Hull FC coach Lee Radford says tonight’s fixture against Wigan Warriors is the start of the “four-pointer” season as his side strive to shake-up the Super 8s.
The Airlie Birds, crucially, confirmed their place in the top eight with a priceless derby win at Hull KR last Friday, although not without a cost given captain Gareth Ellis snapped his Achilles tendon and now faces a six month lay-off.
After avoiding being dragged into the bottom four, Hull moved up to seventh and could finish sixth if results go their way in this weekend’s final regular round.
Importantly, points are also carried forward into the Super 8s, the new competition whereby teams play another seven fixtures against each other to decide the top four.
That last remaining quartet then contest the semi-finals for places at Old Trafford’s Grand Final on October 10.
Hull – who are on a three-game winning run – are only four points adrift of Huddersfield Giants, who hold fourth spot by virtue of a better points difference over Castleford Tigers.
Sixth-placed Warrington visit Castleford on Sunday and Radford admitted: “We want to make sure we pick two points up (at Wigan) and we’re in contention for the top four.
“If we do, it would be four from four going into the eights.
“We’ve just got to do everything we can to be in the mix because you want to be in touching distance when you go into the top-eight.
“I think there’s going to be a few surprises and twists and turns in that eights competition; every game is effectively a four-pointer because everybody is in and around you.
“This weekend is probably an advertisement for that, with Warrington playing Castleford so one of them are going to drop points.
“We’re in a good spot at the moment. We just got beat by Wigan by a point at their place earlier in the year.
“They’re a quality side so we’re going to have to put a solid performance in to get a result.”
Clearly, the odds are stacked against them in progressing to only their second Grand Final –Radford played in their first, losing against St Helens in 2006 – especially after the loss of the inspirational Ellis.
Experienced stand-off Leon Pryce visited a specialist last night concerning a shoulder injury he sustained against Hull KR, too, but Radford insists they can overcome such setbacks.
“Leon had his scan on Monday and we’re seeing if we can put off surgery and hopefully get him back within the next four or five weeks,” explained the coach.
“But, if he needs an operation, it’s obviously a 12-week job and that will be his season (over) as well as Gaz.
“Gaz had his operation on Monday so he’s going to be four to six months.
“With it being pre-season there will be no rush to get him back. We’ll make sure he’s ready for next season.
“They’re massive losses for us. They’re obviously influential on the group so we’ve just got to make sure they’re around the place and they’re upbeat.
“And we’ve got to make sure the boys who come in and play in their roles do a job for us.”
Richard Whiting, who along with centre Kirk Yeaman is the only remaining player from that ‘06 vintage, came off the bench to fill in impressively for Ellis at Rovers, while teenager Jordan Abdull did likewise for Pryce.
Radford added: “We’re just hoping Jordan can back up his performance from Friday.
“We’re confident he can; he’s a really talented player – we saw that in patches on Friday – and it’s a great opportunity for him.
“With Gaz, he’s a huge loss so everybody else has got to step up five or six per cent. Rich came on and did a really tidy job for us on Friday. He’s going to have an opportunity to stake a claim for that spot.”
Prop Mickey Paea returns from a two-game ban and second-row Dean Hadley could also earn a recall.
Wigan will draw level with leaders Leeds Rhinos – who play Catalans Dragons on Sunday – if they win and they have not lost at the KC Stadium since 2009.
Shaun Wane has recalled State of Origin star Matty Bowen at full-back but England centre Dan Sarginson is still missing.
Meanwhile, the RFL has launched an investigation into the “pitch incursion” at the end of last week’s derby. Rovers are set to give Dane Chisholm his debut at St Helens tomorrow night with Albert Kelly dropping out.