Dave Craven: Carry on sledging ... Why I love Jake Connor being the unlikely panto villain

I'M JUST going to come straight out and say it. I think Jake Connor is great.

Hull FC's Jake Connor.

Obviously, he’s a great rugby league player. Everyone already knows that. Indeed, he’s someone I would love to see get a chance in some shape or form when England head to Denver next month.

But I also think the Hull FC player’s great for all the stuff that people tend to hate him for, too.

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You know what I mean. That constant niggle. Irritating opponents. Irritating opposition fans. Irritating everyone, it seems, who has ever watched a game of rugby league if you take a quick look at social media.

He plays on the edge, isn’t scared to try bending the rules and clearly sometimes goes beyond them. He is seen as what our Australian friends would call a ‘grub’ and it is hard not to argue against that.

It is the constant chelping that infuriates so many people. This is where I may sound a little hypocritical as I have gone on record before saying how Sam Tomkins irritates me beyond belief for doing just that.

The difference is, in those instances, the Wigan player tends to be chelping in the ear of the officials, pleading for a decision or bemoaning something or another.

Just let the officials officiate. Please. Connor, though, tends to aim his chatter – sledging’s probably more appropriate – mainly at opponents and it is the reactions he creates that fascinates me.

Seeing even normally the most restrained and disciplined players let Connor somehow get under their skin, prompting a rise.

It is relentless. You wonder how he has the energy to actually play. But he does and he plays so well while rivals are getting sucked into unnecessary battles.

Speaking to colleagues at Hull, they say Connor’s power is that he is simply too quick-witted; he has an instant put-down at the ready for any response and it makes opponents’ blood boil. But maybe it is because he is such an unlikely pantomime villain that makes me grin.

Ordinarily, you expect such attitude from big, surly front-rows like Ryan Bailey or Gareth Hock.

But Connor is – at the moment, at least – a half-back, a softly-spoken half-back, utterly unfazed in his bid to wind-up anyone and everyone. Indeed, for much of Thursday’s bizarre game at Featherstone, he was trying to irritate the famously combustible Hock.

Never has Hock had so much love on social media. Everyone seemed to want the giant forward to go knock Connor’s lights out. It never came to that but, no doubt, Connor will get floored one day.

The point is, he’d probably just get up and carry on regardless, enjoying even more freedom to express his obvious skills against 12-men opponents.

And don’t forget the 23-year-old did manage that at Fev: man-of-the-match, two tries, one amazing assist and five goals.

Lee Radford should be applauded for giving him freedom to play and he is thriving in his favoured half position with Marc Sneyd and Albert Kelly injured.

Where he may come unstuck is if he does have serious intentions of representing England; Wayne Bennett may not be such a fan of his spiky approach.

And one thing that can’t be condoned is the staying down feigning ‘injury’ during television games to try and garner a penalty via the replays.

Connor blatantly did that on Thursday. Others have done too. It’s a shameful tactic creeping in and leaves the worrying prospect of rugby league turning into football. Now that would irritate me.