LEE RADFORD’S ruthless approach paid immediate dividends last night as Hull FC secured a vital win against a Huddersfield Giants side enduring real problems.
The Airlie Birds coach dropped four players, including Super League’s Young Player of the Year Ben Crooks, after their heartbreaking extra-time Challenge Cup loss to Salford Red Devils here a week earlier.
But his bold move worked as Hull surged into a 20-0 lead inside just 19 minutes against struggling visitors who simply cannot get their season going.
Paul Anderson’s men endured Cup misery of their own as they lost in controversial circumstances against St Helens on Sunday and last season’s League Leaders have now won just two of their nine games so far.
They looked heavy-legged from the off last night, perhaps unsurprising considering they had just four days’ turnaround compared to Hull’s week.
Admittedly, they were also missing England second-row Brett Ferres as he started a five-game ban, and fellow internationals Leroy Cudjoe and David Faiumu yet, still, their form heading into the Easter period is increasingly worrying.
Frustrations boiled over late on with Huddersfield captain Danny Brough sin-binned for aiming a punch at his former Hull team-mate Richard Whiting, the versatile 29-year-old who was excellent, as ever, this time in replacing Crooks at centre.
Huddersfield’s Scott Grix lost the plot early on and never really recovered, the erratic full-back coming up with errors for three tries and lucky himself to stay on in the 15th minute after firing a punch at Gareth Ellis.
The visitors – who could fall out of the top eight tonight – came up with three 40/20s, twice via Brough and once courtesy of Luke Robinson’s right boot, but never converted any and their only breakthrough was a solitary Jodie Brougton try in the 26th minute. Hull, though, can prepare for Thursday’s derby at Hull KR with real confidence once more.
Along with Crooks and Joe Arundel – who will play for Doncaster on Sunday - regular props Liam Watts and Feka Paleaaesina were also omitted, Garreth Carvell and Ellis returning to add some real presence and experience to the home pack.
In the circumstances, last night was always going to be a case of whoever struck first getting that much-needed lift.
Hull did just that in the third minute through Fetuli Talanoa after Grix’s evening got off to bad start, Whiting stripping the ball from him as he returned a kick.
It still needed some scoring, though, as the hosts showed good handling to give the winger his chance as he had to muscle over the not inconsiderable presence of Jermaine McGillvary.
However, Huddersfield – who thrashed Hull 76-18 in last season’s play-offs – imploded to concede the next try when Brough’s loose pass eluded everyone 30m from his own line.
Joe Wardle tried stopping it going into touch, but only managed to flick it back into play to Whiting – who else? – who hacked on to score.
For those home supporters wondering how Radford could drop Crooks, the relative veteran who is just as adept at prop, was quickly showing why.
Danny Houghton, the Hull hooker who was lively as ever, then penetrated Huddersfield from deep and, though that came to nothing, they were over for their third try in the 17th minute.
Grix exploded – admittedly with some mitigation – after Ellis shoved him from behind into Broughton when the Huddersfield winger was defusing a bomb.
Hull were fortunate to receive the penalty but Grix had been foolish and his indiscretion led to the home side scoring in the next set when Jordan Rankin showed some neat footwork to deceive Eorl Crabtree and just overcome Brough’s desperate tackle attempt to touch down.
Whiting added his first conversion and, in the next set, was linking brilliantly with Jamie Shaul down Huddersfield’s fragile left for Rankin to send Houghton scurrying between the posts for another improved try.
Huddersfield finally found something, Brough’s short kick forcing a drop-out from which the captain looped out a long pass for Broughton who, from a standing start 10m out, bullied his way past a feeble Liam Colbon tackle to score a converted try.
Huddersfield forward Josh Johnson, 19, had a decent impact off the bench and Ukuma Ta’ai worked hard but they were too brittle overall.
A sign of their disarray was when stand-off Brough somehow found himself taking in the first drive in his own 20m. Ellis wreathed possession from him one-on-one and, soon after, Jacob Miller – improving all the time at scrum-half for Hull – was rising above a rooted Grix to grab Rankin’s kick in the 49th minute.
Dean Hadley added another on the hour with Grix struggling before Brough and Whiting – who finished with three kicks – both received yellow cards.
Hull FC: Shaul; Colbon, Whiting, Yeaman, Talanoa; Rankin, Miller; Paea, Houghton, Carvell, Ellis, Tuson, Westerman. Substitutes: Thompson, Hadley, Heremaia, Bowden.
Huddersfield Giants: Grix; McGillvary, Murphy, Wardle, Broughton; Brough, Robinson; Kaufusi, Lunt, Kopczak, Chan, Ta’ai, Bailey. Substitutes: Crabtree, Lawrence, Wood, Johnson.
Referee: Richard Silverwood (Mirfield).