APPREHENSIVE Danny Tickle accepts Hull FC must quickly develop a killer touch or risk wasting one of their best starts to a Super League season.
Ahead of tomorrow’s visit from St Helens, the Black and Whites sit in fifth spot, seven points adrift of leaders Wigan Warriors but with a game still in hand.
It looks like a healthy position as they strive towards launching a bid for a maiden Grand Final triumph.
However, having lost just once in their opening nine league appearances under new coach Peter Gentle, their form has undoubtedly tapered off.
A suffocating injury crisis over Easter certainly slowed their progress but a rare victory over champions Leeds Rhinos raised hopes they were on the mend.
An unimpressive victory at strugglers London Broncos, though, coupled with their dramatic capitulation against derby rivals Hull KR last weekend, has raised question marks once more about Hull’s pedigree.
Experienced second-row Tickle, who joined from Wigan in 2007, can understand such doubt given the manner in which his faltering side unfathomably squandered a 14-point lead in the last 10 minutes to lose 32-30 against Rovers.
That was a fourth defeat in six games, including a Challenge Cup exit against Huddersfield Giants, and he realises other teams – especially Saints – will similarly punish them if they repeat such displays.
“It’s happened a couple of times this year where we had the game, leading by 12 or 14 points, and let opponents back in,” Tickle told the Yorkshire Post.
“It’s just dumb play from us at times. I thought we were in control against Rovers and we spoke at half-time – when we were up too – about what we needed to do but we just fell away from it.
“It was a very disappointing changing room but in derby games teams will play to the final minute and that’s what Hull KR did.
“We don’t really want to dwell on the league table but we’re still in a pretty good position.
“Everyone wants to be a top-four team and I think we’re in a position to achieve that.
“If we want to do something this year, though, we’re way off it at the moment coming up with performances like that.
“When we get a healthy lead we’ve got to put sides to the cleaners.
“That’s what a top-four team would have done but we weren’t there against Rovers.”
It has, understandably, been a difficult week for the west side of the city to endure since that dumbfounding finale at Magic Weekend.
St Helens, meanwhile, are in a similar situation after suffering at the hands – quite literally when it came to that unsightly brawl – of their biggest rivals Wigan.
Saints, who sit in sixth two points behind Hull, were embarrassed 42-16 and will be keen to immediately put that right when they arrive at KC Stadium.
They may have lost each of the last five Grand Finals since defeating Hull at Old Trafford in 2006 but it shows they have the requisite class to be able to reach the showpiece so consistently.
Hull, in comparison, have not featured in a major final, or the top four, in the intervening six years, something new chairman Adam Pearson is seeking to redress with his funding of the Airlie Birds.
But former Halifax, Wigan and England forward Tickle, who has retained his own impressive consistency this term, knows they must start demonstrating more ruthlessness.
“We’ve just got to learn to grind a win out and play it tough,” he added.
“I thought against Rovers we were a bit too fancy.
“Once we get our foot in the door we’ve got to stay in it.
“There’s far too many disappointing performances with people not sticking to the game plan and our discipline at times, especially when we were leading by 14 points, was poor.
“Any team will take that possession and Hull KR did.
“Saints are a totally different kettle of fish again. On paper they’re going to be a lot better (than Rovers) especially with James Roby playing out of dummy half.
“Our middle was poor last week and it’s something we’ll definitely have to fix for Saints,” added Tickle.
“It’s not for the coach to tell us where we’re going wrong though – we all know what we’ve done and held our hands up.
“It’s down to the lads now to bounce back.
“I’m going to do that myself and just hope everyone else will as well.”
Goal-kicker Tickle scored his 500th point for the club against Rovers but – although signed up until the end of 2013 – has yet to accept Hull’s offer of a contract extension.
There is mounting speculation that the 29-year-old will follow Huddersfield Giants captain, and former Wigan colleague, Kevin Brown as the next high-profile capture of Widnes Vikings as the competition’s current bottom club look to spend big to get things right next term.
Fellow second-row Willie Manu has already turned down a new deal at Hull and is expected to sign for tomorrow’s opponents Saints at the end of the season, likewise centre Jordan Turner.
Meanwhile, Hull KR have confirmed the next derby will not be relocated to KC Stadium.
Development work on a new stand, with power and gas cuts proving problems plus the reduction in crowd capacity, had persuaded the club to consider a switch to Hull FC for the televised game on Monday, July 23.
But, having already lost the Good Friday derby away to their rivals in a game originally switched from Craven Park, they have decided not to give up home advantage once more and will host with a reduced 9,000 capacity.