Widnes v Hull KR: Clarkson confident KR will warm up for the survival battle

HULL KR'S Chris Clarkson can appreciate the absurdity of the whole situation.

Charging through: Chris Clarkson is wary of the challenge posed by struggling Widnes today. (Picture: Bruce Rollinson)
Charging through: Chris Clarkson is wary of the challenge posed by struggling Widnes today. (Picture: Bruce Rollinson)

The back-row is talking about his recent lay-off which, in this marvellous ongoing heat wave of soaring temperatures, stems from... a chest infection.

“I’m not sure just how I got that in this weather!” he tells The Yorkshire Post, having been selected in Rovers’ 19-man squad for today’s trip to bottom-placed Widnes Vikings.

“I’d been struggling for a couple of weeks with it and am at the back end of it now.

“I have pretty much got rid of it but now have got a bit of asthma.

“I’ve always had asthma but never really suffered from it; I’ve never had it where it’s actually left me not being able to do anything.

“Hopefully I’m on top of it now, though. If I’m not ready for Widnes I’ll definitely be ready for next week.”

Rovers will certainly hope the former Leeds Rhinos forward is fit and well for this crucial stage of the campaign.

Widnes coach Francis Cummins.

They have picked up of late and gone on a three-match unbeaten run, Sunday’s victory over Salford Red Devils lift them to tenth.

Clearly, especially after Thursday’s results, when Huddersfield Giants stunned Wigan Warriors and Catalans Dragons forced a draw at Warrington, it seems they have left it too late to avoid the Qualifiers.

Huddersfield and Catalans – who were both bottom at one point – are now in the top-eight six points in front of the Robins who have just three games remaining.

Clarkson, 28, said: “We’ve spoken about not looking at the table or other sides’ results but it is hard not to.

“Personally I do, though, and I couldn’t believe it when those results came in on Thursday.

“We still have a very small chance (of top-eight) but we know it’s more important we just concentrate on maintaining our recent form and taking that into the Super 8s, whichever ones we’re in.

“We have hit some form and it’s good to finally start getting some rewards for what we’ve done throughout the year; to see it all come together what we’ve been working on and playing the kind of rugby we have.

“Everyone knows what they’re doing and it’s taken all season to get to this point but we’ve come close in so many games without getting those rewards.

“We have some key players fit again now and it’s good to see everyone connecting like this, coming together and getting results at last.”

Realistically, they should extend that unbeaten run to four games this afternoon given hapless Widnes are on a staggering 13-game losing sequence in Super League.

Indeed, they have not won in the competition since beating Salford as long ago as March 22.

But Clarkson – who spent the 2015 season there on loan from Leeds before joining Rovers – warned: “It does make them more dangerous.

“They don’t have anything else to play for so they can just go out and play with freedom.

“They do have some quality players and are a good team but just not hitting form at the minute.

“It will be tough and we need to be on top of our own game.”

Widnes chief Francis Cummins is still looking for his first win since stepping up from assistant to replace the sacked Denis Betts at the end of May.

Clarkson knows his fellow Yorkshireman well given he was assistant at Leeds when the player had his breakthrough campaign at Headingley in 2010.

Cummins had spells in rugby union with Yorkshire Carnegie and Doncaster Knights after being sacked as Bradford Bulls head coach in 2014.

Clarkson recalled: “There was Franny and Willie Poching who were assistants to Bluey (Brian McClellan) when I was at Leeds.

“He’s been away from it for quite a while but it’s good to see Franny get a head coach’s spot again now as he is a good coach and more than capable.

“I hope he can turn them around. He deserves the chance to do that.”

Today marks Cummins’ first home game in charge; his opening five matches have all been on the road and Widnes have not played at Halton Stadium since they were booed off after defeat against Wakefield, Betts’ final game of his eight-year reign in charge.

Meanwhile, Hull KR prop Lee Jewitt, who is currently injured, has signed a new two-year deal until the end of 2020.

Winger Ryan Shaw is also missing today with a knee injury that will sideline him for at least six weeks but Australian wideman Justin Carney hopes to return from a broken hand.