The old adage of a game of two halves. First? Brilliant. Second? Rancid. But Hull FC, thanks to a professional first half flurry of points to catalyse a 14-34 victory over Featherstone on Saturday night, are in the next round, and in these knockout fixtures, that’s pretty much all that matters.
However, you can bet that in house at least, the new gaffer Brett Hodgson will be fuming with what unfolded after racing into a 34-4 half time lead. First things first, fair play to Featherstone. They made it a contest after the break, but it was a bloody eyesore as the the rain persisted, with Hull losing their shape as both the error counts and completion rates went south. Credit where it’s due though, the home side showed a lot of character and avoided a proper pasting that at one point looked like a fore-long conclusion.
Hull, after going behind in the first set as Featherstone chanced their arm from the opening kick off, soon raced ahead. They responded well to an early scare and the ease at which the points came in the first half was pleasing. Hull at this stage kept their composure. The rhythm was good and they played a simple but effective game with the two centres running riot.
But the second half was a completely different story. Hull missed the calmness, the direction, and the presence of a Marc Sneyd. Never under-estimate how vital he is. Seriously. He’s fucking brilliant and you know when he’s not there. Without him, having been a late withdrawal with a dead leg ahead of kick off, Hull became wayward. They struggled to complete sets and as the game worn on the attack became sinister, proper ugly even, and Featherstone capitalised.
Yet in a first half where the majority of their play seemed comfortable, Hull had little difficulty in scoring six well-worked tries. Stepping into the halves, both the experienced Danny Houghton and young Ben McNamara were on point, and you wouldn’t have batted an eyelid to the fact that both Sneyd and Josh Reynolds were out injured – another indication back then at least to Hull’s improvements in shape and structure under Hodgson.
Flying centres Carlos Tuimavave and Josh Griffin, who were brilliant yet again, both scored twice, with Jordan Johnstone and Bureta Faraimo diving over. It was cruise control, talking at half time about the number fifty (still makes us chuckle too) and beyond. Naivety, a lack of composure/concentration, professionalism, who knows? But from then on it wasn’t pretty, and Featherstone began to fight back.
Hull slipped into some familiar bad habits. It wasn’t great and it’s not pitchfork territory by a long way, but it can’t become a regular thing either. The game was won, beyond even the slightest of doubt, but the new man at the helm has spoken about raising standards ever since he stepped into the hot seat, and the second half was far from good enough.
Still, it could be a kick up the backside and a sign too on how quickly things can change. Consistency is a word associated with Hull a lot and we all know why. Week to week. Half to half. Never take anything for granted. Never be content either, and always strive to improve. Of course, there is improvement in this Hull team, but the job is done and they are in the next round. You’ll always take that as a hand.
Slotting in at hooker, Johnstone, who played the full eighty, was a huge part of that. He was slick, both getting his forwards around the park and hitting his halves at the right times. His try too was the closest replica of David Topliss’ belter in the ‘82 final replay at Elland Road that you’re going to see anytime soon. Outstanding. And unlike Topliss linking up with James Leuluai, there were two run-arounds, with Johnstone exchanging passes or offloads with first Brad Fash and then Josh Bowden. Brilliant. We were all a bit moist when that one unfolded.
Before that, both Tuimavave and Griffin showed just why they’re the best centre pairing in this country. They’re both quick, strong, and an absolute nightmare to handle, with Bureta Faraimo getting the FC ball rolling with his first try on his first appearance of the season, before a swinging arm, for a spilt second at least, threatened to boil the game over into the farcical UFC like extravaganza witnessed at Post Office Road three years ago. Thankfully, none of that came into place and the tie was played in good spirit throughout.
Jake Connor, usually the pantomime villain when such a scenario takes place, was having none of that, having a hand, like he always does these days, in everything good Hull did. He probed all game and set up tries, cheekily carrying the ball like an apple with the finesse and craft every great modern-day full-back brings to the table. An outstanding player.
Others too got a workout and some needed minutes. Scott Taylor enjoyed a breather, with Fash playing on and Josh Bowden getting an unscathed return to the side following a head knock in the Super League opener. Chris Satae was immense again and Andre Savelio also enjoyed his time on the field. The only worry came with a knock to Manu Ma’u’s calf where scans will reveal if there’s any damage.
Overall it was satisfactory, job done, nothing more, without blowing up many trees. It’s Wigan next in the Challenge Cup, but not before the return of the weekly grind that is Super League. Hull know where they must be better, and dare we say they won’t let their standards slip again.
Featherstone Starting XIII: 1. Craig Hall, 2. Ben Blackmore, 4. Josh Hardcastle, 3. Kris Welham, 5. Gareth Gale, 6. Tom Holmes, 7. Dane Chisholm, 20. Frankie Halton, 21. Dean Parata, 10. James Harrison, 11. Brett Ferres, 12. Brad Day, 27. Louie McConnell. Interchange: 9. Fa’amanu Brown, 18. Luke Cooper, 19. Callum Field, 31. Junior Moors.
Featherstone Tries: Hardcastle, Ferres, Blackmore. Goals: Hall 0/2, Chisholm 1/1
Hull Starting XIII: 1. Jake Connor, 5. Mahe Fonua, 3. Carlos Tuimavave, 4. Josh Griffin, 2. Bureta Faraimo, 19. Ben McNamara, 9. Danny Houghton, 8. Scott Taylor, 14. Jordan Johnstone, 10. Chris Satae, 11. Andre Savelio, 12. Manu Ma’u, 16. Jordan Lane. Interchange: 22. Josh Bowden, 17. Brad Fash, 15. Joe Cator, 24. Cameron Scott.
Hull Tries: Faraimo, Tuimavave 2, Griffin 2, Johnstone. Goals: Connor 5/6
Scoring System: 4-0, 4-6, 4-10, 4-16, 4-22, 4-28, 4-34, HT, 8-34, 14-34, FT
Referee: James Child