On what was widely tipped to be a tense and tight affair between two depleted sides who endured frustrating and adversity-packed pre-seasons, it was reasonably comfortable in the end for a dogged Hull Kingston Rovers side who ran out 30-12 winners over an abject Wakefield.
In terms of possession and field position, the game was in truth relatively even so the fact the hosts ended up scoring six tries to Wakefield’s two will be a big concern for an under-pressure Chris Chester.
Former Hull FC, Castleford and Leigh three-quarter Ben Crooks was one of Rovers’ better players in truth during 2019, and he could hardly have hoped for a better start to his 2020, recording an eye-catching four-try haul in a clinical individual display on the left wing.
It isn’t the first time Crooks has achieved this feat against Wakefield too, having scored four against Wakefield for Rovers’ bitter rivals Hull FC during a losing cause way back in 2013.
Debutants Greg Minikin and Ryan Brierley meanwhile also got on the scoresheet on a great night for the East Hull club. Joe Westerman and Josh Wood found their way over the line for Wakefield on either side of half-time, on what was a demoralising affair for Wakefield who were without several key players including David Fifita, Tinirau Arona and Alex Walker.
It was an error-packed and penalty-littered stop-start encounter that in truth lacked much in the way of scintillating quality but on what was always going to be a night of typical round-one scrappy rugby, coach Tony Smith will have been overjoyed to have witnessed his troops grind out a very encouraging result.
Despite what turned out to be a cruising victory for the Robins, Wakefield started the brighter and enjoyed three sets camped in the hosts’ half during the opening five minutes of play. However, turning down the opportunity to go for goal on a couple of occasions backfired for the visitors who couldn’t find a way through some resolute Hull KR defence.
The returning Tom Johnstone came closest, powering onto an accurate Jacob Miller kick only for the former’s opposite number Greg Minikin to force Johnstone’s considerable frame into touch with what was some defensive effort.
During Hull KR’s first meaningful attack of the night, a clever cut-out pass close to the line from the versatile Harvey Livett found Ben Crooks on the flank in space who made no mistake touching-down with relative ease. Jamie Ellis couldn’t convert.
And it wasn’t long before the Robins were in again as Ellis and Adam Quinlan combined in a slick passage of play to put former Castleford winger Greg Minikin over in the right corner. This time Ellis could convert from wide out, 10-0.
The powerful Sean Kenny-Dowall meanwhile was coming up with some very impressive carries, breaking tackle after tackle and playing the ball very quickly.
Wakefield, who looked a bit disorganised and passive in defence during a ten-minute spell, began to weather the storm somewhat and got over themselves on 22 minutes as the much-travelled Joe Westerman hit a nice line, crashing his way over under the sticks off a Danny Brough cut-out pass.
Despite a few high kicks in the swirling East Hull borderline-gale causing some serious problems for Wakefield’s back 3, it would be to fair to say the visitors had the better field position during the final fifteen minutes of the first half but just couldn’t make the pressure count.
Veteran halfback Danny Brough picked up a suspected ACL rupture on 37 minutes as Wakefield’s injury woes continued. A combination of a clunky-looking Wakefield lacking any sort of fluidity or structure in attack and plenty of endeavour and organisation in the hosts’ defence resulted in the half-time score reading Hull KR 10-6 Wakefield.
It was a bitterly frustrating first fifteen minutes or so of the second half for Wakefield which carried a similar theme to much of the first half. Plenty of pressure and several sets near the opposition line but nothing to show for it. The energetic Ryan Hampshire came closest during a frustrating spell for the visitors as he ghosted through the line from a scrum with his quick acceleration and looked certain to score only for the ever-impressive Quinlan to come up with a textbook tackle to deny a try in what was quite possibly a game-defining moment.
Having soaked up pressure and defended as a real unit, Rovers extended their lead to 14-6 with the first real chance they had as the powerful Kane Linnett’s scruffy but good-enough offload on the last tackle found the alert Crooks who had a stroll in for his second.
Wakefield continued to press as Rovers’ poor completion rate coming away from their own line kept handing the visitors opportunities to strike back. Kelepi Tanginoa came close to crashing his way over on a couple of occasions but a fired-up Hull Kingston Rovers stood firm and put the game virtually beyond doubt on 62 minutes as Harvey Livett capitalised on Tom Johnstone’s knock on returning the ball from a 20m restart, putting the athletic Crooks away who comfortably outpaced Kyle Wood to go in under the sticks for his hatrick.
Wakefield responded a couple of minutes later however as another debutant in Josh Wood, who was lively throughout, profited from a typically-quick Ryan Atkins play-the-ball to scoot his way over.
This proved to be mere consolation however as with thirteen minutes of the encounter remaining, man-of-the-match Crooks leaped highest to claim Jamie Ellis’ Crossfield kick to help himself to his fourth try of the night. Former Huddersfield speedster Ryan Brierley added cherry on the cake as he strolled through some fairly ordinary Wakefield defence to complete the scoring, 30-12.
Firm off-season relegation favourites, this was a cracking result for Hull KR who badly needed a good start to ease some of the pressure. They will look to build on this next week, facing local rivals Hull FC at the KCOM in what should be a mouth-watering clash.
As for Wakefield, their attacking structure was woeful and their goal-line defence was not much better. But perhaps one slight positive they can take out of this game was how strong and powerful the returning-Tom Johnstone looked carrying the ball, reflected by the stats reading twelve tackle busts and an average gain of almost 11m during fourteen carries. He was raw and made a couple of costly mistakes, but the winger, who has been through injury hell, is Wakefield’s most valuable and talented player and the signs with ball in hand were encouraging on what was otherwise a desperately bleak and miserable night for the West-Yorkshire club.
Player ratings Hull Kingston Rovers
- Adam Quinlan 8/10
- Greg Minikin 7/10
- Sean Kenny-Dowall 8/10
- Kane Linnett 7/10
- Ben Crooks 9/10
- Jamie Ellis 7/10
- Ryan Brierley 6/10
- George Lawler 7/10
- Jez Litten 6/10
- Dan Murray 6/10
- Harvey Livett 7/10
- Matty Storton 6/10
- Jordan Abdull 7/10
- Robbie Mulhern 5/10
- Mitch Garbutt 7/10
- Will Maher 5/10
- Elliot Minchella 6/10
Player ratings Wakefield Trinity
- Ryan Hampshire 6/10
- Tom Johnstone 6/10
- Bill Tupou 5/10
- Reece Lyne 5/10
- Ryan Atkins 5/10
- Jacob Miller 4/10
- Danny Brough 4/10
- Kelepi Tanginoa 7/10
- Josh Wood 6/10
- Craig Kopczak 6/10
- Matty Ashurst 6/10
- Jay Pitts 5/10
- Joe Westerman 6/10
- Kyle Wood 5/10
- Romain Navarrete 5/10
- Adam Tangata 6/10
- Danny Kirmond 4/10