Well hands up if you saw that one coming? Hull FC were composed, full of energy, and showed some quality to defeat Huddersfield 31-12 on Sunday afternoon.
New blood. New inspiration. Who knew it would be that simple? Calls for Andy Last to make changes were rampant after the Salford game and the interim head coach, even if such decisions were perhaps made easier with the recent covid situation, obliged with great effect. Of course there is still a long way to go before this side gets the majority of trust back, but after two weeks in isolation following the latest on field capitulation, Hull returned to Super League action and played like a team full of confidence and with a point to prove.
Compare that to what the other side in the same boat Salford served up on Saturday, and bare in mind this Hull side was in a rut and lacking just about everything needed in a rugby league team, to dispose of Huddersfield so relatively easily was impressive. It’s not shout from the rooftops impressive but it’s something to build on. Sure it wasn’t perfect and the second half became a bit clunky, understandable given that Hull lost both Marc Sneyd and Ratu Naulago to injury, and had a farcical sin bin for an improved Mahe Fonua to contend with, but the first half in particular was excellent.
Last’s changes brought with them an element of youth. Hull, who had fire in the belly from the word go, were never short of the mental fundamentals; desire was in abundance and the side were full of enthusiasm. The catalysts? A few young blokes born and bred in Hull, an Aussie chicken nugget loving sensation, and a hooker from Cumbria. Jordan Johnstone was brilliant. He kept most things simple, in fact a lot of what Hull did was simple, but it was crisp, effective, and brought about points. Playing off the back of a side with a dominant go-forward, Hull’s latest strawberry blonde acquisition distributed slickly and earned his plaudits again on just the second occasion that he’s had the lions share of the hooking role. The first just happened to be that opening night masterclass at Headingley. It can’t be a coincidence.
Though Johnstone wasn’t alone in his plaudits, but his inclusion brought a freshness about Hull. It was most welcome and it rubbed off on the shoulders of others. Brad Fash on a rare start was brilliant. You know what you get every time the Bullhead enters the field. He runs hard, tackles hard and just loves playing for Hull. Pound for pound he’s one of the most valuable players in this squad too. No primadonna, knows his place and just gets on with his job. You need them sorts. Then there’s Joe Cator, another who is a boyhood Black and White and doesn’t it show. Gareth Ellis, who was much more like his old self smashing everything in front of him, spoke vividly after the Salford defeat about the mental qualities you need to be rugby player and Cator brings those in abundance. He’s full of energy and energy can do wonders. Don’t forget Jordan Lane either nor Jack Brown, who if early indications are anything to go by can be anything he wants in the game. This is Super League, in fact just his fourth game at this level, but he looks the absolute part. Insane potential. His try was all about power and pace and showed how you come onto the ball. Another diamond from the other side of the river but one proudly playing in Black and White.
However despite a new look middle that set down some foundations, the best player on the pitch was Albert Kelly. What a signing he’s been for Hull and on a free too. It never gets old, does it. On his 100th Super League game he was outstanding, scoring the first try, having a running threat all game, but also stepping up after Sneyd’s injury and ensuring the two points were going nowhere else other than back to East Yorkshire. Kelly is the best half at the club, in fact he’s one of the best in the competition, and it’ll be a sad day when he leaves for Australia at the end of the year. The pessimist, more the glass half empty outlook amongst us, is still fuming about that, but it’s his call regardless if influenced or not by the bloke who has the six shirt this season. What a player though. Even amongst all the dross we’ve had to witness over the past couple of years Kelly has been one of few that can stand tall, which to the unwashed, is a massive kick to the face after nugget gate and the apparent second season syndrome that was to follow.
There’s plenty of individuals to gloat over, particularly after a domineering five try to one first half performance, but it’s a team game and the way Hull worked together to push the ball and post points was great to watch. However, arguably one of the most commendable things to take from the game was how Hull didn’t panic or look to be under the cosh in the second half. Huddersfield were always going to have their spells after being completely outplayed early on but even after ex-Hull man Jordan Turner scored his try after Ashton Golding’s glimmer of hope, there was no worry. That’s all despite a reshuffle after Sneyd rolled his ankle and another when Naulago failed his head test. Regardless of the cards thrown at them Hull adapted. They moved classy centre Carlos Tuimavave to the halves and back again, they brought Danny Houghton on largely at scrum half, and despite some mistakes and tiredness creeping in, the end result was never in doubt.
Even during Fonua’s sin bin which itself was one of them shite video ref interfering decisions given solely because the player on the end of it is down on the deck, Hull were composed. The best of the Black and Whites was undoubtedly before the break where Hull pushed the ball and looked great in doing so. Ellis was delivering pinpoint out the back passes for Sneyd’s boot or slide of hand (for the first 27 minutes at least) to do the rest. There were perfect tip ons from the likes of Cator and co, repeat sets forced and pressure sustained. Professional and largely free from error, it was simple stuff at times but it’s a simple game. When your execution is bang on then things don’t need be over complicated.
Hull’s attack, which wouldn’t have had the chance to shine so bright without the obligatory powerful metre making that despite flaws elsewhere, has rarely been a problem, stretched Huddersfield and they were helpless to prevent it. On that note alone Bureta Faraimo was excellent – an absolute wrecking ball going forward but positionally smart too. Everything he did in his first outing in almost half a year was class. Same goes for the two centres Josh Griffin and Tuimavave, two absolute metre machines who are pivotal to the side. Defensively as a collective unit the Black and Whites were sound. There was a lot to like about their display, but we must remain grounded, and remember we’ve been in this position so many times before.
Though this is what Hull can be capable of with the right hunger and attitude, but this is also where trust comes in. The worry now is what sort of team will turn up against Warrington. It’s a short turnaround and the games will start to pile on top of each other before we know it. Hull have been so inconsistent over the last two or so years and you literally never know what you’re going to get. That hunger can’t afford to go anywhere. We know what happens when it does. This is one game. One swallow. If Hull deliver another performance and dare we say result then momentum starts to build and before you know it you’re amongst the thick of the action, but a bad result and/or display and everything can feel so flat again.
However there is still a fair way to go yet and the players know that more than anyone, so let them enjoy this one. They’ve earned it. A good win has been a long time coming and after lockdown, a rancid return against Salford, and the isolation period, let’s enjoy it too. Cheers.
Huddersfield Starting XIII: 1. Ashton Golding, 2. Jermaine McGillvary, 21. Leroy Cudjoe, 3. Jake Wardle, 5. Darnell McIntosh, 23. Oliver Russell, 22. Tom Holmes, 14. Matty English, 9. Adam O’Brien, 10. Suaia Matagi, 11. Kenny Edwards, 4. Jordan Turner, 13. Michael Lawrence. Interchange: 26. Sam Hewitt, 27. Sam Wood, 15. Oliver Wilson, 8. James Gavet.
Huddersfield Tries: Golding, Turner. Goals: 2/2
Hull Starting XIII: 1. Jamie Shaul, 33. Ratu Naulago, 3. Carlos Tuimavave, 4. Josh Griffin, 2. Bureta Faraimo, 14. Albert Kelly, 7. Marc Sneyd, 29. Gareth Ellis, 16. Jordan Johnstone, 20. Brad Fash, 21. Jordan Lane, 12. Manu Ma’u, 15. Joe Cator. Interchange: 10. Chris Satae, 30. Jack Brown, 9. Danny Houghton, 24. Mahe Fonua.
Hull Tries: Kelly, Sneyd, Griffin, Brown, Fonua. Goals: Sneyd 2/3, Griffin 3/3. Drop Goal: Shaul
Hull 3-2-1 Man of the Match: 3pts Albert Kelly, 2pts Brad Fash, 1pt Jack Brown
Scoring System: 0-6 (Kelly), 0-10 (Sneyd), 0-16 (Griffin), 0-22 (Brown), 0-28 (Fonua) 6-28 (Golding) 12-28 (Turner), 12-30, 12-31.
Referee: Chris Kendall.