THIS game was always supposed to be about breaking new ground but Hull FC head coach Lee Radford can hardly have imagined it would in the ways it now has.
Yes, obviously, his side were involved in the first-ever Super League match played outside of Europe when they faced Wigan Warriors in the New South Wales sun-drenched beachside city of Wollongong on Saturday.
A wonderful occasion for the sport it was, too, in front of an encouraging attendance of 12,416.
However, a plethora of injuries suffered during the historic clash not only ruined his squad’s hopes of picking up two competition points but also meant he is left bereft of options ahead of the second game of the tour versus St George-Illawarra Dragons in Sydney next Saturday.
All of which means, a number of the East Yorkshire club’s youngsters – Hull travelled to Australia with a squad of 26 – could now find themselves blooded against the might of an NRL side potentially boasting England stars such as James Graham and Gareth Widdop.
Admittedly, Radford was always likely to give some of his fringe players a run-out at the Allianz Stadium regardless given they have a Super League game in the more familiar surroundings of Castleford the following week.
Nevertheless, that is certain to now happen after three of his senior players were crocked in the first half alone at WIN Stadium against Wigan who gained some measure of revenge for last year’s Challenge Cup final defeat at Wembley.
Captain Danny Houghton limped off with a worrying calf problem which will be scanned today, ex-Parramatta Eels winger Bureta Faraimo lasted just two minutes before submitting to a nasty concussion and second-row Mark Minichiello also picked up an ankle knock
Although the latter eventually returned, Liam Watts didn’t last the course as he endured more hamstring woe and there are fears Jake Connor suffered a posterior cruciate ligament injury, too.
At one point, it must have been hard for Hull’s football manager Gareth Ellis, their recently retired captain who had featured in a Legends game with the likes of Mark O’Meley and Willie Manu beforehand, to stay rooted to the touchline.
Over the last year or two that could easily have been a 50-odd or 60-odd ten scoreline but you saw some of the try-saving tackles and the bodies on the line we were doing for each other.Hull FC head coach, Lee Radford.
The disruption certainly unsettled Hull who fell 10-0 down inside just 12 minutes, Liam Marshall, the frighteningly rapid 22-year-old crossing for two tries as his side exposed the deficiencies of FC’s reshuffled backline.
The dashing winger certainly caught the eye of some seasoned Australian onlookers.
Although the ‘visitors’ – this was Wigan’s home game – recovered manfully to level 10-10 after tries from Fetuli Talanoa and Jordan Abdull, it was always likely they would eventually fall.
In fairness, Shaun Wane’s side botched two more gilt-edged chances in the first half.
But, after Sam Tomkins’s penalty put them 12-10 ahead just before the break, it was more rudimentary efforts from props Ryan Sutton and Ben Flower that confirmed them as the inaugural Kenny-Sterling Shield victors.
Hull prop Scott Taylor, the England international who took over from Houghton as captain and appeared for Wigan in Sydney in the 2014 World Club Challenge, admitted: “The injuries definitely caused problems but you don’t want to start throwing those as excuses out there.
“It was 13 v 13, Wigan were smart and better than us tonight. They deserved the win.
“There’s a lot to learn from it for us. I’m happy with the way the boys turned up.
“Over the last year or two that could easily have been a 50-odd or 60-odd ten scoreline but you saw some of the try-saving tackles and the bodies on the line we were doing for each other; men were out on their feet on both sides.
“The speed of the game – we have a couple of back-to-back sets early on was really tough – combined with the heat and humidity made it one of the toughest games I’ve played in. The intensity was just like the World Cup games when I was here a few months ago.
“It’s obviously gutting to come all the way to Australia and not get the win but I’ve just said in there – it’s round two; we’ve got another 28 games to go.
“We’ll regroup and have some fun against the Aussies next week. There’s lots of positives. I think some lads really stood up tonight.
“Let’s see what the Dragons have got. It will be brilliant for some of the young boys to get out and face St George next week.
“I’m looking forward to playing and putting this result to bed. Whoever’s fit and available to play will be playing but it will good to give some of them (youngsters) a chance. It might be bit of a blessing in disguise.”
Wigan’s England stand-off George Williams excelled, firstly when capitalising on that disorganised state when Hull lost Faraimo but also, in the second period, with his kicking and offloading.
FC had to bring second-row Danny Washbrook on for the New Zealand winger who was making only his second appearance for the club.
“If you don’t carry a back on the bench it can sometimes happen like that for you,” admitted Taylor.
“Bureta’s been brilliant for us. I know he wanted a really good game back in Australia to show what they’re missing. When he went down I felt gutted for him.”
Centre Josh Griffin had another excellent game for Hull, proving their most potent attacker with a series of clean-breaks.
He was sin-binned towards the end, however, along with Tomkins after a minor skirmish between the pair saw tempers rise.
Asked what caused it, Griffin said: “He just talks garbage all the time.” Some though the idea of playing this game in Australia was “garbage” but, by the end, even those left injured, were in agreement it could be the future.
Dave Craven is on tour with Hull FC in Australian in association with Ladbrokes.com