AS GRIPPING as the battle to avoid relegation clearly is, the fight for Super League’s top-five places is getting increasingly tough, a fact that will not be lost on Hull FC’s players tonight.
Their head coach Lee Radford has underlined to them on more than one occasion just how important the game with Huddersfield Giants will be; this is certainly no time for one of their random abject off-nights.
There have been a few this term, not least when Huddersfield vanquished them 55-2 at Magic Weekend in May, while, to a lesser degree, their last outing against Salford Red Devils was quite unedifying as well.
The Black and Whites lost 44-22 at home to their play-off chasing rivals.
Just as they were supposed to be sharpening for the final run-in, they fell into many of their old habits and – due to the Challenge Cup final weekend – have had a fortnight to mull over what went so wrong.
Speaking to The Yorkshire Post, Radford conceded: “It is still stinging.
“We were unbelievably off defensively so we really have to fix that up against Huddersfield.
“Everyone within the club is fully aware of that; we could not have reiterated that statement anymore even if we tried.”
You sense there will not be such defensive fragility this evening.
Hull, who have Carlos Tuimavave making his 100th club appearance and captain Danny Houghton marking his 350th career outing, can ill-afford to slip up against struggling opponents who sit joint-bottom.
Speaking ahead of last night’s game between Warrington Wolves and Salford Red Devils, Radford added: “There is a massive battle on.
“We’re joint-second but sat in fourth spot.
“Our points difference (-65) is very much against us, though, so if we’re going to finish above someone we have to finish above them actually on points, not points difference.
“We’re behind the eight ball in that respect which makes every game from hereon in a really important one starting with Giants on Friday night.”
As it conspired, Salford won 22-6 last night meaning they are now up to third, level with Warrington, Wigan and Hull on 30 points.
With Castleford Tigers just behind in sixth and Catalans Dragons still able to push in with three games to go, there remains of course, the chance Hull could actually be edged out completely despite still hoping to chase down Warrington in second.
Moreover, given Hull – whose only Grand Final was a 2006 defeat – head to Castleford next and then host runaway leaders St Helens, their run-is far from easy.
However, first it is the challenge of Huddersfield, Simon Woolford’s side who are tenth but only off bottom due to a superior points difference over Hull KR and London Broncos.
“They are pretty inconsistent,” said Radford, about opponents who have brought in Australian half-back Matt Frawley for only his second game in four months to try help steer them to safety.
“When they are on, they look really good. I saw them four weeks ago against Hull KR and I thought they looked really top drawer. But then I watched them against Cas (24-0 home loss) and I know how disappointed they will be with that performance.
“Yet they’ve shown what they can do against us by what they did to us at Anfield so we have to be very much aware of that.”
Asked if that Magic defeat in Liverpool still pained him, Radford conceded: “Massively. It was just a shot from nowhere really and we just didn’t see that coming on that day. So, to watch it unfold it did leave us scratching our heads a little bit but hopefully we can fix some of those problems this time around.”
Hull must do so without winger Ratu Naulago who – Radford revealed – suffered a minor injury in the warm-up before the Salford defeat but is not expected to be absent for long. Jack Logan or Kieran Buchanan could come in to replace the Fijian wideman.
Ken Sio scored a superb hat-trick as Salford recorded their sixth successive win, beating Warrington 22-6 in the Super League contest at the AJ Bell Stadium.