WHEN he returned from the NRL and chose ambitious Hull FC ahead of every other Super League club courting his signature, Gareth Ellis never thought he would be talking about relegation just two years down the line.
However, the former England second-row does now find himself in that exact position as he attempts to revive the East Yorkshire club’s flagging fortunes.
They are currently in eighth – the play-offs, essentially – but such is their worrying inconsistency Ellis realises the other end of the table is just as likely if they do not improve soon. Delivering a win in this evening’s derby against Hull KR at Magic Weekend would be a perfect start.
But the blunt-talking Hull captain is searingly honest when assessing his side’s capabilities.
“This is harder than I expected,” he told The Yorkshire Post. “When I joined we talked top four but now it’s possibly relegation.
“It’s something we can’t ignore. If Bradford Bulls get their points back we could be in that mix.
“Having said that, a few wins we’re back up there. But we probably do need to start fighting like a team that could get relegated.
“Hopefully I can lead by example, people will follow and we’ll get out of the hole we’re in. There’d be no better game than the derby to start doing that.”
However, Ellis – who joined from Wests Tigers – does not hide his concern over Hull’s fragility.
They suffered the biggest loss of their year so far, 44-16 against a depleted Wigan Warriors last Friday, swiftly after letting a 16-0 lead slip in the final 25 minutes versus lowly Wakefield Trinity.
“We’ve had energy in fits and spurts and efforts there but confidence is shot to pieces at the minute,” said the 33 year-old.
“That (Wigan) was probably the bottom of the barrel. The signs had been there against Wakefield but I woke up after Wigan with more spring in my step. I thought ‘The only way is up’.”
It would be easy to think Ellis must regret not taking the “easy” option and rejoining Leeds Rhinos, the side he won two Super League titles with before heading to Australia in 2009.
However, the rugged Castlefordian has always thrived on a challenge and he certainly has one on his hands with Hull.
They were defeated 21-20 in the last derby at Hull KR over Easter, losing out in the last minute yet, in all honesty, well beaten by their rivals from the east of the city.
“That’s been the story of our season,” continued Ellis. “We’ve just not been able to come out on the right side of close games.
“We’ve questioned among ourselves whether we’ve enough winners and dogged spirit in this team. Players do obviously have it but we’re not showing it.”
It is an argument levelled at Hull for years, though, augmented when they capitulated in last season’s Challenge Cup final versus Wigan and again in the play-offs at Huddersfield.
“It’s there, plain to see,” admitted the ex-Wakefield Trinity forward, who has twice been voted the world’s best second-row.
“You can talk about consistency. You could narrow it down to over 80 minutes or to our win/loss record this year or over previous seasons where Hull have won a couple of Challenge Cups and got to a Grand Final but never been able to kick on.
“It’s something within the club we can’t shake off at the minute.
“When I signed that was one thing I was looking forward to – making Hull a consistently good team. I haven’t achieved that so I have to keep working hard.”
There is no doubt Ellis will do that – it is part of his fabric – the question is whether some of his colleagues have the will to do so.