THE game between Challenge Cup holders Hull FC and Super League leaders Castleford Tigers has, understandably, been ringed on the fixture list for some time by fans eagerly expecting a potential classic to unfold.
With Castleford having produced such stunning rugby so far in 2017 and their Yorkshire rivals also boasting a far greater cutting edge due to the arrival of in-form Australian half-back Albert Kelly, tomorrow’s contest has all the makings of a quality affair.
It couldn’t be much worse than what it was. We got what we deserved with those performances given the way we played; the scoreline represented those displays and was worthy of them.Danny Houghton
However, Hull coach Lee Radford admits he is concerned it could lose some of its appeal given it comes on the back of the traditional but tiring Easter programme when clubs play Good Friday and Easter Monday.
More often than not, it is the match after that quickfire double that sees players really feel the effects and often produces low quality fare.
“That’s a bit of a disappointment for the competition and the problem with the Easter period,” Radford told The Yorkshire Post.
“This game, with all the attacking prowess on show from both sides, should be one of the games of the season.
“I’m not saying it won’t be, but if it isn’t a great spectacle it’s probably as it’s the third game of Easter and, normally, this is the slowest.
“You can criticise all you want Super League’s intensity compared to the NRL but when this is happening what can you expect?
“Obviously, there is an answer to it all, but it’s up to the powers-that-be to make that decision.”
It seems those powers-that-be will never budge – club chief executives desire more games, especially on Bank Holidays, to help ease financial pressures. You can see both sides of the argument.
However, back to the actual rugby. Hull, for their part, may be a little unsure about having home advantage tomorrow.
The KCOM Stadium has not offered much ‘advantage’ of late; both Salford Red Devils and Leeds Rhinos put more than 50 points past them on Hull’s last two outings there.
Granted, Radford’s side started to atone for those back-to-back defeats with a 24-10 win at Leigh Centurions on Easter Monday, but what is the mood like upon their return?
“Onwards and upwards,” was his quick response.
“It couldn’t be much worse than what it was. We got what we deserved with those performances given the way we played; the scoreline represented those displays and was worthy of them.
“But we’re being positive now. We started to put some things right on Monday. It wasn’t the prettiest, but it was pleasing to get back to winning ways and we’ll look to build on that on Sunday.”
Pacesetters Castleford, of course, have made all the headlines so far with their glorious, free-flowing style of football.
Admittedly, they endured a setback of their own with a narrow loss at St Helens on Easter Monday, but Radford maintained: “They are a good side. They have plenty of strike at this moment in time and it will be a real test for us. Hopefully, we’ll have some troops back and this week has been mainly about getting our energy levels back up to where they need to be. Hopefully, we will look a bit sharper.”
Crucially, Radford should have ‘Man of Steel’ Danny Houghton back in his line-up, the industrious hooker who is so integral to their cause, but who has missed the last four games with a calf strain.
They have won just once during his absence compared to five victories from their opening six games beforehand.
“I think recent results show Danny’s importance to us without a doubt and not just defensively,” said Radford about the England hopeful who regularly finishes as Super League’s top tackler.
“He keeps us unbelievably tight in and around the ruck when it comes to defence, but he’s important in attack as well. A couple of games we’ve lost without him – like Salford and Leeds – we have got back to within eight points or so, but then overplayed.
“‘He reins us in when we’re like that; he brings people back from pushing it too much, and when he’s on the field he helps us make better decisions.
“Rather than continue to try playing hot, making errors, he makes sure we keep the pressure on. Hopefully he’s good to go.”
Former Tigers player Josh Griffin and Chris Green also return for FC.