FOR all they have six inclusions in the Super League Dream Team – a remarkable achievement by anyone’s standards – the general consensus on Monday from Hull FC was that it will mean nothing unless they reach the Grand Final.
The fact the East Yorkshire club dominated the mythical XIII, selected by a panel of the sport’s broadcasters and journalists, shows just what sort of impact they have had on the competition in 2016.
Captain Gareth Ellis, fellow shortlisted Steve Prescott Man of Steel nominee Danny Houghton, full-back Jamie Shaul, centre Mahe Fonua, prop Scott Taylor and second-row Mark Minichiello all got the nod.
However, central to all the talk at Manchester’s Hotel Football was whether faltering Hull would be back there on October 8 for the finale at Old Trafford next door.
When losing to Warrington Wolves on Friday, the long-time frontrunners slipped to their third defeat in four games since winning the Challenge Cup, handing over the League Leaders’ Shield to Warrington in the process and leaving themselves third, facing a tricky semi-final at Wigan Warriors this Friday.
Hull coach Lee Radford conceded he was “over the moon” for the sextet, with the Black and Whites just one short of Wigan’s record seven Dream Team members in 2001.
“It’s a real reflection of how consistent these players have been throughout the season – and hopefully it’s a shot in the arm for one or two of them leading up to Friday,” he said, that game with Wigan never far from his thoughts.
News announced earlier in the day, that their opponents’ captain Sean O’Loughlin and star full-back Sam Tomkins would both miss the semi-final due to injuries, will have done little to make Hull feel their task will be any easier. Warrington lost key duo Kurt Gidley and Ben Currie – both named in the Dream Team – for last Friday’s game yet still prospered.
Nevertheless, it also meant Ellis had to field countless questions about another matter: will he, after all, come out of international retirement?
Loose forward O’Loughlin, also the England captain, is sidelined by a calf injury that is likely to see him miss the Four Nations – Tomkins is definitely out with a feared broken foot – as well as the title run-in.
Ellis, who packed in playing for England three years ago to concentrate on his club form, is now 35, but favourite to win Man of Steel following a stunning campaign.
He said before Hull’s Wembley success that he probably would not return to the international scene.
But, since then, the hardened forward has lifted the Challenge Cup, comfortably beaten O’Loughlin to the No 13 Dream Team jersey and, so, given the latest injury update from Wigan, inevitably he was asked again.
“You’ve got to be selected first,” insisted Ellis.
But what if Wayne Bennett rang him tomorrow asking?
“I’d have to think long and hard about it,” he replied, having earned his fifth Dream Team appearance, the last being with Leeds Rhinos in 2008 before he set of and proved himself as the best second-row in the world with Sydney club Wests Tigers.
“Another four weeks added on to the season feels a very daunting prospect for me at the minute.
“But I honestly don’t know. I’d have to speak to some people to talk it through.”
Castleford Tigers, meanwhile, had two inclusions with scrum-half Luke Gale conceding he had rolled in at 3am on Monday and put the traditional Mad Monday celebrations on hold – “I need a few hours’ rest” – to receive his Dream Team shirt for a second successive season.
His prolific winger Denny Solomona was not in attendance, but he had a decent excuse; just hours after breaking St John Ellis’s 22-year-old Castleford club record of 40 tries in a season, he was flying back to Samoa for his sister’s wedding.
2016 Dream Team
Shaul (Hull FC); Solomona (Castleford Tigers), Atkins (Warrington Wolves), Fonua (Hull FC), Manfredi (Wigan Warriors); Gidley (Warrington Wolves), Gale (Castleford Tigers); Hill (Warrington Wolves), Houghton (Hull FC), Taylor (Hull FC), Currie (Warrington Wolves), Minichiello (Hull FC), Ellis (Hull FC).