Hull KR's Sandercock faces make-or-break March
CIRCLED in Hull KR coach Craig Sandercock's diary is a date with destiny at the end of next month.
Usually, for whoever is in the role of the Robins coach, it is a big date with local rivals Hull FC for the Good Friday derby.
But for the under-pressure Aussie, it is a meeting scheduled with his board which is probably causing most concern.
Chairman Neil Hudgell said at the start of this season that his coach's future at the club would be reviewed at Easter.
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And with just two wins in his last 13 games, Sandercock is in danger of entering that meeting with little supporting evidence to be granted more time at the helm.
The coach's current two-year deal runs out at the end of the season.
At the start of the campaign the question appeared to be whether he would get another.
Today, following a dreadful start to his second year in charge, whether he'll see out his original deal now looks to be the matter of debate.
Sunday's staggering collapse at Salford brought a new level of criticism from the terraces.
The patience of Rovers' fans is running thinner with every new defeat and, with only two wins in the last eight months – both against Widnes, that is not a surprise.
It all points to five massive games in the next month for the 43-year-old to finally get it right at the Robins.
That spell starts with a clash with Warrington on Sunday, and ends with a Good Friday trip to the KC Stadium, a game which could well have more than two Super League points riding on it for the KR coach.
In between come trips to London and Bradford, with a home clash with Castleford completing the set.
Sandercock remains adamant he can turns things around, given time and a full squad.
And he must enter this period knowing at least three wins are needed before that big meeting with the board.
Sunday's collapse, when they lost the game having led 34-14 with half an hour to go, has already seen some call for change.
Radio phone-ins afterwards brought calls for the axe to fall, and whilst they may be harsh so early in the season, they reflect the growing frustration on the terraces.
Sandercock was at a loss to explain why Rovers had capitulated so badly, but the former teacher must start finding answers, and quick.
Pointing to injuries and refereeing decisions will no longer wash.
While they are only two points behind Leeds in sixth place, Rovers look nothing look like a side capable of achieving a top-eight finish.
Because although they are Super League's top scorers, all their ability and flair with the ball in hand is being completely undermined by a poor defence and woeful discipline.
They are conceding an average of 31 points a game and, when you have to score at least six tries and five conversions to have a chance of winning, something drastic needs changing.
In truth, Sandercock has also been badly let down by his players.
Experienced players are making errors, conceding penalties, and in total they have slipped off 100 tackles so far this season.
That is simply not acceptable, and Sandercock deserves better.
But whilst questions must be asked of their desire and commitment, the coach must too look at his own ability to motivate too.
Only once in the last 13 matches have Rovers managed to keep a side to 18 points or less.
Much has been made about how close many games have been that Rovers have lost.
Sunday was their ninth defeat by six points or less in the last 14 they have played.
But that loss was the perfect example of how statistics can be used to paint a more positive picture – the 'if only' defence.
The simple reality is, Salford should never have got back in sight of a victory on Sunday, never mind walked away with two points.
Rovers simply needed to see out their sets and kick deep in Salford's half to make them go 80 or 90 metres to score.
Basics let them down, and that has been a recurring theme.
That defeat at Salford must act as the wake-up call both Sandercock and his players have needed.
Now is the time for the players to show they back their coach by playing to their best, just as the KR side did when Justin Morgan came under pressure in his last season in charge.
The season isn't a write off just yet, but over the coming month, the former teacher faces the biggest examination of his coaching career to date.
Whether he passes depends on his players, and five massive matches.