IF Hull FC do not make this season’s Super League play-offs, coach Lee Radford knows he will look back and rue not just a couple of missed opportunities but a list that runs into double figures.
The Airlie Birds are four points adrift of the top eight ahead of tonight’s visit to 12th-placed Salford Red Devils, an opponent who they sit directly above and who still have their own hopes of making up for earlier indiscretions.
Certainly, the victors of this evening’s game will remain optimistic; the losers may as well start thinking about 2015.
Salford, of course, despite their huge investment in players, have been big under-performers, though their shock 36-10 win at in-form Huddersfield Giants a week ago, with Kiwi full-back Kevin Locke making a fine debut, suggested things might just be starting to click for Iestyn Harris’s side.
If they deliver consecutive wins for the first time since the opening fortnight, they will be four points behind eighth-placed Widnes Vikings, who are in freefall, Thursday’s loss at Wakefield meaning they now have just one paltry league win in eight outings.
Hull, though, can look at a remarkable 56-6 triumph at Widnes early last month – one that pointed at the Cheshire club’s growing problems – and last week’s narrow 24-18 defeat against the competition’s form team Warrington, as encouraging factors.
But it is such ‘ones that got away’ that are already nagging Radford as he goes up against Harris, his team-mate from when Bradford Bulls won the 2005 Grand Final.
“It’s still mathematically possible we can make the eight,” he said. “But we are going to have to improve and change the habits of our season, and that’s to nick these close games.
“There are 10 games where we’ve lost by 10 points or less and that’s frustrating for me as a coach. If we’d have steered the ship and been a bit smarter in games we’d have come away with results, but that’s just not been the case.
“We’re pinpointing Saturday and that’s all we’re focused on.
“We have to be smarter. When you’ve got wind in your sails and you have momentum, we have to make the most of it and put your chances to bed.
“When you’re up against it, we need to find more resilience to get over the line.
“It’s very frustrating. I’ve read some press reports this year that say, ‘You don’t know what Hull side is going to turn up’.
“There’s three games to my knowledge: Salford at home, London away, Wigan at home, where we got punished, where the scoreline has been a large margin but every other game we have been in and performing.
“Everybody in and around us will be looking to make that charge for the play-offs. Wakefield and Salford are going to vie for it. With Widnes’s defeat we’re all pushing for the same. It should be an exciting finish to the year.”
A week does not tend to go by without Salford, funded by Marwan Koukash’s millions, making yet another addition.
Locke, the brilliant full-back recruited from New Zealand Warriors, will make his home debut this evening while they could have two international second-rows – England’s Gareth Hock and Samoa captain Harrison Hansen – back in their ranks, too.
“Mason Caton-Brown was another mid-season transfer from London and Kevin Locke has slotted in nicely for them,” admitted Radford, who is without injured captain Gareth Ellis and fellow second-row Chris Tuson.
“He kicked six goals and scored one try so he’s a real threat for them out the back end and they are a threat. Greg Johnson on the other wing has been another one for them who’s been a real find who they’ve signed from Batley. So they’re going to be a handful.”
Talking of wingers, Callum Lancaster’s hat-trick versus Warrington may have seen the 17-year-old Hull rookie take his tally to eight in just four appearances but it does not mean he is guaranteed a place tonight with Tom Lineham possibly returning.
“It’s ironic that we are talking about Callum and his hat-trick as I think he carried it seven times and scored with three touches, whereas the other winger carried it 17 times and didn’t score,” said Radford. “Callum ran 49 metres, the other winger (Fetuli Talanoa) ran 160 and all we’re talking about is Callum.”
You would never guess Radford was a traditional, hard-grafting former prop would you?