DEALING with their so-called ‘Headingley hoodoo’ is not Hull FC’s main issue according to assistant coach Andy Last – but dealing with Leeds Rhinos’ high-tempo certainly is.
Hull have not won at their Yorkshire rivals’ ground since 2007, a barren run that stretched to 13 successive defeats with last September’s Super League semi-final defeat.
Furthermore, the Airlie Birds’ Challenge Cup semi-final victory over Leeds earlier last summer was their first win over them anywhere in nine attempts so they have proved problematic opponents, to say the least.
Nevertheless, the Challenge Cup holders are not perturbed by that record, as such, and Last insisted: “I don’t read much into it. I think ultimately they’ve had a better team than us the last 10 years and the fact they’ve won seven Grand Finals, two Challenge Cups in that time tells a story.
“We’ve suffered at Headingley but we aren’t the only team to fall at the hands of a champion team.
“It’s a different year now, though. We’ve some different players in our team as have they, but we need to make sure that Leeds see the best of us defensively. We’ve always struggled with how high the tempo and intensity is of how they play.
“We’ve made a real big push this week to make sure we defensively are on our A game as they have a very unique style at Leeds.
“They are very athletic and have some excellent players who can skip laterally and test you right across the field.
“The only time where we’ve matched them was in the (Challenge Cup) semi-final and obviously we got the win.
“Unfortunately we couldn’t play at that tempo in the other semi-final last year and they managed to get over the top of us.
We’ve made a real big push this week to make sure we defensively are on our A game as they have a very unique style at Leeds.Hull FC assistant coach, Andy Last
“We’ve spoken about us playing up-tempo, high-energy and hopefully that will be enough to get the result.”
Someone who will certainly be full of energy is Jack Logan, the young Hull centre who makes his first Super League appearance in two years after being dogged by a serious knee injury.
He comes in for the concussed Bureta Faraimo on the wing and Last admitted: “It will be like getting a new player.
“It’s his first start this year after a horrendous 18 months of injury. He’s a lot stronger than he was 18 months ago and we’re looking forward to seeing how he goes.
“It’s funny it’s Leeds (Friday) as his breakthrough game was against them.
“I think it was one of the last games of the season (in 2014); he scored a couple of tries and had an exceptional game.
“We were rubbing our hands thinking ‘This kid is exciting’ but unfortunately he then suffered a bad injury to his knee which, obviously, as an outside back was a bit of a concern.
“But he’s bounced back and what we’ve spoken to Jack about is that he’s mentally very, very strong now after the ups and downs of spending some time on the sidelines.”
Masi Matongo, the Zimbabwean-born prop, celebrates his England Knights call-up with a start, too, in place of Liam Watts who begins a three-match ban for the red card against Warrington last Friday, Hull’s second win of the campaign.
Champions Leeds, of course, are making their first return to Headingley since that semi-final last year, the famous ground currently under a major redevelopment which will not be completed for another 14 months.
Work is advanced enough for the Rhinos to play this fixture there but the capacity has been cut to 12,500, with 2,000 fans accommodated in the part-built new South Stand and a further 2,500 housed in a temporary North Stand.
“It’s important that we get back and start to rack some games up here,” said coach Brian McDermott, his side being refreshed after seeing last week’s scheduled home game with Catalans Dragons fall foul of the weather.
“It’s been a long while and there’s a different feeling to it.
“We start a new era; we’re the first team that’s going to try and create that new atmosphere that makes Headingley a daunting place to come to.
“There will be less seats and a reduced capacity but there is a responsibility for the crowd to try to scare the life out of the opposition as much as they used to do when it was nice and comfortable.
“It’s going to be hard to start with but hopefully within about two or three home games we’ll develop our own backyard mentality.
“We played the last few games without the South Stand and it was like looking into Mrs Robinson’s front room watching Coronation Street which I found distracting.
“The new South Stand is already very imposing and the North Stand is going to be even bigger.”
Both sides are looking to kick-on after respective trips to Australia; Leeds lost at Widnes Vikings having returned from their World Club Challenge defeat in Melbourne while Hull – who spent two weeks in New South Wales – fell at Castleford before beating Warrington.