200 Club – No. 33 – J.R ‘Bob’ Wilkinson

Category: Heritage

200 Club – No. 33 – J.R ‘Bob’ Wilkinson

Along with his fellow prop-forward and namesake, Bob Wilkinson was one of the cornerstones of the great Robins side of the early and mid-1920s. 

Whilst Jack was predominantly a physical player who did not shy away from the ‘rough stuff’, Bob, was the more comfortable of the two with ball in hand. Slightly taller and slimmer than Jack, Bob was still described as ‘sturdy’ who ‘never shirked the hard graft’ and was ‘as hard as nails’. But, as an energetic player who always wanted to be in the thick of the action; he enjoyed getting involved in handling moves and regularly made openings for his team-mates. It was in the latter capacity that he was described in the Hull Daily Mail back in 1924 as ‘a great pivot’ – a term rarely heard in those long-gone days. 

Bob made a try-scoring debut in a 13-4 home win over York on 13 March 1920, playing in the last six games of that first full season after World War I. That season was not a successful one, Rovers finishing in 19th place out of 25 clubs. No-one could have predicted the dramatic change in fortunes that was to take place in 1920/21, when Rovers finished top of the table for the first time, won their first silverware, the Yorkshire Cup, and reached the end-of-season finale, the Championship final – the equivalent of today’s Grand Final. Bob Wilkinson played a leading part in these successes, playing in 36 of the 39 games in his first full season – only the great skipper of the day, Arthur Moore, played more games in the forwards. 

Although Rovers failed to replicate the 1920/21 successes in the following season, it was still a fine campaign for Bob Wilkinson, who had by the end of it made 81 appearances since his debut and had missed only eight games in over two seasons – some achievement for a front -row forward in those days. But he could not escape injury forever, and after having the honour of playing in the first competitive game at Craven Park in September 1922, he missed 12 games in 1922/23 thanks to two short spells on the sidelines. But returning to the side in mid-February, Bob was back to his best in the ten-match winning run that swept Rovers to a 15-5 win over Huddersfield in the 1923 Championship final.  

Having missed only two games up to that point in the 1923/24 season, Bob Wilkinson was injured at Wakefield on 5 January, and missed the remainder of the campaign. Back to play a full part in the 1924/25 season; after missing the first four games, Bob missed only four more as the Robins finished in second place in the league and reached both Challenge Cup and Championship finals. Unfortunately for him, after a 16-3 loss to Oldham in the Challenge Cup final, Bob was one of three players to pay the price and missed out on a second Championship final win. 

Rovers struggled to repeat their successes over the next three seasons, achieving sixth place in the first two before dropping to 13th in 1927/28. Bob Wilkinson remained a first-choice selection at prop throughout these three campaigns, indeed in 1926/27 he missed only one game. But the end of Bob Wilkinson’s Rovers career came quickly after that though – he played in only his third game of the 1928/29 season in a 13-4 defeat at Huddersfield in November, and it proved to be his last first team appearance for the club. By coincidence, his long-standing fellow prop Jack Wilkinson, also made his final bow in the same game. 

Bob Wilkinson made 273 appearances for Hull KR, scoring eight tries. His name will always be associated with the ‘panzer pack’ upon which the 1920s successes were so largely based, and as a prominent member of that pack, he played a key role in Rovers first era of success. Both Wilkinsons were given free transfers at the end of November 1928 in recognition of their great service to the club.    

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