Hull FC are a club in crisis apparently, with pundits left, right, and centre writing us off already, not that head coach Lee Radford is batting an eyelid.
Whilst certain Super League clubs have bolstered their squads with high-profile NRL signings, the Airlie Birds have stuck with the blokes already at our disposal, with the continuity approach preferred to a mountain of change. Of course, that mentality has naturally been challenged due to the grim nature to the end of last season, but the Hull FC boss is just as confident that his squad can still deliver.
From distantly observed quarters, it’s so easy to label the club complacent after watching an 11-game losing run unfold with no significant new additions to arrive, but that all transpired whilst key players sat in the stands. Injuries, whilst not necessary excusing everything, played a big part to where Hull FC finished the year, but the back-to-back Wembley master-minder knows if the knocks stay away, then his strongest side will be competitive, despite what outside voices may suggest.
“I used to love it when Stevo would write us off, because you knew you were probably going to win a comp. The same can be said for Schoey,” Radford explained following League Express pundit Garry Schofield’s prediction of a ninth placed finish for Hull FC.
“We’re very confident in the squad. Getting them on the park was last years challenge, and to get them out there next season is of the upmost importance to us, because the stats show that when we had our spine and our key men out on the park, we won.
“I’m witnessing what we’ve got in front of me and I’m as confident of competing for silverware this year as in any other year. We were two minutes away from getting to a Grand Final both years. The bulk of that squad is still amongst us. When you throw in that three will possibly retire, and one will maybe look to go home and play in the NRL, then if that’s not ammunition to be fired up for 2019, I don’t know what is, ultimately.
“The injuries can’t happen to you twice, they just can’t. Yes it’s called Super League for a reason. It’s super tough to play in. In an ideal scenario, you want to give a kid a taste of it and take them out again. Unfortunately we couldn’t do that. We’ve got to use the other end and use that negative finish to be the fuel in our fire in 2019. Nobody enjoyed our rookie kids getting pumped every week. We were putting babies out there. Watching them suffer and the criticism of those young kids was tough to watch.”
After heroically bowing out of the Challenge Cup at the hands of St Helens, Hull lost every Super 8s fixture last season and the four before that for what is a record losing run. It’s certainly not a barometer to where the side are at though, due to most of Radford’s preferred line-up out on the treatment table.
However he insists there’s a positive to that, a positive that could benefit us next season.
“The only good thing of being in the 8s and having nothing to play for was that we could get everyone in for ops early,” Radford explained. “It’s given us a head start. That’s the only advantage, and hopefully you’ll see that. The boys have already had operations a month and a half earlier than usual. You compare that to last year. Only Catalans had more players at the World Cup than we did, and look at the start to the year we had. We got a lot of our players back late and then we had the Australia trip. It was a tough one and then when the injuries came about we had no chance.
“The last game we played we had £800k of the salary cap in the stands. Show me a coach who can constantly get results with that scenario. If you can, I’ll resign and they can take my job. People say we’ve got an old team. There’s Sika and Mini, but Shaul is 26, Griffin 26, Albey 27, Sneyd 27, Tag 27, if that’s an ageing team then I’m an old bastard.
“There’s nothing, in my opinion, between the top eight. What last year exposed was that when we asked those kids to come in week in, week out, we couldn’t do it. We needed to thicken out, so to speak. We’ve got some good value in Dawson-Jones, Thompson, and Langtree and Nzoungou too. We have some quality when our top 17 aren’t available. We’ll give them every opportunity to push for a starting spot for round one.”
And with both shirt and membership sales continuing to grow in record fashion, there’s no hiding from Hull FC supporters this off-season, despite what transpired earlier in the year.
The Airlie Birds will be backed once again in 2019 by a loyal band of supporters that follow the club in any kind of weather, from Wembley, to Wollongong, and away in the Super 8s to Warrington and the like when defeat was almost certain, and Radford knows and appreciates the importance of them.
“Honestly we’ve got an unbelievable nucleus of supporters,” he admitted. “They’ll follow you through thick and thin. There is, on the other side, a percentage of fans dictated to by the result at the weekend. They can be kissing your feet one week and wanting you sacked the next, but the majority are amazing.
“To sell over 7,000 memberships already is fantastic and they’re knowledgable too. They’ve gone above and beyond and it doesn’t surprise me. It’s outstanding. I think they recognised the team we were fielding. Of course there have been times when I’ve been fuming, but the set backs motivate me. I did that as a player and now as a coach. I get off proving people wrong. That’s my drive and I’ll do the same next year.
“The supporters’ backing hasn’t faltered and the boys will feed off that. We have some tough months ahead through pre-season, but I’ve been really impressed with how they’re going so far.”