A concerning headline if you’re of a Hull FC persuasion? Perhaps. But then again St Helens are a team who walked the regular season last year and are tipped to do so again, even if the only thing they lifted in 2018 was a glorified dog dish.
Puns and any twisted bitterness aside they looked good here, and they, after an even opening quarter, dispatched Hull in pretty comfortable fashion to win 28-18 on Jonny Lomax’s testimonial match. In fact only two late Hull tries made the end result look more friendly.
It must be said the Saints were much better than the Airlie Birds on the edges, and punched more holes than their opposition could do to them down the middle. They were slicker than a Hull side who will no doubt take a while to get going again after so many injuries, and they were much quicker than them too. They played with pace, there really is no substitute for it, best exhibited by two tries for England winger Tommy Makinson in the first half. Of the six Saints scored, two more came from wingers in Regan Grace and Adam Swift, the latter of which makes for sinister viewing from our point of view. Other tries came from Zeb Taia and Aaron Smith.
Evidently against some quality, our edge defence, a real critique of Hull FC last season, wasn’t good enough. Matty Dawson-Jones, coming back to one of his previous clubs, had a nightmare. He was beaten twice by Makinson, like many before him, and his attempt to prevent Swift’s try was really poor. It’s always harsh to single out a winger as they can be left exposed, but he’ll know he must do better. The same can be said of a few others too, who probably, due to frustrating errors and one on one misses, made Radford’s selection for the Super League opener over the river that little bit easier.
Of course no-one wants to throw the book at Dawson-Jones. He has obviously got something about him, otherwise Radford wouldn’t have signed him, but he was outshined by a trialist rugby union sevens winger in Ratu Naulago. The Fijian flyer deserves a deal, even if it’s to play in the reserves. Despite one crazy offload he’s got a lot of potential and defensively he got stuck in and made some good tackles. Naulago is another great find by our coach, who will probably pick Dawson-Jones or Hakim Miloudi for the other wing spot at the floodlight-on-a-wagon adorned Caravan Park in just under two weeks time. It’s worth mentioning too that Bureta Faraimo played on the left edge, despite playing the whole 2018 season on the right – though it must be said the Kiwi/American island hopper has looked sharp and hungry for work in the two games he’s played in so far.
Despite it being a new year, one thing really is for certain, and that’s that Hull FC will feel the pain of last years torrid injury run for a while yet. Some of those long-term absentees won’t be back for another couple of months or so, in fact it could be as long as Easter before we see our strongest line up on the field together, and that’s based only on a hypothesis that we don’t pick anymore injuries up. Only then will we get a real perception of where this Hull FC side are at, and what they are capable of doing.
After what happened on the injury front last year you can appreciate why there’s some early season concern, that’s natural whilst the likes of Josh Bowden, Joe Westerman, Fetuli Talanoa, Albert Kelly et al are still out. There’s some quality there that any side would miss. In Kelly’s case it’s frustrating that what we were told was a nothing injury last week has bitten us on the arse already, but thankfully everyone has come through the St Helens game unscathed, even Jake Connor who did come off with a knock late on. For a Hull FC team these days that’s nothing short of a minor miracle.
Positives after digesting the St Helens defeat with a cuppa and, ironically, a pack of digestives are short and sweet if we’re being honest. The biggest positive of the day was seeing Marc Sneyd back on the field, who showed no indication of any persisting problems with his knee. Sneyd actually looked healthy, coming up with one or two neat plays and kicks in the first half when Hull asked some questions. Sneyd still has his critics, and he can frustrate you, but he’s absolutely vital to any success we hope to achieve this year and it was refreshing to see him back playing with, touch wood, his injury troubles behind him.
The same can be said of back rowers Mark Minichiello and Sika Manu, who looked solid in thier first half stints. Manu was the more busy as Hull favoured a starting right edge of Connor, Carlos Tuimavave and the big Tongan himself. Manu might be a few years older now than when he first arrived at Hull as a 29-year-old, but there’s still a player there and when fully fit he can be a weapon for us. Hopefully in a few weeks we’ll be saying the same of Minichiello, who should be fresh after a hernia operation. Tuimavave meanwhile was encouraging, he’s obviously been on the prowler this winter, as his first half try explained.
As for the youngsters Jack Brown didn’t hit the heights of previous weeks, but the opposition was of a much greater quality. Despite knocks against Wakefield, both Levy Nzoungou and Brad Fash played, and like Masimbaashe Matongo, struggled to punch too many dents into a Saints pack that boasted all their big guns, including new signing Joesph Paulo and the returning Alex Walmsley. Fellow new boys Lachlan Coote and Kevin Naiqama also got a run out. Jordan Lane also played despite not being named in the original squad, whereas Jez Litten and Miloudi got cameos once the mental swapping and changing about had concluded. One could present a strong argument that out of all the younger props Brown has been the most impressive this pre-season, although the physical gains on Matongo are noticeable. This must be the year where he starts banging people about.
At Langtree Park (still refuse to use the ridiculous official name of the stadium), the new Super League rules were in place, and the only one we really got to see was the shot clock, which made no real difference to the speed of drop-outs, scrums etc that we’re already used to. The obligatory rule changes as always will take some time to get around. Speaking of obligatory moments, Connor did his best to wind up the opposition, evidently saying something out of term to referee Chris Kendall, who sin binned him in the first half. There was a bit of fisticuffs in the second half too which if anything livened it up a bit. Danny Houghton was also placed on report for a tackle that looked nothing out of the ordinary. Modern rugby league for you, if anything.
As always, and due to the all too frequent changes, it’s always hard to get a measure of pre-season games. You all know the cliche, they count when you win but mean nothing when you lose. To Hull’s credit they actually finished the game strongly, scoring through Faraimo and the ever-impressive Jamie Shaul, but they were definitely second best before then. Against St Helens that’s not a disgrace, nor enough motive for a meltdown, but you can argue there’s room for improvement, and we should get that when the proper stuff starts, despite the guaranteed absence of some key players.
St Helens Starting XIII: 23. Lachlan Coote, 2. Tommy Makinson, 3. Kevin Naiqama, 4. Mark Percival, 5. Regan Grace, 1. Jonny Lomax, 6. Theo Fages, 8. Alex Walmsley, 9. James Roby, 19. Matty Lees, 11. Zeb Taia, 17. Dominique Peyroux, 15. Morgan Knowles. Interchange: 7. Danny Richardson, 12. Joseph Paulo, 13. Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook, 14. Luke Douglas, 16. Kyle Amor, 18. Adam Swift, 20. Jack Ashworth, 21. Aaron Smith, 22. James Bentley, 24. Matty Costello, 25. Joe Batchelor, 27. Josh Eaves, 29. Jack Welsby, 30. Josh Simm, 31. Tom Nisbet.
Saints Tries: Taia, Makinson 2, Grace, Swift, Smith. Goals: Coote 1/3 Makinson 1/2 Richardson 0/1
Hull Starting XIII: 1. Jamie Shaul, 2. Bureta Faraimo, 4. Josh Griffin, 3. Carlos Tuimavave, 17. Matty Dawson-Jones, 14. Jake Connor, 7. Marc Sneyd, 8. Scott Taylor, 9. Danny Houghton, 19. Masimbaashe Matongo, 12. Mark Minichiello, 21. Sika Manu, 11. Dean Hadley. Interchange: Jack Brown, 20. Brad Fash, 22. Jordan Lane, 25. Danny Langtree, 28. Jez Litten, 24. Jack Logan, 27. Hakim Miloudi, Ratu Naulago, 26. Levy Nzoungou, 32. Cameron Scott, 16. Jordan Thompson.
Hull Tries: Tuimavave, Shaul, Faraimo. Goals: Sneyd 3/3
Scoring System: 6-0, 6-6, 10-6, 14-6, 18-6, 22-6, 28-6, 28-12, 28-18