I AM the first to admit I have had a long-running mistrust of Hull FC.
That is not down to any particular gripe or bias.
No, there is good reason for my persistent uncertainty about the Airlie Birds.
For one, their consistent belief that they are a great club solely because they had a decent side more than 30 years ago and, secondly, a habitual promise to deliver yet routinely failing.
The fact the press corps only receive a flask of soup and stale bread to share before games is true, too, but, for all that large failing, I can not really annex it to the same argument.
Nevertheless, for my earlier reasons, you could quite easily liken the Black and Whites to the England football team – all talk, no actions.
Equally so, however, I am now happy to admit I do feel Hull FC are actually changing for the positive and at an exciting rate.
The fact that they are top of Super League and are in the Challenge Cup semi-finals after a run of 10 successive wins might make that the most obvious statement since Roy Hodgson announced he was resigning.
But, the pleasing thing is, I have no lingering doubts about Hull’s pedigree whatsoever.
For some weeks now I have packed away my computer after witnessing Lee Radford’s side pick up yet another victory and muttered to anyone who would listen… “they REALLY are a VERY good team.”
Granted, this is not a great Super League season; as much as Catalans Dragons have finally come to the party, the summer era’s most successful club – Leeds Rhinos – and fellow high-fliers Huddersfield Giants have slumped into the bottom two.
St Helens, also, have lost any semblance of greatness while Wigan Warriors are in touching distance of Hull but, with their pragmatic approach, are far from easy on the eye.
The East Yorkshire club head to Huddersfield tomorrow night knowing this is their best chance for some time to go on and win a maiden Super League title and a first championship since 1983.
Admittedly, Radford has conceded that, for a club that infamously has “never won at Wembley”, lifting the Challenge Cup is probably the priority if they had to pick just one.
That may be so but, if Hull want to send out a real message about their credibility, Old Trafford is the place to do it.
What has happened to bring about this sea-change?
Recruitment has been key. Some eyebrows were raised when Radford brought in four players from the NRL ahead of 2016.
Hull have endured a litany of failed and expensive signings in the Super League era, often from overseas, and for the Hull-born coach to go so far away from his roots, there was understandable concern. But every one of them – Frank Pritchard, Sika Manu, Mahe Fonua and, in a less spectacular way, Carlos Tuimavave – has made a positive impact and instantly added to their strength.
Prop Scott Taylor has been a revelation since joining his home-town club from Wigan and, while few would have got too excited by the capture of another Hull lad – Danny Washbrook from Wakefield – the 30-year-old’s versatility has been invaluable.
What has also let Hull down before is their long-standing half-back conundrum but Marc Sneyd has come of age in his second season since joining from Castleford to bring that much-needed creativity and control.
Even though the No 6 role is still opaque, with neither Tuimavave nor Leon Pryce nailing it down, the influence of Sneyd has been so impressive that Radford has not needed to worry about his second playmaker.
Furthermore, Danny Houghton’s remarkable consistency at hooker and the brilliance of Jamie Shaul – the Hull-born full-back repaying the belief shown in him – means the spine of the team is so strong.
The real backbone of it all, of course, is Gareth Ellis, the captain and veteran back-row who, at 35, is producing machine-like performances that could see him earn the Man of Steel.
That would be a fitting individual award but, as Ellis attests, team ethos is all that matters.
Hull are a team – a great one. I am backing them for the League Leaders’ Shield and at least one of those other two major trophies. My mistrust ceases to exist – for very good reasons.