Tony Smith insists Hull KR remain on the right track despite seeing his team lose to Catalans Dragons for the second week running.
Rovers were narrowly beaten by the Dragons in Perpignan nine days ago but they had reasons for optimism backed by an unrestricted crowd for the first time in almost 18 months.
It was not to be on their return to Craven Park, though, as Catalans secured a deserved 23-16 win, their 12th in a row in Super League.
The Robins held their own for long periods but were ultimately worn down by the battle-hardened Dragons.
“I’m not saying we’ve come a long way, but we’re coming a long way,” Smith said.
“We’re competing with the top of the league there and, a couple of years ago, had we lost to the best team in the competition, we probably would have said ‘well, we had a good crack at it’.
“But there is a different disappointment now and we go into every game feeling we have a chance. I can’t knock my boys’ efforts; they were terrific in many ways.
“We’re not perfect yet – by a long shot – but each time I challenge them, they challenge each other.
“We had more grit tonight about our goal-line defence and made them work hard for their points.”
Catalans head coach Steve McNamara revealed afterwards that Sam Tomkins nearly missed the trip to be with his heavily pregnant wife but he got the green light to travel and played a starring role, clinching the win for his side with a late try.
Smith felt the irrepressible full-back was the difference between the sides.
“He’s special,” said Smith.
“Most weeks if you throw Sam Tomkins into two close teams then he can do something.
“He came up with some special plays tonight.”
Adam Quinlan (1) of Hull KR is congratulated by Greg Minikin (3) of Hull KR
(Image: David Greaves/News Images)
It was only KR’s second game in six weeks and it showed at times as they struggled to fire in attack.
Rovers were dogged in defence and the players were feeling the effects of their efforts at full-time, with Smith revealing two-try Adam Quinlan is managing a troublesome shoulder issue.
“We’ve got a few bumps and bruises,” said Smith.
“We’ve got to check out a couple of people in the morning and in the next couple of days.
“Quinny has probably popped a shoulder for about the third or fourth time this year in that game.
“So we’ve got to consider him and he’s got to consider him at some stage.
“Hopefully we can get him right and strap him up so it’s not popping out and popping back in.
“He’s a tough little nut to crack. I thought he was really good tonight.”