Quite rightly most of the headlines and plaudits this season have been heading in the direction of St. Helens and Warrington Wolves, thanks to their exciting, outstanding brand of rugby league which sees them streaking ahead of most in the Betfred Super League, but is there now a third name to add to that mix?
A few weeks ago I wrote an article, after the Magic Weekend humiliation, about how Hull FC, a team still on a minus points difference, had suffered too many heavy defeats since the back end of last season. What I also said at the time was that after horror shows this year against the top two, they had responded superbly each time, and after the humbling at Anfield, Challenge Cup holders Catalans Dragons needed to be very nervous about their upcoming cup quarter-final at the KCOM Stadium.
Steve McNamara’s Dragons were subsequently put to the sword by his hometown team, as the Airlie Birds went from conceding 50+ points one week, to scoring 50+ points the following week, it was frankly nothing short of a miraculous turnaround. This turnaround has since continued with victories at home to Salford Red Devils, away to Castleford Tigers and another 50-point thrashing of Catalans, this time in Perpignan.
So are Hull now established as genuine trophy contenders, and a major threat to Saints and the Wolves, with the latter to face the Airlie Birds in a now eagerly anticipated semi-final in Bolton next month?
Of course as a Hull FC supporter I’m going to say that Lee Radford’s men are capable of carrying off silverware this year. The hard evidence I’m going to point to is the exciting brand of rugby the Black & Whites are playing these days. Going back to that cup quarter-final, Hull seemed to open a whole new box of tricks, with the likes of Jake Connor, Albert Kelly, Marc Sneyd and new sensation Ratu Naulago having a field day against a team who toppled both of the top two on their way to making history last year, and followed that up with victories against both at Stade Gilbert Brutus this year.
The following week, the dangerously inconsistent Airlie Birds held on for a nail biting home win over Salford, with the Red Devils put to the sword largely in the first half, before a spirited fightback late on against an 11-man Hull side made things more uncomfortable than they should have been, but still producing a win nonetheless.
The week after that however, I believe personally, showed just why Hull FC are the real deal again in 2019, after Castleford took a 10-point advantage into the half-time break, but were then thoroughly dismantled in the second half, with the sort of attacking rugby league which has proved so successful for Justin Holbrook’s and Steve Price’s teams so far this year, with a 10-point disadvantage turned into a comfortable victory with time to spare.
The victory at the Mend-A-Hose Jungle showed the ruthless nature of a side who in the first half had looked well beaten in most aspects. In reality Daryl Powell’s side had their purple patch towards the end of the first half, but failed to take enough advantage of it, and simply had no answer to a brand of rugby that was played at breakneck pace in the second half.
At the weekend Hull again proved their undoubted talent for scoring from anywhere on the pitch as Catalans Dragons were humiliated again, this time in front of their own fans, by a display of attacking rugby league that had try of the season contenders all over it, including for Albert Kelly, who can now apparently moonwalk over the line to score. Josh Griffin, with his first try and Naulago again also scored outstanding four-pointers, the latter going the length of the pitch for the second time in three games.
Hull now sit just four points behind the Wolves in the table and recent weeks have seen people start to mention the men from the KCOM Stadium as the main competition for the top two now. But before getting ahead of myself (because yes I am rather pleased to see my team playing the way they are) Hull now seem to have a definitive period of the season approaching, with an intense Hull Derby this week, away to a Hull Kingston Rovers, who are desperately scrapping for their Super League lives at the bottom, before St. Helens travel to the KCOM Stadium the following week.
Those two blockbusters are followed by games against the other relegation contenders, at home against London Broncos and away to Leeds Rhinos, before their date with the Wolves in Bolton.
Win most, or even all of those and who knows, especially with the likely imminent return of players like Gareth Ellis, Carlos Tuimavave and Mark Minichiello.
What Hull have definitely established is that, on their day they can beat the best, as evidenced in victory at Warrington. Obviously St. Helens will be the acid test for Lee Radford’s side straight after an intense derby, but with their new found attacking intent, it would take a brave man to bet against them on their home patch.