Hull FC sent out a Challenge Cup warning with a stunning performance against St. Helens at Langtree Park this afternoon.
The Airlie Birds moved into the quarter-finals with a ruthless eight-try performance which bludgeoned the home side into submission in a fashion as hot as the soaring temperatures on the pitch.
Marc Sneyd produced another masterful performance as man of the match with a kicking, running and passing game that was second-to-none.
Head coach Lee Radford brought skipper Gareth Ellis and star Mark Minichiello straight back into the starting line-up to replace Frank Pritchard and Sika Manu who were away on international duty.
Danny Washbrook came into the starting 13 as well having started on the bench in the win against Catalans Dragons last week as the Airlie Birds went looking for their fourth consecutive win at Langtree Park.
Saints started the better of the two sides with Theo Fages just short of an attempted 40/20 and then, after a knock on by Danny Houghton they forced more pressure as a delicate chip by Luke Walsh forced Fetuli Talanoa to run the ball dead.
From the resulting possession a fast move to the left saw Mark Percival give the home side a deserved lead in the fifth minute, Walsh added the extras with the conversion from wide out.
Video referee Ben Thaler was called into action for the first time to award a try to Danny Houghton after the home side conceded a soft penalty for offside and, subsequently, former Saints player Leon Pryce put the Hull vice-captain through a big gap, Marc Sneyd brought the scores level with the conversion in the 11th minute.
Hull then took the lead as another penalty, this time for a high shot by Kyle Amor on Houghton, gave the visitors territory and possession and Scott Taylor proved too strong to crash over beside the posts, Sneyd made it a six point advantage with the inevitable conversion in the 14th minute.
Back-to-back knock on’s from Saints then ramped up the pressure on their defensive line but then another knock on from Hull lost them the momentum they had built up.
A huge 40/20 by Sneyd gave Hull another chance at the Saints end of the pitch and a beautiful move involving Houghton and Sneyd brought a simple try for Ellis, Sneyd was again successful with the conversion in the 21st minute.
St. Helens were next to threaten after a penalty gave them much needed possession in the Hull half but resolute defence from Hull kept them at bay and a last tackle kick by Fages was scooped up by Josh Bowden.
Another penalty for the home side gave them more territory and eventually Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook bashed his way over the line despite the attentions of Sneyd, Walsh made it 12-18 with the conversion in the 32nd minute.
Referee Richard Silverwood then called on video confirmation as Jamie Shaul crossed from dummy half after impressive power saw the Airlie Birds cover 50+ metres in next to no time, Sneyd restored their 12 point lead with the conversion three minutes before the break.
Sneyd then repeated the trick that bagged the Airlie Birds a single point victory at the same ground just over a month earlier with a drop-goal to make it a three score lead at half-time.
St. Helens had a lucky escape in the 2nd minute after a knock on saw the loose ball kicked through by Talanoa for the winger to eventually cross the whitewash but they were brought back for a knock on by Kirk Yeaman.
The home side then went straight down the other end as Luke Walsh was allowed to run 50 metres and stretch out to score as Shaul tried to effect the tackle, the aussie half-back then added the extras from near the touchline five minutes into the half.
Just as the home side seemed to have the momentum Hull went and took control back as Sneyd produced a superb cut-out pass to put Curtis Naughton over in the corner for his almost customary try at this ground, Sneyd was just wide with the touchline conversion after 53 minutes.
Sneyd then accepted the invitation to add two more points with a penalty in front of the posts after a high tackle on Mark Minichiello to make it a three score lead again after 58 minutes.
Another delightful kick by Sneyd under great pressure near the Saints line then produced another try as Talanoa beat two defenders to the ball and offloaded to Yeaman for the veteran centre to cross in the corner, Sneyd stretched the lead to 18-37 with the conversion with 15 minutes left to play.
Hull forced a goal line drop out with their next attack and the Airlie Birds took full advantage as a deft pass from Houghton manufactured a 2nd try of the game for Taylor, Sneyd made it 7 goals from 8 attempts with the conversion after 69 minutes.
Another handling mistake from Saints gave Hull another chance from a 10 metre scrum and Talanoa got the try he deserved with an athletic finish in the corner awarded by the video referee, Sneyd was just off target with the conversion with five minutes left on the clock.
Jack Owens was unfortunate in the final minute as he was denied by the video referee after he just put his foot in touch trying to grab a consolation.
Penalties: Saints 3 Hull FC: 6
Goal Line Drop Outs: Saints 1 Hull FC 2
40/20: Saints 0 Hull FC: 1
Man of the Match: Marc Sneyd
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?
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 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.