RANGI Chase delivered a drop-goal golden-point winner in the seventh minute of extra-time last night to ruin Hull FC’s hopes of Tetley’s Challenge Cup redemption.
How Hull, beaten when so lacklustre in last season’s final by Wigan Warriors, even got to the point where the England half-back had such an opportunity only they will know.
Lee Radford’s side had convincingly beaten Salford 30-8 here in Super League last Friday so always knew their opponents would be fired up for a response yet Hull were in the lead for the majority of the match and had ample opportunities to put this fourth-round tie to bed.
Yet every time they looked ready to push on, and despite the best efforts of two-try full-back Jamie Shaul, they imploded with yet more soft defence to let their desperate foes back in.
It meant, instead, Jake Mullaney held his nerve to slot a touchline conversion with the last play of normal time after Francis Meli had latched onto Chase’s long pass to complete his hat-trick and give Brian Noble’s expensively assembled, but spluttering, side a lifeline.
Then, in extra-time, Ben Crooks dropped Chase’s high kick, surely bringing back haunting memories of the centre’s luckless display at Wembley, and soon after the ex-Castleford stand-off was joyfully striking the crucial point.
The visitors had built up a narrow 18-16 interval advantage last night, the only difference at that point being Mullaney’s superior goal-kicking.
Hull struck initially with the first of Joe Arundel’s brace inside five minutes after Crooks had shown good footwork to create just enough space for the former Castleford Tigers centre, employed here on the wing.
Crooks converted from wide out, but when Josh Bowden coughed up possession in the restart set – setting the tone somewhat – the visitors immediately responded through Meli.
When Crooks was bundled into touch on his own 20m line, another alarming Hull mistake, Salford cruised in for their second try on 11 minutes, Chase waltzing over untouched, similarly worryingly, from the resulting scrum. Mullaney improved both, but was let off when he dropped a hanging Hull kick between his own posts and the hosts failed to capitalise.
Jordan Rankin, the tall Australian stand-off replacing the injured Richard Horne, almost slipped through and, when Salford failed to deal with his clever grubber, Shaul was somehow brilliantly held up by Mullaney.
The danger did not pass, though, and soon after it was Jacob Miller’s high kick to the right corner which was plucked out of the sky by Arundel for him to score his second at the quarter mark.
Crooks was off target from wide out but the home side’s fragility was exposed once more when Arundel flapped at Chase’s kick, only relieved when Meli’s lack of control meant Salford did not score again.
Miller showed good defensive work to hold up Mullaney as his fellow countryman tried speeding over only for Radford’s side to invite more pressure when conceding a needless penalty for ripping when Junior Sa’u was wrapped up and harmless on their goalline.
They survived then, but when Liam Watts spilled on the first tackle, Noble’s side did punish them and all too easily again as Chase’s similar grubber was met by Meli on the half hour.
Mullaney maintained his success rate with the boot but Hull did not wilt and were unlucky not to hit back when Rankin dummied over smartly after slick handling only to be denied for an alleged crossing offence.
However, when Salford committed the cardinal sin of failing to find touch with a penalty, Hull’s endeavour was rewarded. Shaul –like any good full-back – followed up the middle to score when Mullaney and Greg Johnson dallied deciding who was taking Rankin’s latest testing kick.
Crooks tagged on the extras meaning the Airlie Birds trailed by just two at the break.
That deficit was overhauled just three minutes into the second period.
Miller showed great vision to highlight a long pass for Kirk Yeaman, who was able to quickly give his winger Fetuli Talanoa an easy walk-in out wide.
Soon after, Rankin straightened up a line to dummy his way through some weak Salford defence and, with Crooks converting both, they should have begun to turn the screw.
It did not happen, though.
Betraying themselves as a side that has endured a difficult start to this campaign, they were splintered in comfortable fashion themselves once more as Theo Fages barged over from close range.
Shaul brought some class to proceedings with some nifty footwork and acceleration for his second try, but that still did not give Hull the confidence to see this one out.
Instead, Chase broke from deep and linked with Mullaney for Sa’u to score, Mullaney’s conversion leaving the fixture finely balanced at 34-30.
It was no surprise Crooks accepted a penalty with seven minutes to go but, it would not be enough as – after Miller dragged a drop-goal attempt wide – Meli struck to set up that riveting late drama.
Hull FC: Shaul; Arundel, Crooks, Yeaman, Talanoa; Rankin, Miller; Paea, Houghton, Bowden, Tuson, Hadley, Westerman. Substitutes: Watts, Heremaia, Paleaaesina, Thompson.
Salford Red Devils: Mullaney; Johnson, Gleeson, Sa’u, Meli; Chase, Smith; Morley, Lee, Tasi, Hansen, Hock, Rapira. Substitutes: Fages, Puletua, Walne, McPherson.
Referee: Ben Thaler (RFL).