Hull FC are in a big rut, mentally they are gone, and that’s been evident for weeks now. Defensively hopeless and with ball in hand clueless, the end of the season cannot come quick enough, with the clubs play-off hopes almost burnt out after an embarrassing 44-12 defeat to Castleford on Thursday night.
The worst part of it all is that it’s hardly surprising. It was another disgusting performance, the sort of which we’ve seen on an all too frequent basis throughout 2019. The truth hurts. There’s no hunger nor desire, an evidently poor attitude, and the team spirit which was so pivotal to those two cup winning sides has gone. This is a team of individuals longing for the campaign to end. There’s Lee Radford’s henchmen in one corner, then the islanders in another, then those that should have either retired or been shipped on, and then Jake Connor, who looks both an isolated and infuriated figure right now. But to blame everything on his shoulders, especially a sin-bin with two minutes to go when the team has already been well-beaten, would be a little naive, especially when the prior defensive efforts, passes, and last tackle plays of some of his team-mates were beyond pathetic.
Connor though is an easy target when he’s spitting his dummy out. It’s been great watching him rinse opposition players and get under their skin over the past three years, but now others are doing it back, he gets rattled and we turn on him. Standard. Connor is a player that is evidently infuriated by the current situation at Hull FC, and a player who wears his emotions on his sleeve, sometimes coming across like a petulant child and therefore to his detriment. We’ve all been there. Did he cross the line by telling Mark Minichiello to f*** off? Probably. But that’s just one example of when the cameras were on. It’s rugby league. It’s emotional. Imagine the vocabulary that isn’t picked up. Those that have played even at amateur level know you can have it out with a team-mate then you’re best pals again five minutes later. It happens. It’s just easy for some to stick the knife into a player that seems to have copped all blame for Hull FC’s rut recently. Every fan base loves a scapegoat.
Unfortunately the team isn’t in sync, and when that happens you’ve got no chance. Everyone points fingers at Connor, but Marc Sneyd has been, one performance at Wakefield aside, woeful for a while now. In contrast to the early season months where he was brilliant, every last tackle kick at Wheldon Road was a hopeless chip to the corner, the sort of play that worked wonders when you had Mahe Fonua or Fetuli Talanoa on the end of it, but one that is just tedious to watch now. Currently there’s no variation from Sneyd. He has a gift of a left boot, but these days we rarely see a short kicking game. He doesn’t take the line on enough either and his go to play is that bloody short ball to Minichiello or another lead runner, where inevitably an error occurs. Then you’ve got Jamie Shaul, whose effort and endeavour is never in question, but whose modern-day full-back play isn’t on par with Super League’s elite. There are holes everywhere. Sika Manu looked shot. Ratu Naulago was off the boil. Mickey Paea, well, where’s that form of a few months ago gone? The same can be said of many. Win together, lose together, and they all have to cop it, not just Jake Connor.
Hull FC’s display at Castleford, like the majority of their recent form, was pathetic. Out energised and out-enthused again, with the rugby smarts of a chimpanzee, it’s just not good enough. It’s all about the manner of defeat and the warning signs have been there for weeks on end too. Even wins at L**ds and Wakefield were far from perfect. Whilst there’s been endeavour in part, Hull haven’t played ‘well’ since that second trip to Catalans. It’s been such a poor end to the season for the second year running, but in 2019 there’s no injury card to pull out. Just questions that need answering. Many of those questions have been pointed at Lee Radford. He’s the head coach so he’s going to get flack and the Radford-Out brigade have been like water on rock recently.
Radford though isn’t to blame for everything. He doesn’t send his side out to defend like arthritic cardboard cut outs and attack like headless chickens. A coach can only do so much, it’s not Radford’s fault that some members of the side are weak, whose heads drop at the first sight of a sinister score-board. Radford has not been helped from above either. There was a reluctance to shake things up for the 2019 season and once the chairman realised the need to do so it was too late. There was no viable alternative so Hull were stuck with what they had. The flaws in that have shown this year and that’s been rectified with what’s arriving for 2020.
Radford though isn’t perfect, who is? There’s presumptions that the kicking options must come from the head coach, either that or Sneyd is as one-dimensional as his critics suggest, also the crash, bang, wallop approach is one Radford has embedded into this side too, but the forward pack isn’t formidable enough to apply such ferocity as in 2016. Blame is on both sides, you can’t just point the finger at the coach and ignore the playing group, and vice versa, who have to take an onus here, especially when we’ve seen their quality in parts this year, a conundrum which makes all the recent dross even more frustrating.
Most of the recent dross too has come from senior players – players on big wages – whilst the young ones, whilst not setting the world alight have done okay. Brad Fash and Jordan Lane were both left out for the trip to Castleford. They must have been seething watching that. Of those that played, well Jack Logan, whilst partial to an error (who wasn’t), gave his all and scored a fine second half try. Unlikely to get a playing contract for next year, that’s an example on how to bow out. He never gives up and you have to admire that. The same can’t be said of others. Some of the efforts, through fatigue or attitude, or both, were pathetic. But whilst sticking to some positivity Carlos Tuimavave too is all class, and Albert Kelly threw himself in front of everything on return, but they were fighting a losing battle. Tevita Satae impressed as well, he’s a right unit of player who is capable of busting the line and getting an arm free, which makes it even more scandalous when those that should be in support are standing back with their hands on their hips.
Castleford were made to look good and that’s probably the easiest win they’ve had all season. Defensively Hull have been abysmal in 2019, with only London conceding more points. Defence is all about attitude, a component in which Hull have a fatal issue. The attitude stinks. How else can you explain the number of heavy defeats throughout the year. The points differential is now -107, and remember just last week Hull could have gone second with a win over Huddersfield. Madness. The edge defence is woeful, but more worryingly the side at Castleford were also cut open down the middle so easily. There were backs to the play-of-the-ball, and players were grabbing instead of getting their shoulder in, it was embarrassing to watch, with young talented half Jake Trueman being the biggest beneficiary with a hat-trick of tries.
It’s a side that know they are beaten – a side longing for the season to end. The defeat puts Hull sixth, and out of the play-off positions on points difference. That could be a blessing in disguise too, as right now a potential play-off trip to Salford or the like could end up like the one at Huddersfield in 2013, a humiliating defeat which signalled the end of the Peter Sharp reign. History won’t repeat itself here, but for Radford and Hull FC, there’s a lot of making up to do next year.
Castleford Starting XIII: 32. Jordan Rankin, 2. James Clare, 1. Peter Mata’utia, 35. Cheyse Blair, 3. Greg Minikin, 6. Jake Trueman, 20. Jamie Ellis, 8. Liam Watts, 9. Paul McShane, 10. Grant Millington, 15. Jesse Sene-Lefao, 12. Mike McMeeken, 14. Nathan Massey. Interchange: 11. Oliver Holmes, 13. Adam Milner, 18. Matt Cook, 34. Daniel Smith.
Castleford Tries: Blair, Trueman 3, Clare, Rankin, Cook. Goals: Ellis 8/8
Hull Starting XIII: 1. Jamie Shaul, 33. Ratu Naulago, 14. Jake Connor, 3. Carlos Tuimavave, 2. Bureta Faraimo, 6. Albert Kelly, 7. Marc Sneyd, 8. Scott Taylor, 9. Danny Houghton, 23. Mickey Paea, 12. Mark Minichiello, 4. Josh Griffin, 21. Sika Manu. Interchange: 10. Josh Bowden, 34. Gareth Ellis, 39. Tevita Satae, 20. Brad Fash.
Hull Tries: Matongo, Logan. Goals: Sneyd 2/2
Hull 3-2-1: 3pts Albert Kelly, 2pts Carlos Tuimavave, 1pt Tevita Satae
Scoring System: 6-0, 12-0, 18-0, 20-0, 20-6, 26-6, 26-12, 32-12, 38-12, 44-12
Referee: Ben Thaler