Some things may be different at Hull FC going in 2021, but the expectation that comes with a new season is not.
In the past week, both Adam Pearson and Josh Reynolds have shown their ambition with soundbites like “top four spine” and “winning a Grand Final.” That’s only natural and particular in the formers case who has financially backed the squad for nearly a decade now and will expect to see a reward for his investment.
Clearly confidence isn’t an issue in the Hull FC camp. They are ambitious and so they should be. The squad has a quality over quantity approach to it and whilst depth could be an issue when and if the injuries bite, there is no shortage of talent.
Talent is nothing new though. This side haven’t been short on talent for a while now, but they’ve had plenty of problems putting everything together week after week. Consistently inconsistent. Jekyll and Hyde. The sublime to the ridiculous. We all know the clichés.
However, a lot of those problems can be put down to how Hull were previously set up, and that’s where Brett Hodgson comes in. His task as head coach is huge, but you wouldn’t have thought it. The Australian has been calm and collected ever since he walked through the door, implementing his philosophies and values as he looks to stamp his own mark on the Hull side. The buzzword has been defence, but there’s also huge anticipation to what Hodgson, who was never short on finesse and craft in his playing days, can do with Hull’s attack.
Naturally fans expect to see improvements in both, and as always the pressure will be mental from minute one. Some realism will be needed as there’s a lot of quality elsewhere in Super League, but as long as we see a more resilient side in defence, and a more organised one in attack, then Hull can’t go far wrong.
Opening Round Optimism
The first of two loop fixtures on neutral territory to start the year, Hull’s opening round fixture against Huddersfield is fascinating.
Both clubs have play-off ambition as a minimal goal for 2021, and both have put their hands in their pockets this winter to make that a reality. Hull in marquee man Josh Reynolds have put all their eggs in one basket, but Huddersfield, also with a new head coach in Ian Watson, could give out as many as seven debuts to new signings. One of those will be Josh Jones, the ex-Hull man who made himself public enemy number one in our part of the world last season and will probably want to avoid running into Scott Taylor on Sunday afternoon.
Others come in the likes of Ricky Leutele, Luke Yates, Joe Greenwood, Jack Cogger, James Cunningham and Jack Ashworth, and added to current stars like Aidan Sezer, they make Huddersfield a genuine threat. They are Super League’s dark horse, whereas Hull, after three under-whelming years following the Wembley wins, just have to deliver.
Recently Hull have started each Super League campaign with a bang, winning six of their past seven opening round fixtures. Two of those have actually been against Huddersfield in 2015 and 2018, with others coming against Catalans (2014), Salford (2016), Wakefield (2017) and Leeds (2020). The one defeat coming in the last six seconds against the old enemy (2019). A pointless stat perhaps, but there’s nothing quite like starting as you mean to go on.
It’s worth noting too that Hull vs Huddersfield will be the fifth fixture to take place on the Headingley turf this weekend, and the weather forecast isn’t great with rain expected in Leeds throughout Sunday morning. That could make for a low scoring game with defences on top. A chance then to get a measure of what Hodgson and Hull have been working on the most throughout pre-season.
The Snake, the Grub, and the Iceman
The man they call the Grub, Josh Reynolds, will become the 1,162nd player to play for Hull FC on Sunday. The Aussie, a former State of Origin five-eighth, is one of Super League’s biggest signings for 2021 and there’s a lot of weight on his shoulders. For big game players though, pressure is water off a ducks back (just look at Marc Sneyd), and we can’t wait to see him in the Black and White. There were glimpses at York to Reynolds’ combo with “the Iceman” and of course Jake “the Snake” Connor. Don’t rule out Danny Houghton either who will be looking for a big season out of dummy half. Crisp, fluent and direct, with composure when needed, Hull’s spine isn’t bettered by many and the combos and brand of rugby should be absolutely mouth-watering.
Size, power, and forward supremacy
Rugby League with it’s set restarts is a faster game these days, but there’s still a place for the big fella. Whilst more space has opened up for the creative players, there’s still the war of attrition that is the forward battle and you won’t get anywhere in Super League playing with a beaten pack every week.
Alongside Hull’s impressive new look spine, for us the big thing to take out of the York display was Chris Satae. He started the game for one, and had two big stints getting through a mountain of work both with and without the ball, even getting himself a deserved meat pie.
Satae has worked his arse off over the winter months and is in the best shape he’s been in since arriving at Hull. His size and power, along with Ligi Sao, Scott Taylor and Josh Bowden will be crucial.
Such size and power was the cornerstone of Lee Radford’s success at Hull. Just imagine if it had a bit more craft about it. Hopefully this one can meet somewhere in the middle, but it’ll need the big four mentioned above, not to mention the likes of Manu Ma’u, Andre Savelio and Brad Fash, to hit the ground running.
Josh Griffin will make his 100th Hull FC appearance against one of his former clubs Huddersfield. Griffin arrived at Black and Whites ahead of the 2017 season already a cult-hero having played a key part in the old enemy’s relegation, and he’s kicked on ever since.
Griffin is perhaps not the flashiest of players, but he prides himself on hard work and is a massive part of Hull’s go-forward. Together with Carlos Tuimavave his metre-making abilities are outrageous. They are one of, perhaps the best, centre pairings in Super League.
Hull Squad: 1. Jake Connor, 2. Bureta Faraimo, 3. Carlos Tuimavave, 4. Josh Griffin, 5. Mahe Fonua, 6. Josh Reynolds, 7. Marc Sneyd, 8. Scott Taylor, 9. Danny Houghton, 10. Chris Satae, 11. Andre Savelio, 12. Manu Ma’u, 13. Ligi Sao, 14. Jordan Johnstone, 15. Joe Cator, 16. Jordan Lane, 17. Brad Fash, 19. Ben McNamara, 21. Adam Swift, 22. Josh Bowden, 24. Cameron Scott.
Huddersfield Squad: 2. Jermaine McGillvary, 3. Jake Wardle, 4. Ricky Leutele, 5. Darnell McIntosh, 6. Lee Gaskell, 7. Aidan Sezer, 8. Luke Yates, 9. Adam O’Brien, 11. Kenny Edwards, 13. Josh Jones, 14. Matty English, 15. Joe Greenwood, 16. Jack Cogger, 17. Chris McQueen, 18. Jack Ashworth, 19. James Cunningham, 20. Oliver Wilson, 21. Leroy Cudjoe, 22. James Gavet, 23. Oliver Russell, 25. Owen Trout.
For Hull, Jamie Shaul is out with a long-term knee injury. Masimbaashe Matongo and Jack Brown are also missing having picking up knocks in training. Huddersfield are without Ashton Golding, Michael Lawrence, and Joe Wardle.
Last Five Meetings
2020: Hull 18 Huddersfield 16 (at Warrington)
2020: Huddersfield 12 Hull 31 (at Warrington)
2019: Hull 12 Huddersfield 22
2019: Hull 2 Huddersfield 55 (at Magic Weekend, Anfield)
2019: Huddersfield 8 Hull 28
Super League Head to Head
Played 57, Hull wins 33, Huddersfield wins 23, Draws 1
Hull by eight points.