TOM LINEHAM, the unwanted winger sold to Warrington Wolves last autumn, came back to gleefully ruin Hull FC’s treble bid last night but, in all honesty, it was mainly their own doing.
Lee Radford’s side knew if they beat the leaders – severely depleted without six regulars – they would finish top for the first time since 1983 and add the League Leaders’ Shield to the Challenge Cup won at Warrington’s expense last month.
However, despite so much being at stake, the East Yorkshire club were utterly dismal and managed to somehow stumble throughout.
Having been top for most of the year, three defeats from four games since Wembley sees them finish third.
Rather than a home semi-final, they must now go to Wigan Warriors next Friday for a place at Old Trafford.
First-placed Warrington, superb against the odds without Kurt Gidley, Chris Sandow and Ben Currie, will host St Helens on Thursday.
Granted, Hull were just 14-6 down heading into the final 10 minutes but, such was the paucity of their play, never looked like coming back.
Instead, Lineham – only playing his first Warrington game in more than two months due to the Wolves’ crippling injury list – scrambled over for his second try in the 74th minute to seal their fate.
Radford said beforehand he expected his former player to make an impact but no one could have envisaged this; Lineham also produced a try-saving tackle at 12-6.
Hull were 10-0 down at half-time – the same advantage Warrington squandered at Wembley – and could have few complaints; the visitors largely dominated and could, indeed, have been further in front.
Radford’s side started purposefully enough, sensing the size of the occasion, but once Lineham scored inside just five minutes, they quickly lost their vigour.
Matty Russell, switched to full-back to facilitate Stefan Ratchford’s move to the halves, busted through midfield to break and then find Ratchford who dabbed a kick to Lineham’s corner.
His last game was for Rochdale Hornets in League 1 but the winger, sold for £100,000, was never going to be so rusty he would miss that gilt-edged chance.
Kevin Penny, the other Wolves wideman brought in from the cold due to their injury crisis, added a second on 13 minutes although he did seem to benefit from a Jack Hughes pass that looked forward.
Hull, clearly rattled, needed to settle but instead saw Marc Sneyd sail the restart out on the full – and captain Gareth Ellis floored in the resulting set of six after banging his head in a tackle that required off-field assessment.
To continue their descent into chaos, Liam Watts, on his 200th career appearance, was penalised for a needless shoulder charge to gift Declan Patton an easy two points, stretching the visitors’ lead to 10-0. Abject Hull simply could not get into the game and, with Warrington continually surging out of dummy-half as expected, they were thankful to Kirk Yeaman – playing his last game at KCOM Stadium before retiring – when he managed to bundle Rhys Evans into touch to deny a third try. Even Danny Houghton, shortlisted for Man of Steel this week, did not escape being dragged into the mire, the hooker inexplicably chipping to the corner on the third tackle with a rare foray into Warrington’s 20 – and badly over-hitting his kick.
Frank Pritchard wasted another decent attacking chance with poor handling and they required a timely hit from Josh Bowden to jolt Hughes and end another threatening move from Tony Smith’s side.
Fetuli Talanoa rescued them next, intercepting a pass when the visitors seemed certain to score.
That said, after the Hull winger was hauled in, Russell should really have been yellow carded when lazily tracking back into line, Sneyd’s pass hitting him to deny Hull the opportunity of capitalising on the bedraggled defence.
Typically, Hull did not seize the opportunity; Ellis was held up barging over the goalline and their attack petered out once more. They found some rhythm at the start of the second period.
Mark Minichiello found a gap and Carlos Tuimavave dummied down the other edge to stretch over in the 43rd minute.
Sneyd converted and they should have been over again nine minutes later.
Shaul’s kick return saw him make a 50m break.
Scott Taylor turned to support and almost finished off only for Lineham – who else? – to drag him down just short. Shaul, then, hurried the next play and the ball was once more lost.
Soon after, the full-back spilled Ratchford’s hanging kick and Sneyd conceded a soft penalty for Patton to make it 12-6.
When Shaul then hesitated securing a slack Watts offload on halfway, he had to race back to desperately prevent Lineham getting his second. Nevertheless, Warrington nudged further ahead with two more Patton penalties and he added a drop goal after converting when Lineham did complete his brace.
Looking jaded, Hull will need to find some energy from somewhere if they are to rescue their title bid.
Hull FC: Shaul, Michaels, Fonua, Yeaman, Talanoa, Tuimavave, Sneyd, Taylor, Houghton, Watts, Manu, Minichiello, Ellis. Substitutes: Pritchard, Bowden, Thompson, Hadley.
Warrington: Russell, Lineham, R. Evans, Atkins, Penny, Ratchford, Patton, Hill, Clark, Sims, Wilde, Hughes, Westerman. Substitutes: G. King, T. King, Philbin, Smith.
Referee: B Thaler (RFL).