Tonight sees Hull FC welcome the high flying Salford Red Devils to the KCOM Stadium. After salary cap breaches, a stint in the middle 8’s and THAT drop goal it’s fair to say Salford had a turbulent year but in 2017 things seem very different so this is set to be a stern test of Lee Radford’s side who have a few key players missing.
Hull will have come away from the Halliwell Jones Stadium last week with mixed feelings. They raced into a 20-8 lead shortly after half time but as they did at Wigan the week before they let the lead slip and ended up clinging on for a 22-22 draw. Most of the Black and White army who travelled to Warrington in huge numbers will have left the ground feeling relieved that the lead didn’t slip away. It was also frustrating though because against a team low on confidence and without a win all season Hull should have gone for the jugular but instead they appeared to go into their shells in the second half.
Salford continued their excellent start to the season last week as they comfortably beat St Helens 22-14 at the AJ Bell Stadium with a late Jonny Lomax try making the score line more flattering to St Helens. Former Hull KR half back Michael Dobson had a brilliant game as he scored 2 tries and kicked 4 goals. His partnership with Robert Lui has blossomed this season probably because of the presence of Todd Carney in the squad putting pressure on them both. As they have done all season they ran the show against Saints and their teams defence fronted up well in the second half so they will be full of confidence as they head to the KCOM.
Hull FC are definetly without three key players this week. Danny Houghton and Carlos Tuimivave are still out injured although Lee Radford has hinted that one or both may well feature in the double header of Easter fixtures next weekend. Hull are also without this year’s star man Albert Kelly. He scored his 8th try of the season at Warrington last week but sadly his Grandfather has passed away and the club have granted Kelly compassionate leave to return to Australia for a short time. He will be a big miss tonight and Jake Connor will be asked to fill in for him.
News is also emerging this lunch time that Hull may also be missing Gareth Ellis and Scott Taylor tonight. If that is true it is a massive blow for Hull who will have to cope with the loss of leadership and yardage both players bring.
Salford have a virtually fully fit squad to pick from and are also boosted by the return of Junior Sa’u who missed the St Helens game last week while Josh Wood returns in place of Kriss Brining.
Where will the game be won and lost?
Game Management: This aspect of rugby league is talked about so often these days. Teams have to have the ability to close out a game when in front and unfortunately Hull have lacked that ability in the last two games. Although they won narrowly at Wigan if the game had lasted 5 minutes longer they would have lost, even Lee Radford conceded that afterwards. Then last week Hull were fantastic in the first half and led 20-8 early in the second half. Again though they capitulated under the pressure as the Wolves charged back at them to earn a draw. Now two bad halves is not something to be overly worried about at this stage of the season but Lee Radford will have been trying to drill the message into his team that they must control the game when in front, stop giving penalties away and avoid going into their shells.
The Kelly Effect: Albert Kelly has been Hull’s best player by some distance this season but he is missing this week and hull have to deal with that. As he did against Catalans when Kelly was Suspended it is expected that Jake Connor will fill Kelly’s half back role with Fetuli Talanoa returning in the back line. Connor had a rough time of it against Catalans in what turned out to be Hull’s only defeat of the season so far. He had some good moments but looked nervous in the play maker role. He has had a consistent run in the team at Centre recently though so with increased match sharpness he may well have a better time of it this week and he will need to against a half back partnership of Robert Lui and Michael Dobson who are having brilliant seasons.
Edge Defence: Hull have to be better than they were last week at defending their edges. Matty Russell had a field day against Steve Michaels and Josh Griffin last week as he scored a hat trick of tries all in the corner. It has emerged afterwards that for one of the tries he was in touch and it shouldn’t have been given but he found a way to score down the wing far too easily last week and against a team like Salford who have half backs who can easily get the ball wide as they like up with Gareth O’brien at full back Hull’s edge defence will have to be better.