In 2019 there was a distinct lack of bite in the Hull FC forward pack compared to the two previous seasons.
This year though will be different. Manu Ma’u and Josh Jones have arrived to strengthen the back row, and Josh Griffin could even be set for a few spells there, but it’s the middle positions where the real debate comes.
Here we take a look at just who could be involved when the rain inevitably pours down at Headingley on Sunday week.
Scott Taylor: It’s frowned upon to mention now, but since Liam Watts’ infamous departure, ‘TAG’ has been left to carry the can in the pack. Even when he’s been below par (a rarity in itself), he’s still an absolute colossus and at 28, his best years are likely to be still ahead of him.
Verdict: Does a bear do his business in the woods? Of course Scotty T will be leading the line in Round One. He really has developed into one of the squad’s leaders and it’s essential he is on the pitch as much as possible.
Josh Bowden: You feel Josh is one of the Hull FC players who needs a big campaign to get his career back on track. Admittedly a serious ACL injury is bound to halt progress but we need to see a return to the stellar form of 2016 and 2017. Let’s hope he gets back up to speed soon.
Verdict: A bench place seemed likely but he hasn’t featured in any pre-season games so it’s a big call now.
Chris Satae: We got to see a bit of what Satae had to offer at the end of 2019, albeit with little to play for. He looks in good condition again this year and there’s no doubt that he will be difficult to handle. Hull lacked a bit of aggression in the forwards last year and the Tongan will certainly add another dimension to the pack with his metre making and offload ability.
Verdict: Don’t be surprised to see Satae come off the bench with Ligi Sao (who will predominately play third middle) doing a stint at prop to start with. There’s options aplenty.
Masimbaashe Matongo: It’s going to be a big year for Masi in terms of progress and development. A strong start to 2019 was unfortunately halted by injury and personal issues. A call-up to the England Knights squad should fill him with confidence but he now needs to channel it into delivering consistent big-game performances.
Verdict: Given the competition for places the Zimbabwean may narrowly miss out on selection but it won’t be long before he is involved.
Brad Fash: Young ‘Bullhead’ progressed as the 2019 season went on, eventually forcing himself into Lee Radford’s plans by the middle of the year. What he lacks in stature, he more than makes up for in strength and determination. He will need a massive year with his contract up at the end of the season.
Verdict: Fash’s pre-season performances have been strong and Radford is a big fan. He’s forced his way on to the interchange for us.
Andre Savelio: Almost the forgotten man at the club given a rancid run of injuries, Andre has returned strongly in pre-season and has played the most minutes of any Hull FC forward. He can play right across the pack too and a spot on the interchange is the very least he can expect for the Super League opener.
Verdict: Full of talent and will be a big part of Hull FC this year, coming off the bench at Headingley.
Gareth Ellis: The old war horse is now 39-years-young, and old enough to be Jack Brown’s dad, but he still packs a punch. Entering his fourth decade as a professional rugby league player, Gareth won’t play every game, but when he does he’ll make his presence felt.
Verdict: Big part to play whether off the bench, or from the start.
Jack Brown: But for injury there’s every chance Jack would have pushed on with a run in the first-team last year after bursting onto the scene with a try on his debut at Catalans. He has all the ingredients but now he needs a run of games to realise his potential.
Verdict: A year in the reserves beckons but Brown could quite easily end up putting both Fash and Matongo under pressure for a spot on the first-team should their performance levels drop.