THE influx of high-quality signings has left Hull FC star Gareth Ellis feeling “reminiscent” about their glory year of 2016 – which can only be a good thing as the East Yorkshire club counts down to the new Super League season.
The former Great Britain forward was captain when the Black and Whites finally won at Wembley four years ago and, though, they repeated the Challenge Cup success 12 months later, they have endured some difficult times since.
However, their recruitment drive has been big and bold for 2020 and, having spent the last couple of months entrenched in pre-season with the new arrivals, Ellis believes Lee Radford’s side are firmly back on the right path.
Indeed, some see Hull as being capable of challenging for a first league title since 1983 and Ellis told The Yorkshire Post: “Certainly, I get that 100 per cent.
“There’s a feeling – without wanting to speak too soon –around the squad that the players brought in, the way they’ve settled, conducted themselves and got really stuck in, it feels reminiscent of when we probably made similar types of signings in 2016.
“There’s certainly that type of feeling among the players that the ingredients are there to really challenge and be up there again.
“That is where we want to be after a couple of years of – and this is putting it politely – mediocrity.
“There’s definitely a feeling we want to get up there and start challenging but it’s now up to us to go out there and do it.
“The way we’ve all handled ourselves and put the effort in –and I know everyone says they’ve had their best, toughest pre-season yet – but from our point of view it feels like we’ve all mucked in and become a closer group which I think was really important for us.”
Four years ago, it was the likes of NRL stars Mahe Fonua, Frank Pritchard, Sika Manu and Carlos Tuimavave who arrived along with England prop Scott Taylor.
All, aside from Pritchard, carved out reputations as Hull legends and, this time, Radford has another large contingent arriving from Down Under.
Formidable winger Fonua, ironically, is back after two years with Wests Tigers but Hull have also secured Tonga back-row Manu Ma’u and New Zealand Warriors prop Ligi Sao.
Ellis never came across either of them during his time in the NRL but has been impressed with their impact as the Super League kick-off at Leeds Rhinos on February 2 edges closer.
“I’ve never played against them,” said Ellis, who, approaching his 39th birthday, will be the oldest player in the competition this season.
“They remember me but probably because they were fans or juniors at their respective clubs!
“I think Ligi was at Manly at the time while Ma’u came to the game late which is quite rare these days.
“Other than seeing some highlights of them and seeing a few NRL games last year I knew little about them as well.
“But it’s been good. Obviously we knew what we were getting with Mahe (Fonua) but it’s been interesting to have this amount of new signings in the team to really freshen the group up.
“It freshens you up, too. Personally, you always want to improve yourself and with a new group of players coming in that process starts again; you want to prove yourself as that type of player that other players want to play alongside.
“It’s been good for me being around a group of players who are equally up for the challenge and trying to impress as well.”
Great Britain tourist Josh Jones and former St Helens winger Adam Swift are other recruits as Hull – who missed out on the play-offs last term – seek to reach their first Grand Final since 2006.
Former Leeds star Ellis, of course, retired at the end of 2017 after FC reached the Super League semi-finals but made his comeback in February last year when they were in a rut with both performances and injuries.
It soon became clear he was more than good enough to continue and he has not ruled out playing on again in 2021.
Radford revealed recently the revered forward was up with the leading players in the squad when it came to fitness scores and, asked about pre-season, Ellis said: “It’d be easy to put a positive spin on it.
“But I have genuinely really enjoyed it.
“Over the years I’ve got my head around pre-seasons – I think this is my 21st – and realised they are there for me to get better and the team to get better and just approach every day with that mentality of getting a little bit better each day.
“I try and get the most out of every session whereas in the past I might have moaned, or felt tired and felt sorry for myself.
“But I’ve got no excuse as it’s my decision to be out there and doing it. I remind myself that I’m here because I want to be here and I’m looking forward to having a really good season and that puts a smile back on my face.
“I am more leaning towards this being my last year but I never say never as I don’t know what’s around the corner.
“It’s likely to be my last season and I want to make the most of this opportunity I’ve got myself.”