ALTHOUGH they are seeking a first Super League win in four games, and need it desperately, Hull FC head coach Lee Radford feels his “relaxed” squad are well-prepared to handle the pressure of tonight’s crucial encounter.
The Airlie Birds host Wakefield Trinity in their penultimate Super 8s fixture with the East Yorkshire club holding the all-important fourth spot but only by virtue of a solitary point ahead of their dangerous opponents.
Clearly, there is little margin for error; Hull know they could be in the semi-finals if they win tonight and other results go their way but if they slip up, even a victory at League Leaders’ Shield winners Castleford Tigers in the final round, might not be enough to secure a play-off place.
Radford’s confidence, though, is borne from knowledge his Challenge Cup holders are already battle-hardened after two narrow defeats since beating Wigan Warriors at Wembley.
“I just think how we’ve played over the last four weeks has meant there’s been play-off intensity to our game,” he explained, as the Super 8s begin to deliver what organisers always hoped –intrigue until the final weekend.
“The Leeds one was bang at it, last Friday against Wigan was bang at it as was the Cup final so we’ve been involved in those games now for three successive weeks. It (pressure) is nothing new to us. I don’t know what Wakefield will turn up with but if we turn up with that attitude we had last week we should be right.
It (pressure) is nothing new to us. I don’t know what Wakefield will turn up with but if we turn up with that attitude we had last week we should be right.Lee Radford
“Where we are at now means we don’t give ourselves that opportunity anymore to not turn up with the right attitude. In a way that might work as a plus for us.”
Hull, of course, suffered a late 30-22 loss to Wigan on Friday despite playing for most of the game with 12 men after a red card for Liam Watts, the in-form prop who is available tonight having received no further action.
Captain Gareth Ellis and Stevie Michaels are back after bans while Carlos Tuimavave is also expected to return from injury.
Furthermore, Hull, who Radford says have importantly turned up with “energy” since Wembley even if results have not gone their way, have won the last six matches with Trinity who have not won at the KCOM Stadium since 2014.
The big question is whether the visitors – who have upset the odds by competing in the top-four all season – have enough fight left after a dramatic last-ditch loss to St Helens a week ago saw them drop out of the semi-final spots.
It would be understandable if that had sapped them somewhat but Radford is expecting a formidable challenge, especially given how they have been moulded by ex-FC team-mate Chris Chester.
“He’s done an unbelievable job,” said Radford, who is also impressed by recent Australian signing Tyler Randell at hooker.
“They genuinely don’t spend the (salary) cap so to be in there with the big boys like they are and consistently throughout the season I think it’s arguably the coaching job of the year for me.
“As for threats, they are Jack of all trades, masters of none; they are very good at doing everything without being spectacular.
“They have very few X-Factor players but are very workmanlike and turn up for each other each week and get the job done.”
Meanwhile, Radford says prop Chris Green is still unfit after appendix surgery – the same operation Castleford’s Luke Gale underwent on Tuesday. That has placed the England scrum-half’s involvement in the play-offs under threat as Tigers aim to secure the league title. Radford said: “For Greeny, he had his last week and I think it’s two to three weeks. It all depends on how clean the operation is. By all accounts it went well. If Gale gets back before him there’s going to be hell on. It’s been mentioned...!”