Hull KR v Hull FC: Evergreen Gareth Ellis keeps feet on the ground as ambitions soar at Hull

Gareth Ellis has helped steer Hull FC into a three-way tie at the top of Super League that has suddenly transformed aspirations for the Airlie Birds, for whom every game is now vital as they seek to end a three-decade wait for a championship.
Gareth Ellis has helped steer Hull FC into a three-way tie at the top of Super League that has suddenly transformed aspirations for the Airlie Birds, for whom every game is now vital as they seek to end a three-decade wait for a championship.
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AS a two-time Grand Final winner, Gareth Ellis knows all about what it takes to lift the title, so expect impressive Hull FC to remain grounded for the foreseeable future at least.

They head into tomorrow’s Magic Weekend derby with Hull KR joint-top of Super League with Warrington Wolves and Catalans Dragons, creating a buzz around the Airlie Birds faithful that they may claim a championship for the first time in 33 years.

You can understand why; Hull have just won at Wigan and St Helens on successive weekends and lost just once in 10 games with an attractive brand of football not seen since they raised the 2005 Challenge Cup.

Ellis, their inspirational captain, certainly embodies everything good about them but the former Great Britain second-row, who won Grand Finals with Leeds Rhinos in 2007 and 2008, will not get caught up in any hyperbole.

“What we have done is given ourselves a really good platform from which to challenge this year – but we need to make sure we keep focused,” he told The Yorkshire Post.

“We are going to take it one game at a time but in the back of our mind we have given ourselves an opportunity.

“We’ve beaten all the teams around us. Wins against Catalans twice, Wigan, Warrington and St Helens have put us in a great position. But it’s important we don’t get carried away with that.

“You only have to look at Widnes; they set off like a house on fire and everyone was talking about what they could achieve. Now they have lost their last seven league matches.

“If you take your eye off the ball it can be taken away from you. We have to make sure that is in the back of our minds. We have to be on our mettle and turn up.”

With that in mind, there is no better fixture to ensure focus is retained than the derby itself.

Hull can look back fondly now on their last meeting, when they famously overcame a 20-0 deficit to stun Rovers 22-20 at Craven Park on Good Friday.

Little has gone wrong for them since while their rivals have been inconsistent, winning three of their next six league games but being embarrassed by part-timers Oldham in the Challenge Cup.

Ellis, 35, added: “What transpired earlier on in the season just shows the fine margins between winning and losing.

“We were totally outplayed at KR and you could sense that on the field.

“We are expecting a tough game because that’s what these fixtures are renowned for.

“It’s a chance for them to get some more wins under their belt; they pulled off a good victory at the weekend over Widnes.

“The form book does go out of the window for this one. It’s a cliché but everyone does really get up for this match.”

There will be just eight regular rounds remaining after tomorrow’s game and, so, the chance for Hull to march on is certainly in their own hands.

With such a strong spine – full-back Jamie Shaul and stand-off Marc Sneyd are now finding the consistency that Ellis and hooker Danny Houghton always provide – there is a different mindset to 12 months ago.

“As the season moves on the two points become that little bit more important with each game that passes by,” continued Ellis.

“Last year we sat down and just said let’s make the top eight and just get in there.

“But obviously we were 
miles off when it came to the Super 8s.

“This time, though, even going back to the losses against Castleford and Wigan, we were inches away from picking up victories while we have also edged some close ones as well.

“And now, with the derby, it’s a chance for players to become a hero for the day.”

Rovers coach James Webster, however, will hope it is his players producing those heroics.

“We’ll have learnt a lot from that Easter game, no doubt,” he insisted, as KR bid to build on the success of Sunday’s 24-10 victory over Widnes.

“Hull are one of those sides, as they showed on Good Friday, that have very good periods in every game. We need to keep an eye on them across the entire match.

“Jamie Shaul played very well that day and we’ve got to be better on our kick-returns.”

His side have largely written off despite their impressive record at Magic where they have won five from seven derbies since 2007.

“We don’t look at the underdogs tag anymore,” added Webster.

“It sounds very boring but it makes no difference who we play; we’ve got to be good in every single area of our play.

“There’s not one facet we can be poor in against Hull. The table doesn’t lie. They have one of, if not, the strongest sides in the comp’ and they’ve been able to rest certain players all season.

“It would be disrespectful to miss out any player as they have so much strike across the park, but Gareth Ellis has been instrumental in their success and Danny Houghton’s been a real asset for them. They’ll have Fetuli Talanoa back too.”

Rovers have received a huge lift with news captain Terry Campese has been passed fit and is in the 19-man squad after a seven-week absence due to a hamstring strain.

Chris Clarkson and Iain Thornley also return while Hull have Frank Pritchard, Carlos Tuimavave and Curtis Naughton back in their ranks.