Almost every club in Super League will be intrigue by the outcome of Monday’s meeting to determine whether to extend the end-of-season play-offs and end the regular season early. However, you suspect few will be as interested as Hull FC: who are beginning to look a real threat should the play-offs be opened up to more teams over the next month.
Their indifferent form throughout most of this season meant that, realistically, any hopes of making the top four were over some time ago. But four wins from five games, the latest here against their fiercest rivals, coupled with the prospect of the play-offs being extended to as many as six teams, means that suddenly, would you welcome running into Hull if your season was on the line?
In the end, the outcome of the 237th Hull derby probably meant more to Hull FC than it did Hull Kingston Rovers: at least in terms of what there is to play for this season. While Rovers are battling to avoid the wooden spoon, the fact there is no relegation this season takes the pressure off their run-in.
That is just as well, given how the side closest to them, Wakefield Trinity, picked up a third win in succession with victory against Leeds. But Hull, who are clawing back ground on the fifth-placed Rhinos, suddenly look like a side capable of upsetting the teams who have spent the majority of 2020 far more assured of their place in the play-offs, no matter what the format.
“I’ve been informed that it’s likely to happen, that there may be some changes about to take place,” their coach, Andy Last, admitted. “For us as a group, we have to adapt. If we’re in, then we’ll attack that with plenty of vigour and we’ll look forward to it. If we carry on as we are, we’ll prepare for the remaining games the best we can.”
After weathering an early storm from Hull KR, the big moments belonged to Hull FC – and particularly their fullback, Jake Connor – here. He was pivotal in ensuring they led 22-12 at half-time, with crucial assists for Ratu Naulago, Bureta Faraimo and Ligi Sao’s tries, with Josh Bowden Hull’s other scorer in the first half.
The game was level at 12-all after the opening quarter, with Dean Hadley and Kane Linnett’s tries restoring parity for Hull KR, but thereafter, it was Connor and Hull who controlled the majority of the match. By the time the Robins scored again in the dying minutes courtesy of Ben Crooks, another defeat had long since been assured.
“It’s always disappointing to lose a derby, but it’s a hard one to take after three games in eight days,” their assistant coach, David Hodgson, conceded. Trailing 22-12 at the break, you felt Hull KR had to score first after half-time. Instead, they fell further behind when quick hands enabled Faraimo to cross in the corner for his second. Naulago would not be far behind with his own brace and, with a Marc Sneyd drop goal establishing a four-score lead, Hull were assured of victory long before Ben Crooks’ consolation try for the Robins in the final minutes.
Such was the confidence of Super League executives that Hull weren’t in play-off contention, the decision was taken to play the Grand Final at their home stadium, the KCOM Stadium, next month, with Old Trafford unavailable. If the play-offs are extended on Monday, the possibility of them remaining in the hunt to win the competition in their own back yard suddenly becomes a prospect to consider.
Hull KR Dagger; Crooks, Kenny-Dowall, Linett, Rawsthorne; Abdull, Lewis; Lawler, Parcell, King, Hauraki, Hadley, Minchella
Interchange Mulhern, Gee, Maher, Milnes
Tries Hadley, Linnett, Crooks Goals Dagger 2
Hull FC Connor; Faraimo, Fonua, Tuimavave, Naulago; McNamara, Sneyd; Taylor, Johnstone, Bowden, Ma’u, Savelio, Cator Interchange Houghton, Satae, Sao, Fash. Tries Bowden, Faraimo 2, Naulago 2, Sao
Goals Sneyd 3 Drop goal Sneyd Referee L Moore