Hull FC 42 Crusaders 18: Hull FC get off the mark as Crusaders punished

GIVEN the week ahead will be all about a certain someone in Hull KR colours, their city rivals thankfully produced some much-needed positivity of their own last night.

The expectancy levels surrounding Willie Mason’s arrival at Craven Park are such that Rovers feel able to sell tickets to fans for a live feed of the controversial Australian forward’s first press conference on Tuesday, now that he has at last sorted out his visa issues and is able to enter the country.

Hull, meanwhile, would have struggled to sell tickets for their next actual match let alone any PR/media circus if they had lost again against Crusaders.

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However, on the back of an inspired performance by Richard Horne and a marvellous defensive stint, they won for the first time in seven matches, ending a losing run which stretched back to August, massively easing the pressure on head coach Richard Agar.

As the only team not to pick up a Super League win in the opening three fixtures, everyone from Hull’s own senior players to Crusaders’ assistant Barry Eaton had come out in force to back the under-fire Airlie Birds chief in the build-up to this fixture.

Last night, Agar’s team produced the sort of determined, resolute and skilled performance to underscore their support.

Those players are clearly behind him and, for all Crusaders were lame, the East Yorkshire outfit proved they can be competitive in Engage Super League despite their slow start.

Agar kept faith with the squad that fell just short at Huddersfield on Sunday and they repaid his faith, building up a 16-0 interval lead courtesy of tries from Danny Tickle (2) and Richard Whiting.

However, it was the manner of their sterling defensive work amid a relentless period of Welsh attack at the end of that first period which was most impressive.

Hull had not helped themselves by squandering possession on numerous occasions to invite the pressure, although they were at least doing so because they were attempting to play some football.

But, afterwards, a four-man tackle denied Jarrod Sammut as the off-season Hull target darted for the line, Sam Obst did brilliantly to one-handedly claw back a zipping grubber by Clinton Schifcofske while also somehow staying in the field of play, Will Sharp judged perfectly as he came in off his wing to thwart Peter Lupton as an overlap threatened before Obst and Whiting combined to prevent Sammut burrowing over again.

The sense of relief was palpable throughout the majority of the 10,422 crowd inside KC Stadium when they finally emerged unscathed only for Kirk Yeaman to immediately fumble a pass from Willie Manu on his own 20 to send them back to the pump.

In a sign of the undoubted spirit in this Hull line-up, though, they once more protected their line with some superbly organised defence, Horne and, fittingly, Yeaman being the ones to combat Schifcofske on the last and go into the break clean.

Such endeavour was richly rewarded as within five minutes of the restart, Hull, who saw Westerman have his best game since signing from Castleford and Danny Houghton at his probing finest, were able to confirm victory.

Sam Moa’s slip pass sent Obst over for his first try for the club, Westerman improving, and then some wonderful handling involving Horne, Westerman, Whiting and Jordan Turner saw Crusaders exposed out wide and Sharp fall over the line for his fourth try in as many games.

After Mark O’Meley had bulldozed close and nearly stretched over, Crusaders foolishly stood off Horne, the ex-Great Britain stand-off utilising the space to fend off Tony Martin and go in himself.

It was a well-deserved score for the long-serving 28-year-old. Much has been made of Sean Long’s absence from the Hull side and they have badly required some artistry and creativity this season, part of the reason they pursued Sammut so strongly.

Many feel Horne, principally a support player and broken field runner, is unable fulfil that role but he demonstrated last night with a series of telling passes, intelligent kicks and thoughtful organisation that he can fill the void.

Tickle converted the 52nd-minute score and, although Rhys Williams finally breached Hull on the hour mark, Schifcofske landing a touchline conversion, there was no easing off, Sammut spilling the restart to ironic cheers.

The clinical hosts pounced to punish the Australian, Manu powerfully making inroads before Yeaman picked up from dummy half and easily slid over.

Sammut atoned for his error with a slick individual effort soon after and Williams raced away for his second, Schifcofske adding both conversions from wide out to take off some of the gloss.

But Horne responded with another clever kick to set up England winger Tom Briscoe for Hull’s eighth try of a dominant evening, Tickle doing the rest.

Hull FC: Whiting; Sharp, Turner, Yeaman, Briscoe; Horne, Obst; O’Meley, Houghton, Radford, Westerman, Tickle, Fitzgibbon. Substitutes: Washbrook, Lauaki, Manu, Moa.

Crusaders: Schifcofske; Reardon, Thomas, Mellars, Williams; Martin, Witt; O’Hara, Withers, Bryant, Lupton, Chan, Flower. Substitutes: Dudson, Sammut, Moore, Peek.

Referee: B Thaler (Wakefield).