A first Super League try of his young but potentially very prosperous career for Liam Watts well and truly put a dampener on Shaun Ainscough’s Castleford debut.
In a game where Hull Kingston Rovers had to come from behind twice it was two of Rovers’ youngest players who scored tries at vital times to dramatically clinch a 24-20 victory at The Jungle.
At the age of just 19 the future looks bright for prop forward Watts. Coach Justin Morgan sang the young man’s praises after his late try got the Robins back to winning ways. “I’m really happy for Liam because we contemplated taking him off but we thought it would be great for his education to finish a game off under extreme pressure and he came up trumps.”
Watts’ match winner came just eight minutes from time. However he could have had his first ever in the competition 51 minutes earlier when he was held up short of the line. From the resulting play the ball, Scott Murrell burrowed his way over from dummy half to reduce the deficit to four points.
Although not a product of the Hull Kingston Rovers academy, Murrell is already in his fifth season at the club and at just the age of 24 he is ever improving and becoming one of the most versatile options in coach Justin Morgan’s arsenal.
Murrell is one of four survivors from the National League 1 Grand Final Winning squad of 2006. The other three were also instrumental in the victory over the Tigers on Saturday evening.
Full back Ben Cockayne, started in both the Grand Final and at The Jungle on Saturday. His try following a Michael Dobson grubber kick made it just a one score game, setting up a thrilling finish. It was, in fact, Cockayne who scored Rovers first ever Super League try in their opening game of the 2007 season, a home win over Wakefield. Ben Fisher and Jason Netherton are the other two survivors from 2006, both used as replacements at Castleford.
It is clear that Justin Morgan has a clear vision when it comes to player development. With many players in the squad under the age of 25 the possible naivety that youth provides is obviously not a worry to Morgan. This is clear in the starting of Chaz I’Anson in the stand-off position, another youngster who like Murrell is very versatile having played in both the loose forward role and at stand-off. I’Anson showed glimpses of what is to come, making half breaks from first receiver, coming close to scoring at one point during the game, seeing a gap in the defence and accelerating into it.
Last year Kris Welham was named as the club’s Young Player of the Year having established himself as a first team regular, contributing 13 tries. Having clearly worked hard in the off season to bulk up in order to cope better with the physicality of Super League, Welham is forever improving and at the age of just 21 should he perform as he did last campaign he may just be in contention for an international call up come the end of the year.
The blooding of youngsters such as Watts, I’Anson and Welham by Hull KR is a clear sign that the licensing programme introduced in 2009 is working. With the licensing scheme reducing the amount of foreign players, youngsters such as Sam Tomkins (Wigan), Kyle Eastmond (St Helens) and Ryan Hall (Leeds) are all being given their chance in the sink or swim environment of Super League all of whom are well and truly swimming, all representing England in the 2009 Four Nations. It is clear that a change in personnel is occurring in the England ranks and a talented side is being formed, which will only lead to a better performance in the next World Cup, on home soil in 2013.
So, as Morgan seeks the perfect balance to his squad, combining young and old, along with solid overseas recruitment, it may not be too long until the Rovers are mounting a serious challenge for honours.