Thursday 10 March saw Hull FC unceremoniously thumped by Widnes Vikings at the Select Security Stadium, but something else happened there that night that was maybe of even greater significance.
After their unquestionably worst performance of the season so far, the wounded players from the KC Stadium locked the door of the changing room they occupied and, with no coaching staff present, had a meeting about what had just happened.
The players knew they had let themselves, the coaches, the directors, the club and the supporters down badly in a match everybody expected them to at least be competitive in, many, including myself, expected them to win.
What was said in that changing room that evening can only be speculated about which isn’t my style so I’ll leave it up to you to decide what you think might have been said, the one thing I will say is, whatever was said in there, it definitely worked.
At the time Widnes coach Denis Betts said he would never be locked out of his team’s changing room under any circumstances and he proceeded to express his disdain at the Hull FC players who took matters into their own hands.
Since that night the Airlie Birds have gone on a winning run, 4 games, 4 wins seems a pretty powerful argument in favour of what the Hull players did, especially considering this has taken in the notoriously busy Easter weekend.
First up after that night for the then much maligned black and whites was a home game against Wakefield Trinity Wildcats with Chris Chester newly installed as coach a few days before, they were dispatched 22-4 without ever really looking like a risk.
Good Friday duly arrived and Lee Radford’s men traveled to their nearest and dearest Hull KR, with nearly an hour gone in the derby it looked like maybe the win against the Wildcats was just a false dawn as the Robins took a seemingly unassailable 20-0 lead.
What happened in the last 22 minutes of that derby will go down in Hull FC folklore as they turned the match on its head with four tries and three goals to win having scored at a rate of a point a minute to leave Rovers feeling like they’d been ambushed and robbed of two league points and those all important bragging rights.
Next up saw then unbeaten Super League leaders Warrington Wolves roll into town, with former favourites Tom Lineham and Joe Westerman in their ranks, playing against a Hull side with more than half their expected match day squad sat in the stands.
Surely against such a depleted side the Wolves, conquerors of Widnes on Good Friday, would have little trouble beating a side missing the likes of Frank Pritchard, Sika Manu, Jordan Thompson, Carlos Tuimavave, Leon Pryce, Fetuli Talanoa, Mahe Fonua, Jack Logan and Mark Minichiello!
Another lead was taken by the opposition as the Wolves circled and went into half time with a 20-10 scoreline thanks to tries for the likes of Lineham, Sandow, Penny and Atkins, surely the leaders would press home their advantage in the second half, wouldn’t they?
The answer to that was an emphatic NO WAY! With tries in the first half from Marc Sneyd and Jamie Shaul the black and whites were just warming up, signalling their intent if you wish! The second half brought tries for Kirk Yeaman sandwiched between two for Curtis Naughton and with that the Wolves unbeaten start was brought to its end.
Another game, the 3rd in eight days, another comeback, St. Helens at Langtree Park were seemingly on their way to victory, 16-6 ahead, but the comeback kings were in no mood to finish their post-dressing room-gate recovery.
The same double act on the left hand side produced tries again, before a 45 metre drop goal with four minutes left put paid to the Saints in similarly dramatic fashion as the late tries against the Robins and the Wolves.
Question for Denis Betts, is a players only meeting in a changing room such a bad idea after all?
Hull FC proved they have sheer guts and determination to claim the first derby bragging rights of the Super League season in thrilling fashion at the KC Lightstream Stadium.
Being 20 points down after nearly an hour the men from the KC Stadium produced a comeback some would have thought impossible in the pressure cooker that is the Hull Derby.
Full-Back Jamie Shaul was the main catalyst with a 60 meter try and then a fabulous kick-return which set up the position for a try by Vice-Captain Danny Houghton five minutes later.
Coach Lee Radford brought Mahe Fonua back into the starting 13 as the former Melbourne Storm man returned from injury that had kept him out since his debut on the opening weekend of the season.
Frank Pritchard was restored to the starting line-up as well after starting from the bench against Wakefield Trinity Wildcats and former Rovers prop Liam Watts came back into the starting side as well as Josh Bowden dropped to the bench.
Feka Palea’aesina was brought into the 17 for his first appearance of the season for the black and whites as Sika Manu dropped out for the first time in his debut season.
The first drama came within the opening minute as Josh Mantellato returned a deep kick from Marc Sneyd and appeared to drop the ball in the tackle which Carlos Tuimavave pounced on to score only to be controversially denied by video referee James Child.
The Robins were seeing most of the ball and territory in the early stages but a resilient defence from the black and whites was continually keeping them out with some superb scrambling.
The home side took the lead after 13 minutes as Ryan Shaw crossed in the right corner after a peach of a pass from Ken Sio, Mantellato was off target with the touchline conversion attempt.
Hull were able to build sustained pressure for the first time on the home line with a penalty and then forced a goal line drop out but, after the tackle count had been wiped down a knock on by Watts relieved the pressure for the Robins.
Big hits were flying in with great regularity as Scott Taylor and Ben Cockayne were making themselves felt by their opposition on both sides with some particularly fearsome hits.
Hull were again denied by the video referee, correctly this time, as Danny Washbrook touched down after competing for a Sneyd kick with Cockayne and knocking on.
Hull then tried to be too elaborate with a back-flip pass which was intercepted by Sio who went 60 meters after 30 minutes, Mantellato was successful with the conversion this time to make it a ten point lead for the home side.
Hull were being their own worst enemies with some stupid mistakes from forcing passes that weren’t on or trying too hard when they got near the home side’s line.
Mantellato was presented with a penalty bang in front of the posts and duly obliged to stretch their lead to 12 points with two minutes to go to half-time.
A scrappy first half was then brought to a close as Rovers hooker John Boudebza took a pathetic swan dive from a nothing shoulder charge which ignited a bit of fisticuffs and gave the home side a penalty which led to nothing after the hooter had sounded.
The Robins got the rub of the green early in the second half being given a harsh penalty after losing the ball at the first tackle.
The Airlie Birds first push at the home line came from a penalty but a forward pass from Sneyd brought the chance to an end frustratingly.
Another attack by Hull asked more questions of the Robins defence but again the home side stood firm until Mantellato was able to pouch a last tackle kick from Danny Houghton.
Video referee Child was called upon again as Iain Thornley somehow held off two defenders to role over the line after 51 minutes to be awarded the try, Mantellato was on target with the conversion from wide out.
Another penalty came to the home side from a high tackle on talismanic scrum-half Albert Kelly, Mantellato made it a 20 point lead for them.
A short kick off from the Airlie Birds presented the home side with more possession and territory but this time a knock-on stopped their momentum.
Just as the Robins were contemplating a first nilling of their great rivals in the Super League era the black and whites finally got on the scoreboard with a beautiful offload inside by Kirk Yeaman putting full-back Jamie Shaul away down the left to go 60 meters on the hour, Marc Sneyd added the extras from wide out.
A superb flowing move involving eight passes then put Houghton over beside the posts to establish there was still a game to be played, Sneyd then added the conversion to bring Hull back within eight points of their neighbours.
Hull were suddenly in the driving seat as the seesaw nature of the game afforded them some territory and possession at last which was being exploited by some frantic attacking moves and passing.
Another penalty then saw Houghton put Fonua over with nine minutes remaining to put them back within one score, Sneyd was wide with the conversion but from a seemingly hopeless position the black and whites had all the momentum at 20-16.
In an unbelievable turnaround Steve Michaels then brought the Airlie Birds level as Fonua put him away down the outside and the Australian calmly rounded Cockayne to score with five minutes left to play, Sneyd gave the Airlie Birds a two point lead with the conversion.
The frantic pace of the game was suddenly stopped with less than two minutes left after an injury to Kirk Yeaman brought a stop to play.
Passionate defence from the black and whites then saw them close the match out to claim the unlikeliest of wins.
Penalties- Rovers 9 Hull 7
Goal Line Drop Outs- Rovers 2 Hull 0
Man of the Match: Jamie Shaul
Hull FC got their 2016 Super League campaign off to a winning start at the KC Stadium with a breathtaking attacking display against the big spenders from the AJ Bell stadium.
As shown in the recent pre season derby Hull had an attack that was far too hot for their latest opponents to handle and scored tries aplenty as the Red Devils defence was cut to pieces with embarrassing ease.
Lee Radford started with much the same 13 that started the pre season derby against Hull KR with the only change being the return of Fetuli Talanoa in place of Curtis Naughton.
Chris Green, Josh Bowden, Danny Washbrook and headline act Frank ‘The Tank’ Pritchard made up the bench.
Marc Sneyd kicked off against his old side and immediately the Red Devils were under pressure as they knocked on from the kick off and then conceded a penalty after the scrum but their defence held firm to keep the black and white’s out.
However the first try wasn’t long in coming as Danny Houghton made a superb break in midfield from inside his own half before sending Leon Pryce scampering in for the first try under the posts with less than five minutes on the clock, the conversion from Sneyd gave them a six point lead.
Salford soon started to pressure the home side as they made yards before a deft high kick from Michael Dobson went into touch just in front of the Hull try line, however indiscipline cost them another penalty which piggy backed Hul into the danger zone but the chance was wasted when Jamie Shaul knocked on.
After the next kick from Salford referee Kendall made a ridiculous call as they were allowed to steal the ball from Carlos Tuimavave in a two man tackle and then further forward a blatant forward pass to Josh Griffin saw the Salford winger race in unopposed and then level the scores with a majestic conversion after 13 minutes.
A penalty to the Red Devils then gave Dobson opportunity to put them deep in Hull territory but this time Hull’s defence held firm and then the temperature was raised as Pritchard took to the field for his Super League debut.
A rampaging run by Pritchard set up the position for another Hull attack and, after scrambling defence from the visitors, Houghton turned provider again with a delicious kick to the right corner which Mahe Fonua gobbled up to put Hull back in front after 19 minutes, unfortunately Sneyd was unable to add the extras from the touchline.
Hull attacked again down their right hand side and a high bomb by Pryce was dropped by full-back Gareth O’Brien giving Hull head and feed in the danger zone and then a beautiful pass from Scott Taylor put Jordan Thompson over under the posts, the conversion from Sneyd made it a 10 point lead with 12 minutes of the half remaining.
Within two minutes of that try Hull were over again as a beautiful move from right to left saw Tuimavave put Talanoa in at the left hand corner, this time Sneyd added the extras from the touchline to make it 22-6 to the Airlie Birds.
Hull were afforded another attacking opportunity after forcing a goal line drop out and a fantastic break from Pritchard saw the New Zealand legend hand on to his fellow countryman Tuimavave for the centre to take two men over the line with him with 34 minutes played, Sneyd was unable to add the conversion leaving Hull with a 20 point lead.
However for all their momentum Hull handed Salford an opportunity as they knocked on from the kick off and then gave away a soft penalty and then another which saw the visitors ramp up the pressure.
Then a knock on at an attempted interception gave the visitors more territory and possession with two minutes of the half left but eventually a nothing kick from Dobson went dead and gave Hull a deserved 20 meter restart.
Hull then saw out the remainder of the half with the only meaningful action being a kick that went dead before two tackles finished the half to a rousing round of applause from the Old Faithful.
Hull started the second half in much the same way as they played most of the first making big meters and looking determined to bully the visitors out of the game and another attack soon brought reward as Leon Pryce somehow got a miracle pass to Josh Bowden for the prop forward to crash over under the posts with three minutes of the half played, the conversion from Sneyd stretched the advantage to 26 points for the home side.
Another surge into the opposition half saw a knock on from Salford and from the resulting scrum a flip out the backdoor from Sika Manu put youngster Jack Logan over just three minutes later to give them a 30 point lead, however Sneyd was adjudged to have missed the conversion.
Another frantic attack saw Salford lose the ball 20 meters from their own line and a pick up, kick and chase and dive from Shaul saw the full-back grab the latest try after 54 minutes, the conversion from Sneyd made it a 42-6 scoreline in favour of the black and white’s.
Finally Salford were able to set-up another attacking chance as Shaul mistakenly stayed behind the goal line after catching a kick and was tackled in-goal forcing Hull to drop out from their own line and they took full advantage as Junior Sa’u crossed on 58 minutes, ex Hull KR player Dobson missed the conversion much to the delight of the home supporters.
Just as the Red Devils looked like pressuring Hull’s defence again their own indiscipline cost them again as they gave away another penalty however they were just able to hold them at bay this time when referee Kendall awarded them a scrum.
A penalty soon after that saw them set up camp in the Hull danger zone again but this time Hull’s well-drilled defence kept them out rather too easily and eventually Pritchard caught a token kick from Dobson in front of his own posts.
Salford captain and former FC player Tommy Lee was then sin-binned for his part in a large fracas with less than quarter of an hour remaining on the clock.
Salford then added another frustrating score after they were given a silly penalty and Dobson’s cut-out pass put Niall Evalds over in the corner, Griffin missed the touchline conversion with 10 minutes left.
Salford’s next set saw another break and again Sa’u followed up to cross the whitewash, this time Dobson added the extras to make it 42-20.
Hull had become far too sloppy and their next attack showed it as Talanoa was forced into touch far too easily, however the Red Devils seemed to have lost some momentum and their next attack resulted in a nothing kick which was knocked on.
Hull finally saw the match out as Sneyd put a kick into touch and there was no time to form the scrum.
Radford was unable to confirm whether Gareth Ellis will be available for next weeks trip to the Stade Gilbert Brutus to face Catalans Dragons but that should become clearer on maybe Monday or Tuesday.
The removal of Mahe Fonua and Sika Manu was seemingly precautionary.
Man of the Match: Danny Houghton
Penalties Hull 8 Salford 7
Goal Line Drop Out Hull 1 Salford 1
After two pre season games, one for a mostly youth team and one for the first team, Hull FC fans are understandably excited having seen them rack up an impressive 106 points in what were, after all, first hit-outs for the two contrasting teams employed against dual reg partners Doncaster and deadly local rivals Hull KR, but what exactly is different with the black and white’s compared to previous years?
The answer would appear to be, and genuinely is, quite simple because suddenly Lee Radford’s men have gone from a largely defensive unit that could be as miserly as Ebenezer Scrooge himself, to being an effervescent, exciting attacking side who have the players to cause mayhem in any defence in Super League.
Obviously the main evidence of this was in the Clive Sullivan Memorial Trophy match against their nearest and dearest at the KC Stadium, but looking at the game at Doncaster there was also much that showed a new attacking fluency in the Airlie Birds ranks, not the least of which was the hat-trick of young winger Callum Lancaster.
Concentrating however on the derby match, what seemed to strike most people was Hull’s enthusiasm going forward. The defence was still strong until the last few minutes, but Hull now appear to have put a threateningly organised attack along with it.
Last year the Airlie Birds were 2nd in the league for clean breaks, unfortunately their major failing was an inability to back those breaks up and turn them into tries, against the Robins however that was a problem that was ruthlessly put to bed as a rampant new-look Hull put them to the sword.
As the breaks kept coming so did the support play and, most importantly, the tries with destructive power, pace, imagination and guile all very much on display in a performance which belied the fact that it was the first hit out for most of them this year.
With a pack that carries genuine grunt, strength, power and considerable ball-handling skill as displayed already, a half-back pairing with handling, kicking and running ability, a back five with pace to burn, support play and try-scoring ability and all armed with a supporting cast of hungry and massively talented youth, it’s a combination that must have Lee Radford rubbing his hands with glee
A pack including the likes of Frank Pritchard, Gareth Ellis, Sika Manu, Mark Minichiello, Liam Watts, Scott Taylor, Jordan Thompson, Jordan Abdull, Danny Houghton, Josh Bowden and Chris Green, backed up by Jansin Turgut, Richard Whiting, Jack Downs, Brad Fash, Masimbaashe Matongo and Danny Washbrook will be the main part of any success the black and white’s have this year.
But just as important as that frightening pack will be the likes of Jamie Shaul, Carlos Tuimavave, Fetuli Talanoa, Mahe Fonua, Steve Michaels, Jack Logan, Lee Smith, Leon Pryce and Marc Sneyd who will have to take advantage of the holes that will be punched in several defensive lines throughout the season and being very ably backed up by Reece Dean, Callum Lancaster and Harry Tyson-Wilson etc.
With a squad like that 2016 could just be the year the transition comes to fruition.
It was only meant to be a ‘Friendly’ as Hull FC took on Hull KR in the traditional pre season Clive Sullivan memorial trophy game, but somebody forgot to tell the black and white’s squad that were on duty with a pack that bore a striking resemblance to a full Panzer Division with one particular Tank as its leader.
It all started so well for the Robins as they took the game to their neighbours and even had the temerity to take the lead with a try and goal from Josh Mantellato early on, but their joy was short lived as the Airlie Birds took full control.
Sika Manu started the alarm bells ringing as he swatted away three defenders with ease and crashed over far too easily and it didn’t take long for them to take the lead either as another new player Mahe Fonua was given far too much room on the right to get over in the corner, Marc Sneyd was having a good day with the boot as well as he dissected the posts from every which way all over the pitch.
At this point as well the Tank made his entrance and signaled his intent with his first charge which required the attention of no less than four defenders to eventually drag him down to the ground.
The team in blue and gold then dragged themselves back up off the floor and their former black and white brought them back within two points, but there and then the contest ended as the corks began to pop and the champagne rugby league started to flow through the team in black and white.
Frank the Tank made a break, a sublime offload to local lad Josh Bowden carried on the work as the prop resembled a half-back to dash through, and the greased lightning full-back Jamie Shaul was on hand to race over unopposed with Sneyd making it a two score lead with the boot.
Straight after that another debut maker Carlos Tuimavave got in on the act to scramble over on that lethal left hand side to just about put the match to bed and it was still the first half, then he engineered a try for Steve Michaels straight from the restart to finish the game as a contest without any shadow of a doubt, and still the successful conversions rained in from the boot of Sneyd.
With his trademark ‘Great big cheesy grin’ local lad Shaul made the half-time score look even more embarrassing. With a token white flag surely spiritually raised in resignation many of those in the North Stand must have been offering up prayers to a higher force or wishing the alarm clock would wake them up from this living nightmare.
But the Tank and his teammates were not done yet and the 2nd half started in much the same way as the first had ended, only this time insult was added to injury as a former Robin, on his debut also for the Airlie Birds, unceremoniously bashed his way through would-be tacklers for the try his performance surely deserved.
Next it was the turn of the Mini Tank as the Australian/Italian with a flare for cooking, turned up the heat to barge his way over as the black and white army edged ever closer to the half century with Sneyd keeping up his 100% record with the boot.
The half century was duly passed as Frank the Tank raced away down the left and put trialist Lee Smith through a gap as wide as the Humber Estuary and once again earn a chance for Sneyd to show his pinpoint accuracy from the touchline, but how fitting that it was an ex-Leeds player who had brought up the half century as just a small reminder to what happened to this opposition when they faced the Rhinos at Wembley a mere five months before.
The former Rhino, playing for a deal, then turned provider as Tuimavave crossed again and Sneyd, with 10 out of 10, ensured a record highest score in a Hull Derby was achieved and written into the record books.
The Robins seem to like collecting unwanted records these days, but what now for the black and white half of the next City of Culture? Top 4? Challenge Cup Glory? For now they’ll take the Clive Sullivan memorial trophy and their new Hull Derby record score and with their Panzers gunning their engines and their enthusiastic super-fast backs ready to pounce in the style demonstrated against their nearest and dearest it must be said Super League, you have been warned!!
Hull FC will hit the new Super League season with very much increased fire power after gathering some very impressive signings and an ever growing list of youth players coming through the ranks who have either already graced, or are expected to grace, Super League this year.
The marquee signing for the men from the KC Stadium is undoubtedly Frank ‘The Tank’ Pritchard, hence the tag line ‘Every Army Needs A Tank’ the 32 year old rugby league icon is sure to be a big cult hit with the Old Faithful and is a genuine coup for the competition as well as Hull.
But another very shrewd bit of business by coach Lee Radford could prove to be the signing of Sika Manu who was pinched by the black and white’s from under the noses of champions Leeds Rhinos as the lure of the strong history between the Airlie Birds and New Zealand proved stronger than Manu, and the Rhinos, could resist.
With NRL Grand Final and World Club Championship winner and Tongan international Mahe Fonua and former Junior Kiwis player Carlos Tuimavave joining the Polynesian contingent which already included Fetuli Talanoa and Feka Palea’aesina a strong bond has no doubt been formed which could prove vital to Hull’s hopes.
With top try scorer for them last season Tom Lineham, England player Joe Westerman (both Warrington) cult hero Jordan Rankin (Wests Tigers) and barnstorming prop Mickey Paea (Newcastle Knights) having departed Hull do have some rebuilding to do.
But Fonua is very much the sort of player who can blossom in Super League and fill the sizeable boots of Lineham, when a player can be seen teasing Greg Inglis before finally dotting the ball down for a try in the corner in the NRL you tend to realise you have got a cult player on your hands, and his defending is infinitely stronger than that of the flying pig which could also prove vital.
The protracted arrival of Scott Taylor has also seen Hull replace Paea with some more severe grunt that will help Hull bully teams more.
Last year Hull were 2nd in the table for clean breaks but one problem for them was an exasperating inability to finish off those breaks especially when Lineham was struggling for form or out of the team, the answers to that problem would appear to be Tuimavave, lightning fast full-back Jamie Shaul and jet-heeled youngster Jack Logan.
Halves Leon Pryce and Marc Sneyd will also have no shortage of competition from Tuimavave (signed as a Centre but who has played most of his rugby in the halves or at full-back) and youth players Reece Dean and Harry Tyson-Wilson who will start their season in the newly formed under 23s side.
Given the number 13 shirt people will expect teenage sensation Jordan Abdull to start at loose-forward, and against Salford Red Devils in their opening game he probably will, but don’t be surprised to see the rampaging Manu taking over that role against the more physical teams while Abdull will be employed with his kicking and ball-handling skills against the more defensive units.
Club Captain Gareth Ellis is expected move up to prop more this year and the established front row will be ably supported by the likes of Chris Green and Josh Bowden, whilst Richard Whiting, Jordan Thompson and club stalwart Kirk Yeaman will provide substantial support for an already frighteningly powerful looking back row that will also have Mark Minichiello in the mix.
Danny Washbrook returns to his old side so Vice-Captain Danny Houghton can maybe concentrate more on his attacking game rather than just being the tackling machine of the side.
Houghton, and Hull, should definitely benefit from this as his distribution and spark has seemed somewhat wayward in recent times due to the massive amount of energy he loses from repeatedly tackling to get his team out of scrapes that have sometimes been caused by his understandable errors, and those of his team-mates.
What will be expected of the black and white side of this divided city is open to debate with some experts expecting mid-table and a seven week hurrah in the Super 8s and at least one noted expert, Martyn Sadler, touting them for a possible top 4 finish as long as they keep the squad healthy.
Hull are the perennial sleeping-giant and the Old Faithful have had to endure many false dawns (I should know as a member of the Old Faithful) but with arguably the strongest pack in Super League, I certainly hope, it could be a very good year for the Airlie Birds.
I would say top 6 is where Hull should aim for, possibly higher, and don’t rule out a big run at the Challenge Cup if a bit of fortune favours them.
Hull FC supporter’s group FC Voices organised another fans forum on Monday evening which saw Hull FC owner Adam Pearson, head coach Lee Radford and new signings Mahe Fonua and Sika Manu on a panel to be grilled by supporters who were either present at the event at the New Walton Street Club or listening on BBC Radio Humberside.
Several laughs were caused by Radio Humberside sports reporter Gwilym Lloyd’s inability at different points to get Fonua’s name correct and representatives of FC Voices made sure the evening was a great success with their usual tireless efforts.
The panel fielded many questions about subjects such as the new signings and about former Super League Grand Final winner and Harry Sunderland Trophy winner Lee Smith training with the squad to allowing Joe Westerman and Tom Lineham to leave for Warrington Wolves and what is expected of front row players Scott Taylor, Danny Houghton and Liam Watts.
Afterwards Sika Manu said he’s “Very excited to be here, they’re a good bunch.”
He went on to say that he thinks Marc Sneyd is the most exciting young player at the club and Frank Pritchard will bring good experience and good leadership.
Asked how difficult it will be for him as a back rower to oust Club Captain Gareth Ellis and player of the year Mark Minichiello he replied: “That’ll be very difficult to do, Mark particularly played very well last season.”
He said the move over to England had gone smoothly and his partner will be arriving in the next few days and one thing that certainly won’t surprise is one of his main reasons for agreeing to move here, he said: “Hull FC’s reputation with kiwi players was a massive reason behind my decision to move here.”
Manu, Fonua and Radford then stayed on to sign autographs and have photos taken with supporters.
It was billed as the 150th anniversary year of Hull FC, despite the feeble attempt at billing it as the 15th anniversary by a small amount of fans from the other side of Hull, but while the Airlie Birds can point to clear progress on their dismal 2014 Super League campaign and the fact that they currently hold the bragging rights over their close neighbour’s Hull KR having won the derby series 2-1 and finished above them in the table the end of term report once again looks back at a very frustrating campaign when the sleeping giant failed to awaken from its slumbers.
It all started rather well as a black and white army converged on the birthplace of the game Huddersfield as a new look FC side started their campaign in emphatic fashion by inflicting an embarrassing defeat on the Giants who most experts expected to be genuine Grand Final contenders, nil-ling them in the process.
The next game saw a single point defeat to Warrington Wolves in Hull’s first home game of the season, despite that setback everything still looked very positive as Lee Radford’s men looked very competitive and able to handle the inevitable extra pressure that came with such a landmark season doubled with the start of a new experiment for the First Utility Super League with the tag line of “Every minute matters”.
The first alarm bells started to ring with a shock defeat at big spending Salford when the Red Devils found it far too easy to score points against a side who had only conceded one try in their opening two games, which was scored by the reigning Steve Prescott Man of Steel Daryl Clark.
Hull’s next game, at home against eventual treble winners Leeds Rhinos, almost encapsulated the Black and White’s season in 80 minutes, holding a deserved 12-0 lead at half time Hull were applauded off the pitch and seemingly back in the groove as they produced some of the best rugby they had played up to that point in the still fledgling season, what followed was frankly quite embarrassing as the Rhinos cut loose and scored 43 unanswered points too easily in the second 40 minutes.
Playing away to eventual Grand Finalists Wigan Warriors in their next game the Airlie Birds showed some genuine dogged determination, guts and pride but fell just short by a single point for the second time in the campaign, although a better more controlled pass in the last minute would surely have seen them gain the reward their efforts deserved as 2014 player of the year Fetuli Talanoa would surely have scored a match-winning try if the ball hadn’t flown into touch.
After that near miss at the DW Stadium Hull finally gave their fans something to shout about as Catalans Dragons were brushed aside far easier than the 11 point winning margin would seemingly suggest. Hull were then unlucky in defeat away to Castleford Tigers and then came the lowest point of the season without doubt as Hull KR breezed into the KC Stadium and left with the two points and bragging rights on offer far too easily as the Airlie Birds produced probably their worst performance of the season and almost gift-wrapped the game for Chris Chester’s side.
After that contemptuous low the Old Faithful still traveled in large numbers to the home of reigning champions St. Helens in the first game of the now annual Steve Prescott Memorial Trophy and a stunning comeback that few would have thought possible at the start of the Easter Weekend was capped by one of the tries of the season from full-back Jamie Shaul as Hull banished the memories of the previous Thursday night with a stirring 20-28 victory at Langtree Park.
Next up for the Airlie Birds was a home game against Widnes Vikings, on that evening Tom Lineham proved once again what a potent finisher he is with a hat-trick including two 95 meter interception tries, after that the Airlie Birds hit the road to Wembley dispensing of Sheffield Eagles at Bramall Lane in comfortable, if not entirely convincing, fashion before returning to Super League matters with a truly dismal performance against Huddersfield Giants in which Hull only just avoided the ignominy that they inflicted on the Giants on the opening weekend with a very late try by Steve Michaels.
The following week was quite a comedy with next opponents Salford Red Devils asking the Airlie Birds to postpone the game due to the injury and suspension crisis they were going through which Hull, understandably, flatly refused so the game went ahead as scheduled, despite their pleas and protestations the team built expensively by Dr Marwan Koukash arrived much healthier than first envisaged, sporting seven internationals, a spirited performance almost saw them through, but once again a gutsy comeback which was crowned by an individual barnstorming try by Setaimata Sa saw Hull eek out a victory that would have been predicted.
Lee Radford then told his side to take off the shackles and start to attack with more purpose, this appeared to be going slightly wrong for Hull in the next game away to Warrington Wolves but, yet again, Hull showed a spirit that proved they never knew when they were beaten as they came from 10 points behind in the last 10 minutes to grab a priceless victory with a drop goal from Marc Sneyd with just three seconds remaining on the clock to send the Old Faithful into very noisy raptures and gain sweet revenge for their single point defeat earlier in the year.
Castleford Tigers were the visitors to the KC Stadium in the 6th round of the Ladbrokes Challenge Cup and a hat-trick from new young signing Curtis Naughton saw the previous years beaten finalists put to the sword in sizzling fashion as more evidence of Hull taking off the shackles was put on full display.
However the positive mood that was sweeping the team and supporters was soon dampened down as Saints came to town and won an arm wrestle game although not by enough to rob Hull of the Steve Prescott Memorial Trophy.
Magic Weekend, however, delivered another high note as close neighbours Hull KR, holding smug bragging rights since the Easter derby, were taught a very harsh lesson as they were thoroughly whipped by an arrogant Hull in record fashion as they ran up a record 46 points in a competitive derby topping the 44 points they had hit Rovers with in 2008, at this point I suppose for the benefit of certain friends that Rovers do still hold the record for the biggest winning margin by 36 points in 2007.
The following week saw Hull travel to Widnes for what was seen as a defining match as both sides were competing for the coveted Super 8s spot with just 1 league point separating them, with the Vikings storming into a 12 point lead it was fast starting to look like a forlorn journey for Hull, however another Tom Lineham hat-trick allied with a try from Leon Pryce and a delicious kick and gather try by Marc Sneyd swept Hull home to a convincing victory.
Unfortunately after that success Hull’s season began to almost implode with defeats away to Catalans Dragons and Leeds before being unceremoniously dumped out of the cup by the Rhinos at the KC Stadium and then an embarrassing defeat at basement side Wakefield Trinity Wildcats, in this topsy turvy season however the Black and White’s rallied once again and, in their second double header, they gained revenge over the Wildcats, by now being coached by former Hull coach Brian Smith, with a victory which maybe wasn’t really deserved but, after a three game losing streak, it was a priceless victory which breathed much needed new life into a faltering season.
The top 8 cause was then further aided with another gutsy comeback victory at the KC Stadium against Castleford Tigers as the Tigers were given little choice by the intensity of Hull’s performance but to surrender an eight point half time advantage.
The game that mattered most though was taking place in front of the Sky cameras the following Friday at the KC Lightstream Stadium as the biggest rivalry in Super League was pushed to the forefront with the promise of victory holding the key to the door of the much vaunted Super 8s and defeat promised the ignominy of a place in the dreaded Middle 8s and the knowledge that it was your closest rivals who would have put you there.
Everything seemed to be going wrong in the derby match, losing their two most influential players Leon Pryce and captain Gareth Ellis to injury in the heat of the battle in the first half, trailing 12-4 when they lost Ellis to a snapped Achilles Hull looked in desperate trouble on a ground where only Leeds and Castleford had previously triumphed this season, but that fast growing resolve was soon on show again as Hull out-fought and out-thought their nearest and dearest enemies to take charge with another stirring comeback which saw them take the lead by half time and then produce a masterclass in how to control an opponent and a game at arms length to wrap up the points, the bragging rights and the place in the Super 8s in one evenings work which led to jubilant celebrations among the Old Faithful.
With so much attention and emphasis having been placed on the derby match it was probably not a surprise that the first phase of the season for Hull ended with a whimper as Wigan Warriors arrived at the KC Stadium and inflicted a heavy defeat on the home side.
The Super 8s was something of an anti-climax for the Airlie Birds due to the fact that they were playing teams who were in some cases superior sides who were always expected to be pushing for the semi-finals and a trip to Old Trafford and the Grand Final, having started brightly away to Castleford with two early tries the old frailties once again took over and Hull slipped to an unfortunate defeat but nobody could really say the Tigers didn’t deserve their victory.
The following week Hull again traveled to the home of the defending champions and, as on Easter Monday, Saints were ambushed by yet another comeback, including another hat-trick by Curtis Naughton, and soundly beaten 22-32.
The epitaph on this season will show that Hull lost all of their last 5 games, however it must be said that is far from the end story under the circumstances. With a growing injury list which included Gareth Ellis, Leon Pryce, Josh Bowden, Chris Green, Steve Michaels, Jordan Thompson, Setaimata Sa, Joe Westerman, Kirk Yeaman, Fetuli Talanoa and Dean Hadley for at least some, if not all, their Super 8s games Hull could possibly have been excused for asking to delay some games due to their unprecedented injury crisis, however no such Salford-like request was forthcoming, or even entertained, by the Black and White’s as they put their trust in youth.
A week before their Wembley date against Hull KR, Leeds rolled into town and rested some stars although not many as they still had Challenge Cup Final places up for grabs, Hull had some senior stars playing, such as new joint-players of the year Mark Minichiello and Liam Watts, but there was also more than just a smattering of under 19s players present in the match-day squad and, indeed, the 17 man match team, the Rhinos inevitably won but, according to Rhinos coach Brian McDermott afterwards, only because they got a few opportunities that only men like Ryan Hall and Rob Burrow could finish despite their inability in certain quarters to breakdown an enthusiastic Hull side.
Unfortunately the down side to using lots of youth is sometimes it breeds inconsistency and so it proved as Warrington Wolves were handed the points on a plate at the Halliwell Jones Stadium two weeks later, more injuries ensued in that game and Hull were only able to name 18 men instead of the regulation 19 in advance of the trip to Wigan for their one and only appearance in front of the Sky cameras in the Super 8s the following Friday.
In a match that was seen as a chance for the battle-hardened Warriors, who were just coming into top form, to put a severe dent in Leeds Rhinos points difference advantage at the summit of the table, Hull had to name seven youth players and were given no chance and were indeed tipped to succumb to a worse beating than 60-0 thrashing the Warriors had inflicted on a similarly severely under-strength Hull KR earlier in the season but somebody forgot to give the script to the kindergarten Hull side.
Although the Warriors squeezed out a thoroughly and totally undeserved 30-24 win a Hull team containing Curtis Naughton, Jordan Abdull, Jack Logan, Masimbaashe Matongo, Jansin Turgut, Brad Fash and Jack Downs left a more than lasting impression on the crowd in the DW Stadium and, no doubt, had fans of other teams sat at home glued to their television sets and cheering them on as they gave Shaun Wane’s side the fright of their lives.
Hull then returned home for their heritage week games against Huddersfield Giants and Catalans Dragons, with youthful enthusiasm on their side, but also a great deal of in-experience, the Airlie Birds fall to two more narrow defeats that could surely have been avoided with a bit more know-how.
The 14 point margin of victory for the Giants looks much more comfortable than it was, a point made very succinctly by coach Paul Anderson, the four point victory for the Dragons didn’t flatter them but could again have been avoided by Hull if only tries had been scored further infield rather than right in the corner every time.
Reaching the Super 8s was set as a minimum requirement by owner Adam Pearson at the start of the season and that was duly achieved. There was also some major highlights in the season for instance the two victories over Hull KR, the manner of them and what both meant to the supporters cannot be overestimated and the emergence of some genuinely exciting youth is a major plus.
The down-side, it was yet another false dawn in a lot of ways, certain players have clearly just been taking money from the club and not giving much in return and, in my humble opinion, Tom Lineham should never have been sold but that’s now water under the bridge and we’ll have to get used to the sight of him in primrose and blue.
The up-side, Hull FC do have a lot of very exciting youth that they need to keep hold of in future, the likes of Jack Logan, Callum Lancaster, Jordan Abdull, Jansin Turgut, Brad Fash, Jack Downs, Masimbaashe Matongo and Curtis Naughton are all seemingly very exciting players and that’s before we think about the likes of Reece Dean and Harry Tyson-Wilson.
Future. It’s no secret Hull do have some financial problems mainly due to having to pay off dead wood with some big money plus the big payout to Willie Manu but with great support, season pass membership sales, merchandising etc I’m sure they can get over the worst of it.
New Signings. Frank Pritchard, Sika Manu, Scott Taylor, Danny Washbrook, Carlos Tuimavave and Mahe Fonua are genuinely very impressive additions especially the forwards who will be added to an already mean pack that is bristling with quality.
Controversy. There is clearly absolutely no need for a ‘Super Academy’ merger with Hull KR.
Positive. The creation of an under 23s side with Richard Horne as its boss will give certain players more chance to develop and will hopefullt dispense with the ridiculous dual-registration idea.
All-in-all the recruitment by Hull FC for the 2016 Super League season has been undeniably impressive with many bases covered for Lee Radford.
One thing that the Airlie Birds certainly won’t be short of is genuine grunt and brute force with the capture of the likes of Frank ‘The Tank’ Pritchard, Sika Manu and Hull-born Scott Taylor to put with a pack that already includes the likes of Gareth Ellis, Feka Palea’aesina, Mark Minichiello and Liam Watts.
Pritchard will turn 32 years old in November but the former New Zealand international still plays big minutes although this has now been somewhat curtailed with the announcement that he would miss 3-4 months with a pectoral injury he suffered when playing for current club Canterbury Bulldogs against New Zealand Warriors at the end of last month.
Despite that news he is an exciting signing for Radford’s side and he will undoubtedly bring massive impact for the men from the KC Stadium.
With 27 New Zealand caps and 4 Samoa caps to his name and having been involved in two NRL Grand Final’s Pritchard certainly brings a wealth of experience with him although his current injury could possibly be something of a warning for his new side especially considering his age.
Looking at the signing of Sika Manu it has to be said that it is a definite coup not only for Hull FC but also for Super League in general as the former New Zealand international turned down offers from NRL sides South Sydney Rabbitohs, St. George/Illawarra Dragons and Cronulla Sharks as well as Leeds Rhinos to join some old friends and a member of his family at Hull.
The cousin of cult hero Fetuli Talanoa will swap Penrith Panthers for life in the goldfish bowl that is Hull FC and join up with old friends Pritchard, Mahe Fonua and Carlos Tuimavave.
At 28 years old Manu certainly has time on his side and is another who brings great experience with him having won the Rugby League World Cup in 2008 with New Zealand and the 2012 NRL Grand Final with Melbourne Storm.
Manu is a player renowned for his strength and aggression who will be expected to control the ruck and get Hull on the front foot so as to allow people like Marc Sneyd and Danny Houghton time and space to work their magic and he will also cause panic in any defence with his destructive running.
In Scott Taylor the Airlie Birds have got hold of a Hull-born player who has supported the club since he was a boy. The former England international started his career impressively with much hated cross-city rivals Hull KR before joining Wigan Warriors for the 2013 season.
With international recognition and a Challenge Cup and Super League Grand Final double in his first season with the Warriors it seemed the world was Taylor’s oyster, however in recent times his career has somewhat stagnated after he fell out of favour with Warriors boss Shaun Wane.
Taylor was left out of the Wigan side for their 2014 Grand Final defeat to St. Helens and has spent much of this season on loan at Salford Red Devils.
Some sections of supporters of both Hull KR and Wigan have made much of him being out of condition and, as a result he has become the subject of several jokes due to his expanded waistline.
Despite his hard luck in recent times Taylor, who will be an automatic replacement for Newcastle Knights bound Mickey Paea and, with a good pre-season, the black and white’s could easily benefit from his arrival. What they have in Taylor is a prop forward who will tackle for all he’s worth and run his blood to water.
He isn’t the quickest or most mobile in his current condition but his strength is obvious and he has a good offload in him as well.
Mahe Fonua is one name that not many people in Super League will be aware of but he will arrive on these shores with a point to prove to any doubters and, having played and been a regular try scorer for Melbourne Storm, he can point to experience of having played alongside such superstars as Billy Slater, Cameron Smith and Cooper Cronk as well as former Storm player Manu.
Billed as a player similar to Castleford Tigers star Justin Carney, much is expected of Fonua by his new boss, Having won the 2012 NRL Grand Final and then the 2013 World Club Challenge when his hometown side came over and ambushed then Super League champions Leeds Rhinos at Headingley Fonua certainly has big game experience.
Turning 23 on Christmas Eve he is still young but with 23 tries to his name in 50 NRL games he certainly knows his way to the try line but that is just part of his armoury.
The young winger is a big, robust player who is equally known down under for his ability to break the line and also for his tackling and he can also produce the occasional moment of genuine magic.
With spectacular finishes being another part of his game it would seem that Hull have got hold of the perfect replacement for the Warrington Wolves bound, and extremely popular, Tom Lineham.
Carlos Tuimavave is another young talent that Hull have snatched from the NRL. Brought in to provide competition in the centre’s the cousin of former Hull KR prop Evarn Tuimavave is known primarily as a stand-off and can also fill in at full-back if required.
Tuimavave sprang to prominence when forming a half back partnership with New Zealand superstar Shaun Johnson when reaching the Toyota Cup Grand Final in 2010 and 2011 with New Zealand Warriors junior side, he also played for the Junior Kiwis.
He is known for his sublime ball-handling skills and is a very good support player who is usually to be found on the end of a break to poach a try.
Turning 22 in January he is another young player who is an undeniably exciting signing of who Lee Radford said “He has a bit of that X-Factor about him.”
What could well be key to any success Hull may enjoy in 2016 will be just how quickly Tuimavave and Fonua settle in to life in a new country and a new culture.
Another signing who will have no such fears is the returning Danny Washbrook who has been brought back after a four year stint at Super League rivals Wakefield Trinity Wildcats.
On the surface it would seem that bringing back the 29-year-old is maybe a bit of a public relations signing, however there is a definite purpose to bringing Washbrook back to his hometown club.
Having played in the 2006 Grand Final for the Airlie Birds he certainly has experience but another reason he has seemingly been brought back for is to provide cover for hooker and vice-captain Danny Houghton.
Washbrook is not a player who will do something spectacular that will win you a game but he is certainly the sort who will do something unseen that will ensure you don’t lose a game.
Having won the 2012 Super League hitman award as the top tackler in Super League it is clear why Washbrook is seen as the ideal foyle to tackling machine Houghton and this could be what makes this a very shrewd bit of business by Radford.
What Hull have added with their six signings are pace, power, strength, experience, know how, grunt and absolutely genuine quality.
If they can make them gel together and get them to click they could have the makings of a very exciting squad.