JAKE CONNOR celebrated his first-ever senior hat-trick and admitted life is “easy” when his Hull FC’s colleagues are so dominant.
The utility-back lined up at centre as the Airlie Birds won 48-16 at League Leaders’ Shield winners Castleford Tigers on Friday.
Victory confirmed their place in the semi-finals where, having finished third, they will visit second-placed Leeds Rhinos this Friday for a place at Old Trafford.
It was only the second time title favourites Castleford had lost at Wheldon Road in more than a year and was a timely boost for Hull who risked missing out on the top-four if they had lost.
Connor, who turns 23 next month, had never crossed for a treble before despite now being in his fifth season of Super League rugby.
“It was my first hat-trick of my career so I’m happy with that one,” said the player, who has been such a useful addition to Lee Radford’s squad since joining from Huddersfield Giants last autumn.
“Wherever Radders puts me I’m happy as long as we get the result and we had a dig on Friday night and I got over for three.
“It’s so easy on an edge where your middles are doing their job and your ball-players are playing the way they do. It all comes down to the them.”
Challenge Cup holders Hull, looking for their first league championship since 1983, know they will have to improve again if they are to beat Leeds – seven times Super League champions since 2004 – this week.
Admittedly, FC have already beaten them in one semi-final this term having done so on the way to Wembley but Brian McDermott’s side will be desperate to atone for that disappointment.
Hull, though, who have not reached Old Trafford since 2006, are now confident in their own ability to perform on the biggest stage. Connor, who has scored 11 tries in 31 games this term, insisted: “We’re not concentrating on Leeds; we’re concentrating on ourselves and we know what we’re capable of.
“We need to focus on what we can do, do what we’re good at and we can only give our best next week and either win or lose, we’ve had a great season.”
Widnes coach Denis Betts was a relieved man after seeing his side defeat the Catalans Dragons 12-10 and secure their place in Super League 2018.
The Vikings finished bottom of Super League at the end of the regular season but rescued their top-flight status with a first-ever victory in Perpignan in their final Super 8s Qualifiers thanks to second-half tries from Corey Thompson and Stefan Marsh.
Betts saId: “I’m relieved. We made it hard work for ourselves, I thought we were the better team, we scored a couple of decent tries.
“It was edgy. it was a great day, the pitch was great, the sun was out, there was no wind, it was dry - and the rugby was rubbish.”
Betts, critical of the Super 8s system in recent weeks, added: “If that is what you want to create (the atmosphere), then we’ve done a really good job at creating tension, atmosphere and jeopardy.”