Frustrated head coach Lee Radford last night revealed he was “fuming” about Hull FC’s preparations for the Ladbrokes Challenge Cup final.
Airlie Birds fans need not worry too much; he has no pressing issues as the holders’ start their week building towards Saturday’s Wembley showpiece against Super League champions Wigan Warriors.
Indeed, Radford confirmed yesterday at a joint-press conference that he had already told his squad who will be playing as they seek to lift the famous Cup for a second year running.
However, it was Friday’s dismal 46-18 home defeat to Huddersfield Giants, in eighth, that irked him so much given the long-term implications it could create.
“I was fuming Friday as what I really wanted to do this year was learn from last year’s experience,” Radford told The Yorkshire Post.
“The Cup was huge last year, no question. We’d never done it before (won at Wembley) and we were constantly reminded of it in the lead-up to the final.
“We won, but then took our eye off the big one – the Grand Final.
“That’s something I’ve spoken about all pre-season and season: we want the same Cup run, but likewise want to be able to make a real play for the ‘GF’ as well.
“Friday’s performance didn’t warrant making a push for the ‘GF’’. It’s something we’ve spoken about and it puts an awful lot of emphasis on the Thursday game against Leeds now.”
After finally winning the Challenge Cup at Wembley at the ninth attempt last August, Hull –leaders for much of the campaign – suffered a major hangover and saw their bid for a first league title since 1983 disintegrate with a series of poor results.
I was fuming Friday as what I really wanted to do this year was learn from last year’s experienceHull FC head coach, Lee Radford
Radford vowed to ensure that was not repeated and, with that in mind, victory over Huddersfield would have left them just a point adrift of second-placed Leeds.
There are four Super 8s games remaining and the top two secure a home semi-final, but Leeds are now three points clear ahead of next Thursday’s visit from FC.
Last year, elated Hull did not cease celebrations until the Tuesday after Wembley, but Radford insisted: “There’ll be no Denzies (night club) this time around, that’s for sure. We can have a good night Saturday, maybe a couple Sunday, but then we’re on.
“Leeds will have a 14-day preparation for that game. We expect their tanks to be full, so, obviously we’ll have to put a phenomenal effort into that Thursday as well.”
Radford, meanwhile, conceded some players played themselves out of Wembley contention against Huddersfield.
“There were probably two spots that were up for debate and a couple of guys probably did,” he said. “But it made my job a little easier. I can sleep easier this time around having witnessed that.
“Last year was difficult naming the side as, consistently, we’d been great all season and I was telling blokes who had been in form and playing well that they weren’t playing, which was a tough one.”
Radford told his squad yesterday morning with Jamie Shaul, Albert Kelly and Scott Taylor all believed to be returning after being rested with minor knocks.
Kelly has been a huge success in 2017 since a controversial move from rivals Hull KR and could be key in breaking down Wigan.
The colourful Australian stand-off started his own Wembley preparations in typical low-key style, appearing at KR’s Craven Park on Sunday, sitting in the away end as they beat London Broncos and incurring the wrath of the irate home support.
“I was coming home from York listening to the radio and all I could hear in the background was ‘Albert Kelly is a ******’,” recalled Radford.
“I was in the car, on my own, laughing my head off. It was then that the commentator said he’d come to watch (former KR team-mate) Kieran Dixon.
“Speaking to Alby this morning he said how in the first 40 minutes he’d copped all that abuse –but then in the second 40 there was an actual queue of Rovers fans waiting to get an autograph and a snap of him. How ironic.
“Look, he is out there, he’s a bit different and to say he’s laid-back is probably a bit of an under-statement.
“The bloke can drift out of a game for 20 minutes, but then all of a sudden bang, bang, bang, he’s scored you a hat-trick.
“He’s got that x-factor about him and hopefully we can see all of that on Saturday.”
Legendary ex-Wigan, Leeds and Great Britain captain Ellery Hanley will present the cup while Ladbrokes have extended their sponsorship to cover 2018.