Hull derby headlines as McRae puts focus on Green

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Hull FC director of rugby Shaun McRae accepts the club’s previous derby victory over Hull KR this season will mean nothing when the bitter foes reconvene in Manchester this evening.

Indeed, he believes the Airlie Birds will have to deliver a far greater performance if they are going to achieve a rarefied Super League double.

The east and west sides of Hull clash in the final act of Magic Weekend’s opening day, organisers clearly hopeful their innate rivalry and customary competitiveness will stir up a classic.

Hull, who will move to within a point of leaders Wigan if they succeed, racked up their biggest ever Super League defeat of Rovers when they triumphed 36-6 at KC Stadium on Good Friday.

But in the intervening weeks those vanquished opponents have made vast improvements of their own, enhanced principally by the return to fitness of Australian stand-off Blake Green.

A run of just one loss in four games culminated in Hull KR’s record 70-12 rout of Castleford Tigers on Sunday, their most emphatic Super League win to date.

McRae told the Yorkshire Post: “Blake Green being back in particular is making a big difference to them.

“They have a big, mobile side and the two half-backs – Michael Dobson as well as Green – are outstanding.

“I think they are a better side now and they are playing particularly well.

“Rovers will have drawn a lot of confidence out of last week’s victory against Castleford.

“Ryan O’Hara is also back, adding depth to their bench and is a good, experienced prop who will allow them to rotate more,” he said.

“Our guys know they are certainly going to have to play better than we did last time but it will bring the best out of them.”

Hull welcome back experienced Australian utility Tony Martin after a neck injury and that will offset the loss through suspension of Richard Whiting.

Richard Horne is likely to fill his stand-off role, though, with Martin possibly replacing youngster Ben Crooks at centre.

After Horne’s pre-season testimonial, this will be the third time Hull have faced Hull KR this year.

But McRae insists familiarity does not breed contempt and countered: “What I’ve always said about the Hull derby, in particular, is you could put it at the end of the earth, kick-off at midnight on any night you want and people would still come to watch.

“That’s just because both sets of fans are so passionate and both teams relish the idea of competing against each other.

“I don’t think it matters if we play three, four or five times a year – and we might if we get a play-off game against them – because of that.”

The Australian, meanwhile, is a fan of switching the Magic Weekend concept to Etihad Stadium after its previous incarnations at Millennium Stadium and Murrayfield.

“I’m convinced, before the event, that Manchester will work,” he said.

“Having coached at Salford I’m fully aware of the untapped areas in Greater Manchester.

“I know there’s a lot of development officers in the area now and I just think there’s an opportunity to showcase an event actually in the middle of the game’s real strength – off the M62 right in its heartland.

“I’m not denigrating Cardiff or Edinburgh. We’ve tried and achieved success there for different reasons.

“But now, with all seven fixtures here, we can say ‘Come and support this in our backyard’,” added McRae.

“From what I’m hearing, people are doing that and ticket sales are going well.”

Hull, though, do not have happy memories of facing Rovers on Magic Weekend; they have lost all three times starting with the 2007 defeat at Cardiff.

That was followed a year later when they were pipped 22-17 while last season Hull squandered a 14-0 lead as Green and Dobson masterminded a brilliant Rovers fightback.

Hull were also scratchy during a narrow 14-12 win at London Broncos on Sunday when McRae conceded: “It’s one of those games we might have been a bit fortunate to get away with.

“The defence was excellent but our offence was certainly in the ‘need to improve’ category.

“The team turned over a lot of ball early on and we were a little too lateral on a small pitch.

“London were clearly up for it after the discussions earlier in the week and that investigation going on in to their own performances.

“You could see a real attitude and determination about them and they applied the blow torch to us early.

“But we know we’ll have to go a lot better against Hull KR.”