It’s coming up to that time of year when Super League squads get tested, coaches sprout a few more grey hairs, supporters cheer themselves that bit more hoarse, the whole two games in three days debate rears its head again and a feast of rugby league keeps us all riveted while the men and the boys get separated.
It all starts on Maundy Thursday as the Tigers and the Rhinos lock horns in The Jungle, then after that starter we have a main course, a desert, coffee and liqueurs, after dinner treats and the Easter eggs (for want of a better way of putting it) if you please.
The Saints take on the Warriors in their little spat and while the Wildcats will try to cut the Giants down to size, the Wolves will be hungry to deal with the Viking invasion in Cheshire and the Red Devils and the Dragons will try to put out each others fire.
But on the banks of the Humber something quite different will take place as red and white and black and white will charge at full pelt into each other quite unlike any two other teams in this great feast of uncompromising sport.
In the heat of the battle between two quaintly nicknamed teams, known as the Robins and the Airlie Birds, performance will mean nothing, the result will mean everything as families, friends, work colleagues and acquaintances will be split down the middle of a divided city.
Win and you walk into work the next day, or week, with a glow and aura surrounding you like no other, lose and you want the ground to open up and swallow you and it had better be bloody quick about it.
Blood and thunder has nothing on the Hull Derby, there could be an apocalypse and it wouldn’t matter as long as you hold the bragging rights and the great, and scary, thing about it is that it comes around again and again and again.
Easter Monday is like the warm after-glow, or a chance for part redemption, with six more games as the Dragons tackle the Tigers, the Giants greet the Red Devils, the Champions at home to the Wildcats and the Vikings against the Saints.
But elsewhere the red and white half of Hull will travel to face the Warriors and the black and white half will return home to tackle two of their former employees with the men that replaced them as the Wolves come to the next City of Culture, one will be looking for redemption while the other will basque in the glow of a derby victory.
Easter is looming large on the horizon, are you excited yet about what could hatch?
Hull FC sent out a warning that cannot now be ignored by Super League with an impressive dismantling of Catalans Dragons at Stade Gilbert Brutus.
The black and white’s ran in seven tries as the french side, who pride themselves on their home form, were simply ripped apart by a merciless Hull side who are currently scoring tries for the sheer fun of it.
Lee Radford brought in Steve Michaels to replace the injured Mahe Fonua on the wing and captain Gareth Ellis returned on the bench after 7 months out with a snapped achilles to replace the unfortunate Chris Green as the only changes to the team who thumped Salford Red Devils in round one.
The Dragons got the first chance after referee Robert Hicks gave them a penalty for Hull holding down Tony Gigot, from that a grubber kick from Richard Myler was taken dead by Jamie Shaul forcing a goal line drop out.
However that chance was wasted by a knock on from the home side just 20 meters from the Airlie Birds line.
Another penalty presented the french outfit with another chance but again a well-drilled Hull defence kept them at bay when Michaels plucked a Richard Myler bomb out the air and then a soft penalty piggy-backed the black and white’s into the Catalans half.
Finally Hull broke the Dragons defence on the last tackle as a fast move to the left wing saw Fetuli Talanoa stretch over in the corner, Marc Sneyd was unlucky with the touchline conversion hitting the post leaving Hull with a four point lead in the ninth minute.
Another penalty earned Hull more territory but the chance was wasted due to a forward pass from Leon Pryce to Sika Manu giving Catalans a relieving scrum.
Another penalty for the home side gave them another attacking opportunity and former Wigan player Pat Richards crossed the whitewash in the corner to bring them level, the Australian winger was off the mark with the touchline conversion attempt though.
The Dragons tried attacking with speed down their left side again but Vincent Duport lost the ball in a good tackle from Michaels and Jack Logan presenting Hull with a scrum on halfway.
A penalty then allowed them to crank up the pressure and a crabbing run from Mark Minichiello and a slightly fortunate pass found Sika Manu for the former Kiwi international to charge over, the conversion from Sneyd gave them a six point advantage in the 17th minute.
The see-saw nature of the game continued as yet another penalty gave Catalans another opportunity, then the pressure was increased as Sneyd went for an interception but was unable to hold it resulting in a scrum for the Dragons 20 meters out and another chance for Richards saw the winger fortuitously cross in the corner, and this time he was on target with the touchline conversion.
Another penalty for the visitors gave them more territory but a harsh decision against them gave the Dragons a relieving scrum as video referee Thierry Alibert made a controversial call to reverse referee Hicks’ decision.
A dangerous tackle from Dave Taylor and Eloi Pelissier gave Hull another penalty and prop Josh Bowden bashed his way over through three defenders to give the black and white’s the lead again for the third time after 28 minutes, the conversion from Sneyd was straight and true to make it 10-16.
Hull started moving forward again from the kick off and then a touch on a pass from Todd Carney saw the tackle count wiped clean as they entered enemy territory again but a delicate kick from Leon Pryce just avoided Michaels at the corner flag.
A big mistake from Catalans then saw the ball dropped as they were moving away from their line, the ball was picked up by Ellis who then put the pass inside to Jack Logan for the young centre to race through a gaping hole in the Dragons defence, the conversion from Sneyd stretched the lead to 12 points for the men from the KC Stadium.
Catalans then attacked with just over three minutes of the half left and a high kick had to be touched down in-goal by Talanoa to force another goal line drop out but a thunderous hit from Liam Watts floored Dave Taylor when he looked to be getting through and then a nothing kick from Myler went into touch.
Hull then saw out the first half with no real drama in the last couple of minutes of the half to take their deserved lead to the half time break.
The first opportunity of the second half was handed to Hull as the Dragons coughed up possession in their own half but the chance was just missed as Jack Logan was unable to pounce on a grubber to the in-goal on the last tackle.
A break from Carlos Tuimavave saw Hull set-up another attack in Catalans territory and then a penalty gave them another chance to press the home defence but eventually a penalty went the way of the home side from Logan being off-side after a Sneyd kick.
Another harsh decision from the video referee then saw Catalans awarded a scrum 10 meters from the Hull line but strong defence from the Airlie Birds forced another mistake from the french outfit as possession was once again coughed up.
A break in midfield from Gigot then saw Hull’s defence stretched again but a timely tackle from Manu stopped them dead but Pryce was sin-binned for a collision in back play.
The next chance for the Dragons was wasted yet again with a forward pass giving the 12 men a relieving scrum.
Catalans were then penalised after Minichiello was violently pushed in the back by Olivier Elima from which they decided to take the two points on offer which Sneyd duly obliged with to take Hull three scores clear after 55 minutes.
Another penalty for Hull proffered another chance and eventually Ellis crossed to touch down a delicate grubber by Sneyd, the scrum-half then made it a 20 point lead for the men from East Yorkshire with 20 minutes left.
A kick inside from Tuimavave then saw Minichiello tackle Gigot on the line to force a goal line drop out and a fast passing move involving Sneyd and Tuimavave put Talanoa over in the corner for his 2nd try, Sneyd was just wide with the touchline conversion.
Hull then went the full length with a devestating break by Talanoa who then put Jamie Shaul away from just inside his own half for yet another try, Sneyd however was wayward with another conversion leaving the score at 10-38 with 12 minutes left to play.
Gigot then presented Hull with another attacking opportunity as he knocked on a regulation Sneyd kick with nobody near him, another penalty for them then increased the pressure on the home line but the rarity of some organised defending from the Dragons kept them out although they conceded another goal line drop out.
From the drop out Hull attacked but Shaul was denied by the video referee after Talanoa appeared to put a foot in touch before passing the ball inside to the full-back.
From the next Hull attack Catalans were once again embarrassed as Scott Taylor scragged Dragons player Greg Mounis and dragged him back in-goal to force yet another drop out, from the attack from that Talanoa got over in the corner but the clearly corrupt video official harshly ruled it out.
The game ended with some bad-blood after Dave Taylor and Scott Taylor nearly came to blows after a thunderous tackle by the Hull man on the Catalans prop with a few seconds remaining.
Penalties: Catalans 6 Hull 10
Goal Line Drop Outs forced: Catalans 2 Hull 3
Man of the Match: Fetuli Talanoa
Hull FC can attack! Yes the team known for their defending and low risk strategy are flinging the ball around with absolute abandon, and it’s working spectacularly well at the moment, as evidenced by their two games so far this year.
As we all know, their near neighbours were gobbled up and spat back out with absolutely genuine contempt, and now in their opening game of Super League Salford Red Devils have been treated with similar disdain.
It’s no joke, when the Airlie Birds make a break with one of their punishingly big forwards, there are 4,5,6 or even more players to be seen charging forward in support, both backs and forwards turning opposition players, particularly full-backs, into mere traffic wardens pointing players in different directions to the try line.
Power and drive are a big part of Hull’s game now and the pack will get lots of headlines and rightly so, but like the old saying tells us, forwards win you matches, but your backs decide by how many points and, with blistering pace and guile and enthusiasm, Hull’s backs are definitely taking full advantage of the gaps being presented to them.
As evidence of this, Hull scored 8 tries against the Red Devils, all from different try scorers, and 6 of those came from backs, with Marc Sneyd, the only back not to score, pulling his former clubs defence apart due to the time and space he was afforded behind a pack that was utterly dominant.
Carlos Tuimavave is proving to be a big success thus far, the half back is relishing playing at centre and producing breaks, passes and tries with monotonously stunning regularity.
In the process he’s leaving defenders floundering in his wake and producing gaping holes in opposition defensive lines as wide as the Humber to put his winger, full-back or himself through.
On the other side young Jack Logan is sniping and getting on the shoulder of his big forwards to get on the end of a move and, when he can’t finish it himself, he’s producing a peach of a pass to his winger or whoever’s closest to him in a black and white shirt.
With Jamie Shaul expertly positioning himself to make a break or profit from one with his searing pace and excellent vision let’s not forget that this back division has got enough to challenge, and hurt, certainly most sides in the competition.
We also need to remember the supporting cast for this back division includes the likes of Callum Lancaster and Curtis Naughton both of which Super League are certainly aware of with both having scored tries, indeed hat-trick’s to boot, against notable opposition such as St. Helens, Castleford, Widnes and Warrington between them.
So yes everybody keep lauding the pack put together by former forward Lee Radford, just don’t forget that’s not all that Hull have in their locker, either on the pitch or waiting in the wings.
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
Neil Hudgell is looking forward to the 10th year for Hull KR in Super League, a season which sees him with the same relaxed demeanor but one which barely masks a burning ambition.
First he harks back to the beginning of his time as chairman when he saved them from financial and Rugby League oblivion: “We were at the bottom but just slightly coming out of the bottom, we were in administration and Don Robinson had bought the club on behalf of a company called Gain Group and acquired the stadium.”
Then his path to the top job became clear: “Peter May and Colin McNichol had been brought in as two local businessmen and two lifelong supporters of Rovers and then I came on board as a sponsor, got to know the lads and started to do some legal work for them and then I became a director.
“Basically they all jumped off leaving me more or less on my own so I brought back Phil Lowe, Paul Lakin came on board and that was like 12 years ago.
“We’d bottomed out, there was no money in the kitty and we were in the National League sort of mid-table, going nowhere and treading water.
Then another name was mentioned regarding the transformation the club was going through at that time. “Of course I got Rob Crossland in as well so that was sort of bottom but just turning upwards slightly.
“Then we had Malcolm Reilly as coach alongside Martin Hall and that never worked so Malcolm left and Martin resigned so short term we brought Harvey Howard in who didn’t work out.
“The sort of the beginning of the real upward turn was when we recruited Justin Morgan, heard about him via Tony Smith, he came from Toulouse who he got to the Challenge Cup semi-final that year in 2005.
“Interviewed Justin and he started just towards the end of that season, the year we won the National Rail Cup but flunked on promotion.
“So Justin said about the dead wood he wanted to push out so we pushed them out and gave him maximum salary cap in the National League as it was then and we more or less recruited a new team.
“James Webster was one the other Australian was Tangata-Toa but the main ones and probably the mainstay of the side that got us into Super League was probably Ben Fisher at hooker, Ben Cockayne at full-back those two.
“Gareth Morton had a big kicking boot on him and Webster was instrumental as well and Michael Smith in the back row, so we sort of constructed a team that we thought would be good enough to get us up but also to get Super League contracts because the whole thing at the time was you’d got to get a side that was good enough to keep you up as well as get you up because there’s this idea that if players are knowing that they’re not going to be good enough to perform in the elite then when it comes down to the cut and thrust of the end of the season they might not give their best because they might talk themselves out of a job.
“So we invested heavily and eventually it paid off and we got promoted and got to a Challenge Cup semi-final.”
The first season in Super League in 2007 is obviously a source of great pride for this very relaxed but competitive man and a glint appears in the eye as he talks of early successes as his side won four of their first five games in the top-flight:
He said:”Four of our first five games we beat Wakefield at home, last minute, Ben Cockayne scored.
“Then we won away at Huddersfield and then I think we lost at home to London but then we won at Wigan and beat Leeds, so we won four of our first five so that meant we were never bottom of the table all season.
“After those first five we lost six on the trot and then we had the Paul Cooke saga, Paul came over first game we just lost narrowly to Huddersfield but then we beat Hull FC at magic and then we beat Wigan again so Paul gave us a bit of catalyst when we’d hit a bit of a trough.
“Then we had another trough and we brought in Rhys Lovegrove and we rallied at the end, we beat Salford and Hull again to ensure our safety but we were never at the bottom of the league the entire season and I think that was a mind-set thing because it was always going to be either us or Salford.
“A big week was when we won in Catalans on Bastille Day and Salford lost so that gave us a 4 point push and that momentum to stay above them and stay up.”
We then moved onto the subject of fans expectations after that early success and the answer is very strongly delivered: “Well expectations are always high in Hull no matter what, you win three games and people think you’re gonna be world beaters, fans now I think would have expectations beyond where we would normally sit which is about the bottom half of the top 8.
“There’s a top 4 that’s usually there or thereabouts and Huddersfield are just sort of battling to get in there as well now and then there’s a clutch of clubs battling it out for the next four positions and we’re sort of bottom of that and that is our natural rank if you look at the side, the support base and the facilities.”
We then move onto the Tony Larvin episode and whether it was difficult for the club to move on from that, the reply is very swift and decisive: “It’s interesting you raise that, I didn’t think it had credible legs at any point and if you actually follow the media coverage the whole time there was nothing that anybody said in the club that would give any encouragement that it was gonna happen.
“The whole publicity came from Tony himself and the Hull Daily Mail got hold of that and decided in their infinite wisdom that they were gonna run the story or a series of stories around it so it was never, it never got off first base in my mind.”
There is clearly still a wish in this engaging man’s mind to see Rovers as a self-financing club as the subject is broached: “Yes I think anybody in any business wants to make a profit or, if not, to at least break-even.
“Rugby League in the main is an expensive luxury for those who own the clubs there’s only a few who are profitable, I mean Leeds sit miles ahead of anybody else and the likes of Saints and Wigan that are profitable but possibly have some historic debt, or certainly would have had historic debt.
“We’ve probably made an honest surplus on last year but that’s because of Wembley and the boxing but that’s an unusual year but on the whole rugby is still not a cash rich sport.”
Another subject to be chewed over is what the man himself thinks is his proudest achievement as chairman of Hull KR, this draws a slightly less sure than normal answer: “Err I dunno, getting into Super League, staying in Super League, getting to Wembley, I don’t think we’ve got the proudest moment yet because we’re still working on it but at this point in time I suspect probably getting out the gutter and actually becoming a serious contender at the top table, being in Super League and when you look at the day-to-day durge I suppose being in Super League for 10 years is a bit of an achievement.”
Ground improvements are the next subject but are plans imminent to put another stand at the opposite end of the ground to the newest stand at the KC Lightstream Stadium? “Yeah there are plans for another stand but the key at the moment is to fill what we’ve got, we’re not at capacity so there’s no pressing urgency but I’d like to finish the ground off in the next two or three years.”
The conversation then turns to the academy merger and the subsequent decision by Hull FC to run an under 23s team, are there any such plans for Rovers, the answer leaves no doubt whatsoever: “No it’s not on the horizon, I don’t think there’s any need if that’s what Adam wants to do then that’s up to him.”
Looking at the season just past there is obviously some regret and some things that could maybe have been done differently: “You can always learn and develop I think, certainly key parts of the season where we lost players, every club has injuries but we really suffered especially with our halves.
“Our front row was also very light at times during the season as well, I think we were really disappointing in some games and maybe our preparation could have been better.”
Inevitably the 10th year in Super League comes into the conversation and Mr Hudgell clearly has certain wishes for the milestone season: “A solid top 8 finish, another cup run, good football that people want to see and increased crowds.”
Finally we get to the subject of the structure of the game now with the new era of the Super 8s and whether he would like to see anything change in the current structure: “I don’t like the structure, I think the fact that we’ve now got it democratically voted in by the narrowest margin means we’ve now got to stick to it, rugby league tends to chop and change and I don’t think that’s good for the game.
“My view is we stick with what we’ve got, in terms of the product I don’t think there’s a lot wrong with it, I think I would change the video referee and how that operates, but on the whole n o I don’t think there’s a lot wrong with the product.”
The idea of giving out the league leaders shield and a World Club Series place after 23 rounds and then starting the Super 8s teams on 0 points again draws a reply relating to a conversation he had with Adam Pearson: “We said do you wanna finish 8th or do you wanna finish 9th, if you finish 8th it’s a seven week hurrah at the end of the season.
“If you finish 9th you’ve got the jeopardy of the middle 8, now we never moved out of third gear apart from half a game against Leigh and against Wakefield, apart from that it was just plain sailing so there was no jeopardy and it was very flat.
“I don’t think there’s any hardened fast or easy solution other than there’s always winners and losers in any play-off system.”
Hull KR supporters could therefore have plenty to look forward to over the coming years with more changes afoot and a chairman with a burning desire that comes across as clear as a bell.
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.