Hull FC head to the Halliwell Jones Stadium to face Warrington tomorrow in a rich vein of form. They have won their last 4 games including an important away win at top 4 challengers Wigan last week. Despite the early season blip against Catalans the black and whites sit joint top of the Super League table with the early season pace setters the Castleford Tigers.
Their opponents on the other hand have had a disastrous start to the season. Despite defeating the Brisbane Broncos in the World Club Series the Wolves have lost their opening 6 Super League matches and sit at the bottom of the table already 6 points adrift of the top 8. Ironically they appear to be mimicking the Leeds team of 2016 having reached both major finals and won the League Leaders Shield last season before suffering a horror start to the new campaign. They have struggled with injuries as have a few other sides but there has been a real lack of cohesion in the Warrington team. Losing Chris Sandow unexpectedly in the off season was a blow and Kevin Brown was quickly brought in to plug the gap. Despite being an experienced campaigner and a quality player on his day it could be argued that Brown’s best days are behind him and he certainly hasn’t got the Warrington attack singing to his tune as he did at Widnes. Everyone expects Warrington to start winning soon, they are too good not to surely? Hull FC will be keen to make sure that they are not the Wolves first victim of 2017.
The big blow for Hull FC last week was losing Man of Steel Danny Houghton to injury. Houghton is irreplaceable in many ways so to lose him early on against Wigan was a blow and he misses out this week as he nurses a calf problem. Fetuli Talanoa and Carlos Tuimivave both remain side-lined. Hull are taking the cautious approach with both as Tuimivave is being monitored week to week as he recovers from an ankle injury while Talanoa is waiting for the all clear from a specialist before returning to Super League action. He picked up a head knock against St Helens and Hull are eager take all the necessary precautions with the winger after he suffered a similar injury last season.
One positive for Lee Radford is the return of Liam Watts. Having served a four game suspension he played 40 minutes for the U23’s last week and he is now ready to return at Warrington. Josh Bowden and Chris Green have really stepped up in his absence but Radford will be delighted to have his first choice front row partnership back together.
Tony Smith has been given a badly needed boost this week as he has been able to name Ryan Atkins and Toby King in his squad after both missing a spell through injury. Stefan Ratchford has also returned from injury recently so Smith certainly has a few of his big players back however long term absentee Ben Currie is still missing. Former Hull FC winger Tom Lineham is also out as he serves his second game of his suspension picked up in the defeat at Leigh.
Where will the game be won and lost?
Attitude: Given the contrasting start both teams have made this season you would be forgiven for thinking that Hull should win this game easily. Lee Radford on the other hand will be keen to ensure his players do not go into the game with that attitude. Warrington have played poorly in the last few games but they are still a team full of quality players who will come good at some stage. If Hull play to their game plan and to their ability they should win the game but if they are in any way complacent the “wounded animal” of Warrington may well catch it’s first victim of the season.
Game Management & Errors: Despite winning 22-20 at Wigan last week Lee Radford was disappointed with some areas of his teams performance. They completed at 50% in the first half which gave Wigan plenty of opportunities to score. To their credit Hull’s goal line defence kept them at bay in the first half but Radford knows his side cannot afford to have such a low completion rate on the regular basis. If they cut out the errors against Warrington they will have a great chance of winning because Warrington have also been guilty of making far too many errors this season which have contributed to their 6 defeats.
Hull also need to manage the game better than they did last week. They were 22-0 up after 50 minutes but ended up hanging on for dear life at the end as the Warriors stormed back at them. Lee Radford said afterwards “If the game had gone on five minutes longer we would have lost” and he may well have been right. If in a similar position this week Hull have to learn from their mistakes, respect the ball more and don’t give their opponents a chance to come back at them.
Houghton Effect?: As mentioned earlier Danny Houghton is irreplaceable in some ways to Hull FC. He tackles more than any other player in Super League and is a constant presence in and around the ruck getting stuck into big forwards and tiring them out. He also has a great kicking game out of dummy half so to see him injured is a blow. Danny Washbrook will probably be given the unenviable task of filling his shoes from the start tomorrow. He did a great job at Wigan last week when Houghton went off and he will be keen to impress again and help his side to another victory. Youngster Jez Litten may also get the chance to come on to give Washbrook a rest later in the game. If Washbrook is solid in defence and distributes well and Litten doesn’t let the occasion get to him then Hull may well find a way to win without Houghton.