Hull KR conjure fine comeback to give weekend perfect finish

Hull 22 Hull KR 34
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The Independent Online

It was not quite a case of leaving the best until last, but Hull Kingston Rovers set the seal on what was ultimately a successful Millennium Magic weekend to launch the Super League season.

The game's major rivalries transplanted themselves effectively to Cardiff, with St Helens and Leeds producing stunning fightbacks to frustrate Wigan and beat Bradford.

The recovery in a Humberside derby played with all the usual passion came early and Rovers never really looked like surrendering the initiative after that.

A combined attendance for the two days of 60,214 was an improvement on last year at Murrayfield, so the Rugby League was able to claim victory as well. The RFL's chief executive, Nigel Wood, called it "a truly uplifting weekend and the best start to a Super League season we have ever had. The attendance exceeded our expectations and the atmosphere both inside and outside the Millennium Stadium was magnificent."

Despite drawing the short straw of the last game and the long trip home, the two sets of Humberside fans contributed heavily to that by being there in numbers as the action on the field confirmed that there is no such thing as a dull Hull derby.

Hull started like the proverbial house on fire, with Rovers looking as though they were not properly awake. The result was a 14-point lead for the black and white half of the city to celebrate within as many minutes. The timeless skills of Sean Long had much to do with it. He opened up play via Willie Manu to set up Kirk Yeaman and then he put Lee Radford into a gap for the second try.

Scott Murrell was then adjudged to be the instigator of a brawl that started with him and Craig Fitzgibbon and expanded to briefly involve most of the players, Danny Tickle kicking his third goal from the penalty.

That little lot was enough to rouse Rovers from their reverie, their fight-back beginning with two tries, both with their new signing at stand-off, Blake Green, heavily involved. He scored the first himself, capitalising on Shaun Briscoe's incisive run and some smart handling to keep the ball alive. Green was already looking a more than useful acquisition by the time he put Clint Newton through some hesitant tackling to reduce the gap to two points.

Eight minutes before half-time the Robins took a lead they were never to lose. This time it was a lovely pass from a half-back who is very much a known quantity in this country, Michael Dobson, that send Ben Galea charging through. The emergency full-back, Richard Whiting, met him head-on, right on the try-line, and could not have done more to try to stop him scoring, but Galea managed to force the ball down.

Dobson produced another exquisite short pass to set up Galea for his second early in the second half and Rovers had what was beginning to look like a match-winning lead. Not that there was any lack of defensive work still to be done.

Liam Colbon drove Will Sharp into touch, Newton caught Fitzgibbon when he went on the rampage and Reece Lyne was carried into the corner-flag by Jake Webster's tackle. In between all that, another perfect Dobson pass released Kris Welham and Rovers had, to all intents, done the job.

Hull did eventually score, Long probing across field and Tickle forming the link to get the scoring pass to Sharp. Unlike Saints and Leeds, however, Hull could not complete their come-back. No sooner had they got Rovers in their sights than they were pushed back again, this time by Michael Vella's storming run and Welham's finish.

Hull had the last word, through Yeaman, but it was Rovers who had put the paragraphs together. Their coach, Justin Morgan, denied that he had ever been too worried even at 14 points down. "The inner belief was there, because we have been together for a while," he said. "It's going to be a really close Super League. You've got to take your chances when they arrive and I thought we did that today."

Hull's Richard Agar was naturally disappointed by the turn-around. "When the momentum went against us, we didn't ride it well enough," he said.

Hull Whiting; Sharp, T Briscoe, Yeaman, Lyne; Turner, Long; O'Meley, Houghton, Radford, Manu, Tickle, Fitzgibbon. Subsitutes used Dowes, Moa, Lauaki, Westerman.

Hull KR S Briscoe; Fox, Welham, Webster, Colbon; Green, Dobson; Vella, Fisher, Clinton, Newton, Galea, Murrell. Subsitutes used Hodgson, Wheeldon, Watts, Cockayne.

Referee P Bentham (Warrington)