Challenge Cup - Hull FC must take positives from exit to St Helens

In the immediate aftermath of a Challenge Cup semi-final defeat it is hard to try and glean any positives.

Cruel blow: Hull FC's Josh Griffin is helped from the field after injury against St Helens. Pictures: SWPix

The pain of missing out on Wembley is hard to bear, particularly having invested so much effort and energy into attempting to achieve that team goal.

Indeed, in any sport, it is often said the semi-final is the worst place to lose; so close yet still so far away from success and no memorable occasion to experience – win or lose – come the big day.

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Dejected Hull FC will, no doubt, still be feeling those sorts of emotions this morning as Saturday’s defeat against St Helens lingers over them.

For Josh Griffin the in-form centre who is almost now a talisman in the Black and Whites ranks such has been his marked career development, the pain will be both emotional and physical.

The 30-year-old ruptured his Achilles tendon in the 25th minute and must contemplate being out of action until 2022, hopes of an England debut later this month and World Cup involvement in the autumn cruelly dashed.

Still, having seen his side come so close to overcoming favourites and Super League champions Saints – do not let the final scoreline fool you – Hull head coach Brett Hodgson did have positives to hold on to.

Namely, having gone behind 20-2 at the start of the second period, the impressive manner in which his undeterred side scored three tries and clawed back to 21-18.

Running to Wembley: St Helens' Regan Grace sets off for his match-clinching interception try.

When Cameron Scott – Griffin’s replacement – claimed the third of those in the 72nd minute, there was genuine hope of the East Yorkshire club completing one of the unlikeliest fightbacks in the competition’s long history.

When Jake Connor arrowed off a 40/20 kick in the next set, even Saints – back-to-back league champions, current leaders and such a consistent force – must have felt the tension.

Hull, of course, have won the Cup twice in recent times – 2016 and 2017 – and have experience of getting home.

Saints, in contrast, have not lifted it since 2008 and they are constantly reminded of that fact.

However, just as they looked ripe for taking, Connor lost his precision, the full-back attempting a play to the right which could have furnished Carlos Tuimavave with the crucial try but, ultimately, was picked off by Regan Grace.

The winger intercepted and raced 80m to end Hull’s hopes.

Lachlan Coote added another try just before the final hooter, bringing that blown-out scoreline that betrayed the true closeness of this intriguing battle.

Hodgson, though, knows the quality of the play in that purple patch offers plenty of encouragement for what now is their only target: Super League.

They sit fifth in the table, having lost three of their eight games one of which was against Saints the week before this Cup contest.

Nevertheless, if they can replicate the confident football shown when Mahe Fonua, Danny Houghton and Scott scored tries to leave their rivals wobbling, even though Wembley has gone, they will have a chance to challenge for Old Trafford.

That said, there is little chance to mope; on Thursday, Hull visit Castleford Tigers, who will be buoyant after defeating Warrington Wolves in the second part of Saturday’s double-header at Leigh Sports Village to set up a July 17 Wembley date with Saints.

On his side’s spirited fightback, Hodgson admitted: “I never lost faith that we were going to get there in the end.

“Jake gives that pass 99 times out of 100 and, on the one hand, if he does it’s to go into a Challenge Cup final. There’s some tears in the changing rooms. We’re disappointed. The way it went at the back end, I didn’t think was indicative of their performance.

“We need to make sure we process it. We showed in that second half the way we want to play going forward now. We showed we can match them and were almost good enough to beat Saints.”

The biggest talking point was Theo Fages’ try, the French scrum-half picking up the ball after Griffin had dropped it in agony after suffering his Achilles injury just 20m from his own line.

Hull fans were furious with Fages, who later added a drop goal, but Hodgson had no issues with his decision given play had not stopped. Grace had scored his first in the 16th minute and Jack Welsby added a third try at the start of the second period before Hull threatened that shock.

Hull FC: Connor; Fonua, Tuimavave, Griffin, Swift; Reynolds, Sneyd; Sao, Houghton, Satae, Savelio, Ma’u, Lane. Substitutes: Bowden, Brown, Scott, Fash.

St Helens: Coote; Makinson, Naiqama, Welsby, Grace; Lomax, Fages; Walmsley, Roby, McCarthy-Scarsbrook, Thompson, Mata’utia, Knowles. Substitutes: Amor, Batchelor, Dodd, Norman.

Referee: L Moore (Wigan).