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.