Hull shirt battle brings out best in Thompson

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WHEN Hull FC added New Zealand back-rows Sika Manu and Frank Pritchard to their squad ahead of this season, you can understand why Jordan Thompson may have got just a little uncomfortable.

After all, the club already had two distinguished second-rows in their ranks; captain Gareth Ellis, the former England international, plus Mark Minichiello, the outstanding Australian who impressed so much in his first campaign after joining from Gold Coast Titans.

Furthermore, Lee Radford also recruited Wakefield Trinity’s Danny Washbrook to the rosta for 2016 and, though he is not an international like the rest, is certainly an experienced Super League player in Thompson’s own position.

Thompson, the unfussy 24-year-old from Normanton near Wakefield, could easily have thought his chances may be limited in such illustrious company.

However, he has thrived amid the competition, more than holding his own and playing 19 games for the treble-chasers, including last week’s Ladbrokes Challenge Cup semi-final win over Wigan Warriors that set up a Wembley date with Warrington Wolves later this month.

Ahead of Hull’s opening Super 8s game tonight against former club Castleford Tigers, he is now looking to continue his rich form to make sure he earns a place on August 27.

With regards those stellar signings, Thompson admitted to The Yorkshire Post: “There was a bit of that – wondering if I might get a game – as they all play in positions around me.

“I knew I had to fight a bit harder and not get complacent.

“But I’ve kept working hard. I’ve missed one or two matches on selection this year but had a decent run of games and can’t complain.

“It’s brought the best out of me. You can’t argue if you lose your spot to a Frank Pritchard, Gaz Ellis, or Sika Manu as they are all internationals but what I can do is do my best to nick one off them.

“I’ve been really happy with my previous two years at Hull and obviously this is a great season, too, reaching Wembley. But I know I have to keep working.”

It is that industry and work ethic that impresses Radford most, plus Thompson’s ability to pep his side up when he, normally, emerges from the bench after 20 minutes or so.

He may not be as renowned or as spectacular as those peers but certainly makes an impact, often line-breaking with his pace, an asset that saw him start out as a three-quarter at Castleford.

Indeed, he was signed by Peter Gentle as a centre but Radford, who had taken over by the time Thompson arrived in the autumn of 2013, always saw more value from him in the back-row where, the coach says, he has taken to the role “like a duck to water”.

The player, meanwhile, admitted the mood is buoyant at the club this week after the highs of beating Wigan to reach Wembley.

“It’s been madness,” he said.

“It’s the first time for myself so I’m asking loads of questions about what it’s like.

“Hull got there in 2013 and I came here the year after – when Cas got there!

“So I’ve missed two finals but hopefully, with a bit of luck, I’ve got three games now to make sure I get a Wembley place this time.

“There’s a bit of pressure to make sure you get your squad shirt and I’ll be putting everything into these next three games to make sure I do. It’s an unbelievable feeling to just win the semi but we want to finish the job now.

“And we’ll try and take all that good energy into this Friday as obviously we’ve got more than one final to achieve this year.”

Visitors Castleford are dangerous opponents; in all reality, they must win all seven games to stand a chance of making the top-four but are one of only three sides to taste victory at the KC Stadium this season.

Thompson, who played 78 times for the club he followed as boy, admitted: “They have nothing to lose really and players who like to express themselves.

“There’s no pressure on them and it will be a hard chase for them to make the top-four so the shackles will be off.

“They’ll be a threat especially if Rangi Chase’s playing. I had four or five years there with him before he moved to Salford.

“It’s great to see him back playing again and back at Cas.”

Thompson recalled how he needed a change to invigorate his career when he made the “massive” decision to leave Castleford when still just 21 but the move certainly seems vindicated now.

So how have Pritchard, Manu and Ellis aided Thompson’s game?

“With the experience they have, it’s just the professionalism they bring more than anything,” he added. Seeing the little things they do, what they do to get on top of bumps and bruises, stuff I’ve not done before.”