Any trip over the Pennines into Yorkshire invariably heralds the most challenging of encounters for virtually all Lancashire outfits, and exactly one month to the day since their last sojourn over to the rugby league outreach which is Hull, the Red Devils make a return visit this Sunday, to the eastern side of the city to take on Hull KR.
The context of this encounter, however, could not possibly be more significant to either club, as Head Coach, Ian Watson, is all too aware.
“The circumstances make it an extremely interesting game, taking into account the current league placings, with us currently sitting just one place above them at tenth and eleventh. So, for us, it is a really big game where we must try to stretch this lead over them and also pull back on the teams just above us.
“Never say, ‘Never’, because we have got our confidence back, as we have shown over the past two and a half games, when we have played more like ourselves. We have been better in both defence and attack.
“We have been focussing on the improvements we have made over this period, and on maintaining them.”
Craven Park is a particularly intimidating venue, with its being a bridge, in style, between the old type of stadia, such as The Willows, with the spectators very close to the pitch, and the modern facilities of the AJ Bell.
“They even have their own version of the Shed, where long-time fans like to go and watch. But then there are the more modern parts.
“It’s a good place to go to play in, because it’s a rugby stadium through and through, and they have a good fan base to go with it.
“We are focusing on this next game, and then moving forward from there. We have beaten Hull KR already this season, and this, together with their home advantage is going to spur them on, so we must meet their challenge on the day. We have to focus on winning each game as it comes along.
“When he was at Wakefield, Brian Smith took that other view, and that might be an option with a squad of forty, but with only twenty-one there are just not enough players to do this.
“Everyone will have their own way of addressing the challenge. Ours is to continue in the way we have been doing in the last few weeks – gaining further confidence in our execution in both attack and defence. We have conceded some soft tries so we need to ensure Hull KR, and the remaining teams we still have to face, do not get any.”
For the early period of the second half, in last week’s outing at Warrington, the Red Devils appeared to have taken complete control of the game – a development seemingly sparked by the ten minute reduction to twelve men, with the sin-binning of Ryan Lannon. This inspired them not only to prevent Warrington from scoring during this period, but also to cross, themselves, with the second of Jack Littlejohn’s tries.
“Up to that point, Warrington had been finishing their sets a little better than we had, which had helped them territorially, but sometimes a sinbinning can give you the shot you need to get back into the game.
“Earlier this year, we were allowing such things to totally deflate us, but the confidence in how we are now playing has rejuvenated the whole side.”
A noticeably growing injury list is now starting to deprive the team of an increasing number of players, which could mean that some of the younger players will have to shoulder more of the responsibilities.
“All teams get injuries, and we have had a lot of niggling, short-term injuries which has prevented us turning out a settled team week after week. We had just been getting some consistency and now we are going to be disrupted again.
“Some of the younger players who have recently returned to the team, such as Dan Murray, Jake Bibby, and Ryan Lannon have all earned their places back, and any player who performs well will continue to hold down their position.”