Paul Lakin Q&A as Hull KR CEO talks recruitment, retention and stadium plans

The recruitment market is a hive of activity after off-contract players were given the green light to negotiate with other clubs from May 1.

Hull KR chief executive Paul Lakin has overseen a rebuild since returning to Craven Park in late 2020, on and off the field.

With the transfer window now open, here is everything Lakin said on recruitment and retention, as well as stadium plans.

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It's a busy time of the year, are you shopping in a different market to when you first arrived?

I think it's safe to say we are. We feel we've built up the squad very well over the last two years. We've stuck by and allowed our younger players to grow – and they are really growing now. That's a testament to the fact we have given them the time to grow into strong players and men.

We're pleased with how the squad has developed. With our team performances and how the club is growing on and off the pitch, it's allowing us to shop in a higher market.

How important is it to remove the threat of relegation early, as you have done in the last few years?

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That made a significant difference when we were able to start recruiting in spring rather than hanging around until August or September and seeing who was still available. That was a real gear change a couple of years ago. We've been able to maintain strong performances on the pitch which has enabled us to now be in this position with the top clubs.

Shaun Kenny-Dowall, right, and Lachlan Coote are both out of contract this year. (Photo: Allan McKenzie/ Kenny-Dowall, right, and Lachlan Coote are both out of contract this year. (Photo: Allan McKenzie/
Shaun Kenny-Dowall, right, and Lachlan Coote are both out of contract this year. (Photo: Allan McKenzie/

I'd like to think myself and Willie (Peters) are both very organised. We know what we want and where we want to be. In terms of recruitment and retention, we're a pretty organised club.

What are you expecting in terms of numbers and potential turnover of players this year?

It's interesting when you talk about turnover of players because we actually have a very large squad. I would think possibly six but one or two different situations may occur that might take it to seven or eight. The Corey Hall-Will Dagger situation that arose recently wasn't something that was on my radar a couple of weeks prior to that.

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That came out of the blue and there's always a possibility of things like that happening but in terms of planned structure, we're aiming around six.

Tom Opacic was an NRL Grand Finalist with Parramatta Eels last year. (Photo: Allan McKenzie/ Opacic was an NRL Grand Finalist with Parramatta Eels last year. (Photo: Allan McKenzie/
Tom Opacic was an NRL Grand Finalist with Parramatta Eels last year. (Photo: Allan McKenzie/

If you look at the players out of contract, there are three overseas spots and players who are in the twilight of their careers in Shaun Kenny-Dowall, Lachlan Coote and Kane Linnett – is that a sensitive one because you want to get those sorted early but don't want to push them too hard given the influence they have at the club?

It's about really good communication. Shaun is our captain and I've been on record many times about my admiration and respect for him as a person and a player.

We have a great relationship there. It's the same with Lachlan and Kane in terms of what they’ve achieved in the game.

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Willie is a great communicator with the players also. We're organised. We know where we're at and what we need to do. We have a plan.

Ethan Ryan is on his way out of Craven Park. (Photo: Allan McKenzie/ Ryan is on his way out of Craven Park. (Photo: Allan McKenzie/
Ethan Ryan is on his way out of Craven Park. (Photo: Allan McKenzie/

We'll be catching up with those guys over the next couple of weeks.

Would you take it out of their hands and say that you're moving in a different direction if you’re leaning that way?

It's a balance of understanding where the players are at in terms of their bodies and where the club needs to be at and where the club needs to go.

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In terms of those overseas spots, does it come down to timing with the availability of NRL targets?

There is an element of that. I think it's common knowledge that the NRL market is getting harder because the salary cap is so high now.

As we showed last year with (Rhys) Kennedy and (Tom) Opacic, we're not interested in journeymen. It's got to be the right calibre of player of the right age.

Craven Park is set to undergo a makeover. (Photo: Hull KR)Craven Park is set to undergo a makeover. (Photo: Hull KR)
Craven Park is set to undergo a makeover. (Photo: Hull KR)

We secured Rhys and Tom pretty early and there was only possibly one player that came available later on in the year that we would have been interested in. Gone are the days where there's a flood of NRL players available at the end of the season, certainly of the calibre we'd be interested in.

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You've spoken before about exploring the marquee signing route, have you got a firm idea of whether you will do that yet?

We have absolutely explored it. If we bring players over from the NRL, they will – in our opinion – be of the highest quality.

So there is the potential for a marquee player for next year?

There is the potential, yes. It's not about the marquee bracket; it's about our opportunity to bring the very best players over that will add to the squad in the right way through quality, leadership and the person they are.

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It's less about whether they are or aren't a marquee player and more about making sure they're the right quality of player that we would want to bring over and therefore then seeing what bracket they're in.

It's been reported that Ethan Ryan is set to leave the club – can you comment on that?

Ethan has been told he's got the opportunity to secure a contract at another club.

What's the situation with another off-contract player, Sam Wood?

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Sam is part of the decision-making process over the next few weeks. It is only the first week of May. It's too early to comment on that.

Just going back to when you first took over which was a really difficult year on and off the field for the club, are you pleased with the strides made in the last two and a half years?

I feel we've made real big strides both on and off the pitch. We've got a real clear direction of where we want to be.

On the field, we want to win trophies. That's what we're aiming to do over the next few years. We want to be competing in the very best games.

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Off the pitch, we want to be the very best club we can. We want to improve the facilities here. It's well known we bought the stadium and an option on the land around the stadium to develop the club and possibly even as a campus as a whole.

The first step forward on that is a 3G pitch which will hopefully be in place early in the new year. There's only one other 3G pitch in the city at the university, so that will be a big step forward in terms of what we can offer the community and surrounding area.

We are at the heart of the community and that holds true to us all the time. We want to give back to our local area because it means a lot to us.

We have made great progress but there's a lot more growing to do, which is exciting. We've got ourselves in a position now where we can really kick on. We've brought the board in which is bringing experience and valuable insight.

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I'm really pleased with how Willie has settled in with his coaching team. The results so far are there to see, although I'm very conscious that we're only a third of the way through the season.

We're in a good place on and off the field.

Is there anything in the works for the development of the stadium itself?

The priority was always the 3G pitch. It was important that we give back and help the community.

The second part of the infrastructure is we want to build what I would call a purpose-built place of work for the first team, academy and possibly the foundation with all the facilities you'd expect an elite squad to need. That is the next part of the development that we're looking at for 2024.

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The actual stadium build is not far from phase one. We need to fill the stadium week in, week out first. If we're going to really grow with the first team, academy and women's game, we need to provide the facilities to attract the very best players at all age groups.

Once we've done that, you're setting yourself up for many, many years to come.

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