Radford takes step back for ‘biggest’ game yet

Hull FC's Lee Radford in action against Rovers back in 2011.
Hull FC's Lee Radford in action against Rovers back in 2011.
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He may no longer be on the field in the middle of the war but Hull FC coach Lee Radford insists very little has changed about his approach to the derby.

The former prop is a veteran of Hull’s fierce battles with their city rivals Hull KR, even coming out of retirement to make a try-scoring victorious appearance in one for the injury-hit Airlie Birds two years ago.

Tonight he will definitely be in the stands, however, as he leads Hull into the famous contest as head coach for the first time.

“The nerves are still there for me and have been there all week,” said Radford, as his side prepare to make the short trip to Craven Park.

“The only difference is as a coach you get to have very little input on game day unlike as a player. These are the games you want to be involved with.

“As a kid they were the games I wanted to go watch, as a player the games I wanted to play in and I am really looking forward to it.

“For sure, this is our biggest game of the year so far.”

Fixtures between these sides rarely require any added promotion but tonight’s game does certainly look like shaping up into a crucial fixture for both and not just for the traditional reason of local bragging rights.

Each is desperate to get some momentum; Hull have won their last two Super League games but, in between, were dumped out of the Challenge Cup and know, if they lose, Rovers will usurp them from sixth.

Rovers, meanwhile, are seeking a fourth successive league victory having failed to win in any their opening quartet of games but, similarly, have exited the Challenge Cup amid that renaissance.

“However involved you are – whether it be supporter, coach, player – nobody needs reminding of the importance of this game,” continued Radford.

“At this Easter period you tend to see who is making a charge up the table and who’s on the slippery slope the wrong way.

“So it is massively important tonight – it would put a spring in everyone’s step – and Monday; winning four points over Easter would be huge for us.”

Unlike two years ago, when then coach Peter Gentle turned to his assistant to get them out of trouble six months after retiring, Radford has few worries about personnel.

The only change to the 19-man squad for the 30-6 win over Huddersfield Giants sees Aaron Heremaia left out for Richard Horne, who potentially returns from a hamstring strain that has sidelined the half-back for the last couple of games.

It means there is no recall for Super League’s Young Player of the Year Ben Crooks, who scored for Doncaster last week, or Joe Arundel, while Liam Watts and Feka Paleaaesina are still sweating on their place.

“I am really happy with how the week has gone and I’m happy with the selection headaches I’ve had,” admitted Radford.

“It’s been difficult telling the guys who are not playing that they are out, even though they probably deserve to be involved, but that’s coaching.”

Hull KR are hurting having lost the last two derbies at Craven Park but they have won their last three Super League games against Bradford, Wakefield and Warrington and will move into the top eight for the first time this season if they make it four.

Radford continued: “Rovers made some quality signings in the off-season. I thought they’d maybe be a little further on in the table, but they are a quality side who play some good footy.

“(Mick) Weyman has gone well for them, Justin Poore is back this week and adds grunt for them (at prop) too, and that’s a little battle in the middle of the bigger war.”

If Hull’s front-row of Mickey Paea – making his first return to Rovers since leaving at the end of last season – and Garreth Carvell can gain the upper hand there, just as they did so impressively against Huddersfield, then the visitors certainly have the firepower to profit.

Ex-England centre Kirk Yeaman will hope to reap the rewards especially as he has not crossed in seven games since scoring twice against Catalan Dragons in Hull’s first fixture of the campaign.

Moreover, though, he is simply relishing the prospect of entering the fierce Craven Park cauldron once more.

“I think I appreciate these derby games more now,” said the 30-year-old, who scored in both of Hull’s derby wins last year.

“When you are younger you don’t think too much about it, but I make sure I really enjoy every one now.

“I get plenty of abuse in these games but I’m old enough to take it in my stride.

“The fans really go after me at Hull KR and I get some right abuse from the stands.

“I wouldn’t mind but I know half of them and afterwards they’ll all talk to me, but during it they just shout abuse.

“That’s all part of playing in a derby game; it’s not just what happens on the pitch, it’s off the pitch too and that – the banter – is what makes it so special.

“I always can’t wait for this game to come around.”