PERSISTENT claims this is rugby league’s biggest derby remain flimsy given Hull KR’s KC Lightstream Stadium was not even sold-out for the arrival of Hull FC yesterday.
Nevertheless, what is certain is that the fixture invariably brings tension, intrigue and no little drama, none more so than when Hull ventured from the ridiculous to the sublime to record one of the most remarkable 80 minutes since the fixture was first played in 1899.
When Josh Mantellato, the Hull KR winger, wheeled away in delight having curled over the touchline conversion to Iain Thornley’s 51st-minute try, you could understand his elation.
It put his side 18-0 ahead and such was their opponents’ dire play up to that point, no one could readily imagine them even coming close to clawing back such a deficit.
When the Italian international slotted a penalty soon after to stretch that lead further still, you could sense Rovers’ fans were all set to head to the various hostelries around the city to start a long Bank Holiday weekend of rubbing it in their rivals’ faces.
However, for all the derby has been running 117 years, it was that modern day term momentum that cropped up to prove Mantellato’s celebrations hopelessly premature.
Put simply, 20-0 up with barely 20 minutes to go is not enough if you allow your opponent to get a “roll on”.
Hull did just that, somehow producing four tries inside just 15 minutes to turn the game – their season perhaps? – and leave James Webster, the Hull KR head coach hoping for a second successive win since recently taking over, presumably baffled.
Jamie Shaul launched the recovery with a fine try on 59 minutes, showing his pace to expose Ben Cockayne from halfway after Kirk Yeaman had started the Hull trend of offloading (successfully) at will.
Inspirational hooker Danny Houghton added their second four minutes later as the visitors’ pack produced countless more offloads – admittedly the penultimate one from Scott Taylor to Liam Watts was forward so FC had some fortune – and Marc Sneyd converted for 20-12.
That is when Rovers really started to shake. Admittedly, they were always going to tire as three players – John Boudebza, Chris Clarkson and James Green – were stuck on the bench with injuries, but the collapse was spectacular.
Centre Mahe Fonua, back from injury and playing his first game since scored on debut, grabbed Hull’s third in the 70th minute after Rovers’ tiring defence again split too easily close to their line.
Sneyd was off target this time, though, and his side still had work to do.
Rovers, though, could not help prevent the self-inflicted wounds.
Whereas in the first half they had been crisp, methodical and decisive, just as they had in the opening 40 last Sunday to set up their first win of the season versus Salford, now they were thoughtless and rash.
George Lawler made a needless offload that put them back under pressure and this time Fonua bumped off a tired Thornley and winger Steve Michaels did likewise to Cockayne for the critical score six minutes from time.
It was left to Sneyd to curl in the difficult conversion to win it.
Danny Washbrook, the utility player re-signed from Wakefield primarily as a back-row, deserves praise for slotting in at stand-off after Carlos Tuimavave, Hull’s third No 6 of the season already, departed after just 13 minutes with concussion. Yeaman, too, was a force but the robust Fonua, a major off-season signing from Melbourne Storm, was crucial to Hull’s victory.
Radford admitted: “We’re fortunate he carries the ball like a tennis ball. He was a real handful for them.”
Suddenly, that impressive first period was a distant memory for broken Rovers, whose task gets no easier given they head to Wigan on Easter Monday. They welcomed back half-back Albert Kelly after a three-game absence and were far more threatening with the ball, offering pace and variety out wide early on.
Winger Ryan Shaw scored his fourth try in six games since joining from Bradford Bulls and his centre Ken Sio raced in from 60m after intercepting Mark Minichiello’s ill-conceived offload on the last tackle.
Thornley’s try should then have been enough. It was not.
Hull KR: Cockayne; Shaw, Sip Thornley. Mantellato; Blair, Kelly; Walker, Lawler, Tilse, Clarkson, Horne, Allgood. Substitutes: J Green, Greenwood, Mulhern, Boudebza.
Hull FC: Shaul; Michaels, Fonua, Yeaman, Naughton; Tuimavave, Sneyd; Taylor, Houghton, Watts, Pritchard, Minichiello, Ellis. Substitutes: Paleaaesina, C Green, Washbrook, Bowden.
Referee: Phil Bentham (Warrington).