Hull FC v Warrington Wolves: Wembley is not the only target for Hull this year

AS MUCH as Hull FC head coach Lee Radford hopes to reach Wembley yet again later today it is perhaps no surprise another famous stadium – Old Trafford – is also high in his thoughts.

Hull's Jake Connor and Warrington's Ben Currie

Where Wembley was once the club’s nemesis, Hull never winning there until Radford’s side finally did so in 2016, it has now become a friendly companion.

They returned 12 months later to beat Wigan Warriors and retain the trophy while they will head back there once more if they see off Warrington Wolves in the first part of today’s semi-final double-header in Bolton.

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To put it into context, the East Yorkshire club have now lost just one of their previous dozen Challenge Cup contests.

Hull's Jake Connor and Warrington's Ben Currie

Still, Super League – any league, for that matter – remains a different beast.

Hull have not won a title since 1983, long before the advent of summer rugby, and have only been to one Grand Final, when they lost and Radford was still yet to reach his peak as a player.

The last time they went to Old Trafford was for the old-style top-eight Premiership, beating Widnes in 1991.

Yet Hull are sitting nicely in third, just two points behind today’s opponents, and, for all St Helens are runaway leaders, that means nothing when it comes to the play-offs in September.

With that in mind, would bringing a first league title in 36 years back to his hometown club actually be bigger than that maiden Wembley glory?

“No. But it would be just as satisfying,” Radford instantly replied to The Yorkshire Post.

“The Old Trafford factor; we’ve not been there since 2006 when we lost and we’ve not won there (in Super League).

“To go there and finish off the pinnacle of the season would be special with a group that pretty much got written off at the start of the year when we were heavily criticised for not bringing many (signings) in.

“To do that with this crew and with our fan base going to Old Trafford would be special.”

Hull were undone narrowly at Leeds Rhinos in the 2017 Super League semi-final, but Radford rightly points out: “If you look at the last four years I think apart from the back end of last year we’ve really been up there.

“Last year we were decimated and we brought Kirk Yeaman out of retirement and Gaz (Ellis) was on the verge of coming out of retirement; we had 13 blokes sat in the stand.

“But we finished third in ’16, ’17 and were sat in fourth up until the Super 8s in ’18.

“We have been pretty consistent and we’re challenging. That’s where we want to be as a club.”

It is also why they are many people’s favourites to progress this afternoon. He said: “We appreciate how tough the challenge will be on Saturday. I think there’s nothing between the two sides and the league table suggests that, but when you put the one to 17s down on paper there really isn’t a great deal in it. I really want to focus on putting a real solid one to 17 performance in. That’s what’s going to be required.”

Until recently, Warrington – stunned by Catalans Dragons in last year’s final – had looked like becoming as annoying to Hull as Wembley once was.

They beat Radford’s side 63-12 in March having previously embarrassed them 80-12 last August.

However, Hull got back on track with a gutsy 19-12 win at Warrington in May and Radford recalled: “It was a surreal game, particularly with the lead-up, which was torture. We lost two players on the Tuesday and then Danny Houghton and Sika Manu went down on the team run so we had a real scratch side.

“Danny Washbrook started at hooker and we had to make late changes. To fight, battle and scrap like we did was a real credit to the blokes’ effort, particularly because of the way we’d been beaten by them previously.

“It was what we needed at that time of the season and a big result for us.”

Radford, 40, believes the desire to win the Challenge Cup for a third time in four years is just as great as when approaching that 2016 success, which, ironically, was against Warrington.

“Having tasted it recently – and the majority of our squad have sampled that – to get back there would be pretty special,” he said.

“It’s a special occasion and a special occasion to win it as well; coming back to the parade in Hull are memories that will stick with me for the rest of my life.

“But we appreciate how tough the challenge will be this week.”

Faltering Warrington come in on the back of a defeat at Castleford Tigers, their second loss in a row, and have won just two of their last six matches.

Radford is unsure about how all of that will affect Steve Price’s side this afternoon, but he does think his own side’s 26-24 win at Leeds Rhinos could be pertinent.

“Sunday was really big for us, playing a desperate side who had done us there for the last 12 years,” he said, as Hull recorded a first success at Headingley since 2007.

“So there was so much focus on getting a result,” he said.

“It was a real big one and I think you could see that by the players’ reaction at the end of the game.

“To get that result was fantastic for us and hopefully it will put us in a real good spot for Warrington.”