tigers last week. v

The key for the Robins is to escape the tag of being perennial relegation candidates.

Head coach Tony Smith has certainly helped take them in the right direction. The signing of players such as England winger Ryan Hall, former New Zealand star Shaun Kenny-Dowall and fellow Kiwi Brad Takairangi has demonstrated their ambition.

Lakin added: “What underpins that progress this season is that the core group of players that have got us to this stage are long-term committed. And our younger players and our pivots – from Jez (Litten) to Jordan (Abdull) to Rowan (Milnes) to Mikey (Lewis) – are all committed longer-term.

“I think that’s exciting fans: if they can grow together as a band of brothers where could we go? That’s our thought process.”

Hull KRs Tony Smith has proved an influential figure at Craven Park Picture by Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com

Hull KR’s left edge of stand-off Abdull, Australian second-row Kane Linnett, captain Kenny-Dowall and top-scorer Hall has undoubtedly been a key asset and with them all contracted for at least 2022 it is understandable why Lakin and co believe the club are well-set to build on this term.

Furthermore, the signing of Lachlan Coote, the brilliant Australian full-back who is looking to win a third successive Grand Final with St Helens, only enhances the feel-good spirit in east Hull.

Someone else who is now enthused is Hudgell.

The long-serving benefactor announced in August last year that he was putting the club up for sale and stood down as chairman in December.

Nevertheless, last month the club revealed Hudgell – who took over in 2004 – had had a change of heart.

Lakin conceded: “It was great news for everyone at the club. Neil, when he made his statement, genuinely wanted to sell.

BRIGHTER FUTURE: Hull KR chief executive Paul Lakin Picture by Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com

“He had become disillusioned with how the club was constantly fighting relegation and probably disillusioned with the sport a bit overall, too.

“But as a club, on and off the field, we’ve rejuvenated him and showed there is a way forward and there is progress.

“We had to prove that and I genuinely believe it’s only our first steps this year. But we’re going in the right direction.

“He’s a huge Hull KR fan at heart so it excites him.

“Personally, for me, for him to say ‘no, I want to take it off the market, stay and be around’, it was a huge endorsement for what we’ve done in the first year.”

Coote, 31, will join in 2022 and is a sign of the calibre of player Rovers are looking to recruit.

Lakin said: “It was well publicised we were in conversations with Toby King as well at the time.

“Obviously, Toby decided to stay with Warrington but we were in those conversations and certainly, with regards quality players for 2023, we want to be very much in the conversation with them all.

“Again, that is a sign of our ambition. But for every Lachlan Coote we need one or two academy lads to come through, too.

“That is really important. We announced last week the signing of a number of academy lads that will be in the first-team squad for next year.

“What I was most pleased with the Lachlan Coote signing was, he recognised where we were going so that he was prepared to move from the other side of the country from clearly the club that has been the best in the country for several years now.

“He sees it as a club on the incline and is excited by a different type of challenge.”

St Helens' Lachlan Coote will be playing at Hull KR next season. Picture by Paul Currie/SWpix.com