THE messages from Shaun Kenny-Dowall, in Australia, to Hull KR head coach Tony Smith thousands of miles away, had become regular and identical: “Good luck, this week.”
The former New Zealand international had long since agreed to join KR from Newcastle Knights for 2020 but nothing could be sealed until the Robins had secured their Super League safety.
As everyone knows, the club’s fraught battle to avoid relegation went on and on until finally being confirmed on that tense and dramatic final September night of regular round action.
With that done, they could at last confirm that Kenny-Dowall – who won an NRL title with Sydney Roosters in 2013 and represented the Kiwis on 21 occasions – was on his way to East Yorkshire.
Rovers knew the high-profile 31-year-old three-quarter would not only be an asset on the pitch but off it, too, with his charismatic and professional approach sure to be important as Smith assembled a relatively youthful squad.
Kenny-Dowall arrived on Sunday and was introduced to the media for the first time at Hull College Craven Park yesterday.
We connected when we told him what we were doing here, what our ambitions are and what this club is about.Tony Smith
Smith, for one, has not been disappointed in his early impressions of one of the club’s biggest signings in recent history.
“With those weekly messages, at the same time he could have taken other options or sured his future up,” said the coach, hinting at the player’s character.
“We connected when we told him what we were doing here, what our ambitions are and what this club is about.
“He’s got a strong desire to help young men develop and has a lot of experience to draw upon to help make that happen. He’s got a real knack at it.
“He fits the brief for us; we want to be young and hungry but we also need some experience and people who are calm under pressure and understand different situations.
“We’re going to be under the pump at different stages and we need people who are able to be calm and not panic.
“He’s got that. As well as just being a great guy; positivity just oozes from him.”
Kenny-Dowall – who won the 2010 Four Nations with New Zealand and came runner-up to Benji Marshall for the Golden Boot –has had a recent knee operation and will not start running for another fortnight.
But Smith explained how he was already immersed in pre-season and said: “The young guys are already going up to him or he’s grabbing them. There’s no airs or graces about him. He’s a terrific fella; he’s the one player I didn’t get to sit down face-to-face with prior to signing but had plenty of phone conversations with him and he’s been great.”
Kenny-Dowell, such a powerful carrier of the ball and athletic finisher, has spent much of his career flitting between winger and centre, so Rovers have options.
Smith has made it known they need to improve their work out of backfield early in the tackle count so he will certainly prove useful in that regard.
Kenny-Dowall added: “I haven’t got a favourite (position).
“I spoke to Tony about that and I’m happy to play wherever he sees fit and wherever the team needs me; I haven’t pigeon-holed a position of wing or centre.
“It’s been really good getting to know all the boys this week and the city, I’m feeling really welcome. It’s only going to get better the more time I spend here. I’ve always had a goal to play in Super League. I was pretty close to coming over the last couple of years – I had some opportunities – but I still felt I had a lot to achieve in the NRL.
“I thought the time was right this time and for that to come to fruition it’s a big tick. I’m really excited at the prospect of being here for a couple of years and testing myself in Super League.”
The second game of the Super League season sees KR visit Hull FC in the derby and Kenny-Dowall said: “I’ve only been here four days but already know all about that game on the calendar.
“They tell me it’s a fierce rivalry and it’s been going on for a long time. I can’t wait to experience it.”
Meanwhile, SKD – as he is known – is also good friends with SBW: Sonny Bill Williams who played alongside him for Roosters and the Kiwis.
Kenny-Dowall said: “He’s huge, the ultimate professional and one of the best players I’ve ever played with. It’s exciting Toronto have such an athlete like Sonny Bill and I’m really looking forward to playing against him again.”