Here we are at the start of another season, and after two consecutive years with silverware (not had that since ‘83/’84), I can hand on heart say that this is the first February that I have expectation rather than hope in my heart.
We simply must deliver again this year, so that’s the Challenge Cup or the Super League trophy (or both) that must reside in our trophy cabinet come October.
As I outlined a few blogs back, I fully expect us to be up there challenging for honours, this squad is too talented not to be. What worries me is the recent trend of a team that everyone expected to be at the pinnacle of their powers having an inexplicably awful season. Leeds the year before last, and Warrington in 2017 really had an “Annus Horribilis” seemingly out of nowhere. Maybe it’s an internal conflict, players falling out with the coach, injuries, whatever…. There is a lot to be said for the power of momentum, both upward and downward.
That’s why our start to the season is crucial, we were patchy in both ’16 and ’17 before finding form and then running out of steam. With the trip down under coming after our first league game, winning against the Giants becomes very important. Then we must adapt to the heat better than Wigan, and take the game to them at the ‘Gong, it would be a perfect world if we came back to the SL competition winning our first 2 games, and after putting up a good show at ANZ, too.
The game against St George is great as an exhibition, and will do the image of SL the word of good (especially if we do well), but we don’t get two points for that.
Of course, I’m massively excited to have two games down here coming up, and in my more selfish moments want us to win them both at all costs, we’ve got to be sensible, especially in the friendly.
They say jetlag takes one day for each one hour of time difference between your destination and where you end up. If that’s true its going to take our players 11 days to get back to full awareness and peak fitness when they return to Ol Blighty, and we’ve got a very tough game away at Cas in that period.
However, you’ve got to hand it to the structure and planning at the club recently. The one percenters like the players still wearing their legwarmers during the national anthem and pre-match rigmarole at Wembley two years running so they don’t lose the good work done in the warm up, points to a backroom staff fully aware of the small things it takes to turn a team from also rans to winners. I’m sure, therefore that we have a strategy in place to manage fatigue and jetlag both when the team lands in Sydney, and when they return to Hull.
The other thing to remember is that these games are being played in an Aussie summer. There’s a very good reason that Rugby League is a Winter sport down here. The average temperature in Sydney over the past two weeks has been well over 30 degrees, which is great for cricket, not as good for a contact sport, especially between two teams coming directly from a north of England winter.
I’m sure that the friendlies at ANZ will have scheduled water breaks included, I just hope that the Wigan game does too. I remember Radders mentioning how well we’d coped with the heat in a game last year (especially as, in his words, we hadfour gingers on the field!), this will be next level though, and must be managed properly. I’ve seen players under the weather for weeks after getting heat stressed.
Finally lets have a look at what to expect from St George Illawarra Dragons.
It looks like the Dragons will have two superstars of the modern game making their debuts for the team against us in Ben Hunt and James Graham. They’ll both be very eager to impress their new coach and fans. Outside of those two they haven’t had much in the way of eye-catching recruitment since the end of last year. Jeremy Latimore signed on from the Sharks, and Mitch Allgood came back to Aus from Wakey, but that’s about it. Most of their player movement has been in the departure lounge. They’ve lost Josh Dugan, Russell Packer, Havili and Taane Milne, with a host of fringe first graders also moving on (most to UK clubs), names like Tyrone Mcarthy, Josh McCrone and Will Matthews.
They’ve still got Gareth Widdop though, and a lot will depend on how quickly he and the aforementioned Ben Hunt gel. There’s also the chance that they’ll put Widdop at one, and play one of their youngsters alongside Hunt, something you wouldn’t have expected until Josh Dugan jumped ship.
They’ve lost a bit of grunt up front, but in Tyson Frizell and Paul Vaughan they still pack a punch. Vaughan was incredibly unlucky not to be picked for the Blues last year and will probably get the nod this time around now that Fittler is in charge.
At the time of writing (Jan 27th) St George are the only team with no long term injuries with all players expected to be available for selection for round one of the NRL. Despite that id fully expect to see that the two teams agree to both have an extended bench to enable more substitutions, especially in the warmer conditions.
Whatever happens, Hull fans will out-sing Wiganers, Rabbitohs, and Dragons on the day, that you can be sure of..
Until next time, Up the Cream, Gerremonsard and Come on you ‘Ull.