IF ANYONE was going to rescue this strangest of games from the depths of increasing despair it was destined to be Gareth Ellis.
Hull FC’s veteran captain, seemingly one of the few players to avoid an embarrassing handling error in a bizarrely low quality affair, thundered his way over for the match-winning try in the 65th minute, putting his side four points clear of second-placed opponents Warrington at the top of Super League.
Marc Sneyd sealed it with a fine 78th-minute drop goal as the East Yorkshire club, eventually, found some much-needed composure and made it eight successive victories. Yet, in many ways, despite the close scoreline and dedicated defence on show in humid conditions, what a let-down as a showcase, in truth, this was.
It was supposed to be the biggest game of the season, a fiercely-fought contest with the competition’s best players on show to decide which of these Super League frontrunners will be favourite to win their first Grand Final come October.
Instead, it was the biggest chaotic mess of the season which almost made the previous night’s shambles between Castleford and Widnes look like a State of Origin decider.
Hull have been so organised, efficient and ruthless this season yet last night every one of their starting pack – aside from the peerless Ellis – fumbled at some point in a bizarre first period.
Jamie Shaul and Steve Michaels did so, too, both when returning kicks, as Lee Radford’s side looked so utterly at odds with themselves. The mistakes just kept on coming and coming in the second period, too.
Yes, both sides had players who made supporters get to the edge of their seats at times, Chris Sandow in particular with his darting and jinxing for Warrington.
But when everyone else around them had an inability to then hold onto a killer pass, as Joe Westerman did when bungling Kurt Gidley’s offload with the line at his mercy, it all amounts to nothing.
The visitors at least learned the value of a pragmatic approach; they earned two goalline drop-outs in that first period and came away with two tries. That Sika Manu, their marauding second-row, actually dinked in a grubber early in the count for the first one looked suitably weird at the time but he probably realised it was the only way they could complete a set.
From that drop-out, Hull rediscovered their old selves with a crisp, silky handling move to the left for Fetuli Talanoa to cross for a 13th-minute try in the corner.
Sneyd’s kick forced the second drop-out and this time there was a lovely short pass from Talanoa in midfield to send Mark Minichiello sprinting away 30m out.
The Australian second-row sized up Stefan Ratchford, dared to take on the Warrington full-back with a step and then delivered a punishing fend to cross.
Sneyd’s second conversion put Radford’s side 12-10 ahead after they had conceded as early as the fourth minute.
Shaul, their full-back, slipped when chasing a Sandow kick behind his own line, then fumbled in the tackle to gift Gene Ormsby an easy opener.
After Talanoa’s response, Warrington replied again courtesy of a Hull error.
This time, Sneyd spent an inordinate amount of time preparing to kick downfield so it was no real surprise when Benjamin Jullien decided to charge him down before feeding Sandow who zipped on a 30m diagonal to slide in at the corner.
Gidley converted so they were in touch for a 10-6 lead before Minchiello’s magic.
The second period started in the same farcical standard as the first and did not get much better.
Warrington should have regained the lead, though, when Sneyd spilled another high Sandow kick under little pressure to open the door for Daryl Clark but, amazingly, the 2014 Man of Steel fumbled, too, unable to pick up on the run,
It all really was completely ridiculous.
When Ellis was deemed to have illegally stripped the ball from Clark just after the hour, Gidley understandably accepted the points to level.
But, barely three minutes later, Ormsby erred coming away from his own line and Hull pounced.
Ellis hit Sneyd’s short ball and doing what so many others should have done – running hard and straight – the inspirational loose forward scattered Warrington’s defence to twist over.
Sneyd converted and they could have been in again when Frank Pritchard charged through only for Shaul to squander the pass. Carlos Tuimavave missed a hurried drop goal attempt six minutes from time so when Shaul lost the ball in front of his own posts late on there was still panic.
However, Ryan Atkins spilled as well to relieve the pressure and, instead, Sneyd confirmed victory.
Warrington Wolves: Ratchford; Ormsby, Evans, Atkins, Lineham; Gidley, Sandow; Hill, Clark, Sims, Currie, Julien, Westerman. Substitutes: Dwyer, King, Wilde, Bailey.
Hull FC: Shaul; Michaels, Fonua, Yeaman, Talanoa; Tuimavave, Sneyd; Taylor, Houghton, Watts, Manu, Minichiello, Ellis. Substitutes: Pritchard, Green, Washbrook, Bowden.
Referee: J Child (Dewsbury).