2016 was a historic year for Hull FC. History was made and demons were laid to rest as the black and whites won at Wembley for the first time in the club’s history. Understandably this stirred euphoria throughout the west side of Hull as many of the fans who witnessed the Wembley win must have believed they would never see it happen in their lifetime.
The Challenge Cup winning side of 2016 will forever be black and white immortals but it also has to be said that after the Challenge Cup triumph the season ended with somewhat of a whimper. Hull won only one game after Wembley, a scrappy affair at Wakefield, and threw away the chance to win the League Leaders Shield with a poor display against Warrington. A gallant second half display at Wigan was not enough to earn a Grand Final berth and many including Lee Radford came away from the DW Stadium that night thinking about what might have been. Thankfully in 2017 the whole club appears to have learnt lessons from 2016.
From the boardroom downwards changes have been made and despite the 2017 season only being 6 weeks old it appears those changes could make Hull the consistent Grand Final contender that they have always aspired to be.
Recruitment is a key area for any top team and generally Hull have got this spot on in the last two seasons. Frank Pritchard, a real fans favourite, left under a bit of a cloud but the cloud has most certainly been lifted by the arrival of Albert Kelly.
Kelly was seen by many as a risky signing with a chequered past off the field and a torrid second season at Hull KR fresh in the memory. Lee Radford gave the Australian half back a chance and challenged him to do his talking on the pitch. Kelly has seized the opportunity given to him by Radford and has been one of the standout signings in Super League this season. With 7 tries in 5 games Kelly is scaring defences to death and has struck up a dynamic partnership with Marc Sneyd. Sneyd lacked a proper half back partner last season and that showed at the end of last season when Hull’s attack became quite predictable. This season however Hull look far more dangerous in attack with both half backs possessing the skills to unlock any defence.
Aside from Albert Kelly other smart acquisitions have been made by Motu Tony and Lee Radford. Josh Griffin is settling in well and was devastating last week at Wigan. He has been tipped for England recognition and he could well achieve that playing in a side like Hull’s. Jake Connor has also arrived from Huddersfield and the young utility back has enjoyed a positive start to his career at Hull. He can fill in across the back line and that is a useful weapon for Lee Radford to have at his disposal.
Tony and Radford have built a deep squad that is full of quality with depth in all positions. A key aspect of this is the club’s policy on blooding young players this season. At the end of last season the team looked burnt out with the same 17 players taking to the field week in week out. This ultimately told as Hull’s season ended in disappointing fashion. This season though things are different. Wigan and St Helens have promoted youngsters at the earliest opportunity over the years and it has paid off for them as they have unearthed several gems who have given the clubs consistent success. Hull appear to have recognised this and are starting to give more of their young player’s chances in the first team whilst developing their under 23 side. Masimbaashe Matongo has been given a chance in the first team this season and he has looked comfortable in the first team. He certainly has a lot to learn as do all young players but giving the youngsters game time now at the start of the season can only bode well if they are needed at the business end of the year when fatigue sets in for the senior players. Having a young hungry forward like Matongo available to take his chance at any given opportunity can only be a good thing and this makes it less worrying when injuries are inevitably picked up along the way this season.
Changes are also being made at the training ground to help improve the recovery process for the players with this season being the most physically demanding for some years. The players have to contend with two back to back Easter style weekends this year which is a fitness nightmare for the players. Hull however were one of the big winners of last year’s Easter Period as they won all three games in the 7 day period. This was due in no small part to the use of a state of the art cryotherapy chamber paid for by the Chairman Adam Pearson. This season Pearson is hoping to hire a chamber to be housed at the training ground for an extended period this season. To borrow a cycling phrase the use of the cryo chamber could be a “marginal gain” for Hull over their rivals. Keeping the players fit throughout the long demanding season is imperative and the use of this chamber could be the key.
It’s clear that despite last year’s success everyone at the club has learnt lessons and made changes which may well pave the way for more consistent success and silverware in 2017 and beyond.