“Any side that’s coached by Lee Radford are going to come at you,” said St George Illawarra Dragons and England prop James Graham following Hull FC’s courageous defeat to the former.
That itself is not only a compliment to Radders, but also to the FC squad, and coming from a front rower immortalised on both sides of the globe for what he’s achieved in the game, it’s a pretty big deal. Making his Dragons debut, Graham knew he had been in a battle. He only played one stint, but that was during a spell where both sides were going full tilt at each other, and Hull came out on top. At half time, they not only matched opposition from a much greater and skilful competition, but lead them too.
Okay it was only a slender two point advantage courteously of Marc Sneyd’s boot, and the anti-Hull brigade will argue St George Illawarra are still in the infancy of pre-season, but this was in Sydney, in their own territory and swayed to their preferred playing conditions. Everything suited them, but Hull, who will have felt that they needed to justify themselves after what happened in Wollongong, were heroic, battling until the end and only losing by six points.
24-18 was the final score and every Hull fan should be more content with that. Pre-match my expectations were solely to compete, and not to get hammered. FC exceeded that expectation. They were brilliant at times, and were backed by a wonderful contingent of supporters that follow the club through thick and thin. From the Gong, to the end of the M62, they get behind their team in numbers and are as atmospheric as any. That right there is one of many beneficiaries from the tour to New South Wales. The club will have made many new friends, from kids in schools, to community teams, and to the Aussies in awe of the passionate crowd at ANZ Stadium this past Saturday evening. No matter what the social media troll will jibber behind his keyboard, this venture has been absolutely huge for exposure, and it won’t be the last, not while Old Faithful has the potential to cry out in new surroundings.
Hull FC are going places from the sleeping giant tag they endured under the Uncle Kath regime. They’ve awoke now and are one of the big boys, and they justified that statement from the off, taking the game to NRL opposition.
A lot was made pre-match about how Super League teams throw the ball about, and Hull did that. They caught the Dragons cold, with a spectacular piece of play gaining the games first try. Brilliantly set up by Jake Connor, Albert Kelly was able to pounce on a kick through for a terrific try. The Five-Eighth, now in his second season at the Black and Whites, was sensational. He’s just got it. The X-Factor. The type of player that gets bums on seats. Out of contract at the end of the year, you’d probably be safe in assuming there will be some interest on this side of the world for his signature. Kelly has had a troubled past, of course we know that, we’ve been reminded of his second season antics every bloody day throughout the winter, but we’ve seen no signs of that fantasy becoming reality here. I guess that’s what happens when your coach is harder than the average Super League prop. Kelly’s future is still unknown, and whatever will be, will be. Let’s just enjoy what we’ve got, as, and by the evidence of his second try, he’s a freakishly talented rugby league player with an incredible future, still, in the game.
The same can be said of Liam Watts, who actually turned down the NRL competition to remain at our club and be close to his two boys. That is a god send for Hull FC, as Watts, who wasn’t 100% fit you’d imagine given a knock he suffered last weekend, was magnificent. He has the right amount of mongrel in him, but also the class to go with it. Attacks the line like a half back with the passing game to go with it. Those two performances in particular were enough, despite tries from Tim Lafai and Jason Nightingale, to take the lead going into half time. Scenes.
What was just as commendable was the performances of the younger players, who were given an incredible opportunity to show what they’re all about. At one stage, the pack, well all but Mickey Paea, was all under 21 years of age. That tells me we’ve got one hell of a future ahead of us, especially if you look at the progression of Masimbaashe Matongo and Brad Fash just to name too. They stood up, as did Jordan Lane, who has definitely ate his spinach over the winter. Big lad. There were numerous positives to take, and the experience itself will be beneficial to the whole squad.
It might be worth adding too that whilst St George didn’t finish in the top eight of the NRL last season, they have some exciting young players to hopefully make sure that stat won’t repeat itself again. I was lucky enough to attend a training session earlier in the week. They’ve got a kid called Jai Field and he’s absolutely rapid, making the likes of Liam Marshall and Jamie Shaul look slow. A freak. Meanwhile at ANZ Stadium, the Red V obviously had a kick up the backside in the sheds, with Nene McDonald grabbing two more tries early after the restart. Watts then levelled the scores, with Kurt Mann getting the winner late on.
A moral victory? Absolutely. Now Hull FC head back to England, but for us at Up the Cream, we’ve got a few more days of Australia to soak up, before the sub-zero temperatures hit us again. I can feel the blues right now.
St George Starting XIII: 1. Matt Dufty, 2. Reuben Garrick, 3. Kurt Mann, 4. Tim Lafai, 5. Jason Nightingale, 6. Gareth Widdop (c), 7. Ben Hunt, 8. James Graham, 9. Cameron McInnes, 10. Paul Vaughan, 11. Luciano Leilua, 12. Tariq Sims, 13. Leeson Ah Mau. Interchange: 14. Jeremy Latimore, 15. Jai Field, 16. Euan Aitken, 17. Hame Sele, 18. Reece Robson, 19. Darren Nicholls, 20. Zac Lomax, 21. Blake Lawrie, 22. Josh Kerr, 23. Jacob Host, 24. Mitchell Allgood, 25. Nene MacDonald.
St George Tries: Lafai, Nightingale, MacDonald 2, Mann. Goals: Widdop 1/4, Field 1/1
Hull Starting XIII: 1. Jamie Shaul, 2. Bureta Faraimo, 14. Jake Connor, 4. Josh Griffin, 5. Fetuli Talanoa, 6. Albert Kelly, 7. Marc Sneyd, 23. Mickey Paea, 11. Dean Hadley, 10. Liam Watts, 21. Sika Manu, 17. Danny Washbrook, 13. Josh Bowden. Interchange: 15. Chris Green, 3. Carlos Tuimavave, 20. Brad Fash, 16. Jordan Abdull, 22. Jez Litten, 24. Jack Logan, 25. Jansin Turgut, 26. Jordan Lane, 27. Jack Downs, 29. Masimbaashe Matongo.
Hull Tries: Kelly 2, Watts. Goals: Sneyd 3/3
Hull 3-2-1 Man of the Match: 3pts Albert Kelly, 2pts Liam Watts, 1pt Josh Griffin.
Scoring System: 0-6, 6-6, 10-6, 10-12, 14-12, 18-12, 18-18, 24-18
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