PRIOR to last night’s game, Hull FC coach Peter Gentle maintained that at this point of the season it was irrelevant to his side’s belief that they have yet defeated a top four Super League side.
However, having now finally done so with this absorbing victory at Challenge Cup holders Warrington Wolves, there must be a growing feeling that their campaign is turning around nicely.
Hull have impressively pushed the elite – Leeds Rhinos, Wigan Warriors and Warrington – for an hour or more on occasions this season without ever quite finishing the job. Yet last night, in large part to their unlikely hero Richard Whiting, they at last broke that unwanted sequence.
Not only that, they have now quietly strung together seven wins from their last eight games and marquee signing Gareth Ellis – who has added such impetus to their cause since returning from injury a few weeks ago – did not even have to do anything out of the ordinary to achieve this success.
Instead, it was the constant bursts from hooker Danny Houghton, Richard Horne’s telling passes, some thoughtful kicking from Daniel Holdsworth, Ben Crooks’s all-round skills and the predatory instincts of Whiting that saw them home.
Both sides had been error-prone in the first half but after the break the visitors made just one mistake and it was that measured approach which secured the points that nudges them into fifth spot.
It meant when Whiting, the ever-reliable utility, barged over in the 70th minute to put them ahead for the first time, capitalising on Ryan Atkins’s dropped ball, they never looked like relinquishing that narrow advantage.
Instead, England winger Tom Briscoe rounded off things with his second try in the penultimate minute of the game setting them up perfectly for next Saturday’s derby with Hull KR at Magic Weekend.
Hull fully deserved to be in touching distance of Warrington at the break, trailing 10-6. They had a Tom Lineham score ruled out by video referee Ben Thaler for a negligible nudge from Whiting on Atkins and, for all they had created little else and frustratingly made too many basic errors when in good attacking positions, they generally contained the hosts.
Their forwards stood up well to a sizeable Wolves pack – Adrian Morley was limited to 18th man duty but England prop Garreth Carvell and the huge youngster Glenn Riley still brought real presence off the bench – and were undaunted by anything that came their way.
Both sides showed a blatant lack of composure when it came to the attacking third, though, which must have been infuriating for each of their coaches.
It was Warrington, however, who found the requisite cohesion first and, inevitably, Lee Briers was to the fore.
Kirk Yeaman produced a brilliant cover tackle on winger Joel Monaghan after the Australian had found a rare chink in the Airlie Birds defence but the danger had not gone.
Two plays later, with Hull still recovering, Briers dabbed a grubber straight back to that right-hand side and Simon Grix dived over.
Briers converted and was prominent again in his side’s second score as they made the most of some tiring defenders in the middle. He bounced off defenders like a pinball machine after surging onto Carvell’s slip pass on halfway and then found Richie Myler who had the presence of mind to not only spot Joel Monaghan out wide but then find him with a pinpoint chip kick on the run.
Hull, having weathered much of Warrington’s best, could easily have buckled again before the break but, instead, got right back in it with Briscoe’s 36th-minute effort.
Mike Cooper spilled coming away from his own line and Hull replacement Aaron Heremaia used the free play to chip through and find the England winger between the posts.
Holdsworth improved to make it 10-6 and Gentle’s side should have been at least level soon after when they delivered their first real slick passing movement to the right to unleash Crooks from inside his own half.
However, winger Lineham struggled to keep up with his flying centre who then passed blind believing his colleague to be there only for Atkins to gleefully accept the gift.
Warrington do not provide too many easy opportunities to opponents and there was a sense already that that could be costly.
It was only enhanced when Atkins extended the hosts’ lead seven minutes into the second half, rising unchallenged to take another astute Myler kick.
Briers did the rest but Hull showed real spirit to hit straight back with a fine finish from Lineham who strongly held off Chris Riley to squeeze over off Horne’s cut-out pass and earn his 12th try of the campaign.
Holdsworth could not convert and, then, it needed a brilliant last-ditch tackle from Horne on Trent Waterhouse to stop the marauding Australian. That proved a crucial turning point; moments later, Horne slipped Crooks through on a great angle to open Warrington up and Whiting rounded off.
The hosts turned down a penalty kick in front of the posts after Ellis charged Myler marginally late and Hull duly held them out.
When Atkins then made that error, Gentle’s side finally showed they had the ability and composure to take their game to the next level.
Warrington: Ratchford; C Riley, Grix, Atkins, J Monaghan; Briers, Myler; Wood, Higham, Hill, Waterhouse, Westwood. Substitutes: Cooper, M Monaghan, Currie, G Riley.
Hull FC: McDonnell; Lineham, Crooks, Yeaman, Briscoe; Holdsworth, Horne; O’Meley, Houghton, Green, Ellis, Whiting, Pitts. Substitutes: Johnson, Heremaia, Lynch, Bowden.
Referee: R Silverwood (Mirfield).