Hull FC v Warrington Wolves: Jamie Shaul’s gratitude to Radford for laying stable foundations at Hull

Jamie Shaul has repaid the faith shown in him by Hull coach Lee Radford (Picture: Bruce Rollinson)
Jamie Shaul has repaid the faith shown in him by Hull coach Lee Radford (Picture: Bruce Rollinson)
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WHEN Hull FC coach Lee Radford talks about building foundations for the future, erstwhile bricklayer full-back Jamie Shaul knows just what he means.

Indeed, in between terrorising Super League defences, the livewire No 1 often finds himself admiring some of his former work around his home city.

He could quite easily be still carrying hods now but, instead, will walk out at Wembley today carrying the hopes of half a city as one of the players everyone wants to see in the Ladbrokes Challenge Cup final.

“It wasn’t that long ago that I was laying bricks on a building site,” said Shaul, whose form has been so dynamic for the treble-chasers this year that there has been talk of an England call-up.

“I just feel very blessed that I get to do my childhood dream every week.

“I left the building trade when I was 20 so that’s around four years ago now.

“Sometimes I drive by houses and I say ‘I helped build that’ and now I’m on a different career path altogether.

“I still try and catch up with the lads I used to work with. A few will be going to Wembley and I still keep in touch with those guys at Christmas parties and things.

“Hopefully we can get this job done.”

Shaul, with his sheer pace and verve, has come of age this season after being given the chance to make the No 1 jersey his own by Radford.

Australian Jordan Rankin held the spot for much of last year but, following his return to the NRL, homegrown Shaul has flourished with 15 tries in 26 games.

“Last year was a very disappointing year for me and it wasn’t where I wanted to be in my career,” he admitted, when restricted to only 19 appearances.

“I just tried to train my hardest and when I did get the opportunity to play as well as I could.

“Jordan Rankin was playing out of his skin last year and there wasn’t really much I could do.

“Me and Radders sat down at the beginning of the year and we both agreed that I needed to be more consistent.

“I feel like I’m doing that now week-in, week-out.

“I’m probably doing a lot more extras and getting my body ready for the weekend. Recovering after a game is important.

“I always look back on last year before games and think to myself I don’t want to be in that situation again.”

It means, therefore, he makes his second appearance at Wembley in the form of his life.

Shaul’s first, when Hull lost against Wigan Warriors in 2013, was only his fifth senior game and he conceded it felt like a “blur.”

Back then, Radford – as assistant to Peter Gentle and knowing Shaul well from his work with the Under 20s – had battled to get the youngster a chance when it seemed he could end up on that building site permanently.

“Radders has had a massive impact on my career,” recalled Shaul, who made a scintillating debut on Easter Monday three years ago with a brilliant brace at Wakefield Trinity.

“During my first year full-time I couldn’t get a gig anywhere. I went to York on dual-registration and they didn’t want me.

“I was just fading away. Lee tried his hardest to get me in at different clubs on loan, but nothing was happening.

“He has really helped me the last few years. I don’t think I would have got the full-time deal when I was playing in the Under-20s if Radders wasn’t pushing my name forward to Peter Gentle.

“I’m very grateful for all of that. He got me that deal and you’d like to feel that if you’re playing well you’re repaying a favour.”

Shaul has certainly honed his game this season, clearly improving the defensive aspect of it and also trying to bring in some handling skills as well as simply being a threatening runner.

It will be fascinating to see the contrasting styles with Stefan Ratchford today, the elegant Wolves full-back whose formative years as a stand-off are visible in the way he brings added footballing threat to their backline at one.

Shaul has matured in more ways than one, though, compared to the raw rookie who slid around in the rain at Wembley three years ago.

He is a father, now, and he said: “My little lad will be there and it’s a new purpose in life for me.

“I always think about him before the game and I want to do him proud.

“My mam and dad will be there and that will be really special as well. Bringing the trophy home would be massive not just for my family, but for the city as well.

“To go down in history as the first Hull side to win at Wembley would be phenomenal.

“You can use the hoodoo as inspiration but we have a game plan as well that we need to stick to.”

Part of that game plan will be to create as much space as possible for Shaul on the edges to exploit his obvious line-breaking ability.

He has made more tackle busts than any other Hull player this season – his 87 is also the eighth best in Super League – while Warrington coach Tony Smith, mindful of the player’s damaging kick-returns, says his players need to get their kicking game spot-on.

The Black and Whites started the journey south on Thursday, waved off by hundreds of fans at the KCOM Stadium, but the anticipation levels had long since gone into overdrive.

“This week has been absolutely manic; I’m just absolutely champing at the bit to get out there now,” added Shaul.

“Wembley is always running through my head. People are always reminding me as well so it’s hard to get away from it.

“Hull is like a fishbowl and you are constantly getting reminded; people ask what you think and what the result is going to be.

“That’s obviously a hard question to answer but we’ll give it our best shot.”

And what of those England rumours?

Sam Tomkins and Zak Hardaker may be the recent incumbents and regarded as the best around, but there has been no better full-back than Shaul in 2016.

“I’ve been asked a few times about England but it’s never really on my mind,” he added. “People mention it but it’s not in my head. I’m just concentrating on Hull.”

It is just the attitude you want from your full-back. Safe as houses, in fact.