Hull FC v Warrington: Selecting Wembley line-up toughest part of my coaching career, says Lee Radford

AFTER making the 'toughest' decision of his coaching career, Hull FC head coach Lee Radford will fully concentrate on masterminding arguably his toughest fixture '“ leading the East Yorkshire club to a first victory at Wembley.

Hull FC coach Lee Radford says he explained individually his reasons for omitting players but accepts it pretty much fell on deaf ears (Picture: Danny Lawson).

The 37-year-old confirmed yesterday he had told his players which of them will have the honor of playing Saturday’s Ladbrokes Challenge Cup final against Warrington Wolves.

Given he has a fully-fit squad and all are in such good form – Hull hope to complete the first part of a treble this weekend – there were obviously some left heart-broken by the decision.

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Radford had already long known 16 of the players who would be on the team sheet for the Super League leaders to face opponents who sit second behind them in table.

He has now sorted the final name on that list; the 19-man squad will be revealed publicly on Thursday but, privately, two of them already know they will not be playing.

“It’s the toughest thing I’ve had to do in my coaching career,” said Radford, who took over at the end of 2013 and was twice left out of Challenge Cup finals as a player with Bradford Bulls.

“It’s been tougher to deal with than some of the bad losses we’ve endured down the years.

“I’ve been dreading it since our last game against Catalans; it’s not something that has sat well with me.

“I told them individually and tried to give them my reasons why, but they pretty much fell on deaf ears, as you’d expect.

“I hope I get another opportunity to select them in a final because then I’ll sleep easier.

“The performances leading up to last week’s Catalans game swayed my thinking, but these blokes will have a vital role to play for the remainder of the season: hopefully after Saturday we’ll still be pushing for a treble.”

On the other side, Warrington coach Tony Smith said their only injury doubt was Joe Westerman, the England loose forward Hull sold to them for around £100,000 last autumn.

Many thought then that was a strange decision by the Airlie Birds, but Radford knew the quality of the players heading towards the KC Stadium for 2016 – New Zealand internationals Sika Manu and Frank Pritchard – who facilitated the switch of another second-row, the inspirational captain Gareth Ellis, to Westerman’s No 13 role.

The back-row battle will be a fascinating encounter on Saturday with or without Westerman whose best friend Liam Watts, the Hull prop who grew up with him together in junior teams around Castleford before both playing for FC in the 2013 Challenge Cup final, says he has already been playing mind games.

“I’ve spoken to him, but you’ll probably get more sense out of him than me,” said Watts, when asked about Westerman’s injured ankle, rolled in Warrington’s 14-11 win over Castleford on Saturday.

“There was a few ‘ums’ and ‘ahs’, then he reckoned he was 50/50, but the next thing he was saying he’s fine. I can’t believe a word.”

Smith was in mischievous mood, too, during yesterday’s joint press conference at Doncaster Racecourse.

He was at pains to insist Hull were favourites – “and they should be, too, they’re in top form at the moment” – for the forthcoming contest, interjecting unpromoted just as it looked like the top-table open session was coming to an end.

Radford loves such banter, though, and swiftly straight-batted it away with a reference about visiting the sponsor’s bookmakers.

Smith has some basis for his comments; Hull are top of Super League and have won both meetings between the sides this term.

Yet they only lead Warrington by a point and there was little between the sides previously, Hull winning 26-24 at home on Easter Monday and then 19-12 away, with a performance that truly underlined their title potential.

Smith, though, knows this contest will be tight and, in the parlance of the recent Olympic Games, will be looking for every “marginal gain” possible to seek an advantage.

Certainly, there will be no record 50-0 scoreline like the distinctly underwhelming affair 12 months previously between victors Leeds Rhinos and Hull KR.

Radford admitted he would touch on that final of three years ago when he was assistant coach of a Hull side that faltered horrendously on the big stage, losing 16-0 against Wigan.

He recalled: “It’s voted the worst final in the history of the competition and that was a dark day. It was about how not to do it, the epitome of playing the occasion rather than the team, because they (Wigan) weren’t crash-hot either.”

Part-time referee Gareth Hewer, who works at Sellafield nuclear fuel reprocessing site in Cumbria, has been appointed for his first final ahead of four full-time colleagues.