Tony Smith's side are enjoying a two-week break but it is a busy time for Hull KR off the field.

The transfer market is now open and Rovers are already talking to potential signings, while the club are gearing up for the return of fans at the end of this month.

KR reporter James O'Brien caught up with chief executive Paul Lakin on Friday to find out the latest from Craven Park.

Here is everything he said on recruitment and retention, the stadium purchase, potential investment, the rebrand and more.

It’s a busy time now we’re into May – is the priority retention first or is it all systems go on recruitment too?

It’s both. They run in parallel with each other.

First of all, we are in the market recruitment wise in May which is probably the first time this club has been in the market seriously for many a year. That’s a real positive.

We’re at a stage where the best out-of-contract players are available and we want to compete toe to toe with all the other clubs in that market place.

I personally am really determined for us to kick on recruitment wise and look to attract the very best talent we can.

To do that, now is the time to be talking to players and that’s exactly what we’re doing.

I’m happy to be going toe to toe with everybody and let’s see what happens.

In terms of retention, that’s equally as important. We’ve got a lot of good players out of contract at the end of this season.

That’s obviously Tony’s call and we talk every day or every other day in terms of the ever-evolving situation both on the recruitment side and his thoughts on where we’re at with certain players on the retention side.

We have a plan and we’re very clear on where we’re at with everything. We’re talking to a few players now in terms of retention. Like all clubs you have your priorities and we’re tackling those at the moment. Then we’ll be looking to talk to more of the players as the weeks move on.

With recruitment is it a case of laying the groundwork at this stage and then firming things up when the 2022 picture becomes clearer?

To a certain extent but I’d like to think we’ve already laid the groundwork through a few of our conversations. That is a really, really important part of ourselves looking to compete with the clubs at the top end of the table.

It’s about selling our story. We genuinely believe that we are on an upward trajectory and can go on a journey with a group of players.

The mere fact that we’re talking in May now when we haven’t before hopefully emphasises our optimism that we’ll be in Super League going forward.

Laying the groundwork is a really important thing. The best out-of-contract players have options which means you have to lay your own groundwork.

In terms of targets, can fans expect the same calibre as the 2021 recruits?

We’d certainly hope so. When I arrived I said there needed to be a lot more focus on recruitment on a daily and week-to-week basis. I think as a team of three – Tony, Danny (McGuire) and myself – we absolutely do that now.

I feel a lot more confident that we’re aware of the whole picture across the sport in terms of availability, future availability and potential movements at other clubs.

We’re very clear on our own retention strategy and very clear on our academy and potential players that we could move up into first-team training, which is very important.

We’ve got the whole picture now and without that you can’t recruit with great confidence. Knowing the full picture means we’ll be able to continue to recruit as strongly as we possibly can.

Danny McGuire is Hull KR's head of recruitment as well as assistant coach
Danny McGuire is Hull KR's head of recruitment as well as assistant coach

From your early conversations, are you sensing a shift in the way the club is being viewed from the outside?

I am a little yes, which is interesting. It’s almost like there’s another player in the market as in a club. That excites me.

With the greatest respect to every club, I don’t really care. It’s about what we can do.

I have sensed a little shift. It’s interesting times.

We’ve reported the Toby King interest – is that the kind of player you’re looking at?

Yes. Being competitive and being in the market place for that quality of player, it may take time for such a player to come across. Time will tell.

But if you’re not in that market place, you’re never going to get them. Hopefully we can attract one or two and build from there.

Hopefully it’ll be for next season. If it’s not, the season after.

Let’s hope we can do that. That’s the intention.

On retention, you have 14 players out of contract and also have to make a decision on Muizz Mustapha – changes seem inevitable but are you looking to avoid a high turnover?

I think our contracted players will determine that. One of the reasons we have a lot of short-term contracts is to be able to show Tony and the coaching staff that they need to be retained in the squad for next year.

It’s Tony’s intention to reward those that do the business on the pitch. It’s a process that will take care of itself over the next two or three months.

But as we’ve seen already with Jez (Litten) being rewarded with a four-year contract, if we think people have got a long-term future at the club we’ll reward them accordingly.

Four overseas players are off contract and if you want to bring anybody in from the NRL you’ll have to let at least one of those guys go – how difficult is it to manage that quota?

It is difficult. First of all you need to identify the positions where the quota market can strengthen you in areas perhaps the UK market can’t.

Where we’re at at the moment in terms of quota is we’re completely open minded. From our perspective it’s a little bit early to be looking at the overseas market. In May, we’re concentrating very much on the UK market.

Our quota players who are out of contract have every chance of having their deals extended if they do it on the pitch, same as the UK boys.

It’s difficult. It genuinely is a moving feast on a week-to-week basis, which is why it’s so important that we talk all the time and understand exactly where we are on a week-to-week basis.

I could say something today that could completely change in two weeks’ time. The only way to manage that is to be on top of it on a daily basis and I think we are.

What’s the latest on George Lawler’s future?

We made a long-term and significantly improved contract offer to George that would have included a testimonial.

I sat down personally with George and had a real good chat with him. The upshot of it is he's been here six years and he wants a new challenge.

He will be moving on at the end of the season. But we're only five games into this season and George will give it everything.

At the end of the season we'll wish him the very best of luck with whatever new challenge he takes on.

We move on. We've given him a really good offer but he wants a new challenge. That's absolutely his prerogative.

The real positive for ourselves is that we know now and we're in the market now. It's something we didn't want to linger on and it’s something George didn't want to linger on.

We're in a good place in terms of clarity and that position will go into our recruitment slots.

From your perspective, are you happy with everything the club have done to keep him?

George has got every right to want to look elsewhere and that’s what he wants to do.

We as a club have offered a really strong contract with the opportunity of a testimonial at the end of it.

From our point of view, we couldn’t have done any more. The conversations have been really good with George.

For his own reasons, he wants to move on to a new challenge and he will move on with our good wishes. He wants to give it everything this season.

There’s been talk about building the team around homegrown players like George so does losing him represent a blow?

We obviously wanted to keep George and that’s why we offered him the contract we did.

I wouldn’t see it as a huge blow because you can’t keep everybody. It’s foolish to think that you can.

We’ll be able to keep far more than we lose. It’s a personal decision by George and there’s nothing we could do about that. He goes with our best wishes.

You can’t win them all. That’s sport for you. We’ll be retaining plenty and have got some great kids coming through the academy.

I’m here for a medium to long-term project and we’ve only just started. We’re genuinely excited about the future.

In terms of the rest of the off-contract players, are you close to finalising any extensions?

Yes. We’re talking to players as and when Tony’s happy for us to do that. We’re ticking them off as we go along.

Shaun Kenny-Dowall celebrates his try
Shaun Kenny-Dowall celebrates his try

Does the reduced TV deal impact your future planning?

No it doesn’t because we anticipated that as I arrived so put together a three-year plan factoring in a reduction.

The reduction has come in there or thereabouts to what we anticipated so it’s not impacted upon us really.

On the field, are you encouraged by the team’s start?

We are encouraged by our start. I think Tony would probably say, the first 25 minutes of the Catalans game and the last 20 minutes of the Warrington game are the only times we haven’t been really competitive.

We have been encouraged. I was looking for progress this year. It’s only been five games but I think most people would see we are doing exactly that – making progress.

How much of a boost will the return of fans give the club on and off the field?

Huge, huge. As a club we thrive on our home support and our following for the away games, but particularly our home support.

In terms of the mentality of the players, they’re desperate to have the fans in the stadium. Some of our new recruits from last year have never experienced the East Stand, for example, roaring them on.

They’ve spoken to some of the boys that have been around and they’re excited to get that feeling.

It’s not long now and we can’t wait for them to be back.

In terms of the ballot, how many applications did you receive for each game?

We can get in just shy of 4,000. We opened it up to priority one and then included priority two which was capped at about 4,500 to start with.

We’re just going through finalising the applications and the bubbles at present but we’re confident we’ll be able to get at least 95 per cent of all applicants in.

We’re really happy with that and that’s been greatly assisted by the temporary stand.

That’s coming together nicely and people will hear on that very soon. We’re confident 95 per cent will get in for both games.

The new screen is in place as well as the new stand so it’s coming together isn’t it in terms of the preparations for the fans coming back?

It is coming together. On a commercial level we’ve got pitchside LEDs this year for the first time, the big screen and that all brings in vital increased revenue which is really important to us.

We’re planning initially for the next three years and have planned for an increase in commercial income.

We’re really happy where we are at the moment with it.

Ryan Hall scores his 200th Super League try against former club Leeds Rhinos.
Ryan Hall scores his 200th Super League try against former club Leeds Rhinos.

There will be a few changes for fans such as digital ticketing – how that’s going and is it a tricky process?

It is a tricky process. There were understandable initial concerns from a small minority of our fanbase. I completely understand that some people don’t have an email or don’t feel they’ve got a mobile phone that’s suitable for the Q codes.

We’re in a good place now. I understand the initial concerns because it’s a change and a lot of people don’t like change.

If anybody still has concerns, they can pop into our store and we’ll help them. It’s literally a one-minute process.

Naturally there’s going to be some changes in terms of the direction of travel of the public within the stadium for the Leigh and Salford games with the Covid restrictions but we’ve had time to plan for it so I’m sure we’ll be fine.

On to the stadium purchase, how are those discussions progressing?

The heads of terms are all finalised and signed off which is really, really good news. That’s for the stadium and the land around the stadium.

The land around the stadium has been out for public consultation over a six-week period so we’re just getting feedback from that. There’s no real red flags at the moment as far as we know.

We’re going to a full contract stage which we hope will take around eight weeks. If that is the case then hopefully we’ll be able to announce the purchase of the stadium and surrounding land.

Has there been any progress on bringing in additional investment?

No, is the honest answer. I’m due to have a call on that soon to see where we’re at.

Momentum has slowed a little bit in the last couple of months, if I’m honest. But I still feel real positive about it, I genuinely do.

On reflection we probably went out to market a little bit too early when I’d just arrived and we were in the midst of Covid.

We’ve given ourselves a year to see where we are in a year’s time so we’ve got plenty of time yet.

Neil Hudgell at Hull College Craven Park
Neil Hudgell at Hull College Craven Park

We’ll see where we are with the discussions in the next couple of weeks. We have had some good discussions and continue to have some good interest, we just need to try take that interest to the next level.

That’s what the momentum has really slowed down on – taking it to the next level after initial discussions.

I’m hopeful we’ll be able to do that in the next couple of months.

What’s Neil Hudgell’s intention? Will he retain a stake?

That is the intention but it will all depend on who comes forward and what the offer is.

Neil is open minded. He owns the club, he loves the club and our first choice is definitely for investment to support Neil and the club.

But if someone comes in with an outstanding offer for lock, stock and barrel of the club then that’s Neil choice and a decision for him to make at the time.

But at the moment the thinking is it will be to support Neil with investment.

He’s said previously that he’s happy to support the club for as long as it takes – is that still the case?

Absolutely.

Finally, we touched on a potential rebrand last time – what stage is that at?

We’ve done a lot of work behind the scenes on the rebrand and are really excited about where it could potentially go.

We’re in a really good place with it, we feel. It’s a big thing for us as a club so we’re speaking to a lot of people about it, for feedback and advice.

The feedback from supporters we’ve spoken to so far have been overwhelmingly positive with an acknowledgement we need to evolve the brand if it’s going to be fit for purpose in the digital world.

More will come out about it as and when we feel it’s right to progress further.