HE MAY only have ever played two Super League games for Hull FC but Jamie Shaul is fast becoming their lucky charm.
When the young full-back made his debut at Wakefield on Easter Monday, the struggling Airlie Birds had won just two of their opening nine games to make a mockery of a pre-season title contenders tag.
But Shaul came in and, with remarkable brio and confidence, scored two tries including one scintillating effort to garner Hull a victory that then started a stunning run of nine wins from 10.
A hat-trick quickly followed in their Tetley’s Challenge Cup rout of part-timers North Wales Crusaders but he had not been seen in Hull colours since that afternoon of April 21.
Indeed, due to the vagaries of the much-maligned dual-registration system and an ill-conceived disbandment of Super League’s reserve competition, the vastly-talented 21-year-old had worryingly barely been seen anywhere, York City Knights last using his services in May.
However, with Hull’s regular Australian full-back Shannon McDonnell now out for the season, Shaul made a belated return for his childhood heroes last night and duly scored another two tries as Hull delivered their biggest win of the season against hopeless Widnes.
Coach Peter Gentle – whose side were facing a sixth successive Super League loss – will hope the former bricklayer’s input will have that same invigorating effect on his side’s form as it did last time out.
For all the Ailrie Birds had reached Wembley with last Sunday’s epic Challenge Cup semi-final win over Warrington Wolves – when McDonnell tore a hamstring – their slump in league form had left them inconceivably clinging on to eighth.
Victory over Widnes was vital and, thankfully, they managed to achieve it with some aplomb.
Hull, with captain Gareth Ellis in imperious form, had led just 16-10 before impressive Shaul scored twice in just three minutes after the half hour mark to crucially take charge.
Like any good full-back, he showed great support play to appear on the shoulder of Tom Briscoe – the England winger who looks back to his best form with two tries of his own – to race in from 40m and did likewise from closer range after Jay Pitts had cleverly slipped Richard Whiting through the middle.
Shaul, who will have done his chances of playing against Wigan at Wembley in three weeks’ time no harm with this performance, also blew a chance of a hat-trick in the second period but it mattered little.
Soon after, with Widnes captain Kevin Brown sin-binned after a professional foul on Kirk Yeaman, scrum-half Jacob Miller raced over for his first try in Hull colours and the Australian quickly got his second with Shaul again linking down the middle.
Briscoe scampered down the left touchline from halfway for his second before Whiting twisted out of some woeful tackling following Danny Houghton’s 40/20.
Aaron Heremaia slipped through for Hull’s 10th try, Joe Arundel diving over too and then Mark O’Meley on the hooter with Joe Westerman improving all three after, Danny Tickle had earlier added nine goals against the Super League side he is joining next season.
Considering his lack of recent action, rookie Shaul did well to overcome a shaky start when he fumbled a simple grubber from Widnes’s Rhys Hanbury and was forced to scramble another kick away for a drop-out.
Strangely, though, Widnes, who have still never won at the KC Stadium, did not put much more pressure on him, something they may now regret.
Daniel Holdsworth, man-of-the-match against Warrington, raced 80m for an eighth-minute opener after Brown spilled a pass and, though O’Meley coughed up the restart to give ex-Hull player Cameron Phelps an easy try, Widnes never truly threatened.
Briscoe got his first after slick interplay involving Miller and Ellis, who was so powerful with his surging runs out wide, before Brown replied in the 25th minute, Jack Owens conversion making it 10-10.
However, after Yeaman scored, then came Briscoe’s leg-pumping scoot out of dummy-half that splintered the Widnes defence to ease Shaul over and there was no looking back for either him or Hull.
England second-row Ellis was sensational in the first half especially with sorry Widnes unable to handle his rugged power in attack or defence.
He was involved everywhere, even snapping up an intercept to help create Yeaman’s try, but Miller was similarly impressive.
But it will be intriguing to see if the youngster Shaul gets a longer run this time as the East Yorkshire club aim for not only Challenge Cup glory but a strong finish to Super League, too.
Hull FC: Shaul; Lineham, Arundel, Yeaman, Briscoe; Holdsworth, Miller; O’Meley, Houghton, Watts, Ellis, Tickle, Westerman. Substitutes: Lynch, Pitts, Whiting, Heremaia.
Widnes Vikings: Hanbury; Owens, Marsh, Phelps, Ah Van; Brown, Mellor; O’Carroll, Clarke, Cahill, Allen, Hock, Leuluai. Substitutes: Kavanagh, Lawton, Gore, Joseph.
Referee: T Alibert (Toulouse).