The Pre-season derby of the last few years has typically been endured rather than savoured. Labelled in advance as an opportunistic way to generate cash and carrying the risk of injury in full-blooded contact, it also brings the unwelcome possibility of a morale-damaging defeat before the real stuff begins. This one was different though. Six new signings to make their debut, including marquee player Frank Pritchard and homecoming king Scott Taylor. A scurrilous late rumour that Marc Sneyd had ruptured a bicep. Agitation over a ticketing set-up that borders on a restraint of trade.
But the absolute difference this time around was stark – actions on the pitch lived up to the months of pre season hype off it. The much-vaunted pack played with hunger in defence and aggression in attack. Pritchard came off the bench to ignite the middle of the game, seeing Hull cross for 4 tries in 9 minutes, breaking the line with ease and offloading at will.
Leon Pryce commanded the right side of the pitch, wrong-footing the hapless Rovers “defence” at every turn. And 10 tries, the majority a result of expansive handling and keen support play, entertaining rugby of the sort not seen from FC at the KC for a number of years.
However the defining moment of the game didn’t come from Carlos Tuimavave’s footwork or Jamie Shaul’s alertness to any hint of an offload. It followed the restart from a rare Rovers try. Tackle one saw Pritchard propel the brittle defence backwards to within metres of their own line. But not to be outdone, Scott Taylor fired out of the blocks on the next play, brutal contact rocking back the opposition and supported by Minichiello and Houghton forced KR in-goal.
Whilst the entertainment provided by the attack was refreshing, it’s these “One in, All in” moments of defensive unity that engage the fans the most. Determination to dominate the opposition physically is what many supporters want to see above anything, and doing it in such a definite way it was little wonder this play got the biggest response of the afternoon. The other encouraging aspect of the day was the visible team spirit and the fun had by some of the players wading into the South East corner for selfies and high fives with the supporters. To come away with no injuries was the icing on the cake of a promising run-out.
Of course our opposition in these first couple of games hasn’t been stellar and much sterner tests are coming up. But the fact that the performance matched up to the hype is enough to go into the first round with optimism that’s actually backed up by some evidence that this could be a different season. It was good business for the club to re-open season pass offers to capitalise on this, and rumours are that the take-up has been pretty good. And to top off a great week, what could be better than a contract extension for Round-Up favourite Mark Minichiello? If Carlsberg did pre seasons…
January The Round Up Player of the Month
A bit of a tricky one this time, given some players had a couple of runouts and others just the Derby. Some massive initial impressions from Scott Taylor and Frank Pritchard, the usual tireless effort from Danny Houghton and excellent support play from Jamie Shaul. But with two classy performances commanding the attack this month’s winner has to be Leon Pryce, who, with an imposing pack to play behind looks to have his mojo back.