A third Super League semi-final in five seasons proved one step too far for Hull FC as Wigan ran out 29-2 winners on Thursday night.
In fact it was a brutal reality check to why Hull were sandwiched in the middle of the table, in sixth position away from the big boys of Super League. You can get really cynical here too and say a 27-point losing margin is hardly an improvement on the 36-4 hammering copped in the Challenge Cup back in September either, numerically at least, but there was a big contrast to both performances, well for twenty-five or so minutes anyway.
Hull were shocking in that cup game yet here at the first rugby league fixture at the Pie Dome in over eight months they weren’t found wanting through a lack of effort and desire. However, there was a gulf in both class and know-how to manage a play-off fixture, yet that wasn’t the case for the opening quarter. Hull without penetrating the Wigan line were right in the contest.
But Wigan are Wigan and they just grew into the game. They absorbed the pressure early on and then when they got their opportunities they didn’t waste them. They don’t need a second invitation. They are pass masters at this stuff. In their element. Tough as diamonds. They defended brilliantly throughout.
There was no debate to who the best team and deserved winners were, and after the heroics at the Halliwell Jones that brought back some hope, the result and display were disappointing. But everyone knew Hull would have to find a couple more gears to emulate last week. Wigan are a different kettle of fish to Warrington. They are always up there, the benchmark as far as history in this country goes and they showed it by repelling everything Hull threw at them. They were outstanding to the point where it’s more justified to credit them than throw the book at Hull.
Wigan were relentless. They were constantly in the face of Hull. They didn’t give them time to breathe and for creative outlets Marc Sneyd and Jake Connor it showed. Both struggled throughout to influence the game to Hull’s advantage as they were peppered every time they got the ball. Wigan did a great job making them play under pressure but they played a lot of the game on their terms too. They are no fools. The lack of a recognised stand off, say an Albert Kelly, told as well.
Referee Chris Kendall will (as always) take some pelters for the Josh Griffin and Oliver Partington incident alone but it was not the first time such a reaction has been penalised. Ruffling of the hair, or patting an opponents head with the objective to wind them up is nothing new. It’s actually been penalised for a while now.
What makes it frustrating is that it comes a week after a player in Joel Tomkins was found guilty of playing finger bum tig yet received no on field punishment. Sod’s law and a bit like how touching the referee brought about a bigger ban than dumping someone on their head or neck earlier in the season. Talk about scrutinising the wrong things, but rugby league is master of that. It’s the biggest dose of irony this year too given the constant shithousing seen in Partington’s young career. A warning would have sufficed, but rules are rules regardless if we agree with them or not. Kendall, who might as well go get himself an armadillo helmet, is only there to enforce them. Griffin should also know better. He’s an experienced player but he’s also human.
It was 2-0 to Hull at the time too. It was a massive moment and it gave Wigan possession to kickstart thirteen points ahead of half time. That’s the modern day game in a nutshell and momentum can swing just like that, yet to blame either Griffin or Kendall for defeat with the amount of time left is bordering on lunacy. Hull just didn’t react well and compounded their poor discipline. It wasn’t the first questionable piece of decision making either, with a push on Zak Hardaker deemed enough to rule out a Bureta Faraimo try in the first half. That could have made it 8-0 as well. If’s and buts.
After a solid start Hull got sucked into a dog fight and it didn’t suit them. Once interchanges were made they couldn’t adapt to reach the highs of the opening quarter again – it’s like Wigan knew what was coming and there was no alternative. There was niggle and the game threatened to boil over at times. Wigan just seemed tougher than Hull, but saying that it was two of Hull’s forwards who were two of their best. Scott Taylor had his best game in a long time. He was brilliant, and Ligi Sao finished a promising first season again in fine form. Ironically they were the duo that forced the error from Partington that led to Griffin checking out the formers forehead. Andre Savelio was good too, but Hull needed a little more.
Bowing out with the ending he would have hoped to avoid, Ratu Naulago was quiet in his last game for Hull before changing codes. What a find he’s been though, undoubtedly still raw and a advocate for kamikaze rugby, but faster than a Benji Marshall rumour and capable of scoring absolute worldies. Elsewhere Carlos Tuimavave showed why he’s a sublime centre playing at stand off and Danny Houghton struggled to have an impact off the bench with some wayward passes. There were some brain explosions from others too but it’s far from Hull lost so let’s go on an individual crusade. It’s a team thing and it’s how they are set up and their failure to adapt to different situations throughout the season that needs more addressing. That’s a whole different can of worms though.
This was just one of those nights up against a quality opponent where nothing clicked. As the game endured Hull fell further behind and became desperate. From that Wigan’s resolve grew and grew whilst keeping the scoreboard ticking. They took pride in keeping their line intact and there was a notable difference in how they defended their pressure moments. They thrived off it, whereas Hull caved on the edge or, and whilst they were reduced again, through an unforced error.
With no Sam Powell due to injury, Wigan’s very own Wolf of Wall Street Jackson Hastings stepped in at hooker and he was sublime but it’s the team unit that stands out. Adrian Lam has done a great job there. Another Grand Final – that’s six now in eight years. They never take their eye of their prize.
Compare that to Hull who have had another season, in fact the third in a row, that we are glad to see the back of, and you can see how easy it is to go into meltdown mode. It’s been crazy, one drama to the next after a start that promised so much, yet one that finished with a familiar feeling. Groundhog Day? You’ll forgive us for thinking a little pessimistic. Time will only tell.
Wigan Starting XIII: 6. Bevan French, 23. Jake Bibby, 1. Zak Hardaker, 4. Oliver Gildart, 6. Joe Burgess, 28. Harry Smith, 7. Thomas Leuluai, 19. Joe Bullock, 31. Jackson Hastings, 38. Brad Singleton, 12. Liam Farrell, 11. Willie Isa, 17. Oliver Patrington. Interchange: 8. Tony Clubb, 14. Ben Flower, 13. Sean O’Loughlin, 16. Morgan Smithies.
Wigan Tries: Burgess, Smith, Hardaker, Bibby, French. Goals: Hardaker 4/5. Drop Goal: Smith
Hull Starting XIII: 6. Jake Connor, 33. Ratu Naulago, 24. Mahe Fonua, 4. Josh Griffin, 2. Bureta Faraimo, 3. Carlos Tuimavave, 7. Marc Sneyd, 8. Scott Taylor, 16. Jordan Johnstone, 22. Josh Bowden, 23. Andre Savelio, 12. Manu Ma’u, 15. Joe Cator. Interchange: 13. Ligi Sao, 10. Chris Satae, 9. Danny Houghton, 20. Brad Fash.
Hull Tries: … Goals: Sneyd 1/1
Scoring System: 0-2, 6-2 (Burgess), 12-2 (Smith), 13-2, 19-2 (Hardaker), 23-2 (Bibby), 29-2 (French).
Attendance: Behind Closed Doors
Referee: Chris Kendall