Challenge Cup: Lock-out proved the turning point for Lee Radford and Hull FC

Hull FC head coach Lee Radford (left) and Warrington Wolves head coach Tony Smith ahead of the Challenge Cup final on Saturday (Picture: PA).Hull FC head coach Lee Radford (left) and Warrington Wolves head coach Tony Smith ahead of the Challenge Cup final on Saturday (Picture: PA).
Hull FC head coach Lee Radford (left) and Warrington Wolves head coach Tony Smith ahead of the Challenge Cup final on Saturday (Picture: PA).
HULL FC head coach Lee Radford last night maintained he never considered quitting during various difficult spells at his hometown club '“ because he always knew his squad would eventually prosper.

He will lead them out at Wembley for the Challenge Cup final against Warrington Wolves on Saturday safe in the knowledge the Black and Whites are also top of Super League and in the hunt for a glorious treble.

This is certainly the best Hull side since the one that reached their only Grand Final in 2006 and it is hoped it will go one step further than that vintage who lost to St Helens a decade ago.

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Likewise, there is a feeling the East Yorkshire club are far better placed now to win at Wembley than they were in their last outing in 2013, when, with Radford as assistant, they lost meekly to Wigan Warriors.

However, to get to this enviable position there have been some low moments where Hull have struggled to impress.

The pressure, too, in such a rugby league hotbed can be unbearable. Indeed, it would have been easy for Radford – just 34 when being promoted to replace the sacked Australian Peter Gentle three years ago – to walk away when things have turned sour.

One such instance was near the start of this season when Hull, despite a winter of major recruiting, were vanquished 46-6 at Widnes Vikings, a fourth straight defeat in their opening five games.

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It was the night Radford was infamously “locked” out of the dressing room by his squad as they tried to work out what went wrong – but also the point their season turned around.

“If I ever thought I wasn’t doing the job or I wouldn’t see out what I wanted to, I would 100 per cent consider it (quitting),” he said.

“But I was confident that something good would come about because of how hard we were working. There was disappointment but no doubts after that game.

“The two matches prior to that were Castleford and Wigan and, if we’d boxed a little bit cleverer, we could have got those results.

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“Widnes was a left-fielder because we could have been 24-0 up after 20 minutes. After that, everything went wrong.

“It was a shock but the response I got from the players that night, and the week after leading up to the Wakefield game, was huge. The performance against Wakefield (a 22-4 win) was exactly what we needed at that time.”

Radford can look back and smile now at that crucial turning point and understands why the squad took the action they did.

“I was going to the press anyway,” he recalled.

“But the last thing you want as a player when you’re telling your team-mate he’s crap is a protein shake thrust in your face from a conditioner or a kit-man ragging your shirt off another bloke and you’re trying to tell him he’s terrible.

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“I can understand why they asked them to get out; they wanted a bit of privacy and I wasn’t going to be there anyway.

“But I thought the seniors would sort it out. The leadership group we’ve got is great. We get together once a week anyway and if there are any issues it filters through back and forth and that’s a good working relationship.”

Certainly, with the depth of experience in this Hull squad – captain Gareth Ellis, Kiwi forwards Frank Pritchard and Sika Manu, Australian veteran Mark Minichiello and 2005 Challenge Cup winner Kirk Yeaman – it is easy to see where the bedrock of their development has emerged.

It has taken time to assemble the squad, with the likes of Mahe Fonua, Scott Taylor and Manu having an instant impact in their debut campaign, and it is all now a far cry from when Radford took over.

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“In year one (2014), without going into a season saying we were going to struggle, with the turnaround of players we had – I think it was 14 – I knew it would be difficult,” he said, Hull duly finishing 11th.

“All our recruitment was done last minute. Literally, after Christmas we got the likes of Fetuli (Talanoa) and Feka (Paleaaesina) on board. But in year two I felt we had a better team than probably showed throughout the season and we came eighth.

“There were some things that played a part – injuries to key players and no consistency in selecting the team. But we were better than losing the amount of games we did. That was the toughest period, for sure.”

For all the dreams of their fans, Radford insisted he has not contemplated the prospect of finally ending 151 years of hurt for the Black and Whites this weekend.

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“I haven’t put too much thought into becoming the first Hull coach to win at Wembley; it’s been about the build-up and making sure everything is good,” he said, all three of the club’s Challenge Cup victories coming away from the famous venue.

“Someone asked me what it would be like to walk out at Wembley but I haven’t put a great deal of thought into that either.

“I’m not wearing a suit. I’m going for my lucky polo, my nice blue shoes and the trousers that I’ve had on right the way through the Cup run. I’m going to look like a tramp behind a fully suited and booted squad. I’m keeping it real – and we really know, too, that we’ll have to be at our best to win it.”