‘There’s only one derby. It’s in the same city’ says Hull KR’s Tony Smith

HULL KR head coach Tony Smith says he is “really pleased” by the way the Robins and fierce rivals Hull FC are both representing rugby league so strongly.

The pandemic has meant they have not met each other in front of fans for 18 months so anticipation for Saturday’s derby at KCOM Stadium is greater than it has been for some time.

Clearly, Rovers are the side in better form and a team who are gaining an increasing number of neutral fans for the stylish manner in which they play.

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However, although dampening down the hype at the start of the week, former England coach Smith is looking forward to the return of the occasion itself this weekend.

“It’s a special game,” said the Australian.

“We want a big crowd over there. We want the atmosphere. I think we’ve all missed that; derby day brings that out

“I’ve been to all of them. I’ve been here for 21 years. I get asked the question all the time – what’s the biggest derby?

“There’s big rivalries in other parts of the country between teams. I was Leeds coach against Bradford back in the day and that was a huge rivalry.

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Hull KR coach Tony Smith. Picture: Allan McKenzie/SWpix.comHull KR coach Tony Smith. Picture: Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com
Hull KR coach Tony Smith. Picture: Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com

“Saints and Wigan? Another huge rivalry. There’s only one derby. It’s in the same city.

“So it’s a big one for us. It’s big for both sides of the city and big for the city. I’m really pleased that both teams are able to represent rugby league in a really strong way and that’s what they’re doing at the moment,” he said.

Smith added it is always important for his players not to get caught up in the simmering tension around the city just yet.

He said: “We have to get prepared for the non-emotional side of it. And as you get closer to the game the adrenaline starts to hit and the crowd effect.

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“But we try to go through our processes, certainly early in the week looking at where we need to improve but also where we need to continue to play well.

“Then we move on to our opponents and get to know what their strengths and weaknesses are. We’ve had to do a lot of homework on them this week as there’s various amounts of players that are back available to them so we have to prepare for all sorts of different equations.”

Both sides will want victory to maintain top-six hopes – “but it’s not do or die for either” – and Rovers are sweating on the fitness of captain Shaun Kenny-Dowall who played through the pain of a foot injury in Friday’s success over Wigan Warriors.

Smith said: “He’s 50/50. He’s done some running this morning on it but not at full capacity.

“We’re hopeful that he makes it.

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“If he’s any chance of playing, we will play him. But he’s not sure at this stage.”

With winger Ethan Ryan out having suffered another broken wrist against Wigan, Smith will have to make at least one change but Ben Crooks stays at full-back.

Jimmy Keinhorst and Will Tate are options while Smith added Mikey Lewis, Joe Keyes and Muizz Mustapha could also come into his plans.

Meanwhile, much-respected KR head of youth John Bastian will leave this month, returning to Leeds Rhinos as player pathway development manager.

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Rovers have promoted his assistant Jason Netherton to head of player development while Ben Lazenby arrives as Academy general manager.

Rovers CEO Paul Lakin praised Bastian’s “significant impact on the development and structure of our Academy, its professionalism and standards set.”

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