2019 is over for Hull FC, falling short of target due to a stale end of the season, but it wasn’t all bad…
1.. A year of one step forward and two back
Whilst the dross that saw out this season was incredibly frustrating, it wasn’t a barometer for the whole picture in 2019. With a handful of rounds to go Hull FC were primed for a top two finish. Regardless of your view on the standard of Super League, or on the club this season, a high play-off spot was right there for the taking, and whilst ultimately the opportunity to do so was blown, there were plenty of good days to get to that position in the first place.
The sinister is easy to remember, especially when you’re looking for things to point at, but equally both the trips to Catalans, the Challenge Cup run, wins at Wigan and Warrington, general away form, return of reserves, emergence of more homegrown players, and a record score on the old enemy were pleasing. Off the field the club got things right too, Danny Washbrook’s testimonial, junior takeover, getting out in the community, and heritage week are all good concepts, and the send off for the departing players, especially Mark Minichiello and Sika Manu, were great.
Unfortunately those highs were comprehended with the abject heavy defeats and performances, which were far too regular throughout the year, and must be stopped. It’s a shame, as there was potential and therefore optimism, only for a harsh and sometimes brutal reality check. Consistency was the problem and the flaws in the side were highlighted, Hull were so Jekyll and Hyde, the sublime to the ridiculous, and a sixth placed finish doesn’t lie.
2.. Improving with the ball
The stale end to the year frustrated many and saw questions being asked, but it wasn’t always like that. Whilst new additions are welcome, this fanzine is very pro-Radford, and during the peak of Hull FC mid-season it was the slickest we’ve seen this side play. Radford and co obviously realised the pack wasn’t as formidable as in previous years and therefore adapted to suit. That slick approach brought the best out of Albert Kelly, who during Hull’s best form was sensational. Think Good Friday, Catalans away 2.0. That attack saw players like Ratu Naulago excel, whilst Marc Sneyd’s first half of the year was also sublime. Easy to forget that given a poor end to the year.
When Hull got their best players firing there were plenty of threats, but the side struggled in the pack, which failed to dominate like in the cup winning years. There was also a sense of burn out and that coincides with a loss of form from key players towards the end of the year. The best and worst of many were so far apart in those final few rounds. It was tough to watch, and contrary to scapegoating, not all Jake Connor’s fault.
It’s the basics where Hull shot themselves in the foot so frequently – first tackle knock ons, poor last tackle options, not making touch from penalties etc. Proper dumb things that hinder you no matter how good you are. They can’t happen next year. Hull must be smarter and much more cut-throat with ball in hand, putting pressure on the opposition and not themselves. There’s a lot of quality both already in house and arriving, and Radford has to nurture that quality, even if it means listening to other voices, but there’s also an onus on the players too. They can’t just pick and choose when to turn up and must be much more consistent next season.
3.. Defence and attitude must improve
We can moan about attack all we like but Hull FC’s defence did not earn them the right to win games. 768 points were conceded in 29 Super League rounds for an average of 26 a game. That’s not good enough.
It all starts with what Hull do with the ball. Cheap turnovers and poor discipline put you under constant pressure and ultimately fatigue then slips in. Add to that the fact Hull were comfortably busted up the middle and the left edge defence was shocking and you can see the problems. It’s too big of a conundrum to throw all on Bureta Faraimo’s shoulders. He’s not perfect, but he’s also been left out to dry. The left edge will be shaken up next season with what’s arriving and it’s an area that must be tightened up. Likewise with the middles which were weak and at times easily dominated, opposition sides made far too many metres, and that has to be cut out.
Defence too is all about attitude, and let’s not sugar coat it, Hull’s attitude stunk at times. The big defeats testify that, and there were plenty of them. What was most concerning was how quick the towel was thrown in when things got tough, 20 points soon became 50. There’s clearly a half-hearted approach to some regular season matches. That’s got to change, only then will Hull have a realistic shot at a high play-off finish and the Grand Final.
4.. Home form
Hull FC’s home form throughout 2019 was pathetic, winning just five times from fourteen Super League matches. Proper grim.
The KCOM Stadium may have better facilities, but it’s got nothing on the Boulevard – we all know that, but we’re not going anywhere so we’ve got to try and make our current ground feel like home. Right now it doesn’t. Absurd rent prices and rancid Allams charging for literally everything don’t help, but it’s in our hands, on the field at least. The last game against St Helens saw the crowd respond to the endeavour that was shown on the pitch and a decent atmosphere was created. On the contrary when the team is getting shafted by 60 points at home to Warrington the place is dead. They go hand in hand.
The bread and butter of a rugby league club is the members. Over 4,000 have signed up for 2020 already, the loyalty is unquestionable. Hopefully the playing group will respond to that. Hull were just two or three more home wins from a top two finish, when you put it like that it shows how close the side were, and how easy it is to improve.
5.. Chop and change
The excuse book has been absent until now, but you can’t ignore the disruption caused from those who have come and gone during the season. We all know of Adam Pearson’s infamous rant and the need for further recruitment ahead of this year, but due to no viable alternatives or ideal targets, Hull were left with what they had, and that was a right kick in the knackers.
Early in the season came Gareth Ellis out of retirement, then the signings of Naulago and Andre Savelio, and then Tevita Satae for the final four games. For varied reasons, there were exits for Andrew Bulman, Danny Langtree, Fetuli Talanoa, Hakim Miloudi, Jordan Thompson, Chris Green, Dean Hadley and Jez Litten. Talk about disruption and a lack of continuity. None of that chop and change will have helped, and it evidently had an impact on the squad.
Luckily for 2020 there is clearly a burning ambition. They’ll be no panic signings or departures, and the squad is settled. What’s arriving for next season is nothing short of incredible. There can be no excuses.