THE battle between all four second-rows is rarely something highlighted in pre-match game analysis.
However, it has Hull FC coach Lee Radford salivating ahead of tomorrow’s fixture in Perpignan.
He may be slightly biased – the 36-year-old played some of his early football at Bradford Bulls in that position – but equally so he has good reason looking at his side and Catalan Dragons’.
“The back-row match-up is key,” he said.
“Zeb Taia is arguably one of the best players in the competition and they have a fantastic back-row.
“Killing the ball on him after contact is crucial and he hits some fantastic lines, too.
“But if there is one bloke I would like to put up against him from our squad it is our leader and captain Gareth Ellis.
“With (Catalans’) Elliott Whitehead and Mark Minichiello matched up on the other side, it is a fascinating battle for rugby fans to watch and a match-up I am really looking forward to.
“I hope we come out on top in that department because if we do it will play a big part in the result.”
Indeed, that quartet are possibly the leading four second-rows in Super League at the moment, with Taia being tipped as a potential Man of Steel and England international Whitehead again impressing ahead of his move to Canberra Raiders for 2016.
Ex-England star Ellis, meanwhile, is in great nick and Minichiello has been outstanding since joining FC from Gold Coast Titans this season.
Hull are reportedly set to announce the capture of former Kiwi Test forward Frank Pritchard from Canterbury Bulldogs with the 31-year-old adding even further ballast to their already well-oiled pack.
That will certainly help offset the loss of Tom Lineham, their prolific winger who it was confirmed this week will join Warrington Wolves in a £125,000 deal starting in 2016.
Radford has opted to leave Lineham at home for the trip to France, despite his hat-trick last Thursday at Widnes Vikings, citing “personal grounds.”
However, he has Fetuli Talanoa back in the side as a suitable replacement with Curtis Naughton fit for a recall, too.
Full-back Jordan Rankin is available as well, as improving Hull look to secure a ninth win in just 11 games and Radford, juggling his squad, is also mindful they have a rearranged fixture to contend with at Wakefield on Wednesday, July 1.