As good as Round 6’s victory over Wigan was, Coach Lee Radford knows there were plenty of areas to work on after an unconvincing second half performance. Though the Warriors showed how good they can be, Hull need to learn to close games out or this particular fixture could be a difficult one. Warrington Wolves are down but they are certainly not out and it’s a matter of time before they start picking up points. We can only hope it doesn’t start against FC, as Radford stated in the week. Here are five key areas the Airlie Birds must focus on to deliver the win.
Game Management: If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it twice; it’s an area of Hull’s game that continues to fluctuate in quality. Guilty of it several times in 2016, FC continue to put unnecessary pressure on themselves. Granted, the style of rugby they play is quite attacking but too much and you can easily find yourself leaking points. It’s a balancing act and not always an easy one during the heat of a game. Players like Albert Kelly and Mahe Fonua offer a degree of unpredictability but without the building blocks of playing out sets and making metres, they will not be as effective. Individuals such as Captain Gareth Ellis and Mark Minichiello offer the big-game experience but it’s important that Hull’s kicking remains smart too.
Hooking role must be spelled: Following on from the previous point, Danny Houghton is going to be a huge loss where game management is concerned. An air of consistency in both attack and defence, I feel Radford must share the hooking role between two players to offset this loss. Danny Washbrook slotted in with ease for the rest of last week’s victory but an 80 minute stint is unlikely. To replicate the endurance levels of Houghton, Jez Litten must be given his opportunity to shine in a dual-pronged approach. With the experience of Washy alongside him, it’s a great opportunity and in a similar manner to the ‘Pies; ‘If he’s good enough then he’s old enough’. Having shined for the Under 23s for some time now, I’m excited to see what he can offer in Super League.
Forwards must front up: The downside of including a back on the bench and Houghton’s injury woes is that Hull lose that extra forward amongst the interchanges. I would suspect Radford would have ideally added another forward on the bench to deal with a physical Wolves outfit. With Liam Watts returning from suspension, it’s important he amongst the usual suspects such as Bowden, Green and Taylor must continue their excellent work in the pack. Jansin Turgut will probably be the unfortunate player who misses out on selection. Up until his sin binning and subsequent ban against St Helens, he’s really shown a degree of maturity and is bound to feature over a hectic period in April.
Injuries must not halt improved form: With a busy period of fixtures coming up combined with several injuries to key players, it’s important Hull do not lose their momentum. It’s the first time in a while that squad strength has been tested and the back-line in particularly seems to be ever-changing in personnel. Losing Tuimavave and Talanoa was a blow but Stevie Michaels and Jake Connor are of equal quality and should deliver the goods. While Houghton’s absence will have more of an adverse effect, the nature of the Easter period is that changes will be inevitable and if Hull can adjust to this then Saturday and subsequent Easter excursions will have less of an impact on performances.
The big game players must deliver: Big games require big game players and in recent weeks new boys such as Albert Kelly and Josh Griffin have really started to take a stranglehold on games. The superlatives have been flowing about Kelly for weeks now but if you give him the ball, he can make things happen and not necessarily what you expect. Josh Griffin is really starting to cause problems down the left edge, Wigan being the latest team to discover this. Moreover his improved form has provided openings for Jamie Shaul, who unsurprisingly has scored 2 tries in his last 2 games. FC are blessed with galvanisers’ across the pitch; Taylor, Watts, Ellis, Minichiello to name a few and if they’re on song, then players such as Chris Green, Jordan Thompson seem to follow suit. Given that young Jez Litten is likely to make his first-team debut on Saturday, it’s important that the forwards around him lay the platform for Litten to play his natural game.