CONSIDERING the personnel missing, this arguably could be Hull FC’s finest win of the season.
Head coach Lee Radford was left a proud man last night after seeing his side shorn of so many key players but still produce such a spirited and accomplished display to win at second-placed Salford Red Devils.
After losing three successive games, they have responded with back-to-back victories and move into third, just a point adrift of their vanquished opponents.
It was a perfect tonic, too, ahead of the Challenge Cup holders’ sizeable quarter-final tie with Super League leaders Castleford Tigers next Sunday.
Radford will hope many of his missing troops are back for that but, if not, he now knows this version of his team is also more than capable of keeping their Cup defence on track.
Already without captain Gareth Ellis and half-back Marc Sneyd, they saw a third key cog – hooker and Man of Steel Danny Houghton – drop out with illness before kick-off.
England prop Scott Taylor was again absent and veteran second-row Mark Minichiello missed his first game of the year but it mattered little with so many performers here.
Albert Kelly, typically, came to the fore with two tries taking his tally to 17 for the season but his less celebrated half-back partner Jake Connor was splendidly assured, too, not only in attack but especially in defence.
Prop Josh Bowden, initially not in the 19-man squad to help protect a rib injury, came in and produced a gutsy performance to set the lead for Hull alongside Liam Watts while Radford essentially has two auxiliary forwards with combative wingers Fetuli Talanoa and Mahe Fonua now back in his ranks.
Beforehand, he insisted ‘revenge’ was not on the agenda after being embarrassed 54-18 at home by Salford in early April but, as Salford suffered back-to-back defeats for the first time this season, this resounding success undoubtedly cheered the coach.
They followed Wakefield Trinity’s lead who also won here on Sunday.
Their Yorkshire rivals led 16-0 then but conceded a 39th-minute try to Jake Bibby to give Salford a sniff at 16-6, and were subsequently forced to battle all the way to eke out a 34-24 win.
Hull, though, were far more ruthless and, crucially, shut the hosts out before the break last night and then augmented their advantage.
It was stand-in captain Danny Washbrook who, having ignored a simple two points when Michael Dobson infringed on Connor, bustled over from dummy-half on the last tackle.
Washbrook – who was also standing in as hooker – had no right to score but the fact he did in the shadow of Salford’s posts said plenty about the hosts’ fragile core, Connor giving them an unassailable 22-0 interval lead.
Hull, with those players missing, needed to start positively and they did just that earlier on.Connor’s modified chip saw Talanoa sneak in and rise to collect above static defenders inside seven minutes.
It was not long before Kelly brought his class to the show, too, sending prop Watts thundering through on a short pass – it may have been forward – and then looping around to take the return for his first score.
Connor added the first of his five conversions and as lacklustre Salford continued to err – former Hull KR players George Griffin and Kris Welham both spilled possession – it only lifted the visitors’ confidence.
Even the early introduction of Todd Carney in the 24th minute failed to spark Ian Watson’s side. Indeed, it was a woefully wayward pass from the ex-Australia stand-off – named world player of the year in 2010 – just two minutes later that led to Hull’s third try, Kelly kicking on the loose pickings from 60m out to score his second as abject Salford simply wondered about diving on it.
Admittedly, Carney did almost slice over to atone but Kelly scrambled well to negate that danger and then, when Salford did look to go wide, Gareth O’Brien’s pass to Niall Evalds floated forward so it was ruled out.
Granted, they did break Hull just three minutes into the second period when Robert Lui sucked in defenders and offloaded for Welham to find Evalds but it was a minor blip.
Carlos Tuimavave bullied Welham into touch on halfway and, soon after, got on the outside of the same player to glide over for their fifth try.
Some outstanding goalline defence – four successive sets – them deterred Salford further before full-back Jamie Shaul picked up a blind Welham pass to race 90m for a brilliant finish on the hour rendering Weller Hauraki’s late try a mere consolation.
There was a minute’s applause before for Arthur Bunting, the legendary former Hull coach who died on Wednesday, plus Ronan Costello, the teenage Huddersfield Giants Academy player who tragically died a year ago after suffering a head trauma during a game against Salford, and also former Salford director Charlie Wynn.
Salford Red Devils: O’Brien; Bibby, Welham, Sa’u, Evalds; Lui, Dobson; Tasi, Brinning, Hasson, Murdoch-Masila, Hauraki, G Griffin. Substitutes: Kopczak, Krasniqi, Carney, Lannon.
Hull FC: Shaul; Michaels, Fonua, Tuimavave, Talanoa; Kelly, Connor; Bowden, Washbrook, Watts, Manu, Turgut, Thompson. Substitutes: Fash, Matongo, Downs, J Griffin.
Referee: B Thaler (Wakefield)