YOU could be forgiven for imagining there will be a frosty atmosphere in the Hull FC boardroom tomorrow evening.
Leeds Rhinos are visitors to KC Stadium, arriving a little over a week after an RFL tribunal finally ruled they were not required to pay any compensation for signing highly-rated Black and Whites youngster Luke Briscoe.
The decision prompted a furious response from Hull FC chairman Adam Pearson, whose original disgust when discovering Briscoe had somehow slipped from their grasp back in September led to a thorough internal investigation of their own Academy operation and, subsequently, major changes.
He had, clearly, not been pleased with the manner in which Leeds pursued the teenager but was also spitting about the inadequacies of his own club – which he bought in a surprise takeover last July – in being unaware of their rivals’ acute interest.
All in all, tomorrow night’s meeting of Pearson, Rhinos chief executive Gary Hetherington and wife Kath – Hull FC’s previous chairperson – is just one of those where you would like to be the proverbial fly on the wall.
With champions Leeds also boasting an 11-game winning run over their East Yorkshire opponents, stretching back almost five years, it would be easy to think recent events are all the more galling.
However, Pearson insists otherwise.
“Not at all. I think it’s time to move on,” he told the Yorkshire Post, in an interview held days before his sudden departure from Hull City Football Club earlier this week. “Leeds are an excellent club, well run with a good team and the benchmark in just about everything they do.
“From the type of game they play, the way they bring players through and their whole strategy down to Gary Hetherington and the owners.
“Hull need to start competing around that level and that’s what we’re aiming for here. Because we haven’t beaten them for such a long time we can’t really call them close neighbours; we need to start beating them to increase that rivalry.”
Certainly, the early indications are that Pearson is making it possible to do just that.
Known previously for his dealings in football, initially working as commercial director at Leeds United before becoming chairman of Hull City for six years from 2001, he also had a tenure in charge of Derby County. He returned to Hull City as chairman in 2009 and was head of football operations there until Tuesday’s shock termination of his contract by owners Assem and Ehab Allam, a decision which has left the stunned 47-year-old seeking legal advice.
The switch to rugby league was a bold one given he had no real background in the sport – Pearson played rugby union for his home town Harrogate – but he is thriving in the new environment and his business acumen has helped transform Hull FC.
Giving them the necessary investment to push forwards both on and off the pitch, there is a general feeling Pearson could turn one of the game’s sleeping giants into a force that may truly threaten the recent domination of champions Leeds.
Australian Peter Gentle had an instant impact after being named head coach, only a crippling recent injury list seeing Hull’s bright early season form fall away.
They lost just one of their first nine fixtures but, with up to 10 players sidelined, have fallen to fifth – just above Leeds – after suffering consecutive defeats against Huddersfield and Wigan.
Pearson’s willingness to pay a six-figure fee for Bradford Bulls captain Andy Lynch has also reaped rewards.
The reliable prop’s form has been such that he is possibly the best value-for-money signing this season and he extended his contract a further year until 2014 earlier this week.
However, most striking has been the capture of England international Gareth Ellis who will arrive from NRL club Wests Tigers in 2013, the world’s top second-row having turned down the chance to return to his former club Leeds.
“It’s great to get Gareth Ellis – that is a big boost,” said Pearson. “He could quite easily have gone to Leeds so we’re delighted to have him here from next season and hopefully he’ll help build some of our younger players up too.
“Lynchy has been outstanding for us. He cares about his rugby, the way he prepares for a game on and off the field and is a model leader, just the sort of player we want here. Hull fans can see we’re moving forward. We’ve made a lot of changes – put a new Academy in place and the new training ground. Peter has settled in really well and we’re making good progress though we might need to make some additional strengthening in sport science. I’m really enjoying it. There’s real potential here. The club is one of the biggest in Super League but we need to start building so we can win Challenge Cups and Grand Finals because I sense around the club they want to.”
On the Briscoe case, Leeds’s decision last month to allow talented second-row Jay Pitts to move to Hull for free during the height of their injury crisis perhaps could be seen as a sign of some goodwill following the ugliness of all that has gone before.
The player had eight months of his contract remaining so it was a surprise to see the champions waive their right for a fee.
Indeed, Pearson’s fury after the Briscoe decision was more levelled at the governing body, labelling their tribunal a “fiasco and a sham” before becoming the latest high-profile figure to demand a root and branch overhaul of the RFL.
He said: “It’s a strange one. In football, players sign new deals with clubs quite a way off from the final year of their contract.
“In rugby league, players tend to go into the last year before anything happens.
“There’s supposed to be the September 1 anti-tampering deadline but clearly people ignore that and deals are going on. You just have to get on with it.”