HEAD coach Lee Radford admits he is trying to curb talk of Hull FC’s imminent trip to Australia in case it derails their start to the new season.
The Airlie Birds take part in an historic tour Down Under when they face Wigan Warriors in the first-ever Super League game staged outside of Europe in Wollongong on February 1o.
With the further support of Destination Wollongong and Destination New South Wales, the clubs then take part in an international double-header in Sydney a week later.
Ladbrokes Challenge Cup holders Hull face a St George Illawarra side featuring England stars Gareth Widdop and James Graham before Wigan play Sam Burgess’s South Sydney in an event that has drawn plenty of positive reaction.
However, as the East Yorkshire club step up their pre-season plans with tomorrow’s derby against Hull KR – Hull hooker Danny Houghton’s testimonial match – Radford has sounded a word of warning.
“It is a fantastic opportunity and something really different,” he told The Yorkshire Post.
“But it’s something I’m consciously trying to keep at bay, I suppose, for now as I want to focus on that first Super League game against Huddersfield on February 1.
“The planning and scheduling is obviously going on massively in the background (for Australia) but I’m really conscious of the Challenge Cup final last year.
“We played Huddersfield the week before and got 46 points shoved up us that night as everyone had their eye on the following fixture. As much as we spoke about it it still happened and it’s something I’ve got to try and correct this time around when it comes to this Australia trip.
“I think it will be easier, though, as it is the first game of the season. Still, nobody wants to miss the (Australia) games due to injury but what tends to happen is if you don’t attack that game with everything that’s when you do usually pick up a knock.”
It’s something I’m consciously trying to keep at bay, I suppose, for now as I want to focus on that first Super League game against HuddersfieldHull FC coach, Lee Radford
Before all that, however, is Houghton’s benefit match as the derby rivals also face their annual battle for the Clive Sullivan Trophy.
The Hull-born 29-year-old has spent his entire career at the club and is firmly established in Black and Whites folklore, not least for his famous last-ditch tackle on Warrington’s Ben Currie as they at last won at Wembley for the first time in 2016.
Radford admitted the former Man of Steel has had a “huge” impact and added: “I hope fans will turn out and support him.
“It’s one of of our only two pre-season friendlies and an opportunity for some of our young blokes to collectively show some improvements from last year, too.
“We put a young side out last year and had our backsides handed to us (40-16 loss).
“A similar side will take to the field at the weekend and seeing their development and that scoreline come in our favour would be a real pat on the back for our fellas.”
Still waiting to see if he will be named – as expected – as Hull’s new captain after Gareth Ellis’s retirement, Houghton has targeted the Grand Final in his testimonial year.
Although he has helped them finally end their Wembley duck, with Hull lifting the Challenge Cup in the last two seasons, they have not been to Old Trafford since their solitary Grand Final appearance in 2006.
Indeed, a championship title success has eluded them ever since 1983 – before Houghton was even born – but he feels they are making the right strides having reached the Super League semi-finals for the last two years.
“I don’t think there’s much to tweak or change,” insisted the industrious player, who is approaching 300 games for Hull.
“I just think we need to perform better on that night. We did alright in the first one but against Leeds last year I don’t think we were good enough to win that game.
“We have to change that this season. We’re well into training now and it’s been tough but they’re putting us through that extra mile to try and capitalise on what we missed out on last year at the back end.”
On the best moments of his career so far, Houghton added: “Making my debut was obviously special back in 2007.
“But as a highlight it would have to be that 2016 Challenge Cup final. I’ll never forget that day.”
Meanwhile, Huddersfield Giants captain Leroy Cudjoe also has a testimonial game tomorrow against Dewsbury Rams.