The Challenge Cup can either make or break you, and it just wasn’t to be in 2019 for Hull FC, who crashed out the prestigious competition at the semi-final stage against an impressive Warrington side.
The ecstasy and the agony. The former has been felt against this opposition in both 2013 and 2016, but it was the latter feeling this time, with the Wire edging out a 22-14 victory in Bolton. They were good value for it too, outscoring Hull four tries to two. They were smart, they got in our faces, some of it maybe pushed the games legalities to the extreme but you have to credit them for it. They didn’t give us an inch.
Despite Hull’s desperation for some respite, referee Robert Hicks was reluctant to blow the whistle. He can’t win though. Low penalty count and we moan there wasn’t enough penalties. High penalty count and we say there was too many and he should let the game flow. He did that, and Warrington got on top, particularly in the second half. They were deserved winners, but you can certainly argue they were allowed to control the ruck to their desire. We would say that though. We craved field position whilst chasing the game, but it’s also a reward for them being on top. Pantomime villain Chris Hill must have Hicks’ nudes though, he got away with murder, not that we want to go down the sour grapes track, but Rugby League has issues with the play of the ball, and every blind man and his dog knows that.
With their tails up, Warrington’s pivots continually put Hull under pressure especially with their last tackle options. Ironically after Chris Sandow moaned about all our tries coming from kicks in 2016, two of Wire’s four game from such a skill-set, which crazily enough brings with it the same outcome. Four points. Their marquee man Blake Austin played in a dinner jacket like every class half back and whilst he didn’t do anything spectacular, he manoeuvred his side around the pitch superbly. The same can be said of Stefan Ratchford. He’s an excellent player, a late unexpected call up to the side following an early return from injury, he was influential and was the latest example to make a mockery of the 19-man-squad system. Bet the bookies were salty about that an hour before kick off. We were too. His supposed absence was a big reason why we fancied Hull so much, not that we ever tip against our lads this year.
Austin and Ratchford ensured, along with Daryl Clark at nine, that Warrington ticked over. Their pack was also better and Hull were led to rue missed opportunities. Like the majority of defeats it was a case of what if. What if Hull had tapped penalties instead of going for goal? What if Mark Minichiello didn’t drop that second tackle pass off the drop out? What if Jamie Shaul had scored from that break? You can’t hang them out to dry though. Hull tried. They gave it everything but came up short. It happens. You can’t win them all. There were big efforts, big plays, we just couldn’t get going and the big moments in the game went against us. The wet weather conditions obviously played a part but it’s the same for both sides.
Coach Lee Radford had some big calls to make with his selection, and he wasn’t helped with Sika Manu’s late absence. That meant Jordan Lane started in the back row, but once he was replaced there was a lot of chop and change, at the detriment to the right edge too that was devastating just a short month ago. Jake Connor came off the bench to play in the left centre and didn’t set the world alight. Whilst he had one or two nice touches, he’s struggling at the moment and it makes you wonder if there’s a niggling injury we don’t know about. Carlos Tuimavave on the right edge though was outstanding. The slippery sort evaded so many tackles and tried his best to go forward. Minichiello, who was superb at times, was also moved to the right from the left. We struggled for continuity and that’s something to think about for both now and next year with all our outside back options.
In the pack Scott Taylor and Mickey Paea tried to lay a platform, whilst Gareth Ellis gave it a crack. Danny Houghton was immense, Josh Grifffin was a menace, and Albert Kelly had his moments. We just couldn’t get a foothold for long enough. Playing catch up, Warrington hit the front early on as Bryson Goodwin was handed a try on a plate following a Hull error, but the Black and Whites then commendably got themselves back into it. Marc Sneyd kicked a penalty goal before Bureta Faraimo touched down off a superb Kelly kick. Another penalty later and we were four points up, but there’s the realisation now that maybe a decision to go for broke could have been more beneficial. It’s hindsight though. If Sneyd didn’t miss two goals we’d of been ahead going into the final few minutes and no-one bats an eyelid.
Scoring either side of half time, Warrington hurt us. Ben Currie got some redemption after ‘Tackle 52’, before Toby King got the better of our left edge. Now there was daylight. Hull though raised their intensity and scored through Scott Taylor. However that was all we could manage. Desperate late on, a wayward pass made way for Joe Philbin to score in the final minute and that was that. We can’t really argue with it. Warrington ground us down. Their kicking game was something we couldn’t match. They did a number on us.
Of course it’s a tough one to take, it’s a Challenge Cup semi-final after all, the first one Hull have lost since Leeds at Huddersfield in 2000. It’s a competition we’ve had some joy from in recent times. It needs no introduction. But a premature exit may do wonders for our Super League position and the play-offs to come. We’ll wait and see on that front. They’ll be no rolling out the pub after post-Wembley celebrations for starters. Super League is all or nothing now. Do or die. There’s no time to feel sorry for ourselves either, with Wigan up next on Thursday night.
Warrington Starting XIII: 1. Stefan Ratchford, 22. Jake Mamo, 18. Toby King, 3. Bryson Goodwin, 5. Tom Lineham, 6. Blake Austin, 15. Declan Patton, 8. Chris Hill, 9. Daryl Clark, 10. Mike Cooper, 11. Ben Currie, 12. Jack Hughes, 14. Jason Clark. Interchange: 16. Lama Tasi, 17. Joe Philbin, 13. Ben Murdoch-Masila, 23. Matt Davies.
Warrington Tries: Goodwin, Currie, King, Philbin. Goals: Ratchford 3/4
Hull Starting XIII: 1. Jamie Shaul, 33. Ratu Naulago, 3. Carlos Tuimavave, 4. Josh Griffin, 2. Bureta Faraimo, 6. Albert Kelly, 7. Marc Sneyd, 8. Scott Taylor, 9. Danny Houghton, 23. Mickey Paea, 22. Jordan Lane, 12. Mark Minichiello, 13. Joe Westerman. Interchange: 10. Josh Bowden, 34. Gareth Ellis, 20. Brad Fash, 14. Jake Connor.
Hull Tries: Faraimo, Taylor. Goals: Sneyd 3/5
Hull 3-2-1 Man of the Match: 3pts Danny Houghton, 2pts Scott Taylor, 1pt Albert Kelly
Scoring System: 4-0, 4-2, 4-6, 4-8, 10-8, 16-8, 16-14, 22-14
Referee: Robert Hicks