THE familiar Wembley hangover is looking troublesome for Hull FC.
They have now lost both games since lifting the Challenge Cup and their hopes of completing a treble are in serious doubt.
How Lee Radford’s side managed to lose this one, though, is anyone’s guess as Taulima Tautai charged over in the 76th minute to steal it for an error-prone Wigan Warriors.
Hull, without being anywhere near their best, rarely looked threatened by Shaun Wane’s side last night and looked set to finally end a seven-year wait for a home win against Wigan.
But, crucially, they never added points to their 12-4 interval lead and so, when Sam Powell burrowed over from close range in the 64th minute for Matty Smith to make it 12-10, they were always in danger.
Still, Mahe Fonua held his nerve to force Dan Sarginson into touch just as the England centre threatened to derail them and that danger seemed to have passed.
However, Hull fumbled coming out of their own 20 to gift Wigan a chance and Tautai, the former Wakefield Trinity forward, muscled his way through some tired defence to stretch over between the posts.
Smith converted and, when Marc Sneyd’s short restart sailed straight into touch, he added a penalty to make sure soon after as Wigan gained some small revenge for their Challenge Cup semi-final defeat to the Airlie Birds in July. Hull remain second courtesy of a superior points difference to Wigan but both are three points behind leaders Warrington Wolves with just two games remaining.
Granted, Warrington play Wigan next week while Hull head to Wakefield on Thursday before welcoming the Wolves to the KCOM Stadium in the last round.
Lee Radford rested many of his Wembley heroes at St Helens last week and it was no surprise when they lost.
However, aside from Dean Hadley who was on the bench instead of Danny Washbrook, he named the same 17 that defeated Warrington to lift the Challenge Cup last night.
Wigan made the first breakthrough of a scrappy game last night via a smart try.
They had gained position when Anthony Gelling intercepted near his own line to sprint clear and alleviate pressure.
Soon after, George Williams, the England half-back sporting bleached blond hair as punishment for being late to training this week, produced some fancy footwork to fool Hull’s defence and arrow towards the corner, just touching down despite Jamie Shaul’s best efforts.
Matty Smith failed to convert the 11th-minute try and so the hosts took the lead when they crossed themselves via Fetuli Talanoa’s 15th Super League try of the year on 20 minutes and Marc Sneyd converted.
It was Sneyd’s well-primed grubber that supplied the Tongan winger and the score had been coming given Sika Manu had punctured Wigan earlier only to be unable to find the supporting Carlos Tuimavave.
Hull have prided themselves on their line defence this year and that was to the fore once again when they denied Josh Charnley (twice) and Gelling three tackles in succession as the Wigan right edge pair tried in vain to bustle over from close range.
Radford’s side were rarely troubled otherwise with Wigan especially slack on the last tackle in one instance when aiming a forward pass out of dummy-half on the last tackle to concede a handover.
It was from that harmless end to a set that Hull went on to score their second try in the 36th minute.
It was all so easy, marching downfield before Sneyd – again – chipped a kick which did not seem particularly threatening.
However, with Wigan defenders failing to challenge, Hull winger Steve Michaels leapt high and then offloaded out of the tackle for Mahe Fonua to cross.
Sneyd could not improve from wide out but he added a penalty from inside his own half after the interval hooter had sounded.
The Lance Todd Trophy winner had actually knocked on when getting ready to kick downfield but, as he regathered the ball, Frank-Paul Nuuausala foolishly followed through with a high tackle. Thaler had no option but to award the penalty which the 25-year-old, remarkably, nailed from 54 metres.
That looked like being the difference in a game of few chances, Frank Pritchard going close for Hull in the second period.
Wigan stuttered. They earned a drop-out only for Sam Tomkins to spill under little pressure from Carlos Tuimavave; for all he remains the world’s most expensive player, he is so out of form.
However, Powell finally got them that score and they somehow worked their way back into the game – and could yet deny Hull a home semi-final.
Hull FC: Shaul; Michaels, Fonua, Yeaman, Talanoa; Tuimavave, Sneyd; Taylor, Houghton, Watts, Manu, Minichiello, Ellis. Substitutes: Green, Hadley, Bowden, Pritchard.
Wigan Warriors: S Tomkins; Charnley, Gelling, Sarginson, Tierney; Williams, Smith; Nuuausala, Powell, Flower, Bateman, L Farrell, Isa. Substitutes: Crosby, Tautai, Sutton, Shorrocks.
Referee: B Thaler (Wakefield).