Hull FC had a dig and showed plenty of fight against St Helens, but it was a lack of nous that cost them most in a 24-10 defeat.
It was a fiery game to say the least, full of punch and niggle, and particularly in the first half, but it was St Helens who had more craft and guile when it mattered most to pull away from what was a resilient Hull display.
The Black and Whites had a real go and at times they certainly mixed and rattled the best team in the league. Competitive throughout, they were right in the thick of the action, and despite going down by fourteen points, they weren’t that far away at all.
In fact, Hull had more opportunities to score and were the better team for parts of the first half, yet emotions perhaps got the better of them in the second as St Helens did what St Helens do best: win.
Credit to the Saints who are nothing short of outstanding. What a side they are. They are tough, aggressive, and in your face, but they are fast and skilful with the ball as well. They never go away and they never take their foot off the gas playing behind their sensational hooker James Roby. Fair play to Jonny Lomax too who showed plenty of bottle and Tommy Makinson who was superb as always.
Under Kristian Woolf, the Saints play right on the edge and they push the games legalities as far as they go. There’s nothing wrong with that either, this is rugby league, and Hull gave as good as they got too in a first half that for one reason or another threatened to boil over.
For Hull, the biggest positive was their monstrous pack of forwards rising to the challenge and all despite losing Brad Fash in the opening minutes. As per the norm these days, Ligi Sao was a machine and Manu Ma’u a wrecking ball. Then there’s Jack Brown who is just getting better and better. He’s a freak, hitting his straps at the grand old age of 21. He’s a baby in prop years, but he took the game alongside his fellow middles to St Helens and more than matched them.
Despite tasting defeat, a battling Hull display does deserve some plaudits, but it’s not all sunshine and roses. The forwards really were superb and collectively as a team the effort and endeavour is not in question. However, the attack was far from polished, and again the side were left to rue missed opportunity through some costly errors and penalties – non more so than the indiscipline that gave Jack Welsby the field position to get his customary try against Hull just before half time.
That was a proper suckerpunch as Hull at that stage (4-4) were well in the contest. It gave St Helens the ascendency and this is a side who only need a remote hint of a sniff to get on top of you. They capitalised on further errors after half time and soon took the game away from a brave but mentally tiring Hull outfit as all clinical and composed sides do.
Look, Hull don’t deserve pelters but it’s the same things that hold them back time and time again. It’s not a lack of effort, fight etc, etc, they were bang on, we’re talking lack of nous, guile, flair, finesse, however you want to word it, and from two massive parts of the spine. It’s where Hull have been left behind again – the way the seven and nine both managed the ten minute spell when Saints were down to twelve just after half time was actually horrendous. Hitting leads on the last tackle. Not reacting to offloads. Strewth.
That was the biggest difference between the two sides. Given niggly injuries and covid, Josh Reynolds has had the benefit of the doubt. He started his Hull career in good form, but has since struggled for any continuity. We are past the point of excuses now though and for a marquee half on a lot of money, it’s just not good enough.
Again, and despite Danny Houghton having a couple of good moments early on – one good break and a million tackles – the distribution was so slow and unlike that of St Helens, there’s just no zip from the play of the ball quick ruck or not. Those Saints don’t know how lucky they’ve been with Roby who has adapted his game superbly to suit each era. That’s the longevity of him. He is nothing short of incredible – actually popping a dislocated finger back in during the second half.
It sure helps though when you have the desire, speed, and enthusiasm throughout the side. Everything St Helens do is full on. It’s of the upmost intensity and that’s why they’re threepeat Super League champions. On the front foot, the pace they play at is frightening and they can step it up like it’s nothing. But there’s a growing realisation that Hull tidy up those two spots and the rest will fall into place.
Yet despite the songs and meltdowns, the fact is Hull and their strongest parts weren’t that far away. There was a platform set at Langtree Park and given better structure, better options, and more pressure built, we could be talking about something different. For how good they are, St Helens are not invincible and Hull’s forwards certainly got at them. They were let down by some dumb and slow plays from their creative outlets, and also some shaky defence from a left edge that didn’t cover itself in glory.
The raw combination of Connor Wynne and in particular Jamie Shaul had a tough night. The former was at least a threat with the ball though and on that note Darnell McIntosh again shined with yet another performance full of graft. He works his backside off every week and he deserved his two tries – even if the second was from a blatantly forward Carlos Tuimavave pass. The other was off a crisp Jake Connor kick and at that point Hull were good value – even if relying once again on a “chuck it to Connor and hope for the best” approach. Say no more.
Still despite a battling but naive display, this Hull team definitely have something to go at, with the result only reaffirming previously made points, and that’s that this is not a quick fix, there’s no room for sentiment, and Hull FC need both a new hooker and half back. As you were.
St Helens Starting XIII: 1. Jack Welsby, 2. Tommy Makinson, 23. Konrad Hurrell, 11. Sione Mata’utai, 4. Mark Percival, 22. Ben Davies, 6. Jonny Lomax, 8. Alex Walmsley, 9. James Roby, 10. Matty Lees, 16. Curtis Sironen, 12. Joe Batchelor, 13. Morgan Knowles.
Interchange: 14. Joey Lussick, 15. Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook, 17. Agnatius Paasi, 20. James Bell.
St Helens Tries: Makinson 2, Welsby, Lomax. Goals: Makinson 4/5
St Helens Sin Bin: Bell
Hull Starting XIII: 1. Jake Connor, 5. Darnell McIntosh, 3. Carlos Tuimavave, 23. Connor Wynne, 29. Jamie Shaul, 14. Joe Lovodua, 6. Josh Reynolds, 8. Ligi Sao, 9. Danny Houghton, 30. Scott Taylor, 13. Jordan Lane, 12. Manu Ma’u, 17. Brad Fash.
Interchange: 10. Chris Satae, 20. Jack Brown, 4. Josh Griffin, 21. Jordan Johnstone.
Hull Tries: McIntosh 2. Goals: Connor 1/2
Scoring System: 4-0 (Makinson), 4-4 (McIntosh), 10-4 (Welsby), Half Time, 12-4, 18-4 (Lomax), 24-4 (Makinson), 24-10 (McIntosh), Full Time.
Referee: Jack Smith