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.
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.
So Joe Westerman is the latest player to leave the KC Stadium and head west for the big cash on offer from Simon Moran and Warrington Wolves at the Halliwell Jones Stadium (how are they even under the salary cap must be the first question?)
What to say about the 25 year old who has 1 England cap to his name! The boy from Pontefract was schooled by Hull FC in the academy set-up before he signed his first professional contract for his local side Castleford Tigers for the 2007 season, in 2010 the Airlie Birds came calling and signed him in a blaze of publicity.
When he first arrived at Hull he was billed as the future Steve ‘Knocker’ Norton who also left Castleford for East Yorkshire 30+ years earlier. It was maybe a tad unfair to put the 20 year old under that sort of pressure but life at Hull FC is never straightforward due to the aspirations of the Old Faithful.
Five years later, after one Challenge Cup Final and one England cap, he’s headed for pastures new joining what would appear to be a worrying trend of young British players who have left such as Tom Lineham, Ben Crooks and Tom Briscoe.
In five years at the club Westy has had three different coaches, Richard Agar, Peter Gentle and Lee Radford and it has to be said it was only in 2014, Radford’s first season in charge which ended in dreadful failure, that Hull FC really saw the best of him and that’s why he gained international recognition.
Since then he hasn’t been the same player and, with 12 months left on his contract and no negotiations over a new one, it’s very understandable that the Black and White’s have taken the decision to take the big money on offer and re-invest it where it’s probably needed more in the team.
No matter how many people may argue with me I do genuinely believe, and maybe some others might surprise me and agree, Hull FC do have the best set of back-rowers, maybe even the best pack, in Super League for 2016, something tells me that a pack with the likes of Gareth Ellis, Mark Minichiello, Frank Pritchard, Sika Manu, Jordan Thompson, Richard Whiting, Dean Hadley and young guns Jordan Abdull, Jansin Turgut, Brad Fash and Jack Downs to call on in their back row will be able to easily absorb the loss of one misfiring loose forward.
The Airlie Birds have let it be known that the money received for Westerman will be put to use for a high profile back who is currently on the radar, I won’t mention names because that’s not my thing, I’ll just wait and see which I wish so many other people would do as well sometimes.
We’ll wish Joe good luck as we send him on his way to Cheshire, to another mid-table team much like ourselves, and indeed some of the lady fans will miss him with his boyish good looks, but the overwhelming feeling here on the Black and White side of Hull, East Yorkshire, is that it’s pretty good business getting £150,000 for a player who would have left for nothing in 12 months time anyway.
As for Joe the player, it seems to have been a frustrating chapter for both club and player which is probably best put down to experience and time to move on.
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.
Hull FC 24 Catalans Dragons 28, Controversial Performance By Referee Leaves Airlie Birds With Bitter Losing Feeling At Season’s End
A truly shambolic display by referee Richard Silverwood cost Hull FC a victory in their final game of their 150th anniversary season despite a memorable last performance by Tom Lineham and Mickey Paea before they head off to pastures new.
This most special of days for this most special of clubs began with many heritage events including a memorial service, singers outside the KC Stadium, a tribute inside the stadium to supporters and players of this great club who have passed away since the end of the 2014 season and club captain Gareth Ellis, club legend Johnny Whiteley MBE and their oldest and youngest season pass members bringing the match ball on to the tune of We Could Be Heroes Just For One Day.
Lee Radford restored Jordan Thompson, Richard Whiting and departing winger Tom Lineham to his line-up with Jack Downs, Leon Pryce and Dean Hadley making way from the team that played against Huddersfield Giants.
Jack Logan was returned to his more customary Centre position having deputised on the wing in the absence of Lineham last week while Jordan Abdull switched back to Stand-Off having played at Loose Forward against the Giants, fellow academy graduates Jansin Turgut and Brad Fash retained their places on the bench.
The first chance soon came the way of the black and white’s as Mark Minichiello and then Liam Watts made barnstorming runs and offloaded Harlem Globetrotter style before Abdull made a break from his own 20 meter line into Catalans territory, but the attack was brought to an end as a delicate grubber was shepherded over the dead ball line.
The Dragons however drew first blood in the 5th minute as a concerted effort in attack on the Hull line saw Jordan Sigismeau scramble over somewhat fortuitously in the left corner, the lead went unimproved as Scott Dureau pushed his touchline conversion across the face of the uprights.
Straight from the kick off the Dragons coughed up possession with a knock on giving the Airlie Birds head and feed 15 meters from the Dragons line, back-to-back penalties increased the pressure on the Dragons defence but then a knock on by Marc Sneyd handed them possession back with a scrum.
The Dragons next push into the Hull half forced a goal line drop out as Curtis Naughton had to run a dangerous grubber kick dead, however that chance came to nothing for the visitors as they surrendered possession in broken field.
Hull then surrendered the ball as a move from right to left saw the ball thrown into touch with Naughton unable to get anywhere near the pass giving the Dragons easy possession in Hull’s half as the Dragons threatened the line though Sigismeau was pounced on by Lineham and the Warrington-bound winger was able to steal the ball one-on-one.
Hull were granted another opportunity with a penalty for offside which Abdull planted into touch 40 meters from the Dragons line, another penalty then gave Hull more territory and possession but a clever little grubber by Sneyd wasn’t read by any of his team-mates and Catalans full-back Morgan Escare was able to clear it up in front of their posts.
Catalans then tried one of their party tricks on the first tackle after receiving head and feed on Hull’s 20 meter line but somehow Krisnan Inu and Tony Gigot contrived to hand the ball to Naughton 5 meters from the Hull line.
The Dragons next attack saw another grubber being chased by Inu but Naughton again beat him to the ball to push it dead for another goal line drop out, back-to-back penalties for the Dragons then saw the home defensive line stretched to its limits and eventually Sydney Roosters bound Ian Henderson scrambled over in the 24th minute to stretch their lead, the conversion by Dureau took them into double figures.
A penalty for a high tackle then gave the Dragons more territory and Inu finally got his try as he managed to reach out through three defenders to ground the ball in the 27th minute, Dureau’s conversion attempt from the touchline again went across the face of goal but Catalans had a worrying looking 14 point lead.
Another penalty for the french side again saw them building pressure on the home sides line and after two errors by either side Canberra Raiders recruit Elliott Whitehead was able to cross in controversial circumstances in the 31st minute as the match was seemingly slipping away from Hull, the conversion from Dureau made it a 20 point lead for the visitors.
A knock on at the play the ball by Catalans then gave Hull head and feed on their 20 meter line and another chance to build some pressure and eventually the pressure told as a flowing move from left to right saw Lineham easily cross in the right corner with space to spare in the 34th minute, the touchline conversion from Sneyd however was just wide but at least the Airlie Birds had shown some intent at last.
A stupid attempt at a miracle offload by Hull gave the Dragons another scrum 30 meters from the home sides line but a comedy of errors between Whitehead and Escare handed possession back to Hull as Naughton grabbed the loose ball with Escare flat on his back.
As a result of that the black and white’s swept up-field and Abdull was able to bash his way through some frantic defending to register Hull’s second try, Sneyd however was again just off target with the touchline conversion attempt but with two tries in four minutes you could visibly see confidence and enthusiasm flowing back into the home side.
Another attack by the black and white’s almost brought more reward as Naughton made a dash down the left hand side but a suspicious tackle by Whitehead stopped him 15 meters out and, though Hull showed some desperation to keep the attack going they ran out of time as the half time break arrived with them within 10 meters of the Dragons posts.
During the break Hull FC legend John ‘Jack’ Harrison VC and MC was remembered with a resounding rendition of Old Faithful and a parade by current and ex military, former players and youth players on a day when, fittingly, the visitors were from France, honouring his still held club record of 52 tries in a season (1914-1915) and his outstanding bravery when fighting in France in World War 1 for which he received his Military Cross and posthumous Victoria Cross.
The first chance of the second half came to Hull when Richard Silverwood awarded them a penalty in Catalans territory, unfortunately the chance was wasted as Jack Logan was forced into touch five meters from the Dragons try line.
The Dragons were then piggy backed up the field as they were given a penalty for a ball-steal.
Hull’s next attack came when Logan made a break in midfield but just as it looked like the Dragons were running out of numbers in defence Danny Houghton tripped and sprawled on the floor as he took the pass from the young Centre.
Hull attacked again and a dangerous kick from Sneyd saw Hull regain the ball and given another six tackles and eventually the pressure on the visitors was too much to bare as Naughton got the try his performance had deserved in the left corner with less than 10 minutes of the half gone, Sneyd however was having a bad day with the boot and his latest touchline conversion again drifted wide leaving Hull eight points behind.
Three minutes later a move as fast as a powerboat across the Humber saw Lineham set free down the right and the powerful winger swatted off two defenders to race in at the corner, Jordan Rankin attempted the latest touchline conversion but again it drifted just wide.
Benjamin Garcia then appeared to have a touch of the Ben Pomeroy’s about him as he scragged Logan and thumped him to the ground causing the young Centre to need treatment on the ground as Hull’s enthusiasm threatened to strangle the visitors after their early dominance.
Hull then gifted Catalans six points when Jordan Abdull tried to kick deep but it was blocked by two defenders and Rankin claimed the loose ball but then dropped it in the tackle presenting the ball to Thomas Bosc with nobody near to stop him going under the posts, the conversion from Dureau made it a 10 point lead again for the Dragons with 22 minutes remaining.
Rankin then repeated the dose as he ran the ball back after the next kick by Catalans this time handing them a scrum 20 meters out, a penalty then increased the pressure and Whitehead was held up over the line and then a grubber kick was grounded over the line by Kirk Yeaman causing Hull to have to drop out from under their posts for a third time in the game.
After yet another penalty the Dragons continued to pursue another score but with their defence back to its miserly best the Airlie Birds held them out this time.
A flowing Catalans move saw them move far too easily from one end of the field to the other but with the line gaping and a match winning score beckoning they somehow contrived to blow the chance as Bosc knocked on in front of the line when it would have been easier to score.
Hull then went to the other end and pushed the issue but Lineham just put his foot in touch before he dived in at the corner.
Catalans then definitely got the rub of the green as Silverwood failed to see a forward pass that would have made Michael Dobson at magic in 2012 proud and then harshly were given a penalty on halfway.
The referee then went about his main business of the day awarding the Dragons yet another penalty 20 meters out and Dureau obliged to give them a 12 point lead with eight minutes remaining.
Two minutes later and Lineham had his hat-trick to say goodbye with as another fast move saw him finish spectacularly in the corner, another miss from Rankin on the touchline again left an eight point gap so Hull still needed two scores.
Lineham was then denied a fourth try as the ball was adjudged to have gone forward off Jack Logan from a high kick by Sneyd.
Hull were then controversially denied another score by Silverwood as he continued to gift wrap the win for the Dragons as Logan put Houghton through with a deft short pass and the hooker raced in only to have the try disallowed incredibly for a forward pass which was definitely not forward in any way, shape or form.
Lineham then got his fourth try after two more penalties and a fast move left to right again saw the winger dive in spectacularly in the corner, this time Sneyd took a token drop-kick at goal after the final hooter.
So yet another frustrating season draws to a close for the Airlie birds and their superb band of supporters and the club will now take stock and move on to 2016 when Frank Pritchard, Sika Manu, Scott Taylor, Danny Washbrook, Carlos Tuimavave and Mahe Fonua will join the ranks of the black and white’s.
Catalans coach Laurent Fraysinnous said it was a big deal for his team to have won at the KC Stadium for the first time since 2007 and it will help them to look forward to 2016 despite another frustrating season when many had expected them to challenge for the top 4 with signings such as Willie Tonga, Todd Carney and the returning Remi Casty.
Hull coach Lee Radford, summing up his sides season, said they had been gallant in defeat and there had been no issues with their effort and commitment to the cause, he also went on to say that the creation of the under 23’s side and the merged ‘Super Academy’ with Hull KR’s youth squads are a definite positive moving forward.
Man of the Match: Tom Lineham
Penalties: Hull FC 11 Catalans Dragons 11
Goal Line Drop Outs: Hull FC 3 Catalans Dragons 0
Hull KR’s dream return to the Wembley cup final after a 29-year absence turned into an embarrassing nightmare as they were simply ripped apart as cup holders Leeds Rhinos retained their trophy.
Records tumbled as winger Tom Briscoe became the first player to ever score five tries in a Challenge Cup final and the Rhinos made it a record biggest winning margin eclipsing their 36 point victory in 1999 against London Broncos.
The Wembley showpiece was started with a heart-rending performance of the traditional Challenge Cup anthem Abide With Me by Lizzie Jones the wife of Keighley Cougars and Wales player Danny Jones who tragically passed away a few months ago playing for the Cougars in London.
Chris Chester named Albert Kelly in his starting side after the half-back recovered sufficiently in time from a knee injury that had kept him out since the semi-final victory against Warrington Wolves ironically at Leeds Headingley ground four weeks previously.
Rhinos coach Brian McDermott brought back Joel Moon and Kallum Watkins in the centers and Danny McGuire returned after missing the Super 8s victory at Hull FC a week ago and Jamie Peacock was restored to the starting line-up having started from the bench in that 36-22 win at the KC Stadium.
Leeds set their stall out early moving menacingly up-field but an organised defence from the robins held them at bay although in both of the Rhinos first two sets the ball was turned over to the men from the KC Lighstream Stadium within 10 meters of their line.
The first points duly came the way of the cup holders after Kevin Larroyer was adjudged to have reefed the ball out of the grasp of Jamie Peacock in front of the Rovers posts and Brett Delaney snapped up the loose ball to to touchdown under the posts, the conversion from Kevin Sinfield inevitably followed to give them a six point advantage in the 6th minute.
The early exchanges were clearly going the way of the holders but a note of caution for them was that Hull KR were not panicking as maybe a lesser team would have and sticking resolutely to their game plan and getting settled in to the contest.
The first bit of luck to go the way of the men in red and blue came when McGuire put a high bomb up and full-back Kieran Dixon came to take the ball and knocked it onto an on-rushing Leeds player but was then able to re-gather the ball without referee Ben Thaler seeing the knock-on.
The first test of the Rhinos defence came when a pass from Peacock was fumbled and knocked-on in the Leeds half giving Rovers possession and territory but the chance was wasted as Tyrone McCarthy dropped the ball in-front of the Rhinos defensive line.
Leeds then moved to the other end of the field all too easily and finally McGuire got on the end of a fast move down their right hand side to score the second try in the right corner, the touchline conversion was successfully added by Sinfield to make it a 12 point advantage.
Disaster struck again as Rovers went for a short kick-off and Leeds winger Ryan Hall gobbled up the ball to make the break and then a fast move from left to right saw Watkins put former Hull FC winger Briscoe in for their third try inside the opening 20 minutes, Sinfield hit the post with the conversion to leave the score 16-0.
Despite the dominant opening from the Rhinos their opposition kept plugging away valiantly no matter how hopeless the situation seemed for them.
Another chance came their way when a ball was batted back by Maurice Blair and Kris Welham kicked the ball forward but it went dead-in-goal, shortly after that a Leeds mistake gave Rovers more possession and territory but a kick to the right side was easily gobbled up by Hall behind the Rhinos line.
Leeds next visit to the Rovers line caused more pressure but a try was not forthcoming this time when a grubber kick by McGuire was snaffled up by former Rhinos player Shaun Lunt.
After Ken Sio dropped a ball Hall was held up over the line and then Kylie Leuluai was also held up and then a fast move to the right saw a chance squandered as Watkins dropped the ball.
Just when the robins needed a shift in momentum Kelly produced what everybody thought was a 40/20 but then referee Thaler reversed the decision to give them head and feed when replays showed his foot was about half an inch over the Rovers 40 meter line to the relief of the cup holders.
Rovers threatened again as John Boudebza made a smart break in the middle of the field giving Kelly a chance to run at the retreating Rhinos defence but after that was stopped the ball went to their left and was lost within 10 meters of the line again.
As the clock ticked down towards the break the game appeared to have slowed down and this was clearly to the benefit of Rovers as particularly James Donaldson and Welham were making impressions on the Rhinos defence.
Another chance came as Welham got to a hail-mary kick before Briscoe and Dixon suddenly had space to work in front of the Rhinos posts but his attempted kick through was stopped by full-back Zak Hardaker to see the Rhinos keep their 16 point advantage as the final reached half-time.
The second half started as the rain started to tip-down as Rovers hoped to make a record-breaking comeback for a Challenge Cup Final against the holders and Super League leaders.
The half started badly for them however as a mistake from Dixon gave Leeds a scrum 20 meters out after a kick by McGuire but they held them out and then a Sinfield grubber gave a glimmer of a chance as the full-back tried to get away down the right but then dropped the ball in the tackle 30 meters out to give the Rhinos another scrum.
Another attack though by Leeds was repelled as a pass by off-load machine Adam Cuthbertson ended up in Rovers hand just in-front of their posts.
The trophy was seemingly wrapped-up for the Rhinos after a spirited attack by Rovers as a kick by Maurice Blair was left by Dixon and Briscoe pounced and never looked back on a 90 meter race to the line despite the brave effort from Sio to try and stop him, the touchline conversion from Sinfield made it 22-0 in the 48th minute.
The more Rovers were panicking the more desperate the situation was becoming as the dream of playing at Wembley was turning quickly into a nightmare particularly for Dixon who was making mistakes with alarming regularity as the affect of playing lower league opposition in recent weeks was seemingly making a big difference against the battle hardened Rhinos.
The next name on the try scoring list was Brad Singleton as the big prop barged his way over despite the attentions of Dixon and video referees James Child and Richard Silverwood were happy to award the try as he managed to get the ball down before it squirmed free, the conversion from Sinfield made it 28-0 to the Rhinos in the 58th minute.
A rare attack by Rovers with an impressive build-up from a break by Graeme Horne promised to bear some fruit but eventually Larroyer was held up over the line.
Another attack shortly after saw a high kick from Kelly invite Josh Mantellato to chase but the bomb was easily defused by Hall again, Leeds then moved far too easily to the other end of the field and Briscoe was on hand to gobble up another pass from Watkins to slide over in the corner for his hat-trick, the touchline conversion attempt by Sinfield was somewhat hooked to leave the score at 32-0 with 15 minutes left to play.
Kelly finally got his 40/20 to give the robins a scrum 10 meters from the Rhinos line but another chance was wasted with a forward pass to Tony Puletua handing the possession back to Leeds.
Another opportunity came to Leeds as Watkins made a majestic break and then handed the ball inside to Rob Burrow for the diminutive number 7 to race in under the posts, the inevitable conversion by Sinfield stretched it it to a 38-0 lead for the treble-chasers with seven minutes left to play.
Within two minutes of that Briscoe was in for his fourth try after another break and pass by Watkins put him away down the right again, a sixth goal from eight attempts by Sinfield made it 44-0.
Dixon’s nightmare then carried on as he scooped up a kick and ran the ball back only to drop it in the first contact, McGuire snapped the ball up and put the ball out to Briscoe for the England winger to set a new record with a first ever five-try-haul eclipsing the four tries scored by Leroy Rivett in the Rhinos 1999 triumph against London Broncos, the conversion from Sinfield brought up the 50 point mark.
Chris Chester speaking afterwards said his team had not performed as well as they have shown for the rest of the season, jubilant Rhinos coach Brian McDermott said there had been a desire to give legends Peacock, Sinfield and Leuluai the perfect Wembley send-off but that they will also still be determined to carry off the league leaders shield and the Grand Final trophy as well.
Penalties- Rovers 2 Leeds 3
40/20- Rovers 1 Leeds 0
Lance Todd Trophy Winner- Tom Briscoe
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.