JUST one look at the Catalans Dragons teamsheet last night suggested Hull FC’s first game in the defence of their Ladbrokes Challenge Cup title might be largely comfortable.
Their French opponents – who won 16-14 at the KCOM Stadium in February – were missing a dozen first-teamers through injury so were always likely to come unstuck.
Rampant Hull duly eased home with Australian winger Steve Michaels scoring a hat-trick of tries and full-back Jamie Shaul – arguably the pick of their players – adding a late brace to mark his 100th career appearance.
They could have inflicted even more damage on their luckless opponents who also lost former England scrum-half Richie Myler to a first half injury but Marc Sneyd – the Lance Todd Trophy winner last August – missed five of his seven attempts.
The East Yorkshire club, however, move into tomorrow’s quarter-final draw knowing they are just two steps from a Wembley return although little can truly be learned from this annihilation.
They lost centre Josh Griffin and in-form winger Mahe Fonua to first half injuries – neither looked too serious – but reshuffled easily, back-rows Jordan Thompson and Jansin Turgut both filling in admirably.
Hull, with Josh Bowden playing his 100th game for the club, had scored within just 80 seconds as Shaul came into the line and supplied Michaels with his first.
When Griffin crashed over in the same corner after only seven minutes, Sneyd’s short pass having put Shaul into space this time, it seemed the writing was already on the wall for the depleted visitors.
However, Hull, sitting second in Super League, became a little too cocksure; after Danny Houghton’s break, Shaul gave Albert Kelly a chance but he fumbled, then Mark Minichiello forced an offload that squandered possession before Griffin became the next to spill.
They lost Griffin to his injury, the strapping centre having suffered a head knock and, when Chris Green failed to play the ball correctly, Catalans were further encouraged this might not be a lost cause.
For all their absenteeism, they still had international props Sam Moa and, in his 250th game for the club, Remi Casty to set a platform and, with Myler and Australian stand-off Luke Walsh, they did not lack creativity.
Indeed, Catalans forced a lengthy period of pressure near Hull’s line – when the hosts also lost Turgut briefly to injury – but, crucially, they could not capitalise. Instead, as soon as the holders finally escaped they scored again, Shaul’s fine cut-out pass putting in-form winger Mahe Fonua in at the corner on 24 minutes.
Sneyd missed his third successive conversion attempt so it remained just 12-0 but, at the same time, Myler was now limping off in backplay, essentially ending any real hopes of progression.
When Houghton zipped out of dummy-half again, Liam Watts was able to power over, Sneyd bowing to the crowd after finally improving just next to the posts.
Still, Watts then coughed up the ball from the restart and Fonua limped away from proceedings, too, to leave Hull still with some concerns.
Turgut returned, however, to supply Michaels with the Australian’s second try in the 35th minute and, on the stroke of half-time, they added their fifth.
Scott Taylor, the prop back having flown out to Sydney but frustratingly overlooked for England’s win against Samoa last Saturday, was the beneficiary following a slick build-up involving Kelly, an offloading Watts and Minichiello.
Sneyd made it 28-0 but, after he missed the conversion attempt of Michaels’s hat-trick try in the 44th minute, he handed over duties to Jake Connor.
Turgut had sent over Michaels for his treble with a lovely flicked pass and then the makeshift centre crossed himself following another Houghton assist.
Connor slotted the first of his five conversions – the former Huddersfield Giants centre enjoyed a 100 per cent record – before the versatile Thompson crossed next.
Shaul then got in on the act in the 68th minute and soon added his tenth try of the year towards the end latching onto a lovely reverse pass from Kelly.
Connor scored on the final hooter and almost casually slotted another conversion from the touchline to leave Lee Radford’s victorious side in high spirits ahead of next Saturday’s Magic Weekend clash with St Helens in Newcastle.
Hull FC: Shaul; Fonua, Connor, Griffin, Michaels; Kelly, Sneyd; Taylor, Houghton, Watts, Turgut, Minichiello, Green. Substitutes: Thompson, Washbrook, Bowden, Fash.
Catalans Dragons: Albert; Duport, Thornley, Romano, Yaha; Walsh, Myler; Moa, da Costa, Casty, Bousquet, Perez, Belmas. Substitutes: Simon, Seguier, Margalet, Khedimi.
Referee: B Thaler (Wakefield)