Airlie Birds win plaudits, if not the game, with dazzling display

OVER the years, listening to broadcasters trying to hype up even the most mundane of Super League games, has often got tedious.

Hull FC players. Picture by David Neilson/

Sometimes, it just wasn’t that good so why pretend otherwise?

People watching Thursday’s Hull KR and Catalans Dragons will certainly concur with that.

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However, in Sydney, a couple of days after Rovers toiled to their first points back in the top flight, Hull FC helped showcase the competition in a dazzling light.

Granted, they didn’t actually win their contest with St George-Illawarra but, for once, that wasn’t the be all and end all.

The East Yorkshire club wanted to not only put themselves on the map but Super League, too, and, with a thrilling game against their NRL opponents – Grand Final winners as recently as 2010 – they certainly did that.

In the first half especially, Lee Radford’s side expressed themselves brilliantly, playing some great football that genuinely tested their rivals.

St George, too, came up with some quality plays and it went on to become an absorbing contest, full of action and intrigue only decided when, at 18-18, Hull’s defence momentarily switched off to see Kurt Mann skip through for the winning try in the 75th minute.

It was cruel on the Airlie Birds who, inspired by two-try Albert Kelly, had turned down the chance for two points not long earlier. It was an ‘exhibition’ match after all.

They also missed the opportunity to set for one-point after Jordan Abdull broke clear but then passed inside to a player wearing the famous Red V rather than black and white.

“It was probably a bad decision, to be honest,” he recalled, Abdull being one of 13 academy products who featured on a memorable day for the club.

“But it was a trial game and I wanted to try and come up with a winning play.

“Some you get, some you don’t. I know next time to keep hold of the ball and try and get them the play after.”

He, like all the Hull players, will have learned plenty on this trip, especially when enjoying this rare chance to face NRL opponents.

Kelly, of course, is a former NRL player and you could see the fixture held no fear for him as the maverick ex-Gold Coast Titans stand-off continually attacked and teased the opponents’ line.

It was pleasing to see Hull finish with a positive performance, if not the result; everyone knew they had not been themselves when losing to Wigan in Wollongong a week earlier.

Loose forward Abdull, 22, continued: “Compared to last week we were miles better with the ball and defensively we showed a bit more vigour, a bit more tightness. We were probably a bit better this week at controlling the ruck; we were expecting a quicker game with the two refs playing an NRL side so I think Rads will be pleased with that.”

Silky Kelly stepped his way over for his second try, converted again by Marc Sneyd, for a 
12-10 interval lead, centre Tim Lafai and Reuben Garrick having crossed for the Dragons.

Their giant winger Nene MacDonald seemingly put his side in command with two strong finishes at the start of the second period but Hull did not yield, prop Liam Watts – who had been doubtful due to injury – angling back past some flat-footed defence for Sneyd’s conversion to make it 18-18 in the 56th minute.

Thereafter, chances came and went for Radford’s side to claim an historic success before Mann dashed those hopes.

Did it make it all the more painful, then, knowing they had had opportunities to stun the NRL side, who featured England stars Gareth Widdop and James Graham, their big signing from Brisbane Broncos, Ben Hunt and also the wonderfully elusive full-back Matt Dufty?

Abdull said: “It does and it doesn’t. If we can create chances against a good NRL side then when we go back to England we’re definitely going to be able to create chances in Super League.

“We did miss a couple of opportunities but I think we’re going to be better for missing those chances in this type of game building up to the next few when we maybe can take them.

“Overall it was an amazing experience. That was definitely one of the best stadiums I’ve played at.

“It was loud; it wasn’t full but the fans who came travelling really got behind us and were loud. They were loud all game, kept us in it and kept our spirits up.”

Hull arrived back in England on Sunday night but quickly face another trip on Saturday – the 46 miles to Castleford rather than 10,500 to Sydney.

“It will be different but we’ve got to go to Castleford and get the job done,” said Abdull.

“We have two points to pick up on the back of a loss to Wigan and want to climb up that ladder; a win there would be perfect.”

Hull FC: Shaul; Faraimo, Connor, Griffin, Talanoa; Kelly, Sneyd; Watts, Hadley, Paea, Manu, Washbrook, Bowden. Substitutes: Tuimavave, Green, Abdull, Fash, Litten, Logan, Turgut, Lane, Downs, Matongo.

St George- Illawarra Dragons: Dufty; Garrick, Mann, Lafai, Nightingale; Widdop, Hunt; Graham, McInnes, Vaughan, Leilua, Sims, Ah Mau. Substitutes: Latimore, Field, Aitken, Sele, Robson, Nicholls, Lomax, Lawrie, Kerr, Host, Allgood, MacDonald.

Referee: Grant Atkins.

Dave Craven is on tour with Hull FC in Australia in association with