Hull FC v Catalans Dragons - Challenge Cup means most to Hull FC, concedes coach Lee Radford

Hull FC coach Lee Radford has a tough selection decision to make after Leon Pryce did so well off the bench against Castleford Tigers.
Hull FC coach Lee Radford has a tough selection decision to make after Leon Pryce did so well off the bench against Castleford Tigers.
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GIVEN their current position, it is a reasonable question to ask Hull FC head coach Lee Radford: “If you could pick just one trophy to win, would it be Super League or the Challenge Cup?”

It has got to that stage where the Airlie Birds – perennial under-achievers during the summer era – are, in fact, increasingly impressive candidates for both major trophies.

Radford, the straight-talking former prop from east Hull who was promoted from assistant at the end of 2013, knows it is futile even to discuss the matter.

Nonetheless, ahead of today’s Ladbrokes Challenge Cup quarter-final with Catalans Dragons, he is happy to answer.

“As a player, it was always the Grand Final and hitting Mad Monday with a winner’s’ ring on your finger,” he told The Yorkshire Post, having done just that with Bradford Bulls in 2003 and again two years later.

“It’s the league you strive for all year, but from the club’s standpoint, having never won at Wembley, lifting the Challenge Cup there would be the ultimate.

“It’s something no one has achieved here in 151 years of trying and would be really historic.

“So, from a personal point of view, it’s the Grand Final but, for Hull FC, it has to be the Challenge Cup.”

Radford has unfinished business in the prestigious knockout competition, too.

For all he lifted the trophy with Bradford in their treble-glory of 2003, he fell short in the final with hometown Hull five years later and, in 2013, was helpless as Peter Gentle’s No 2 when Wigan Warriors eased past them 16-0 in a bitterly disappointing Wembley display.

“We knew in both that if we’d have played a bit better it could have been quite a different story,” recalled Radford, who has transformed Hull this term into a dynamic, ruthless side that rightly sits at the top of the table.

“It’s a different team now, though; there’s still one or two individuals who participated in both those finals, but it’s mainly changed and I’m sure they’ve set their own goals.”

He has a major decision to make ahead of the lunchtime kick-off at KC Stadium against a Catalans side who have been equally as refreshing and vibrant in 2016.

Veteran stand-off Leon Pryce, his former Bradford team-mate, came off the bench after previously being dropped, to turn Sunday’s game at Castleford back in their favour, resulting in a 24-22 win and a ninth successive victory.

The 34-year-old did so with a trademark step that set up full-back Jamie Shaul and you can imagine Pryce, who won the Cup alongside Radford and three more times with Saints, would rise to the occasion again against the side he left for East Yorkshire two years ago.

But Radford has, of late, preferred the Kiwi Carlos Tuimavave as his starting No 6 and, with Catalans’ fearsome pack, may not go with a back among his replacements.

Asked who will get the nod, he said: “I’ll keep that to myself until Saturday, but it has been a great selection headache to have the pair of them.

“Both bring different facets to the game and both are very talented players so whichever one we go with hopefully he’ll do a good job for the team.”

Catalans have added Ben Garcia, the talented France second-row who was only re-signed from Australian club Penrith Panthers on Thursday, to their 19-man squad.

Radford expects him to play this afternoon as the Dragons, awash with stellar talent like Kangaroos Todd Carney, David Taylor and Willie Mason, strengthen their own push on both fronts.

“When they only named 18 players on Thursday I was just glad it didn’t turn out to be Brett Stewart as they’re supposed to be signing him as well,” he said, about the Manly and New South Wales State of Origin full-back and brother of Catalans second-row Glenn, who is also rumoured to be moving to Perpignan.

“I rang (Hull director of football) Motu (Tony) and told him to get their accountant in here and see if we could borrow his calculator.

“They do alright with their signings and with us leaving the EU they might get stronger.”

Hull, though, are strong, too, with captain Gareth Ellis, Australian second-row Mark Minichiello and Kiwi back-row Sika Manu all returned after being rested at Castleford, winger Fetuli Talona named as well after recovering from a knee injury.

Furthermore, they have experience of beating the French side this term, thrashing then 38-10 in Perpignan in round two and, amid more testing circumstances, winning 28-26 at the KC at the end of April.

Meanwhile, the squad was visited by Minichiello’s brother Anthony yesterday, the legendary former Sydney Roosters and Australia full-back who won the 2005 Golden Boot winner as the sport’s best player.

Radford, hoping to lead Hull to a first league title since 1983, admitted: “It was good to catch up with him and talk rugby.

“We’ve a lot of mutual friends – Steve McNamara and Fitz (former Hull FC captain Craig Fitzgibbon) are still at the Roosters, as is Sam Moa.

“He was arguably the best full-back in the world for his positional sense.

“I remember when Paul Deacon – an exceptional kicker when it comes to finding space – went a full Test series against Australia without ever finding a blade of grass, Minichiello was that good.

“He sat down with Jamie Shaul and went through some positional stuff with him. It’s great for Jamie to hear that from a different voice and hopefully he’ll benefit from it.

“He’s in the UK for four days and then going on to Italy and finishing off in France.

“He’s coming to the game (today) and Mark’s not happy; he said he’s been here two years and his brother’s already got more training kit to go home with after one day.”