There will have been some mouthfuls of tea spat out in the Widnes Vikings and Leigh Centurions board rooms when Hull KR named their squad for tonight’s clash with the Catalans Dragons. Already assured of a return to Super League in 2018 coach Tim Sheens loaded his side with junior, and out of favour, players and named a side without the lion share of his first teamers.
The Catalans Dragons camp will have been delighted when they first glimpsed the Robins team sheet as, while they were without the services of a couple of regulars, they could still call upon most of their stars as they looked to get a crucial two league points. A win could see them finish the weekend in the all-important third place and with their destiny in their own hands next week when they play Widnes in the south of France.
The Dragons had been thrown an incredible lifeline, they just needed to grasp it with both hands.
The Dragons got off to a great start when Richie Myler collected a Luke Walsh kick while diving for the line and grounded under the sticks. Walsh added the extra two and after nine minutes the visitors had a 6-0 lead.
After missing a penalty soon after the try the expectation was that the Dragons would kick on but the inexperienced KR side more than held their own and at times were taking the game to the visitors. But when James Greenwood lingered too long in the tackle he gave Luke Walsh another penalty opportunity which he grasped for 8-0.
On thirty-six Vincent Duport stretched for the line but grounded the ball just short thanks to excellent KR gang defence.
On forty-seven the home side got back within two when Will Oakes picked up a Chris Atkin round-the-back pass and went outside the Dragons defence to touch down. Zach Docker-Clay added the extras from wide for 6-8.
KR hit the front on fifty-three when Ben Cockayne, skipper for the night in his last game, picked up a delightful Chris Atkin chip over the Dragons defence and grounded by the uprights. Dockar-Clay again added the extras for 12-8.
Five minutes later and KR stuck the knife into a wounded Dragons chest when George Lawler powered his way over from close when scooting from acting half-back. Dockar-Clay kicked his third conversion in eleven minutes for 18-8 and the panic was evident on the faces of the Dragons players.
A Chris Atkin drop goal on sixty-five edged KR 19-8 ahead and the Dragons Super League survival was looking increasingly shaky.
On seventy the Dragons grabbed a lifeline when Iain Thornley found himself on a big overlap at the end of a cross-field passing move to dive over in the corner. Walsh kicked brilliantly from the touchline for 19-14, the Dragons a converted try away from victory.
With four minutes left on the clock Brayden Wiliame span out of the tackle off a Luke Walsh pass and dropped over the line for a seemingly priceless four points. Walsh kicked with surety from wide to edge his side a point into the lead.
Having taken a perfect short-kick off, Hull KR were fouled thirty metres from the Dragons line on seventy-seven but Atkin pushed his penalty effort wide of the left upright with just over a minute left on the clock.
Atkin slid an attempted drop goal wide with thirty seconds left and the Dragons held on for the victory which keeps lifts them into third spot and sets them up for next weeks visit of the Vikings.
This was an awful second half performance from the Catalans Dragons after a lackluster but steadier opening forty. For long periods of the second half they were second best and will count themselves as fortunate to escape with the points. Hull KR nearly pulled off a stunning win with a cobbled together side which would have sent shockwaves through the game.
While KR will party, party, party and the Dragons will go home knowing that a win against the Vikings next weekend will be enough to see them retain their Super League place in 2018. But it could have been so different.
KR: Cockayne (T), Moss, Slater, Abdull, Oakes (T), Marsh, Atkin (DG), Kavanagh, Lawler (T), Mulherne, Horne, Greenwood, Clarkson. Subs: Cator, Moran, Clark, Dockar-Clay (3G).
Dragons: Tierney, Duport, Inu, Wiliame (T), Thornley (T), Walsh (4G), Myler (T), Moa, Aiton, Bousquet, Anderson, Horo, Garcia. Subs: Baitieri, Albert, Margalet, Navarrete.
Referee: Robert Hicks.