It’s safe to say that pre-season for any club is always a period of experimenting. Results on the pitch do not necessarily reflect on a team’s fortunes for the forthcoming season. Hull FC have been an example of this, as Coach Lee Radford looks to improve on last year’s excellent efforts with a sprinkling of new additions and the fine-tuning of a strong core. Having watched the Black & Whites in a handful of friendlies so far, I’ve picked out ten things from these games which have stood out:
1.) Albert Kelly & Marc Sneyd will be a magical pairing: We finally got to see the two pivots in action in the last hit-out against Toronto Wolfpack in a first-half cameo. Anybody with reservations about Albert should be sleeping with ease now. A solo effort against Hull KR, followed by a spectacular long-range effort against The Wolfpack, showcased just a taster of what he can offer. As a dangerous runner with the ball, this will allow Marc Sneyd to weave his magic with ease. One dangerous pivot has become two and Super League opposition will be left quivering.
2.) Tuimavave is back with a bang: After a quiet return in the low-key Derby against Hull KR, Carlos was able to start at centre again against Toronto and he certainly looked dangerous. A piercing run out wide, followed by a neat pass to Kelly, lead to Hull’s first try. The young Kiwi needs a big season to cement a position at centre but early signs suggest a right-edge link with Fonua & Kelly could be Radford’s preferred combination.
3.) Josh Griffin is going to wreak havoc: Another player who made his first appearance of the season against The Wolfpack, Josh showed flashes of the figure who dismantled Rovers last October. A strong carrier of the ball with a good pair of hands, we may have seen more but for a bang on the hooter in the first-half. There is no doubting that him and Talanoa will blossom as a lethal, left-edge force given their talents, it just needs time to flourish
4.) Jamie Shaul is the undisputed No.1 Fullback: Despite murmerings of Jake Connor staking a claim for the coveted full-back position during the off-season, Jamie’s brief appearance on Sunday demonstrated how important he is to the team. We were all reminded of his explosive pace and excellent support game for 40 minutes and I honestly do not think that at this moment in time, it can be rivalled.
5.) Youngsters will benefit from reserve experience: Friendly defeats against Castleford and the old enemy were opportunities for some of FC’s youth to showcase their talents. Some figures stood out and others were perhaps exposed a little more by more experienced counterparts. Players such as Nick Rawsthorne, Jack Wray, Marvin Lee, Mike Adlard, Jack Sanderson amongst other newcomers will be certainly better athletes for learning from a legend like Richard Horne in the Reserves.
6.) Others are ready for the first-team: On the flipside, it was exciting to see a handful of last season’s Reserve squad, clearly showing that they will break into the first-team more regularly in 2017. In my opinion, friendlies have only endorsed the reputations of names such as Jansin Turgut, Masi Montongo, Brad Fash and Jack Downs who certainly look physically and mentally prepared to mix it with the first-teamers.
7.) Radford will be able to rotate his squad with confidence: Lee Radford has been keen to deal with the issue of potential burn-out in his squad by placing more emphasis on the rest of his team during pre-season. Criticised by some, this will undoubtedly manifest itself as a canny move as the season progresses. Players such as the aforementioned Tuimavave, Dean Hadley, Josh Bowden and Danny Washbrook showed countless times how dependable they were in 2016 and their experience continues to shine during the off-season. If not involved already, they’ll be beacons of consistency when called upon, as well as being great examples to the crop of young first-teamers.
8.) Options aplenty in the back-line: The Black & White back-line is something else, make no mistake about it! The calibre of player and combinations available to Radders are probably unrivalled in Super League right now. The usual suspects such as Fonua, Talanoa and Griffin are names that stand-out but then you consider the alternatives such as Tuimavave at centre, Michaels on the wing and newcomer Jake Connor vying for a centre-spot. Spare a thought for Curtis Naughton, Jack Logan and Callum Lancaster too, who all have Super League experience.
9.) Awesome offence will continue to be the name of the game: As games have progressed, we’ve gradually seen the Airlie Birds start demonstrating their true attacking prowess once again. If you thought 2016 was a year for free-flowing rugby, expect even more this season! Though the additions have been small in number, the focus on bringing more attacking venom to the table is all too apparent. Kelly and Griffin are great examples of this approach, adding that X-Factor in positions that possibly previously lacked it.
10.) There is much more to come: Throughout this article we’ve talked about so many familiar faces yet the likes of Gareth Ellis, Danny Houghton, Scott Taylor and Sika Manu have yet to make an off-season appearance! It’s incredible to think and is a great example of a squad with so much depth and talent. Exciting times indeed and even more so as Jake Connor, the final newcomer, waits to make his debut.