IT was one of the most understated performances you are ever likely to see from Albert Kelly yet also one of the most important for the “emotional” Hull FC star.
Known for his flamboyance and array of dazzling skills, the Australian stand-off was comparatively conservative in Sunday’s 28-8 win at Huddersfield Giants.
It was tough. To get back out there today with the boys and get the win, the second on the trot, that was what we aimed for to keep it going on.Hull FC’s Albert Kelly
However, given it was his first Super League game in eight months and considering the raft of irritating problems he has faced during the interim, Kelly was simply glad to come through the contest unscathed.
It was a significant step forward for a player who, at his peak, is one of the competition’s most exciting and creative individuals.
Kelly had not played a competitive fixture since last July when the latest of a series of worrying concussions in the 34-18 home defeat to St Helens saw him ruled out for the remainder of the term, including the entire Super 8s.
It was, of course, one of the reasons Lee Radford’s side found themselves in that alarming slump that saw them eventually lose their final 11 matches.
Still, worse was to come when, after getting the green light to resume full training and regaining his fitness during the off-season, the 27-year-old dislocated his shoulder in his first warm-up match, ruling him out for the opening three rounds of the 2019 campaign.
Asked, then, how it felt to be finally back in action, Kelly told The Yorkshire Post: “It was awkward because I’ve just been doing weights and conditioning for the last eight months.
“That was only my second game since July.
“I’ve never been nervous before a game since I debuted (for Cronulla Sharks in 2010) but I was very emotional today.
“That’s how I felt at first. But once I got back into that routine I knew what I had to do and the boys were depending on me as well.
“To get a win and a good 80 minutes for the lungs, that was the main thing but also to come out unscathed so I can back-up on this short turnaround before facing Leeds Rhinos on Friday.”
Kelly was still suffering the symptoms of his concussion months after the incident against Saints and, given it was his third such injury of the season, he made numerous trips to see a specialist in Manchester with regards his recovery.
Despite often feeling fine to train, the former Hull KR star had still not been given the full all-clear by December.
As frustrating as that was, though, there are strict game-wide protocols to be followed now when it comes to returning from head injuries, a policy Kelly agrees must adhere to.
Recalling the difficult time, he said: “After the concussions, it was sweet. I passed all my tests.
“But then some things were still lingering and to come out in Washy’s testimonial (Danny Washbrook’s benefit game against Wakefield Trinity) and dislocate my shoulder, it was just heartbreaking.
“That was the toughest bit – that six weeks since I did that.
“It was tough. To get back out there today with the boys and get the win, the second on the trot, that was what we aimed for to keep it going on.
“It’s only two games but that’s what we need.”
Short-listed for the Steve Prescott Man of Steel in 2017, Kelly reunited with half-back partner Marc Sneyd to help Hull turn an 8-6 interval deficit into a convincing win.
There were a few flashes of his old brilliance but, in the persistent rain, it was more a case of digging out the win to back-up the success at Wigan that had ended their pitiful 13-game losing sequence.
Undoubtedly, the East Yorkshire club has missed the maverick player’s brio at times during his enforced absence and his return is welcomed especially given new concerns over the fitness of stand-in Jake Connor.
The England international, who switched to full-back at Huddersfield with Jamie Shaul missing, limped off with a knee injury and was awaiting scan results yesterday.
Just as Hull get one leading player back, it seems, then, they are set to lose another.
Despite his own rustiness, Kelly is confident of being able to get a second game under his belt against Leeds on Friday.
“I can hardly feel my arm at the moment but I should be okay,” he added, ahead of facing a Rhinos side who have won just one of their opening five games despite two ‘marquee’ signings.
“I don’t mind playing sore. Leeds will be my first home game since the last time I did my concussions against Saints so it should be a nice warm welcome and I’m looking forward to having the home crowd behind us.”
Obviously, Radford was pleased to see Challenge Cup winner Kelly back on the field once more in the club’s colours.
When everyone is fit, the debate will continue about who should play where – Connor has stated his desire he wants to feature at No 6 rather than centre – but it will take something special to dislodge Kelly.
Radford said: “Alby’s come through it all well, and finished his first game in eight months.
“That’s a plus. It’s good to have him back out there.
“One of the tries we scored, you could see what (Huddersfield full-back Scott) Grix is seeing.
“He gets his numbers and gets more on Alby because of the spacing but you have to do that as he is a run threat.
“But we went the other side and scored so, without him even touching the football, that’s the influence he has sometimes.
“You have to defend against him as he can run the ball as well, no bother.”