Polished, composed, and with a fourth consecutive win over Leeds in the bag, Hull FC started the 2020 Super League season like a house on fire. Headingley played host to 19,500 people that night, the obligatory rain poured down on the Western Terrace but little did we care. It seems a lifetime ago now. A lot has changed.
Nine months later in this covid mad six again world, the Black and Whites are a shadow of that side, but they have acquired one or two new chums following the clubs selfless act to abolish their bye week and play at Headingley for the fourth time this year. Every cloud. Unfortunately though there was no fairytale here, as the same on field problems that have become notorious throughout the year were on show to see, with Hull well beaten again losing 22-40 to Leeds on Thursday night.
It wasn’t through the lack of trying, that’s for sure, but despite all the endeavour on show, disappointment is the main emotion and that’s a common theme these days. There’s such a thing as manner of defeat and we’ve seen much worse this year, yet whilst Hull had a dig against the Wembley bound Whinos and avoided the sort of major embarrassment we’ve seen too regularly over the past three seasons, it’s still a loss next to their name and that is naturally disappointing.
However, the willingness to step up and take Cas’ place when it would have been easier to tell the Super League rallying call to do one was admirable, and especially given the amount of players missing to covid, track and trace, and injury, but let’s not go nuts here. Credit where it is due though. Hull stepped up to play for the betterment of the competition and are now one game closer to finishing this rancid year off for good. That’s what matters, but in doing so and despite many opting for the pissing contest approach with regards to naming who was out (the norm after every Hull defeat these days), Andy Last still fielded a side that you can certainly question in leaking another forty points and throwing away a healthy looking position mid way through the first half.
Moral of the story? Aim higher. Sure some spirit was on show but talk about a fall from grace. From dining with the elite for what now seems a very brief stint to quite literally mid-table mediocrity where most of the fan base and indeed players are content with having a dig, putting in some effort and not throwing the towel in. Christ. That’s the absolute minimum expectation and regardless whether preparation was less than 24-hours for a professional sports team that have hardly been sat on their arse playing the new FIFA all week. Effort, endeavour, and energy are all the mandatory requirements for Super League which was never designed to be easy and Hull, from the club to the supporters, have got to be bigger than shouting from the rooftops when we see a little bit of each – regardless of how challenging the circumstances are in this farcical excuse of a season.
This was actually a game that Hull could have won too, in fact it was there for the taking at times, and whilst some of the individual quality with the ball was decent, it’s without the ball where the biggest problems lay. It’s ironic really, as every game seems to be a post-mortem to the attacking structure, and whilst its poor to say the least and needs a lot of work under a new direction, it’s defensively in which this Hull team are absolutely woeful. They won’t go anywhere until they sort it out either. It’s proper baffling how it’s all, over a two to three year period, gone so downhill, as under prime Lee Radford (i.e 2016 when he got the very best out of his side), defence was the one aspect of Hull’s game that was on point week in week out, and the more they were placed under adversity, the more they seemed to thrive off it. Those days are long gone now though. The current team are hopeless at keeping the opposition out and whether on the edges or through the middle, they crack under the first glimpse of pressure.
That was exemplified either side of half time against Leeds as all the good work Hull did to build an impressive 10-0 lead was undone. Conceding some soft tries, the goal line defence was woeful, in particular the James Donaldson try which saw the former Dobin twist and turn his way over despite the attention of three Hull players. Poor Cameron Scott on Hull’s right wing got absolutely peppered too as Leeds, particularly Ash Handley who got a hat-trick of tries, found some joy through the high ball. Defensively it’s all atrocious, and at the time of writing Hull actually have the worst defensive record in the competition. It’s not good enough and is far from a case of we had a game moved under short notice so blame it all on that. Big defeats are nothing new and have been accepted for too long. That’s the problem. Hull’s defence is a team issue and far from a case of blaming a handful of players. The team defend as individuals, there’s no scramble, no leadership, and points are a formality. You know they’re coming and it’s easy for the opposition to get them. That’s the worst thing about it.
On the contrary with the ball at least Hull have been far worse and their brightest moments came from the bloke who had his most sinister moments without it. Yet again most of the best things about Hull came from Jake Connor at fullback. Roaming about with the freedom the position brings rather than the pressure of the half back role, most of his involvements were slick. Connor set up Mahe Fonua’s try, then provided an excellent pass to Scott, and after Richie Myler was sin binned for a professional foul, Andre Savelio was on point to score Hull’s second. Connor also provided a 40/20 in the second half, and whilst errors weren’t absent, he was Hull’s biggest attacking threat by far. However, he was also one of Hull’s weakest defensively and perhaps that comes with a lack of recent experience defending in the role. That’s an area where Hull’s Slim Shady has the nod, but when it comes to passing there is only one winner. A conundrum? Well Jamie Shaul has areas to his game which are outstanding but the modern day fullback has to deliver that passing arsenal. Connor does that and points have followed.
The Snake linked off the back of Marc Sneyd and Ben McNamara, laterally who did little wrong again on just his second Hull appearance and provided the try assist for Savelio. Individual talent is far from the problem here and a few new play books will be welcome by whoever gets the coaching gig next year. Saying that, if Bureta Faraimo takes the Sneyd kick to make it 16-0 we are perhaps looking at a different game. That’s the small margins on show these days. There is little room for error.
Unfortunately Hull couldn’t capitalise on that lead and once Leeds got momentum fatigue quickly became an issue and the ‘home’ sides interchanges were powerless to stop the onslaught. That’s a thing itself – the Hull side didn’t get enough from some of their forwards. Ligi Sao was decent, he has been for most of the season, and Jack Brown was good again, but Chris Satae had a stint to forget. He should have been brought on earlier, but instead spent most of his time defending (well trying to defend, re-watch said Donaldson try) and little time with the ball. Josh Bowden copped a bang on the shoulder and Lewis Bienek only got a cameo in a first appearance in two years. It turned out to be a tough night, but Hull kept going right until the end however defensively inept they were and gave themselves a sniff with tries for Josh Griffin and Brown in the second half.
A sniff was all it was though as further defensive lapses ensured Leeds’ tilt to the top four takes another leap, with Hull in a battle to avoid finishing in the bottom four. Hands up if you thought things would be that way around walking out of Headingley on February 2nd. Funny old game, isn’t it…
Hull Starting XIII: 6. Jake Connor, 31. Cameron Scott, 3. Carlos Tuimavae, 24. Mahe Fonua, 2. Bureta Faraimo, 35. Ben McNamara, 13. Ligi Sao, 16. Jordan Johnstone, 22. Josh Bowden, 23. Andre Savelio, 4. Josh Griffin, 20. Brad Fash. Interchange: 10. Chris Satae, 30. Jack Brown, 25. Connor Wynne, 28. Lewis Bienek.
Hull Tries: Fonua, Savelio, Griffin, Brown. Goals: Sneyd 3/4
Hull 3-2-1 Man of the Match: 3pts Ligi Sao, 2pts Carlos Tuimavave, 1pt Jake Connor
Leeds Starting XIII: 1. Jack Walker, 2. Tom Briscoe, 4. Konrad Hurrell, 15. Liam Sutcliffe, 5. Ash Handley, 16. Richard Myler, 7. Luke Gale, 8. Ava Seumanufagai, 9. Kruise Leeming, 19. Mikolaj Oledzki, 20. Bodene Thompson, 12. Rhyse Martin, 10. Matt Prior. Interchange: 28. Tom Holroyd, 14. Brad Dwyer, 22. Cameron Smith, 25. James Donaldson.
Leeds Tries: Walker 2, Handley 3, Donaldson, Sutcliffe. Goals: Martin 6/7
Leeds Sin Bin: Myler
Scoring System: 4-0 (Fonua), 10-0 (Savelio), 10-6 (Walker), 10-10 (Handley), 10-16 (Walker), HT, 10-22 (Donaldson), 10-28 (Handley), 16-28 (Griffin), 22-28 (Brown), 22-34 (Sutcliffe), 22-40 (Handley)
Attendance: Behind Closed Doors
Referee: Ben Thaler