It looks like FC are heading in the right direction so far in 2017. Barring a narrow loss to Catalans Dragons in the opening home fixture, the Black & Whites have managed to pick wins in their other matches. It’s not been a series of complete performances, nor should we really expect it at this stage but the determination and team ethic is all too apparent. Round 5’s 32 – 12 victory against the Widnes Vikings was a sure sign that FC’s attack is gradually realising its potential. We’ve seen a handful of players already showcase their abilities, so let’s take a look at the Top 5, in my humble opinion, who are leading the way so far:
1.) Sika Manu: The aggressive enforcer – Any Hull fan will tell you that Sika has been running the hard metres and putting in the big hits from the moment he joined. This season, in a similar vein to Houghton, he’s getting a bit of public recognition for his efforts. He looks revitalised after having a break during the off-season. Not only this but he’s quickly become a major player in FC’s potent right edge combination with Kelly, Tuimavave & Fonua. Defensively sound and also capable of some nifty skills with ball in hand, Manu’s presence has been huge so far.
2.) Albert Kelly: The gamble that paid off? I can’t deny that I was a little sceptical when I heard Albert had joined from the dark side. It was important that the scrum-half bought in to the club’s mentality and thankfully it seems he has. Answering his critics on the pitch with a series of impressive performances, he’s the missing link Hull FC have badly missed for years and the pivot is clearly eager to impress. We already knew about his dangerous attacking game but Kelly also offers a stronger defensive game now, with visibly improved levels of fitness. Having bagged 6 tries in his last 3 games, he’s clearly in good form and enjoying the challenge. The frightening thing is that he’s probably nowhere near his best yet. Hull wanted the X-Factor and they’ve certainly got it in the team now.
3.) Carlos Tuimavave: Cementing a centre spot – Carlos had a difficult 2016 as he struggled to find his ideal position but 2017 has seen him link up with Fonua on the right edge. I think Carlos’ improvement has been the biggest of those I’ve mentioned so far and he looks incredibly sharp. Fitness levels seem to have vastly improved over the winter period, along with a tighter defensive game. Add to this his already impressive attacking armoury and he could really make an impact this season. His efforts so far have made it clear that he’ll probably be a mainstay in Hull’s back-line and I expect him to push on and excel further. Let’s hope the ankle injury sustained in Friday’s victory over Widnes doesn’t halt his improved form.
4.) Scott Taylor: Raising already awesome standards – Anybody would forgive TAG for struggling to match the impressive heights he hit last year, he was simply sensational but he has done anything but that. His intensity on the pitch remains as strong as ever and this goes for his fitness levels and personality. He’s an absorbing player to watch but he clearly has an impact on those around him too. Given some of the close, scrappy contests the Airlie Birds have been involved in so far, players like Taylor make all the difference with his ability to make huge metres and galvanise the team.
5.) Josh Bowden: A leading light down the middle – Another player who made huge strides in 2016, Josh has kicked on from there with an impressive start to 2017. Having picked up a niggling ankle injury during pre-season, Bowden has quickly forced his way back into Radford’s starting line-up. Given the enforced absence of Liam Watts, his metre-making has been even more vital. In a similar vein to Watts, he his an impact prop and therefore the youngster is expected to lead the team up the field. So far he hasn’t disappointed with some colossal hits.
And those names who narrowly missed the cut…
Chris Green – I really deliberated between Bowden & Green as both have really stepped up to the plate so far. Chris has probably had less game time to showcase his abilities but when on the pitch his contribution has been huge. Running with purpose and a side-step like Jason Robinson; Green is a rare breed of Prop and he will eventually score that elusive distance try!
Marc Sneyd – Just who will Schofield constructively criticise next!? Whoever it is, it’s worked wonders on Sneyd, who’s really starting to shift through the gears in 2017. His astute kicking is being supported by a more prominent running game and the early signs are promising.
Mark Minichiello – There are few more superlatives you can send in Mini’s direction really. He continues to defy the laws of age with excellent conditioning. He played a big part in the dismantling of Widnes and if he’s utilised effectively, he could continue pulling up trees this year and beyond.