SHAMBOLIC Hull FC blew their chance of earning an inviting home play-off tie with city rivals Hull KR following a wretched display against St Helens last night.
Victory would have seen Peter Gentle’s side leapfrog their opponents into a final place of fifth and, on the size of it, a half-decent return for a season that has had its fair share of disruptions.
However, just like in the Challenge Cup final loss to Wigan, all their old failings returned to haunt them with a series of embarrassing handling mistakes and lack of any real creativity meaning they never even gave themselves a chance.
Now, Gentle’s squad must wait and hope that Catalan Dragons lose against visiting Warrington Wolves this evening otherwise, instead of playing the French side at KC Stadium next weekend, they will slip to seventh and face a third trip of the year to Perpignan.
Whatever the outcome, this performance leaves plenty of question marks over whether the East Yorkshire club have much left in the tank for anything resembling a play-off challenge.
In truth, though Hull had delivered four successive Super League wins, they have been scratchy ever since winning at Hull KR a month ago, narrow league wins over Salford and Wigan bookending that abject display at Wembley, and last night their luck ran out.
Before, they have managed to dig themselves out of trouble following their countless mistakes, but here they were punished almost every time and even their usually dogged defence was found badly wanting.
What summed it up perfectly for Hull was Saints’ farcical try at the end of the first half.
Black and Whites wideman Jason Crookes had lost possession returning a kick but Saints immediately coughed it up themselves.
The hooter sounded and, in fairness to Daniel Holdsworth with his side trailing 16-0, the Hull stand-off wanted to try to get something out of nothing.
He spotted Danny Tickle in a little space down the right and the England second-row, in turn, thought he saw someone too but once he passed the ball, colleague Richard Horne had already angled infield.
The ball hit the deck and – just to rub it in – it was a grateful Willie Manu on his first return to the KC who picked up to scamper over from 40m. Jonny Lomax’s third of four conversions made it 22-0 and the hosts, already looking demoralised, were booed off by a disbelieving home crowd.
For all Hull were missing seven first-team regulars, some of the errors incurred here were of the truly base variety.
They had got over the Saints line twice in the first half but both times failed to score.
First, with the game still scoreless on 21 minutes, Horne was pulled back after a forward pass from Holdsworth who, bizarrely, was almost over himself and had no real need to try slipping in his team-mate.
Jamie Shaul nearly barged over but was held up by solid Saints defence and, even then, the chance had arisen after Tom Briscoe had picked up another wayward pass to make the initial inroad. They wasted their next shot with another annoying and needless forward pass in front of the Saints posts.
In between those incidents, the visitors had taken the lead in admittedly fortuitous circumstances, an awful Jon Wilkin grubber – both sets of half-backs struggled for any semblance of cohesion – ricocheting off the Hull defence for Francis Meli to stride through and Wilkin finish off.
They claimed their second just after the half-hour when young winger Adam Swift found some holes in the Hull middle when returning Holdsworth’s kick.
He bumped off last man Shaul and looked like going all the way until Horne just dragged him down short.
However, it was a wasted effort as second-row Josh Jones exposed more weak defence close to the line a few plays later.
Lomax missed the conversion but the manner in which prop Alex Walmsley was able to charge back the kick-off and splinter them all too easily was a warning off what was to come.
They survived that incision when Wilkin spilled cheaply but, when Holdsworth did likewise direct from a scrum that Hull had even been lucky to get awarded, Swift gathered near halfway to dash in.
Lomax improved once more and Hull’s raggedness continued with that double gaffe from Crookes and Tickle.
They scored within 60 seconds of the second period re-starting though when Saints’ kick-off sailed dead and Jacob Miller ushered Richard Whiting through a sizeable gap. Tickle’s conversion cut the deficit and Hull were able to mount some sustained pressure but, once more, their execution and decision-making left so much to to be desired.
Instead, a cleverly flighted 40/20 from Jordan Turner – another ex-Hull player making his first return – fashioned both a release and opportunity for Saints which they duly took.
Manu caused the initial damage standing up in the tackle before the ball was shifted left where Meli charged through Horne’s attempted tackle.
Hull fans finally had some clinical attacking play to applaud in the 65th minute but that was only because they sportingly rose to acknowledge a brilliant second try from Swift after Lomax had broken through midfield and delivered a perfect kick to the corner. He added the extras and, though Tickle responded with a try he improved, it was scant consolation for this woeful showing and, fittingly, Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook rounded things off for Saints, who will host Hull KR in their own elimination play-off next weekend.
Turner converted and it his current side who look a far better bet of shaking up the play-offs than his former.
Hull FC: Shaul; Crookes, Horne, Yeaman, Briscoe; Holdsworth, Miller; Watts, Houghton, Bowden, Westerman, Tickle, Johnson. Subsitutes: Whiting, Heremaia, Pitts, Green.
St Helens: Lomax; Makinson, Turner, Meli, Swift; Wilkin, Hohaia; Puletua, Roby, McCarthy-Scarsbrook, Jones, Manu, Soliola. Substitutes: Laffranchi, Wellens, Walmsley, Clough.
Referee: J Child (Dewsbury).