Five Drives... and a Kick
Drills: Adam Walker and Mickey Paea, coached by Craig Sandercock. Inset: Cory Paterson Charlie Mullen and the squad had a little time to themselves, there was plenty to keep everyone busy. New signing Cory Paterson was among the liveliest in the party; a constant smile on his face keeping the mood light.
Paterson had arrived in England a couple of weeks after winning his first professional boxing bout. In the Canaries, he showed he’s equally good with a table tennis paddle. ‘Ping-pong’ Paterson was unbeatable and if Rovers are to have a good season they will need the Perth-born former North Queensland Cowboy to be as good on the pitch as he was in the games room.
Sandercock suggested Paterson could deputise as Travis Burns’ replacement while the Australian stand-off completes a 12match ban carried over from last season and it was easy to see why. One of a number of players to catch the eye, his kicking ability looks ready made for doing a job alongside Rovers skipper Michael Dobson.
Former Penrith Panthers utility Burns, meanwhile, Rookie of the Year in 2006 for Manly, still has four games to serve before he can fully replace Wigan signing Green and ignite his own partnership with Dobson which, if the pair’s showing in Tenerife is anything to go by, promises to be a lively one. It will need to be if Rovers are to stand any chance of making the top eight in 2013.
But on the face of it, at least, the fixture computer has been kind to Hull KR in the initial stages of the season, which gives them every chance to get points on the board early.
Sandercock described the Spanish camp as the equivalent of four weeks’ training on the east coast of England. As ever, the proof will come when the season kicks off in a cold and wet winter. A win against last season’s fourth-placed Dragons will start to justify Rovers’ place among the million or so visitors who venture to Tenerife every year.
And as for the volcano that gave the island its name, Teide, it also remains active; its most recent eruption occurring in 1909. Could the Robins be about to explode too?
VIKING INVASION, PART TWO PROGRESS PLEASES BETTS
The year 2012 was an interesting one for Widnes Vikings. Having achieved their objective of a Super League licence and later appointed a new CEO in James Rule, the club had to cobble together a team of journeymen, promising youngsters and go into the loans market in order to field a team worthy of the top flight.
They also gave Denis Betts the chance to return to league in a head coaching role. The former Great Britain second-rower endured a tough baptism that yielded just six wins, all but one at home, but he is confident they can rise from the foot of the table this time.
“It was always about a three-year plan,” Betts tells Forty-20. “It wasn’t about signing a load of players and making it into a Widnes side straight away. There were two things that weren’t available. One was the finances to do that and the other was the players. What we had to do was pick up some scraps, give lads opportunities, promote people from other organisations that had good careers but were only playing ‘bit’ parts and give the players we had here the lead.”
This time last year, Betts had spent less than two months with his team and had seen them thrashed in a pre-season game by local rivals Warrington. Twelve months on they reduced that deficit, with the only change being former Bradford forward Phil Joseph. Their coach is understandably encouraged.
“I’m a lot happier now,” he says. “We are in a better position as an organisation and a playing group. We’ve had a year together. We’ve whittled out some of the negatives. A lot of my lads are only nine or ten months into being full-time and that takes adapting to, but they are doing it.”
Betts, who coached as well as played for Wigan, is clearly relishing his role at another club with a rich history. “The aim for year two is to be the best team in the bottom four; then in year three it is to push for the eight. Once we’re pushing for play-off football then we know that we are strong and I think things are pretty strong if I am honest. It’s a good place to come in and work, the squad has a real good work ethic and there is a feeling of things being solid.”
Solid or not, Widnes may still have to start the season without marquee signing Kevin Brown, who was lured away from Huddersfield. The stand-off picked up an ankle injury in training before Christmas and, although the club has stated that he will be fit to start the season, his coach does not want to take any unnecessary risks. “The prognosis is that he is going to be right just in time for the start. I don’t want him ‘just right’. I want him absolutely right.”
Betts feels that, despite being wooden spoonists, Widnes outperformed last season and has a warning for clubs who are in a rush to get back to promotion and relegation.
“Teams want to come up to Super League without any real concept of just how tough it is to take a virtual amateur side and turn it into a professional team in two months,” he says. “It was a tough ask and if I am brutally honest it’s going to be very tough for any Championship side to do that.”
Despite several hidings last season, Huddersfield and Warrington being among the bully-boys, it wasn’t all doom and gloom for the Vikings, who enjoyed notable successes against Wigan and St Helens. “We turned those big defeats around and asked for a response to those performances,” says Betts. “Virtually every time we conceded a lot of points, we responded positively in the next game. Let’s not forget that there were some other, well established clubs, who also had 60 or 70 put past them last year.”
Among the members of his squad he is most looking forward to seeing progress are Dave Allen, Steve Pickersgill and Jack Owens, but there is one player that the coach would love to see make a name for himself. “Chris Dean is one of those unsung heroes who do a lot of things that people don’t notice. He has lots of ability and a fantastic
10 Forty-20 January 2013