STEVE PRESCOTT would certainly have enjoyed this one – both sides he loved delivering a fiercely-contested battle whose outcome went right down until the final seconds.
Hull FC may have won the titular cup in honour of their heroic former full-back, who died aged 39 in 2013 after fighting cancer so emphatically, by virtue of a 38-37 aggregate over this season’s two Super League games with St Helens.
However, Lee Radford’s side missed out narrowly on the night, losing for only the second time since falling against Hull KR at the start of Easter.
They were undone by a St Helens side who won the League Leaders Shield – and eventually the title – with replica performances of this last season; grinding out a success despite the limitations of their young side and, here, arriving just five minutes before their planned warm-up due to traffic problems on the M62.
Hull thought they had taken the decisive action with a fine try from impressive 19-year-old Jordan Abdull in the 57th minute only for the visitors to immediately fire back via Tommy Makinson’s 11th try of the year.
From there, Hull – who had won six of their last seven games – threw everything at Saints but all to no avail.
Fetuli Talanoa unleashed Richard Whiting with an offload in midfield and, though the veteran was hauled down, he repaid the favour in the same set as Talanoa almost reached the line only to be denied by a desperate Matty Fleming.
Still, Marc Sneyd chipped a kick for Steve Michaels to challenge. Saints were unable to defuse it and Kirk Yeaman touched down the loose pickings only to agonisingly be brought back for a touch forward from his winger.
Regardless, Talanoa angled in off his wing once more after another fine assist from Whiting – who came on in the 17th minute to great effect after last week’s hat-trick hero Curtis Naughton suffered a hip injury.
Shannon McDonnell, the Australian full-back making his first return to the KC Stadium following his acrimonious exit last year, should really have been yellow carded for the subsequent professional foul, holding down the Tongan international as his breathless defence reorganised.
Hull tapped the penalty but crucially lost their way as another opening appeared and it was left to Jordan Turner, the former FC centre, to seal Saints’ victory with a drop goal in the final minute.
Hull, whose Mickey Paea has confirmed he will join Newcastle Knights next season, started with plenty of confidence and will rue not scoring any points in the opening quarter.
Their opponents were lethargic and sloppy, lacking the direction of injured scrum-half Luke Walsh and suspended captain Jon Wilkin. So, with Radford’s side showing a real willingness to promote the ball themselves, Hull created a number of openings, only for none of them to be finished off.
Instead, it was Saints who opened the scoring in the 21st minute with a try that, remarkably, involved three kicks as they showed great enterprise to keep the ball alive.
One of them even came from the prop Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook as he delicately lofted a horizontal effort in midfield before Travis Burns’s more routine kick was palmed down by Adam Swift and Turner found McDonnell to score.
Makinson converted and when Whiting was penalised for a ball steal, youngster Lewis Charnock slotted another two points.
Saints began to find their feet but the home side defended well and earned their rewards when Leon Pryce came up with a try against his former club.
It was a trademark effort for the 33-year-old stand-off who accepted Abdull’s fine offload before darting forwards from 10m out and leaving Saints’ defence all at odds with themselves.
Sneyd converted the 35th minute score to leave his side just 8-6 behind at the break and the close nature of the contest was illustrated when Charnock opted to take another penalty five minutes into the second period after being caught high by Chris Green.
Given the tightness of it all, Whiting may think he could have done more after getting a couple of fingertips but nothing more on Charnock’s loose wise pass.
He was near halfway but if he had held on could conceivably have scored. Instead, Green conceded another penalty but Charnock slipped on his run-up and saw his effort fall short.
Soon after, Abdull was over for his fine effort showing great confidence, and no little strength, to take on the Saints defence.
Pryce had been the instigator originally, twice getting Talanoa into space with smart short passes, to set up position.
Sneyd could not add the kick but Mark Minichiello raced clear in the restart set as Hull threatened to cut loose.
Unfortunately, Talanoa fumbled later in the set to lose all the momentum and, in contrast, Saints were clinical as Makinson rose high to collect Burns’s pinpoint kick and then stretch out of a tackle from the rooted Michaels.
With Charnock departing holding a hand injury, Makinson returned to goalkicking duties to slot the touchline conversion.
Hull FC: Rankin, Naughton, Talanoa, Yeaman, Michaels, Pryce, Sneyd, Watts, Houghton, Paea, Minichiello, Sa, Ellis. Substitutes: Abdull, Thompson, Green, Whiting.
St Helens: McDonnell, Makinson, Fleming, Turner, Swift, Burns, Charnock, Walmsley, Roby, Amor, Flanagan, McCarthy-Scarsbrook, Jones. Substitutes: Savelio, Masoe, Richards, Thompson.
Referee: M Thomason (St Helens).