Awakening of one of game's sleeping giants: The return of the Reliant Robins

Hull Kingston Rovers were one of rugby league's big names during Roger Millward's reign at the club. Twenty years later, under coach Justin Morgan, they are again reaping the rewards of playing the right way
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Hull Kingston Rovers remain three of the most evocative words in the rugby league vocabulary. Close your eyes and the chances are that you can still hear Eddie Waring mangling those resonant syllables, probably in celebration of some typical piece of trickery from Roger "The Dodger" Millward.

Despite that, it is hard to recall now just how formidable they were. The Robins, as they were universally known long before nicknames became de rigueur, were not just about the 5ft 4in stand-off's evasiveness, but also the most feared pack of forwards in the game.

So when Millward came into the Rovers' dressing-room after their Challenge Cup quarter-final victory over Warrington and told the players that theirs was the club's finest Cup performance, including the triumphs during his two and a half decades there as player and coach, it was no mere slap on the back from an old-timer.

"It was a huge compliment from someone who is not just a Hull KR legend but a legend of the game, to come to the players and express that," says Rovers' coach, Justin Morgan, who this Saturday will lead them into their semi-final against the Cup favourites, St Helens. "It hits you deep in your heart."

Rovers' appearance at the Galpharm Stadium this weekend will be their high-water mark since Millward's hey-day of the '70s and '80s, times that even made an impression on a young Morgan on the other side of the world. "Growing up in Australia, the Challenge Cup was always something we were aware of and Hull KR in the '80s were one of the finest sides in the world.

"I was aware of their history and what they had achieved long before I took this job. They were what you think of as a sleeping giant and the chance to play a part in waking them up was one of the big attractions." Morgan has taken a circuitous route to become the architect of the Robins' revival. He played in Sydney for Parramatta, sometimes under the coaching of Saturday's St Helens rival, Daniel Anderson, who later took him to the New Zealand Warriors.

He then played and coached in France, culminating in the notable feat of taking Toulouse to last year's Challenge Cup semi-final, where they lost to Leeds shortly before Morgan took over full-time at Rovers.

"Sometimes you have to take your chances, wherever in the world they arise," is how he describes his globe-trotting career, but it is at Craven Park that he has found what seems, for now, to be his natural home.

Until the Northern Rail Cup final earlier this month, his team had not lost a match in any competition this season. A rare sub-standard display and a shock result saw them lose 22-18 to Leigh, but even that could be a blessing in disguise, Morgan believes.

"Although we'd won 24 in a row, some elements of our game were missing. It's hard to maintain concentration on a run like that, so Leigh might be the kick up the backside we needed. We certainly bounced back very well against Widnes at the weekend." That might have had something to do with the return of the club's Australian scrum-half and playmaker, James Webster, who missed the final with a hamstring injury.

"He's very influential, but he wasn't the reason we lost the final. We just didn't play very well, although you would always choose to have him there if you could." Around Webster on Saturday will be a team that, in many ways, reflects Morgan's cosmopolitan background. There is a Frenchman, a couple of Pacific Islanders, a Papua New Guinean and a surprising degree of influence from north of the border.

Jon Steel and Gareth Morton have both played rugby union for Scotland, whilst Iain Morrison has also qualified to represent the country at league.

"We've a pretty fair mix," says Morgan, although one problematic element in that mix is Leroy Rivett.

The only player ever to score four tries in a Wembley final, during his time with Leeds, is denying being involved in an alleged conspiracy to supply £800,000 worth of cannabis and is in the middle of an adjourned case at Leeds Crown Court.

"He's just found out that he's got to go back to court in November," says Morgan. "In the meantime, he'll be treated the same as anybody else. He's certainly still in contention, although others might have the inside track on him for this game. Rugby can be an outlet for him at a time when he's got other things going on."

Morgan's side have proved a potent mix at National League One level, where they are now six points clear at the top of the table, although they obviously start as long-odds outsiders against St Helens on Saturday.

The opposing coach will hold no mysteries for him, however, because he admits that Anderson has been a major influence on his career, from the time he was coached by him in a schoolboy representative side in Sydney.

"I've been highly influenced by Daniel. I've spoken to him on several occasions about the path I should take. He really encouraged me to go to Toulouse. I probably wouldn't have gone without his advice.

"We've gone full circle in rugby league, because here we are up against each other in the most prestigious competition in the world."

Rovers' approach, if they play the way their coach wants them to, will be a tacit compliment to Anderson and Saints.

"We're similar to each other in what's important to us in the game," Morgan says. "I want us to go up playing good rugby. We try, at our own level, to be similar to St Helens in the way we play. If I've got a model, that's it."

Morgan's talk of promotion is a reminder of where there club's true priorities lie this season. If they win the NL1 Grand Final in October, they will be in Super League for the first time and the glory days - and the regular derbies against their neighbours at Hull FC that were the highlights of the '80s - will be back.

That would make Morgan himself something of a Hull KR legend, but he is quick to set his own achievements so far in their historic context. Regular meetings with Millward, now a caretaker at a school in Leeds and recently recovered from cancer, help him to do that.

"He comes to a lot of games and I always try to hunt him down and have a bit of a chat with him. It's not in any great depth, but it's something I really, really enjoy." One thing Morgan marvels at is his illustrious predecessor's longevity, with Millward serving as player-coach or coach for 14 years from 1977 to 1991.

"Fourteen years at one club! You're lucky if your whole coaching career lasts 14 years now." Morgan hasn't quite done 14 months yet, but, regardless of what happens at Huddersfield on Saturday, they will go down as a memorable 14 months for the man who has revived the Robins.

Hull KR: The glory years

Champions

1978-9, 1983-4, 1984-5.

Challenge Cup

1979-80.

Beaten Finalists

1980-1, 1985-6.

Regal Trophy

1984-5.

Beaten Finalists

1981-2, 1985-6.

Yorkshire Cup

1971-2, 1974-5, 1985-6.

Beaten Finalists

1975-6, 1980-1, 1984-5.

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