Castleford Tigers v Hull FC: Airlie Birds in desperate need of winning momentum

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HULL FC head coach Lee Radford believes no one else but themselves are the biggest threat to his side’s hopes of completing an historic Super League and Challenge Cup double.

They head to Castleford Tigers tonight in their final Super 8s game seeking the victory that will secure third spot and a place in next week’s semi-finals.

Back with a vengeance: Prop Chris Green, pictured earlier this year breaking through the Widnes defence, is set to bolster Hulls options on his return tonight. (Picture: PA)

Back with a vengeance: Prop Chris Green, pictured earlier this year breaking through the Widnes defence, is set to bolster Hulls options on his return tonight. (Picture: PA)

Admittedly, their opponents, the runaway League Leaders’ Shield winners, have left out a number of key players with one eye already on those semis.

Hull, meanwhile, are one of the few sides to beat them this season having won at the KCOM Stadium in both the regular rounds and on their way to Wembley glory.

However, Radford refuses to read into any of the sub-plots ahead of the crucial 80 minutes and insisted: “It’s not about Castleford; it’s about us and how we perform.

“When we haven’t turned up with the right attitude and been bang at it, we have beaten ourselves. Our biggest enemy is us.

For us we need momentum going into the semi-final and that’s what we have been trying to generate since the Challenge Cup final.

Lee Radford

“What has gone before is all irrelevant for me. It’s all about who takes their opportunities and who wants it the most come Friday.

“For us we need momentum going into the semi-final and that’s what we have been trying to generate since the Challenge Cup final.

“In 2005, when I was a player (with Bradford Bulls), we won it from third and we had a long winning streak.

“That feeling that the ball is rolling is what we are trying to get here.”

Granted, that rampant Bradford side, which included stellar talent like Lesley Vainikolo, Jamie Peacock, Mick Withers and Adrian Morley, won 11 successive games before beating Leeds Rhinos at Old Trafford.

Hull, who have struggled for results before and after their Wembley exploits, cannot hope for such momentum but you get the drift of Radford, who played as a grafting loose forward that night 12 years ago.

They started their own ball rolling with a vital win over top-four rivals Wakefield Trinity last week, a first victory since beating Wigan Warriors in the Cup final last month.

That was crucial to keeping their semi-final hopes alive and, after battling from 10-0 down to edge a 19-18 success and first win in four Super 8s games, Radford wants to gather pace tonight to set up a semi-final either at Leeds – if they clinch third – or Castleford again if results see them finish fourth.

Regardless, further improvement is certainly required from the Challenge Cup holders this evening but there is a sense they have plenty more within them.

“It was a tough game last week and Wakefield performed really well,” recalled Radford.

“They dominated us for the first 30 minutes but in the second half we were outstanding.

“We just need to keep competing. Ever since the Huddersfield game (46-18 defeat) we have competed for everything.

“Whether it’s balls on the ground, balls in the air, chase backs or anything else – we need to keep doing that.”

Indeed, Hull came close against both Wigan and Leeds in Super 8s games before finally clicking again versus Wakefield.

They are bolstered further tonight by the return of two of their Wembley winners.

Prop Chris Green has missed all three games since then due to appendix surgery while winger Fetuli Talanoa has sat out the last two following an elbow problem.

“With Greeny, it was obviously an injury we didn’t see coming so to have him healthy is great,” said Radford.

“Fetuli will play this week as well. He’s huge out of the backfield just like Mahe (Fonua). To get a game under his belt before the play-offs would be beneficial.”

But Castleford have only lost once at home all season and Radford conceded: “Our start has to be much better compared to last week. And we have to be a bit more north to south rather than east to west when we have the ball.

“In defence we must have a little more sting as well. It doesn’t matter who you are playing, any team in the competition can blow you away if you don’t come out all guns blazing early on.”

Silencing Castleford’s famously vociferous support, who are so close to the action at Wheldon Road, will be important and a further reason why Hull will want a fast start.

Without captain Michael Shenton and England colleagues Luke Gale and Zak Hardaker, as well as pack stalwarts Adam Milner, Grant Millington, Oli Holmes and Nathan Massey, the Tigers may take some adjusting, too.

Radford, though, has reiterated it is only his own side that he is concentrating on and they are in perfect shape.

“Our energy levels have been really good but they should be,” he said. Our training has been manipulated so our energy levels should be there. We need to make sure we are like that for the next three weeks.”