Hull FC v Catalans Dragons - Winger Mahe Fonua says coach Brett Hodgson brings out the best in him

THE arrival of Brett Hodgson as Hull FC head coach has had a positive effect on numerous Airlie Birds players, not least Mahe Fonua who has rediscovered some of his best form underneath the Australian.

Happy Days: Winger Mahe Fonua says the “mad love” given to him by Hull FC fans meant he had no hesitation in returning to the club. Picture: Mike Egerton/PA Wire.

However, it is a sign of just how much the East Yorkshire club has progressed that the powerful winger is still not assured of a place in the side.

Hull, who have lost just one of their seven games this year, host Catalans Dragons tonight with Hodgson spoilt for choice when it comes to his wingmen.

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Adam Swift, who spent much of his first campaign with the club last year on the outside looking in, has been brilliant in 2021.

The former St Helens wideman has earned his spot and done everything possible to keep it, helping assuage the loss of the wonderful Ratu Naulago who switched codes to Bristol Bears.

On the opposite right flank, ex-Melbourne Storm star Fonua was preferred to Bureta Faraimo at the start of the season but after two unconvincing displays was dropped to make way for the USA international.

Nevertheless, Faraimo has missed the last two games due to suspension and Fonua returned to impress in both – the narrow Super League loss at Wigan Warriors and last week’s epic Challenge Cup quarter-final victory over the same opponents.

It will be intriguing to see which way Hodgson now goes for the visit of a Catalans side who have won four of their five league games and sit just above fifth-placed FC in the table.

Battle: Hull's Jake Connor will come up against Catalans' Sam Tomkins tonight - one of his rivals for the England shirt. Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe

“I’m thinking that I’ve given Hodgo a headache when it comes to team selection,” said the 28-year-old Fonua, now in his second spell with Hull.

“I think I’m heading in the right direction to play my best footy.

“He’s bringing the best out of me and he’s what I’ve needed to find some form again.

“I’m really enjoying my time with Brett again.

Nig influence: Mahe Fonua has hailed the influence of Hull coach Brett Hodgson. Picture by Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com

“I’m always trying to be at my best regardless of the occasion or game and I feel like Brett brings that out of me.”

The pair worked together at Wests Tigers where Hodgson was an assistant coach and Fonua played in 2018 and 2019 before returning to Hull last year.

The Tonga international became a cult hero at the Black and Whites in his first spell.

Fonua scored 31 tries in 58 tries, winning the Challenge Cup in his debut year of 2016 before repeating those Wembley heroics 12 months later.

His love affair with the Hull fans is one of the reasons he returned and he cannot wait to welcome them back into the KCOM Stadium tonight for the first time in 14 months.

Around 6,000 supporters have been granted access under government rules and Fonua said: “I have a lot of mad love from supporters here. It is one of the reasons I was comfortable coming back.

“Even when I was over at Wests Tigers I still had Hull FC fans write to me on a weekly basis.

“Whenever Wests tagged me in a post I’d go through the comments and there would be Hull FC fans writing ‘good luck Mahe’, and they miss me back here.

“If I put out a post not even footy-relevant I’d get Hull FC fans sending me well wishes, wishing my family happy birthday and little things like that.

“You build up little connections and relationships over the time you’re here.

“I love hearing the Mahe Fonua chant and ‘Old Faithful’ walking back after a try has been scored.

“As a winger I’m on the corner post when we receive a kick-off and the fans chanting gives you goosebumps; the hairs on the back of your neck stand up.”

He will hope to savour that sensation again for the first time in more than a year tonight.

That said, despite the pandemic preventing fans attending games since last March, the charismatic Fonua has done his utmost to stay connected with them.

He is often seen on social media interacting and explained why he is so keen to do so.

“Where I can, I reach out to them with a video message for someone’s grandpa or partner, or a get well one,” Fonua said.

“It takes 10 or 20 seconds out of my day and it might put a big smile on that fan’s face.

“They could be in a bad place at the time and a video of 10 players saying get well could really turn their day.

“We haven’t had that face-to-face contact but thanks to phones and technology these days you can send videos, or sign jerseys that people send.”

Meanwhile, although it remains unclear whether Faraimo will return after suspension, it is certain that Jake Connor will be back after his own ban.

The England international was in fine form for Hull before being forced to sit out the Cup win over Wigan after earning a one-match ban for a high tackle on Warriors’ former Leeds and Castleford full-back Zak Hardaker in the league match between the sides.

Connor and Hardaker are seen as potential rivals for the England full-back role ahead of the World Cup.

However, national coach Shaun Wane has already said that he sees Sam Tomkins, the Catalans No1, as his most likely full-back on form from the start of the Super League season.

But Connor, one of Super League’s most exciting players, gets chance to prove otherwise as they go head-to-head this evening.