It wasn’t what we all expected – that’s probably the best way to sum up Hull FC in 2018.
An underwhelming season, partially due to an unprecedented injury crisis, came to a close at title winners Wigan at the end of September.
Of course the year had its moments, notably the ground breaking trip to Australia, and the rise to international stature of Jake Connor, but the final third of the season was a disaster, with Hull suffering a record run of defeats.
Here’s Five Things Up the Cream learned from the past several months.
1.. Jake Connor is world class
“The Jake Connor fan club is blooming once again after another excellent performance. The centre come Stand-Off was brilliant throughout the match and proved that the potential in his locker to become one of the sports best global players really is there.”
That’s what UTC wrote back in January and we don’t regret it. Connor has had a sensational year, capped off with England recognition as the wind up merchant took to the international game like a chav on WKD Blue. He’s just class. He carried Hull FC at times, winning both the Supporters and Players Player of the Year.
The softly spoken menace, who could start a fight in a phone box, is still young and there’s no limit on where his qualities can take him. Signing a new deal after his Denver exploits, his foreseeable future remains with Hull FC, where he created havoc at times this season as the teams most skilful and creative player. The future is exciting and we’re very lucky to have him.
2.. Australia trip a dose of the future?
Expansion and rugby league is a duo more common than RFL and failure, so it’s kind of ironic that the sport is leading the way in terms of innovation.
Back in February both Wigan and Hull took a Super League match to Australia. The game in Wollongong was a success, and it sort of served as a trial that the competition itself can get reward from experimentation. This year we’ve had Catalans, arguably the most significant expansion project in Europe, win the Challenge Cup, a competition Red Star Belgrade have successfully applied for next year. Elsewhere there’s been more speculation of a Perth based NRL side, and Catalans have proposed to take a game to Barcelona’s Nou Camp. Fresh, forward, and certainly welcome thinking.
As for the trip to Australia, Wigan and Hull exposed themselves to the biggest rugby league market in the world. It created conversation, debate, and a memorable, almost lost for words, Aussie experience for thousands of travelling supporters. The only question now is, where to next?
3.. Tag carried the pack
Losing both Gareth Ellis and then Liam Watts did a lot more harm to Hull FC than we anticipated. That was compounded when Josh Bowden was lost to a season ending ACL injury, and whilst things were briefly reassured after Joe Westerman’s signing, a season ending knee injury to the talented loose forward put us back again. Elsewhere Mickey Paea couldn’t get going, Chris Green had his own injury problems and the endurance of Super League arguably caught up a bit with young duo Masimbaashe Matongo and Brad Fash.
That meant Scott Taylor had a lot of responsibility placed on his battered and bruised shoulders and whilst he had own injuries to contend with, he soldiered on heroically at times to get Hull into the top eight. Whilst injuries don’t excuse everything to achieve that given the card we were dealt with was pretty impressive and Tag was at the forefront of Hull’s pack. He had a terrific year and epitomises fully what it means to play for the Black and Whites. He wore his heart on his sleeve and never took a backwards step.
4.. Some injury sentiment for record losing run
Injuries were a nuisance throughout 2018 and started during the game against Wigan in Wollongong. Injury problems persisted all year and disrupted any momentum Hull had to mount a serious top four challenge, but they don’t excuse everything. Consequently the teams form wasn’t good enough and some warning signs were already there, before turning into a catastrophe when the competition spilt in the summer.
Luckily the Super 8s are now a thing of the past but they never should have been used to excuse the eleven game losing run Hull went on. Of course it’s difficult to motivate yourself when the fixtures don’t mean a great deal and you’re down to your bare bones but for those players who stepped out at Warrington, that 80-10 result will always stand next to the clubs name. It was utterly humiliating and it still hurts now, though the scenario over the last three months of the season wasn’t necessary a barometer to describe where Hull were at as more than half the cap were sat in the stand. Given their participation, we would have seen a totally different sequence of results, but questions over the teams attitude at the time can rightly be asked.
There’s no excuses for that and UTC for one became incredibly frustrated and certainly stuck the boot in. Luckily we can wipe a clean slate over it now and concentrate on 2019. We need to pull together and hit the ground running.
5.. That Cup game
The Challenge Cup has brought the best out of Hull FC in recent seasons and did so again in 2018. Despite the defeat the quarter-final performance at St Helens was arguably the best of the season.
Hull were severely under-strength but put in a monumental effort you’d associate with a Lee Radford team in a 25-22 defeat. With a bit more intelligence victory may have followed but the effort and desire made every Hull FC supporter on the terraces incredibly proud. That’s what following the Airlie Birds is all about.
When the stakes are high Hull will turn up and whilst the 2019 squad is not as strong as the 2016 one, if that level of effort is put in then they’ll be no complaints. There will probably need to be a dose of realism on expectations for next season given this years finish, but when at full tilt this team can still achieve something.
The fanzine is still running in the off-season. Our October issue is available to order online now – packed with opinion and wit on all things Hull FC, England and Rugby League.