AFTER the spectacular light show beforehand, Hull needed to live up to the billing last night.
Their pre-match build-up, as the KC Stadium darkened for flashing strobes that required a public health warning, and piercing music, was more akin to the sort of thing you’d see at a World Cup opening ceremony than the first game of the Airlie Birds’ Super League season.
Fair play to them. Thankfully, though, Lee Radford’s side also produced a performance to match all the hype as they eased past Salford Red Devils with an at times neat, clinical and promising performance.
As always with Hull, though, there was a caveat; they dozed off in the final quarter when 42-6 ahead, letting Salford hit back with three tries, two of which were despite being down to 12 men after captain and former FC hooker Tommy Lee was sin-binned following a brawl.
However, of their six new signings, two scored to instantly get their Black and White careers up and moving, former Melbourne Storm winger Mahe Fonua and Carlos Tuimavavae, who showed some real classy touches in the left centre, both crossing in a first half that ended 26-6 in the hosts’ favour.
After the disappointment of last term when they finished eighth and won just one of their last eight games, Radford can ill-afford another campaign of under-achievement.
Here, they set off on the right foot, managing Salford’s early enthusiasm and then slowly picking them apart, punishing the sloppy visitors for any errors, of which there was plenty.
They mainly stemmed from Gareth O’Brien, the former Warrington scrum-half who was bizarrely positioned at full-back by head coach Ian Watson last night, and produced a display like someone trying it out for the first time, dithering over kicks and spilling balls aplenty.
It only invited Hull, so powerful and sharp from the off, in further and it was no surprise they eased away with a victory that could have been far larger if not for a scrappy final quarter. The likes of Scott Taylor, against the club he played for last season, and Liam Watts led strongly up front with Danny Houghton, as ever, offering direction from the ruck.
But half-backs Marc Sneyd and Leon Pryce were positive with their play, too, and Tumiavavae and Jack Logan posed a regular threat in the centre.
Sika Manu was, perhaps, the pick of Hull’s new recruits, the former Melbourne Storm second-row hitting hard in defence and producing a brilliant flick pass for Logan’s second half try.
That had come after Pryce, who had opened the scoring by supporting onto Houghton’s fourth minute break, showed great awareness to feed Josh Bowden from close range early in the second period. Jamie Shaul ensured Hull had eight different try-scorers when the full-back capitalised on another O’Brien error to dink ahead and win the race to the ball for a stylish score in the 53rd minute, Sneyd slotting his fifth conversion for 42-6.
From there, though, and despite the presence of the excellent Frank Pritchard, the burly Kiwi who will bring so much to Hull’s pack, Radford’s side started to stutter. Junior Sa’u sneaked over for one try and, after Lee was carded, Michael Dobson’s cut-out pass saw Niall Evalds score, too.
Straight from the restart, Ben Murdoch-Masila then marauded worryingly though Hull’s middle for Sa’u to add his second and take some gloss off this opening night victory.
Salford had replied to Pryce’s opener via Josh Griffin’s converted try but Houghton’s clever lofted kick saw Fonua score in the corner, the winger unfortunately having to depart early in the second period with an injury.
Taylor’s short pass saw Jordan Thompson get over, too, in the first half before Tumiavavae showed his delicate touch with a fine pass for Fetuli Talanoa to cross on his return from injury.
Tuimavave scored himself before the break and it will be more of that first-half performance that Radford will want to see in Perpignan in a week’s time when they face a Catalans Dragons side that lost just 12-6 at Wigan last night.
He said: “It was great to get the start we were striving for.
“It was a bit scrappy in the second half but we’ve only had one game really – I think they’ve had three – and that showed a little.
“But in the main I was pleased and I thought the likes of Josh Bowden went really well while Sika Manu showed his class.
“We know it’s going to be tough in Perpignan; I think we’ve only won once there in nine years or something.”
Hull FC: Shaul; Talanoa, Tuimavave, Logan, Fonua; Pryce, Sneyd; Taylor, Houghton, Watts, Minichiello, Manu, Thompson. Substitutes: Green, Bowden, Pritchard, Washbrook.
Salford Red Devils: O’Brien; Carney, Jones, Sa’u, J Griffin; Lui, Dobson; Kopczak, Lee, G Griffin, Murdoch-Masila, Sarsfield, Flanagan. Substitutes: Evalds, Krasniqi, Joseph, Tomkins.
Referee: C Kendall (Huddersfield).
Wigan were grateful for two early tries from hooker Michael McIlorum as they ground out an opening 12-6 Super League win over Catalans Dragons in dreadful conditions at the DW Stadium.
Last year’s Grand Final runners-up were far from their fluent best but hardly needed to be against a Dragons side that simply could not get to grips with the greasy ball on a glue-pot of a pitch.
The French side avoided a whitewash when second rower Justin Horo pulled a try back.