Key players back, a knockout fixture, and Hull FC win – a once familiar combination as the Black and Whites comfortably beat Castleford 28-12 on Friday night.
As it turned out comfortable was the right word for it. Hull coasted, they rarely got out of second gear, with a first half onslaught paving the way for a smooth passage into the Challenge Cup quarter-final.
Castleford, who are struggling with numbers like many right now, couldn’t compete with Hull. The home sides ball movement was at times superb whilst their defence was on point – that was probably the biggest difference between the two sides. Hull had a will to defend, they scrambled to effect and shut their opposition out.
It wasn’t a perfect performance, but enough was provided to ensure the result was never really in question, despite missing an England fullback, former England Knights player and Samoan international. Of those that played, several stood out. Albert Kelly’s form has been magnificent of late, and his running threat was again apparent. He’s a danger to a defensive line every time he gets the ball. He’s strong, quick, got himself a try and played on despite a couple of knocks in the second half. Talk about toughness and character. This bloke has it all and he cost naff all – a fact and, boosted by current form, which really winds up the less fortunate souls over the river, who’s salt levels intensified watching the city’s superior rugby league club on the old box.
Several Hull players stood out though, and some contributions will go under the radar. That’s natural when you’ve got a squad performing. Marc Sneyd again ran the show at half back. Sneyd is that calm and composing influence on the side, who’s kicking was outstanding as always – a big contrast to Peter Mata’utai, who’s two poor restarts were a big part in Hull gaining a big momentum shift.
The glue in the middle and so important to how the Black and Whites play, Joe Westerman was superb and had to play big minutes with Gareth Ellis lost to injury. The forward pack also (and arguably finally) had some mongrel about it. Scott Taylor was decent, whereas the recent upturn in form of Mickey Paea continued. Chris Green was also strong and has three solid performances at home now after coming back from a ruptured Achilles.
Hull didn’t have to be at their best. They weren’t sensational, an undercooked Castleford side meant they didn’t have to be, but they got the job done. They comfortably won with plenty of energy in the tank, and that’s a sign of a good team, something anyone with a brain cell knew Lee Radford’s team were once they got players back. That card is relevant all day long. Hull get their big guns out and results will come – play-off rugby will return to the KCOM Stadium this year and as for the Cup, well its all dependent on the draw isn’t it, which we’ll watch with anticipation.
After starring in the Army v Navy game at Twickenham last weekend, Fijian winger Ratu Naulago came back into the side and was solid. He’s a find, obviously still raw, but with natural ability and pace, there’s potential. He’s good under the high bomb and made some strong carries, which is what Radford wants in his wingers. On that note, Bureta Faraimo – wow. The big man was an absolute powerhouse on the left wing, evading tackles for fun. Castleford couldn’t handle him. The run for Mark Minichielllo’s try was ridiculously good. The Italian Stallion himself had his moments too, whereas Faraimo got himself onto the scoresheet too, added to tries from Kelly, and Jake Connor, who again showed his class. The Snake was unreal in the air and provided a creative spark alongside Sneyd and Kelly.
It’s important to reiterate Castleford’s problems, they are struggling right now, and of course have some key players out, but the manner in which Hull disposed of them so easily was pleasing. We’ve had the majority of the rugby league world swing that hammer at us over the past twelve or so months despite crippling injury problems, so soak it up.
Credit where it’s due, Hull were good here in their favourite competition, but with a strong roster now playing and with Josh Bowden potentially in contention, a good crack at Warrington must be had next week. That will give us an indication to this sides capability, or to be more sinister, highlight the inconsistency. Bring it on.
Hull Starting XIII: 6. Albert Kelly, 33. Ratu Naulago, 24. Jack Logan, 4. Josh Griffin, 2. Bureta Faraimo, 14. Jake Connor, 7. Marc Sneyd, 8. Scott Taylor, 9. Danny Houghton, 23. Mickey Paea, 21. Sika Manu, 12. Mark Minichiello, 13. Joe Westerman. Interchange: 34. Gareth Ellis, 15. Chris Green, 19. Masimbaashe Matongo, 11. Dean Hadley.
Hull Tries: Connor, Faraimo, Kelly, Minichiello. Goals: Sneyd 6/6
Hull 3-2-1 Man of the Match: 3pts Albert Kelly, 2pts Jake Connor, 1pt Joe Westerman
Castleford Starting XIII: 1. Peter Mata’utai, 25. Tuoyo Ogodo, 3. Greg Minikin, 35. Cheyse Blair, 6. Jake Trueman, 24. Cory Aston, 8. Liam Watts, 9. Paul McShane, 23. Will Maher, 33. Chris Clarkson, 12. Mike McMeeken, 14. Nathan Massey. Interchange: 10. Grant Millington, 13. Adam Milner, 15. Jesse Sene-Lefao, 18. Matt Cook.
Castleford Tries: Clare, Aston. Goals: Mata’utai 2/3
Scoring System: 0-2, 6-2, 8-2, 14-2, 20-2, 20-8, 22-8, 28-8, 28-12
Referee: Robert Hicks