‘Seasons Past’ – 120 Years Ago

Category: Heritage

‘Seasons Past’ – 120 Years Ago

One hundred and twenty years ago, Rovers had just completed their first season as full members of the Northern Union. They had completed 30 games against Yorkshire opponents in what was then known as the Yorkshire Senior Competition, in which they finished in a remarkable sixth place out of the 16 Yorkshire clubs.

Their start to the season could not have been much tougher – an away game against the eventual champions, Bradford, in which the Robins lost 5-0. The following week, they gained their first league point in a 2-2 draw at Castleford, which was followed by the very first Hull derby at competitive first team level. 14,000 people packed the Craven Street ground on 16 September 1899 to watch Rovers beat their more experienced and illustrious neighbours. With tries by skipper Albert Kemp and star forward Anthony Starks, and a goal from winger Herbert Tullock, Rovers won that historic game 8-2.

Rovers performances that season were little short of extraordinary. For the greater part of the previous two seasons they had played against second XVs and friendly teams from fellow clubs of varying strengths, waiting until a place in the YSC became available. Yet, here they were, competing with, and often beating, the best teams in the county. Starting with that derby game, Rovers won 13 out of 18 matches, with one drawn, in a run that took them to 6 January. One of those wins was in the return derby fixture, at the Boulevard on Boxing Day, where Tullock’s try gave the Robins a 3-0 triumph and the first league derby double.

From mid-January though, the bubble burst rather, and the Robins won only two and drew two of the last six League games; then, following a win over the amateurs of Millom in the first round of the end-of-season Challenge Cup competition, they were beaten at Rochdale in the second round.

Notwithstanding that perhaps rather disappointing end to the season, it had been a fantastic effort by Albert Kemp and his players. It was success built on a strong pack of forwards; it was probably not pretty, but it was effective. Jack Rhodes, from Castleford, played in 30 of the 32 games, followed by fellow forwards John Stephenson (29) and George Fletcher (28). The diminutive centre Sam Morfitt, without doubt the club’s most talented player, made 26 appearances, in which he scored ten tries, that made him the club’s top try-scorer, followed by Tullock with eight. Successful goal kicks were at something of a premium – the Robins scored 47 tries and kicked only 24 goals – but the heavy ball and poor pitches militated against goal-kicking prolificacy.

In his annual report, secretary Charlie Savage praised the ‘feat of merit’ of finishing sixth in their first season in the YSC, particularly given the injuries to key players that resulted in a total of 43 players being called upon. He recorded that the turf on the ground had been re-laid and spectator accommodation increased; and that the club had held a match between A. Stark’s XV and A. Kemp’s XV to raise funds for the Fishing Fleet Disaster Fund. Savage also reflected that the club needed to address its’ growing debt, and to increase the depth of the playing strength, where the lack of adequate reserves had cost some games.

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