Hull FC begin the defence of their Challenge Cup crown tomorrow when they take on Catalan Dragons at the KCOM Stadium. The Black and Whites finally put their Wembley curse to bed last year and they will be keen for that win to set a precedent for future successes. As the defending champions they wont want to fall at the first hurdle. Many Hull fans will be eager to see their side make the Grand Final this year but that doesn’t mean they don’t want to see Hull get to Wembley again. Lee Radford’s side are enjoying a good run of form in the league and they will be looking to carry that form on during a busy period of league and cup games coming up.
Catalan’s have already enjoyed success at the KCOM Stadium this season as they ground out a scrappy 14-16 win in round two. The game was spoilt by the referee Robert Hicks who constantly had the whistle in his mouth but Catalans put in a gritty performance to come away with a rare away win at the KCOM. Lee Radford will be keen to ensure that doesn’t happen again.
Hull are still missing some key players heading into the game. Gareth Ellis, Fetuli Talanoa and Carlos Tuimavave are all out with injury while Sika Manu is serving the second game of his 2 match suspension. Brad Fash and Janin Turgut retain their places while Scott Taylor returns from international duty. Josh Bowden is set to make his 100th appearance for the club.
While Hull are missing a few players Catalans have it far worse. Initially only able to name 18 players in their squad on Wednesday the Dragons are missing 11 first team players. Centre Arthur Romano had to be registered by the RFL in order for them to name a full 19 man squad. Greg Bird, Brayden Wiliame, Thomas Bosc, Paul Aiton, Ben Garcia, Louis Anderson, Jodie Broughton, Jason Baitieri, Luke Burgess, Justin Horo and Krisnan Inu are all on the side-lines but Luke Walsh does return for suspension to give them a small crumb of comfort.
Several young players including Paul Seguier, Alex Da Costa, Jordan Dezaria and Matthieu Khedimi will all be challenged to step up to the plate in their senior teammates absence.
Where will the game be won and lost?
Forward Battle: Ever since their debut in Super League in 2006 Catalan have always been known as a side with a big forward pack that look to dominate their opposition with aggressive running and big hits. While the Dragons are decimated by injuries many of them are in the backs and they still have some big men who will be up for a battle with Hull’s pack. The likes of Mickael Simon, Julian Bousquet, Remi Casty and former Black and White Sam Moa will look to take the game to Hull. Lee Radford is missing Sika Manu and Gareth Ellis but Scott Taylor makes a welcome return to the side following international duty. If Hull’s pack can cope with an early onslaught from the Dragons they should tire and Hull should eventually come out on top in the forward battle which will go a long way towards them progressing to the next round.
Substitutes: As mentioned earlier Catalans are decimated by injuries and four youngsters will fill their bench tonight. Unless Lee Radford makes any late squad changes Hull are likely to have Josh Bowden, Chris Green, Jansin Turgut and Brad Fash on their bench. Green and Bowden are far more experienced than the Catalans interchanges while youngsters Fash and Turgut have both been in good form in recent weeks as they have grabbed their chance of a consistent run in the team with both hands. After the early battle it may well be Hull’s strength in depth that sees them get on top in this game.
Half Backs: This is not the first time this season we have highlighted the battle between the two sets of half backs as being one of the key factors of the game. There will be four top quality half backs on show tonight with Marc Sneyd and Albert Kelly up against Richie Myler and Luke Walsh. Walsh and Sneyd will look to control the game with their kicking game and organisational skills while Kelly and Myler will look to provide the flair that could break the game wide open. If Albert Kelly continues his sensational form tonight it’s likely there will be little Walsh, Myler or any of the Dragons will be able to do to stop him and Hull FC.