Hull Need A Bounce
Hull FC are a strange old beast. They are a very, very capable side. So capable in fact that they sit third in the BetFred Super League table after 14 rounds, just three points behind Castleford Tigers at the top. Yet the word capable is applicable to Lee Radford’s side in a positive and a negative sense. They are capable of sitting third with nine wins out of 14, but they are also capable of losing 45-0 to a previously disinterested Saints side at last week’s Magic Weekend.
And it wasn’t a one-off. FC were hammered 54-18 by Salford and 52-24 by Leeds on consecutive weekends at the beginning of April. They have conceded more points than any side in the top seven, and have missed more tackles (449) than any other Super League outfit. Their attack is keeping them in the mix, with only three sides having scored more points than the black and whites in 2017. That means there is big pressure on their creative players, Albert Kelly, Carlos Tuimavave and company to keep putting up the points that will keep them in contention.
They couldn’t do this at Newcastle, returning a big fat zero on the scoreboard, and will need a huge bounce back during this week’s home clash with Leigh Centurions. Neil Jukes’ side are struggling of late, their 36-22 loss to Salford Red Devils an eighth in a row including a 24-10 defeat to FC on Easter Monday. A worrying six-point gap has opened up between the Centurions and the top eight, so a run of wins now is essential if Leigh are to avoid another battle in the Middle Eight Qualifiers from whence they secured their Super League status last year. With just nine games to play before the split, it could soon be time to start planning for exactly that eventuality.
A Big Game For Leeds And Warrinton – For Differing Reasons
The league’s traditional top two offloaders meet at Headingley as Leeds Rhinos take on Warrington Wolves in Friday night’s live televised affair (May 26). They do so with very different agendas, but with an equal level of desperation to secure the points. Leeds are clinging on to a top four spot following their 29-18 defeat to Castleford at Newcastle, with both Wigan and Wakefield with a mathematical chance of overhauling Brian McDermott’s side going into the round. However, a win could take them above Hull should they suffer an admittedly unlikely loss to Leigh (losing 45-0 to Saints was unlikely) and level on points with Salford should they slip up at home to a Catalans side that could be stirred into action by the sacking of Laurent Frayssinous just as Saints were briefly following the departure of Keiron Cunningham.
For Warrington the top four is still something of a fantasy land. They need the points to keep pace with Saints and the Dragons in the race to stay in the Super 8s when they roll around in August. A loss here could see them overhauled by the Dragons if they can get that response to losing Frayssinous, while Huddersfield can also draw level on points with Tony Smith’s side if the Wolves lose and the Giants can overcome Wakefield.
Warrington are boosted by the new two-year extension to Stefan Ratchford’s deal which will keep him at the Halliwell Jones Stadium until the end of 2020. Cynics might suggest this is a consolation prize for missing out on Ben Barba after he chose to join Saints but in Ratchford Warrington have a versatile, highly skilled player who is currently the man in possession of the England full-back jersey, even if that is down to some interesting misuse of Zak Hardaker by coach Wayne Bennett. The point is that Ratchford is a star performer and if he is at his best in this one and in the games to come then Wire have every chance of preserving their Super League status early and, who knows, mounting a late push for that top four.
Leeds have been doing some business of their own with fullback Ash Golding signing a new five-year deal which keeps him with the Rhinos until the end of the 2021 season. They will also be out for revenge for a 25-14 defeat to Warrington in early April which was the Wolves’ first league win after a dreadful start to 2017.