Hull FC have work to do. That was evident as Wigan closed out a 26-12 victory after a dominant second half performance.
The travelling Black and Whites were comfortably second best. No complaints and no excuses. It just wasn’t good enough. But there were signs. The offloads were strong and there were some positive moments, but consequently the longer the second half went on the worse it got.
The sinister nature of that and conceding two tries from mistakes and one from the play the ball, means a lot of people will be quick to throw the book at this side despite masquerading them as Grand Final contenders just two weeks ago. Long time in sport, that. Obviously there is a room for improvement and as the summer months come and a first choice line up enters the field you’ll see that improvement. No time for panicking or to get the pitchforks out. It’s two defeats to two very good teams. It’s February too, four rounds in, and with a lot of rugby league still to be played.
Theres no hiding away from the fact that Hull will have to be much better with the ball as this season matures though. The second phase stuff at Wigan was very good at times but the shifts and switches of play were too slow and didn’t ask enough questions of the opposition defence – which in all honesty was very good. But the truth hurts. There was little attacking zip from Hull and to be honest that has always been a problem with our sides and something Keiron Purtill was brought in to solve. We have power, we can punch some holes and offload too, but we don’t have that extra bit of finesse with ball in hand.
What’s become apparent, and contrary to loads of waffle from us and many alike about strength in depth, is that we’ll only see the best of Hull FC with that most desired thirteen on the field, not to mention the interchange too. The difference from the two sides in quality produced from within is ridiculously notable. Wigan are notorious for it and they constantly roll out players that make up the lions share of their squad and go on to play internationally. Consider Hull. Yes Jamie Shaul played for England in a meaningless game against France, but the last time a Hull Academy player caused a shockwave or two on the sports highest level was the trio of Paul Cooke, Richard Horne and Kirk Yeaman. That’s twenty years ago now. Wigan have youngsters in that line up that will make future England squads, can you say the same about Hull?
To get that quality Hull are relying on imports or other clubs’ federation trained players, ie Josh Griffin who hails from Oxford, and Ligi Sao from Auckland. Then again the main man at the Pies these days is Australian-born Jackson Hastings, but you can’t ignore the talent of Liam Farrell or how comfortable those young Wigan lads looked. Morgan Smithies, Oliver Partington etc just fit right into that Wigan team like it’s no adjustment what’s-so-ever, whereas when Hull lose big players like Chris Satae and Andre Savelio the holes show up. That’s the difference and why instead of hating Wigan we have nothing but respect for them. Its also easy to miss that they, and just like St Helens last week, had key players out too. It adds to our point. Proper depth. The Wigan way. They’re like locusts and they fit together as a unit whereas Hull aren’t the same threat once the squad gets stretched.
You can’t ignore Griffin and Sao though who were both easily Hull’s top performers. Griffin was a metre machine as is the norm these days and he constantly looked capable of breaking the line. Sao, who will be Hull’s best this season and it’s already evident to see, was an offload machine and got his ball carrying arm free in almost impossible situations. Josh Jones too was busy and was always poking his nose through. Another top buy with numerous offloads to his game. It was that second phase that created some dents as Hull clawed their way back in the first half, but something they couldn’t replicate in the second half as the passing became wayward.
It was like the more Hull tried the more nothing came off and we get that as desperation kicked in as the clock ran out. There was no lack of effort. Just smarts. Basic errors, again the norm. Really frustrating in a game that was in the balance at half time despite a questionable penalty decision and sin bins for Farrell and Griffin. It’s also more frustrating that it’s the spell right after half time that’s killed us for the second successive week. There were chances too and opportunities wasted to stay in the game. It’s not like this side are getting battered or are without a cat in hells chance of winning either. We are creating but we don’t execute.
Don’t discredit Wigan though. They have now won three from three at home this season, and actually started both halves superbly. They are tough and they had the better of the opening twenty minutes but Hull fought their way back. It was forming into a competitive battle then as 8-0 became 8-8. Hull had a breakaway try to thank for that and it was Adam Swift who got it. The winger had a really solid game apart from one blunder in the second half. He didn’t deserve that – it was ugly and directly resulted in a Wigan try. The game by then was gone. Wigan won the second half 16-4 with tries from Dom Manfredi, the excellent Jackson Hastings and Willie Isa adding to Bevan French’s first half effort. Convincing in the end but luckily for Hull who only had a Griffin try in response, time is on their side.
What this defeat showed and we will reiterate it again is that Hull will struggle for as long as they go without Satae, Savelio, Manu Ma’u and the like. Not to mention Carlos Tuimavave as well. That’s not to disrespect those coming in but they’re just not at that level yet, whereas Wigan’s second and third choice are. It’s effortless for them. A proper credit to their system and structure.
Lee Radford has some big decisions to make now with Albert Kelly available for selection again next week. The Connor at half back thing is still early days but what’s more concerning is Mahe Fonua in the centre. He’s a handful and will always pack a punch but he still just can’t get up and play the ball. Opposition fans will know exactly what we’re getting at here too. Milking penalties is ripe in Super League and has been for years. Fonua is one of the biggest culprits and referee Robert Hicks was rightly having none of it. Rocks and diamonds right now with his wavy mullet but everyone knows how much quality Fonua has. He’ll click eventually and probably when he’s properly fit in a few weeks time. It was noticeable and understandable that Fonua again struggled with the pace of the game, as did Bureta Faraimo who soldiered on through the pain and is now set for a hernia operation.
On the ruck point don’t underestimate its importance. Sydney Roosters didn’t. They were quick out the blocks against St Helens in the World Club Challenge, with a quick ruck the start of attacking excellence. It gets you on the front foot and allows for an extra second or two to think. There’s no time for players flapping arms about or rolling about like a baby on steroids.
Get that right, clean up a bit with the passing and Hull will click. Things will get better and attacking fluency will come. It might be hard to see after back to back defeats but that squad is too good not to compete at that right end when it’s all on the park together. Radford will know that, but he has to get them playing some rugby too as the best of that roster is a top four roster for sure, and if that’s not achieved come September then he’ll come under pressure from an expectant fan base.
Right now a second loss of the season is disappointing, in fact all defeats are a right pain in the arse but stick with Hull. It wasn’t as bad as some will make out and it won’t be long before we’re all singing and dancing again and shouting from the rooftops how good we are. A fortnight ey. It really is a long time in this game.
Wigan Starting XIII: 6. Bevan French, 21. Dominic Manfredi, 1. Zak Hardaker, 22. Jake Bibby, 2. Liam Marshall, 31. Jackson Hastings, 7. Thomas Leuluai, 17. Oliver Partington, 9. Sam Powell, 8. Tony Clubb, 11. Willie Isa, 12. Liam Farrell, 16. Morgan Smithies. Interchange: 19. Joe Bullock, 20. Liam Bryne, 22. Mitch Clark, 28. Harry Smith.
Wigan Tries: French, Manfredi, Hastings, Isa. Goals: Hardaker 5/6
Hull Starting XIII: 1. Jamie Shaul, 2. Bureta Faraimo, 24. Mahe Fonua, 4. Josh Griffin, 5. Adam Swift, 6. Jake Connor, 7. Marc Sneyd, 8. Scott Taylor, 9. Danny Houghton, 13. Ligi Sao, 21. Jordan Lane, 11. Josh Jones, 20. Brad Fash. Interchange: 10. Josh Bowden, 29. Gareth Ellis, 19. Masimbaashe Matongo, 16. Jordan Johnstone.
Hull Tries: Swift, Griffin. Goals: Sneyd 2/3
Hull 3-2-1 Man of the Match: 3pts Josh Griffin, 2pts Ligi Sao, 1pt Josh Jones
Scoring System: 6-0, 8-0, 8-6, 8-8, 10-8. HT, 14-8, 20-8, 26-8, 26-12
Referee: Robert Hicks