Breaking down Hull KR’s right-edge issues as defensive frailties underlined by shocking stat

Aaron Bower

Disappointing defeats for Hull KR are, thankfully for Rovers fans, quite rare these days.

But they were certainly nowhere near their best in defeat to Warrington Wolves on Thursday night – and a recurring theme once again reared its head: the ongoing issues with the right-hand side of their defensive line.

Incredibly, Rovers have conceded almost twice as many tries down their right-edge this season as they have down their left, as the graphic above shows. It means a combination of two things: they’re not as defensively sound down the right but, more importantly, good teams are taking advantage of it.

Let’s be abundantly clear about one thing: Rovers are legitimate trophy contenders on all fronts this season despite problems with their right edge. If they can fix it up, there’s every prospect their fortunes will get even better. But Warrington knew there was a weakness to exploit on Thursday, and they certainly did that.

Quite simply, there is a dysfunction with how Rovers’ right-edge is working. All the moving parts are not going in the same direction and doing the same thing, and that is creating enormous gaps that even the most rudimentary attacking structures would be able to pull apart. When you throw players like George Williams and Jack Welsby into the mix, you are asking for trouble.

Williams was at his mercurial best on Thursday night. Among the England captain’s many talents is an ability to create pandemonium in a defensive line just by getting his hands on the ball. Whenever Williams was at the heart of a fast-moving Wire attack on Thursday and the hosts went to Rovers’ right, all hell broke loose.

It’s easy to point at one man – and Peta Hiku biting and shooting out of the line on Thursday attracted some criticism. But it isn’t a problem exclusively limited to Hiku, as last week proved.

Although Rovers won last week against St Helens, there were still moments in which Paul Wellens’ side enjoyed moments of real joy. The build-up to Jack Welsby’s try proved that – as this still, which Peters probably still has nightmares seeing, shows.

The player closest to Welsby is Joe Burgess: Hull KR’s right winger. Rovers have bunched up tight from the play-the-ball and Burgess has taken a gamble in biting, shooting out of the line and attempting to shut Welsby down. It backfires, with Welsby ridding himself of Burgess’ attention to score.

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There is another error from the right-edge for Waqa Blake’s try later in the first half, as Burgess gambles and jams in on Mark Percival. To be fair on this occasion, the ball from Jonny Lomax is outstanding to find Blake – but the gap and breakdown of Rovers’ edge not moving as one is again apparent.

Those habits returned on Thursday night and this time, it was Rovers’ downfall. As mentioned, the presence of Williams – just like with Welsby – caused huge uncertainty in the Robins’ defensive structure on the right.

Josh Drinkwater’s cut-out pass never touches Williams’ hands in the build-up to their first try, but Burgess jams in and tries to cover the England captain. From there, Warrington have an overlap and despite Niall Evalds covering, the damage is done.

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What would be of huge concern to Peters here is the gap between Burgess and his centre Hiku. For the Wire’s second try, it is Tyrone May as third man in who shoots out of the line, this time leaving Hiku and Burgess defending a three-on-two. Unsurprisingly, it leads to a try.

Hiku then completes the set for the third try, as he attempts to shut down Williams in, again, a passage of play where the ball doesn’t even touch his hands. It illustrates how important he is in everything Warrington do.

To Warrington’s credit – and a nod to their attacking coach, Martin Gleeson – they stacked their left-edge in attack with both half-backs on more than one occasion. They had clearly done their homework on the Robins – and the fact they scored three times down their right-edge when they won at Craven Park earlier in the year would have stuck in Burgess’ memory.

Burgess is left defending a two-on-one which Wire finish with ease and in effect, that was there Thursday’s game was won and lost. Whether it is the edge not trusting one another defensively, a lack of time together – don’t forget, Hiku would have spent most of pre-season training at fullback and Burgess was a late recruit – or individual moments of madness, it is clear Rovers need to fix it – something Peters acknowledged post-match.

If they do, they’re not far away from being a side capable of going all the way in at least one competition this season.

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