ANOTHER difficult hurdle overcome and further evidence of their growing stature, rampant Hull FC are within 80 minutes of Wembley following a ruthless victory over Catalans Dragons in the Ladbrokes Challenge Cup quarter-finals.
After tries from Steve Michaels, Frank Pritchard and Danny Houghton, Lee Radford’s Super League leaders have now won 10 games on the trot and look increasingly impressive.
In fairness, given the way they wore down a talented Catalans team, you could easily see them emulating the feat of the 2006 FC side who garnered 13 successive victories the year they reached the club’s solitary Grand Final.
With a trip to joint-bottom Huddersfield Giants on Thursday, they have also prospered in 15 of their last 16 fixtures, emphasising their continued dominance and efficiency.
Prop Scott Taylor won man-of-the-match with another towering display up front, Marc Sneyd kicked impeccably and captain Gareth Ellis led with distinction before leaving towards the end with an eye injury.
The game was what you would expect from two of Super League’s finest sides; tough, uncompromising and - in the first half, at least - with little gifted away until Hull’s pressure told.
Their defence was tested for much of the opening quarter and it generally held firm, loose forward Ellis, as ever, unbreakable in the middle.
There was just one slip. After Fetuli Talanoa and Kirk Yeaman both challenged for Sneyd’s high kick in the Catalans 20, Dragons winger Jodie Broughton raced 40m upfield.
Jamie Shaul hauled him in but, at the end of that set, Glenn Stewart’s dinked kick bounced up kindly for Benjamin Garcia, the France centre who only re-signed from Penrith Panthers on Thursday.
Hull barely had an attack of their own but scored in the 21st minute when Morgan Escare and Fouad Yaha replicated Talanoa and Yeaman’s effort when going for Carlos Tuimavave’s steepling kick.
Steve Michaels, the Australian winger, captialised for his sixth try of the campaign, Sneyd converting.
Catalans hooker Eloi Pelissier was fortunate not to be yellow carded after blatantly blocking Sneyd 10m out as the Hull scrum-half chased his own grubber.
However, no one could stop the more forceful figure of Pritchard, the Kiwi second-row who bulldozed over from short range off Houghton’s short pass shortly after entering the fray.
Sneyd improve the 31st minute effort and, though Houghton and Shaul both went for the restart and missed, Radford’s side once more defended their line well.
Pat Richards spilled - probably at the sight of Mahe Fonua steaming towards him - and then Thomas Bosc forced a forward pass as Catalans lost their composure.
They lost their steeliness, too, when Taylor - showing why he is in England coach Wayne Bennett’s thoughts - swatted aside Thomas Bosc’s weak tackle attempt to charge through from 40m out and supply Houghton with a try in the 50th minute.
Sneyd made it 18-4 and, even though Mark Minichiello lost control just short of the line and Yaha hit back following Bosc’s 40/20 kick, you sensed Hull would not let their hard-earned advantage slip.
They didn’t, Sneyd slotting two penalties in quick succession as Catalans became increasingly rattled and more jaded by the moment.
Hull FC: Shaul; Michaels, Fonua, Yeaman, Talanoa; Tuimavave, Sneyd; Taylor, Houghton, Watts, Manu, Minichiello, Ellis. Substitutes: Green, Bowden, Pritchard, Washbrook.
Catalans Dragons: Escare; Broughton, Garcia, Richards, Yaha; Carney, Albert; Mason, Pelissier, Casty, Stewart, Horo, Baitieri. Substitutes: Taylor, Bousquet, Mounis, Bosc.
Referee: Ben Thaler (Wakefield)