HULL FC swiftly ended lingering doubts their title challenge was waning, avoiding a third successive defeat with some ease by producing a thoroughly professional dismantling of Hull KR last night.
A third derby victory of the season – a record-extending fifth consecutive win over their fierce rivals during the summer era – in front of a fine crowd of 17,481 took them back to the top of Super League.
If that was not satisfying enough for Lee Radford’s team in the 229th meeting between these sides, their 16th league win of the year also confirmed Rovers in the bottom four where they will now battle it out with Salford Red Devils, Huddersfield Giants and Leeds Rhinos to avoid relegation when the Qualifiers begin next month.
Mark Minichiello scored two tries as did his fellow countryman Steve Michaels, the winger supplied both times by Mahe Fonua, the giant centre with such surprisingly delicate hands.
Rovers sprung a surprise by including Josh Mantellato, their Australian winger who had not played since breaking an arm in the Good Friday derby defeat, but it was the only shock they could muster.
His side, infamously, let a 20-0 lead slip that day to lose out; they could only dream of securing such dominance last night.
Radford, meanwhile, opted for Jordan Abdull, the bulky 20-year-old stand-off, ahead of veteran Leon Pryce as the injured Carlos Tumiavave’s replacement.
He had not played for Hull since the Easter Monday win over Warrington but, having honed his game at Featherstone Rovers in the Championship since, he was assured, controlled and confident alongside the excellent Marc Sneyd.
The hosts – who lost Jamie Shaul to a second half injury – built up an 18-0 lead inside just 23 minutes and never truly looked likely to loosen their grip on the contest from thereon in.
Rovers, in fairness, started with real vigour, Ken Sio inexplicably spilling a blatant try-scoring chip from Albert Kelly in the early exchanges and then the returning James Donaldson having an effort ruled out due to Shaun Lunt’s forward pass.
No side can afford such profligacy against Hull. They steadied and, as they have done to so many teams this year, the visitors were soon bullied into submission.
They pulled the KR defence around, shifting the play well first through Abdull, before prop Liam Watts crashed back infield from close range for the game’s opening try on 11 minutes.
Sneyd slotted the first of his six conversions and they were over again when Rovers conceded an admittedly dubious penalty in the next set.
From there, Sneyd’s neat grubber found space 10m in front of KR’s posts for Danny Houghton to rush on and find his way to the line.
When Hull’s inspirational captain Gareth Ellis limped off in backfield on 21 minutes – he did return – it could have seen them lose momentum. Instead, though, back-row colleague Sika Manu led a four-man effort on Iain Thornley, forcing the Rovers centre 15m sideways into touch.
It was only the second tackle in the set after a kick return for James Webster’s side and, from that hard-earned possession, Hull added their third try.
There was a touch of fortune to this one, Kelly setting off without the ball as he tried to take Sneyd’s latest grubber on the run, gifting Minichiello the easiest of tries.
Rovers then lost James Donaldson as he was concussed trying to tackle Minichello. They could do little right. Some fearsome defence saw Rovers offloading desperately looking for a chink in the Hull line.
Kelly finally saw it, straightening and accelerating through the bedraggled defensive line from 25m out, weaving and dodging before stretching out of Shaul’s desperate tackle to attempt a score, only to lose the ball.
You could understand the scrum-half’s urgency to attempt – they so badly needed a try – but, instead, Radford’s side tightened their grip. Minichiello received Sneyd’s delivery, stepped inside a tackle and surged over for his second try in the 47th minute.
Fonua’s deft hands, once more, supplied Michaels next, also bringing the first flare-up of the game as Hull took offence to the challenge on the try’s creator.
Adam Walker at least made sure Rovers were not kept scoreless as the prop found a rare gap in Hull’s defence for Mantellato to improve. Michaels restored the hosts’ advantage with his second try following another lovely flick from Fonua.
Rovers’ Ben Cockayne was placed on report by referee Ben Thaler late on before Thornley broke from deep for a consolation.
Hull FC: Shaul; Michaels, Fonua, Yeaman, Talanoa; Sneyd, Abdull; Taylor, Houghton, Watts, Minichello, Manu, Ellis. Substitutes: Pryce, Thompson, Bowden, Washbrook.
Hull KR: Cockayne; Sio, Minns, Thornley, Mantellato; Blair, Kelly; Allgood, Lunt, Tilse, Greenwood, Clarkson, Donaldson. Substitutes: Walker, Mulhern, Lawler, Marsh.
Referee: B Thaler (Wakefield).