As Hull FC headed to the sheds at half-time of their home Betfred Super League clash with Salford Red Devils back in March, Tony Smith was absolutely fuming. He’d just watched his side implode in the first 40 minutes to trail 30-4, and the scoreline was generous given the flow of play.
The TV commentary team of George Riley and Michael Shenton insisted that it was bound to be a very different Hull team which would emerge for the second half on the back of a rollocking from Smith, but in truth they were even worse. Within 14 minutes they had conceded another 24 points and only a couple of late tries gave any sort of respectability to the 60-14 result.
But the humiliation didn’t end there. After an improved display against champions St Helens ended in defeat the Black and Whites were also beaten by newly-promoted Leigh Leopards on home soil. The next three matches spurned big losses to Warrington Wolves, Leeds Rhinos and, most unacceptable of all, a 40-0 home drubbing by local rivals Hull Kingston Rovers on Good Friday. By round nine of the Super League season, Hull were coming off the back of seven straight losses and Tony Smith’s tenure was being questioned far and wide.
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Four weeks on, and only Leigh are in better form than the Airlie Birds, with Sunday’s convincing 32-8 win away to Castleford Tigers in the Challenge Cup sixth round marking Hull out as one of the teams to avoid right now. If they were a rollover outfit just a few weeks ago, they have quickly become a solid unit with a flare-filled spine ready to do damage of its own.
Following that round nine defeat against Leeds barely a month ago, Hull were averaging 13 points scored per game against 33 conceded. Since then they are scoring 23 per game and shipping only nine and a half. It is some transformation.
On Sunday at the Mend-A-Hose Jungle they put on display all of the elements which were missing until very recently. On a small pitch which allows teams to make quick yardage, there were controlled sets in defence and great scramble in their own 20. And with the ball, Jake Clifford ran the game off the back of a burgeoning relationship with new half-back partner Jake Trueman, who was making just his second start for the club after recovering from an ACL injury sustained while still a Cas Tiger last July.
“I like what both the Jakes did and I thought they complemented each other well, and also took pressure off each other,” Smith told reporters after the game. “It was a good solid performance and we’ve built on some of where we’ve been recently.
“I just think our combinations are getting better, and as long as we’re doing that it gives us a chance to be competitive.”
FC’s win rounded out a weekend in which there were no surprises, Wigan Warriors coming from 14-0 down to beat Leeds 18-14 and exact revenge for an embarrassing loss to the 12-man Rhinos in Super League just a week previous. Matt Peet’s side will host Warrington in the quarter-finals as a result, while Smith’s Hull welcome St Helens to the MKM Stadium in the other highlight fixture. Elsewhere, old foes Hull KR and Salford meet again while Leigh travel to the York Knights, the Betfred Championship’s only surviving competitor after their 36-12 win over London Broncos.
*18+ | BeGambleAware | Odds Subject to Change