Sandercock left with some strange questions to answer


The Easter weekend, so entertaining and thrilling for its first half, has left a funny taste in the mouth this year. 

The number of ‘blow-out’ scores on the Monday has been indicated as signs that the programme is too demanding of players and coaches. Few clubs have the strength or depth of squad to compete at their full capacity over two fixtures in four days.

While rugby league pundits continue to debate the merits of a testing Easter programme though, and coaches seek to justify the preparations they made, one man is left with questions of a rather different nature.

Hull Kingston Rovers coach Craig Sandercock is building a very strange looking regime at MS3 CRaven Park.

The Robins, without inspirational half-back Michael Dobson and, for much of the second half, Travis Burns, produced a wonderful derby day display to beat local rivals Hull FC.

Almost all the thrill for fans that came from that great day was sucked away on Sunday though, as Wigan Warriors turned up and put 84 points on Rovers – a record defeat.

The fact that last year Sandercock also oversaw Rovers’ record victory, over Castleford Tigers, gives some indication as to the kind of topsy-turvy inconsistency to which Robins fans have been treated during his tenure.

Until Sunday, Rovers were joint top try scorers with the Warriors. Yet they are having an average season so far, in terms of results.

Player performances are marked by inconsistency, and there are worrying signs of mass switch-off in defence almost every week.

It is often possible to judge how committed a team is by the intensity of its defence, and it has been worryingly slapdash and lack-lustre for a while at Rovers now.

And any team which concedes 84 points in Super League has clearly got some huge defensive issues to resolve, however good they are in attack. Defence is about hard work; attack is about glory.

Only the players and Sandercock really know how they prepared for the Wigan game, but you have to wonder from the scoreline whether they actually prepared at all.

The feeling that the team gave of having given up was only compounded by the coach’s decision to leave out David Hodgson and Cory Paterson. 

They may have picked up strains after the game against Hull, but the fact that one player is the club’s oldest back and main strike threat, and the other is a creative and powerful forward who plays 80 minutes every week, is probably worth noting.

But the absence of key players is no exuse for the rest not trying their utmost.

So what seems to have happened is that the game has been utterly written off by staff and players. This is unacceptable. Rovers fans paid good money to watch their team fold, and then surrender abjectly.

One might have expected professional pride or pride in the jersey to have kicked in at some stage, but no.

And that comes to the nub of the issue. Craig Sandercock has to answer the question of why 17 well-paid, professional young rugby league players could not even feel enough pride in their work to try harder.

He also has to answer why he and his coaching staff could not motivate the players to perform. But that is a question which has been bouncing around since he took over.

Finally, even if the players did not give up, why did it look so much like they had? Picking and choosing games in which to perform undermines the competition and is a rip off for fans. It is cynical and disrespectful to the sport.

Fear of a coach’s reaction, as well as pride, should ensure that players keep trying their hardest. This question goes to the heart of performance management and leadership.

Hopefully, for the sake of his team, its supporters, and the rest of us who pay, in one way or another, to watch Super League, Sandercock will have learned something.

If he can find the answers, then this Rovers team has the potential to be special at some stage. If he cannot, then he might be on his way home before the end of the campaign. 


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