IT SEEMS implausible that Hull FC coach Lee Radford can describe facing a side who have lost their last nine games as their “biggest test yet” in 2017.
Surely it was tackling – and beating – those effervescent Super League leaders Castleford Tigers?
Or, if not, heading to – and beating – reigning champions Wigan Warriors?
No, it is tonight’s visit of bottom-placed Leigh Centurions, a side that has not won since defeating Warrington Wolves on March 16, that is troubling Radford most.
There are, of course, extenuating circumstances, such as Hull having been severely embarrassed 45-0 by St Helens at Magic Weekend last Saturday, a defeat that ruined any hopes of briefly going top of Super League.
But secondly, and more importantly, is Hull’s injury concerns; the East Yorkshire club are without main half-back Marc Sneyd, the prolific goal-kicker, who will find out on Monday if he requires surgery on a foot problem.
The best we can do is for our senior players that take to the field Friday and Monday to really play to their potential and our young blokes bring plenty of energy.Hull FC coach, Lee Radford.
It is the first game he has missed this season, while England prop Scott Taylor has also dropped out with elbow ligament damage. Captain Gareth Ellis is still not fit after a sternum issue and Mahe Fonua, the winger who makes so many crucial metres for Hull, remains sidelined, too.
They are just the ones officially sidelined. Asked if he was merely resting some of his stars ahead of Monday’s trip to Catalans Dragons, Radford explained: “No, no. We’ve got some (injuries). And we’re carrying some. Players are playing with some (injuries).
“It is what it is. But speak to any coach I imagine half the teams are getting jabbed up prior to walking out on the field now.
“That’s why you go into the comp’ with such a big squad.”
The Challenge Cup holders are missing key men, though, and Radford conceded: “It is our biggest test definitely.
“The fact we have blokes missing but have blokes playing who probably should be missing...
“That’s a challenge in itself but they are continuing to train and play; the attitude that they’re turning up training with can only be commended.
“The best we can do is for our senior players that take to the field Friday and Monday to really play to their potential and our young blokes bring plenty of energy. If we do that I’m sure we can put some results together. That’s what’s been asked of them. They are all aware of that.”
But what of Leigh, the promoted side who started with such confidence, winning three of their opening six games, only to slide into a worrying slump?
“They look a bit tidier with (Ryan) Hampshire in the pivots,” he said, about the former Wigan Warriors stand-off who spent the last part of his season long-loan at Castleford in 2016 scoring tries from the wing.
“He’s playing into the line and asking questions. He’s straightened them up a little bit so offensively they are a better team than probably over the Easter period when we beat them.
“We’ll have to be better defensively but we know that and that’s what we’re expecting to be.”
It goes without saying there has been an emphasis on defence this week after that inexplicable showing against Saints.
Asked about that, Radford reasoned: “I just think from our perspective five or six blokes probably had their worst game of the season by a country mile.
“Then you add to that it was probably the best I’ve seen St Helens play in three or four seasons.
“Couple them together and that’s the result. Unfortunately, for us it was on a really big stage.”
For all of Leigh’s lack of coherency of late, they do still possess players of the calibre of former Kangaroos second-row Glenn Stewart, ex-Samoa captain Harrison Hansen and two familiar faces to Airlie Birds – Danny Tickle and Ben Crooks.
It is inevitable they will end their losing run soon and Radford admitted: “It’s the unpredictably of the comp’. No one really gave Saints a chance last week but then look at how they played.
“It probably just highlights the fact – and I’ve highlighted this to the squad – we have to make sure we turn up and make sure we’re on, irrelevant of who the opposition is and what energy they are going to turn up with.
“I think Widnes a month ago probably highlights that fact; they turned up red-hot that first 40 minutes (and led 22-0).
“Thankfully we got up and managed to come back in that (Hull won 33-22) but there was no such luck on Saturday.”
Jake Connor returns from a broken hand to act as Sneyd’s likely replacement, while Radford said ex-Halifax centre Nick Rawsthorne will make his debut either tonight or in Perpignan.
Former Hull, St Helens, Catalans Dragons and Great Britain stand-off Leon Pryce has retired.
One of Super League’s all-time greats, he was in his second spell at hometown Bradford Bulls where all his success began but, at the age of 35, conceded he simple could “no longer do it”.