PROUD Hull FC came so close to ending their New South Wales tour with a famous win over NRL big guns St George Illawarra.
Lee Radford’s side had spoken all week about going out with a bang after feeling they didn’t give a true showing of themselves when losing to Wigan Warriors in Wollongong a week earlier, the first-ever Super League game played outside of Europe.
They certainly lived up to that promise with a performance full of enterprise, guts and no little character - only to lose out to Kurt Mann’s 75th minute try in a thrilling International Double Header game at Sydney’s ANZ Stadium.
Electric Australian stand-off Albert Kelly fizzed around like only he can, looking like someone who may well want to be earning an NRL contract in 2019 - or just someone who simply loves the game and these conditions depending on your viewpoint.
He caused St George all sorts of problems with his willingness to run and attack their defensive line but he wasn’t the only one in a Hull squad that contained 13 Academy products.
Jamie Shaul has long been reckoned as one of Super League’s leading attacking players and the lightning quick full-back illustrated that again here with some piercing runs of his own, matched by opposite number Matt Dufty whose mesmerising angles were a joy to watch.
Although it would never be classed as an exhibition match by organisers, it had that sort of freedom about it but in a positive way with both sides happily trying to strike wherever possible while retaining control and poise.Dave Craven
Although it would never be classed as an exhibition match by organisers, it had that sort of freedom about it but in a positive way with both sides happily trying to strike wherever possible while retaining control and poise.
Kelly started things off with the first of his brace inside the 10th minute.
His pass got Jake Connor on the outside of the left edge and then craftily kicked infield for Kelly to follow up and beat off the desperate attempt of James Graham to deny him, the England prop debut for the Dragons.
St George-Illawarra quickly showed their class, though, with a finely-crafted try for centre Tim Lafai, Gareth Widdop kicking his solitary conversion.
Their handling skills were evident, too, when Reuben Garrick was ushered over in the corner for a 10-6 lead in the 27th minute.
However, Kelly came to the fore once more with one of his trademark darts - dazzling footwork combined with fine footwork - for Sneyd to leave Hull 12-10 ahead at the break.
Gargantuan replacement Dragons winger Nene MacDonald seemingly put his side in command with two strong finishes at the start of the second period but, unlike Leeds Rhinos the night before, there was no collapse here from the Yorkshire club who also, after all the talk during the week, never did actually name Newcastle Knights winger Curtis Naughton in their squad.
Instead, Liam Watts - the hulking prop who had one of his mixed nights when it came to discipline and errors - did what he does best: running hard at the line to weave over from 10m against strangely subdued defence in the 56th minute for Sneyd to leave it finely poised at 18-18.
However, from that point, Hull spilled on the first tackle from a scrum 10m out and then ignored an easy two points to press for another try only for Kelly to fumble when he strived hard for his hat-trick.
Still, they had the opportunity for a drop-goal but, after the excellent Jordan Adbull broke clear, he passed inside to a Dragons defender rather than settling for the last play position.
It proved costly; soon after, the same player was found flat-footed along with Josh Bowden as the livewire centre Mann surged between them for the decisive score.
Nevertheless, roared on by yet another massive following, who sang Old Faithful so loudly and proudly, Radford’s side delivered a performance that promises much when they return home tomorrow, a trip to Castleford Tigers awaiting next Saturday.
Hull FC; Shaul; Faraimo, Connor, Griffin, Talanoa; Kelly, Sneyd; Watts, Hadley, Paea, Manu, Washbrook, Bowden. Substitutes: Tuimavave, Green, Abdull, Fash, Litten, Logan, Turgut, Lane, Downs, Matongo.
St George- Illawarra Dragons: Dufty; Garrick, Mann, Lafai, Nightingale; Widdop, Hunt; Graham, McInnes, Vaughan, Leilua, Sims, Ah Mau. Substitutes: Latimore, Field, Aitken, Sele, Robson, Nicholls, Lomax, Lawrie, Kerr, Host, Allgood, MacDonald.
Referee: Grant Atkins
Dave Craven is on tour with Hull FC in Australia in association with Ladbrokes.com