IF HULL FC do push on and reach only a second-ever Grand Final this October, they may well look back at this match as a crucial point in their pathway.
Head coach Lee Radford had to rejig his team massively on Thursday when Dream Team centre Mahe Fonua pulled out due to his partner going into labour and full-back Jamie Shaul complained of a tight hamstring after their final training run.
Albert Kelly, who was not going to play and left last night with his arm in a sling, was dragged off the treatment table into the starting line-up but even then Fetuli Talanoa went down ill yesterday morning ahead of this Super 8s contest.
However, it said plenty about his side’s quality and depth that, despite missing so many regulars – Josh Bowden also pulled out – and producing a mistake-ridden opening 40 minutes in the wind and rain at Langtree Park, they were still able to fashion a positive result against one of Super League’s form sides.
Revitalised Saints were aiming for a fifth straight win which would have seen them replace Hull in third spot.
But, aside from Regan Grace’s fourth-minute try, they simply could not break down the East Yorkshire club who eventually prospered via cool-headed Marc Sneyd’s huge penalty from halfway in the 64th minute.
It means the Airlie Birds, who host Huddersfield Giants next Friday before their Wembley date with Wigan Warriors in the Challenge Cup final, are now just a point behind second-placed Leeds Rhinos who they have still to play in this Super 8s series.Dave Craven
It means the Airlie Birds, who host Huddersfield Giants next Friday before their Wembley date with Wigan Warriors in the Challenge Cup final, are now just a point behind second-placed Leeds Rhinos who they have still to play in this Super 8s series.
This was a fourth successive win for Radford’s men and how they deserved it.
With those changes, Jake Connor switched to full-back for Shaul while back-row Jordan Thompson made his 100th appearance for the club but revisited his early days at Castleford by starting in the centre.
Granted, the first half was utterly wretched from both sides.
Initially, St Helens looked more than capable of ignoring the atrocious conditions.
After Turgut was deemed to have hit Jon Wilkin late, they scored that solitary try, a lovely effort when a slick handling move to the left ended with Grace diving in at the corner. Mark Percival had no trouble slotting the touchline conversion in the lashing rain. However, from thereon in until Sneyd’s 33rd-minute try in reply, the most either side could celebrate was maybe completing a set of six and reaching a kick.
That, on its own, seemed quite an achievement last night as the mistakes flowed; the unofficial count was 23 handling errors in the opening 40 minutes alone.
There was still some fierce defence on show and Alex Walmsley, the former Batley Bulldogs prop, livened things up with his fulsome charges off the bench to raise Saints’ hopes and even cause Hull captain Gareth Ellis some problems in the middle.
However, there was little real finesse. Hull were fortunate in that Grace botched one rare clear opportunity after his side had strung together enough clean passes to fashion the space for him only for the 20-year-old to spill with the line gaping.
Walmsley surged through, too, but was dragged down by Connor so it meant when Sneyd scored, stepping through some bedraggled defence after Danny Washbrook had initially weaved close, he converted to level matters.
Granted, Connor dropped a high Danny Richardson kick with no one near him but Hull held firm, Carlos Tuimavave – as the Kiwi centre did for most of the night – perfectly-timing his move to rush in on Theo Fages and force yet another error.
The rain finally ceased at the start of the second period when Hull, once more, had to show all their defensive resilience and fortitude. Walmsley continued to make inroads but, as his side went wide, the visitors maintained their structure to usher Percival into touch. When Zeb Taia did get on the outside of Kelly, Griffin got the merest of touches on the Cook Islanders’ pass to deny Percival a chance.
Percival almost dummied over soon after but was denied by Sika Manu. Hull had few attacking opportunities of note, Danny Houghton wasting one with a forward pass and Sneyd by failing to find touch with a penalty.
It was no surprise, then, that the scrum-half opted for that gargantuan 50m penalty to edge them in front. He nailed it and Hull, despite a dangerous break from Percival in the final seconds, held on for a valuable victory against their top-four rivals who simply could not hold onto the ball last night.
St Helens: Lomax; Makinson, Morgan, Percival, Grace; Fages, Richardson; McCarthy-Scarsbrook, Roby, Thompson, Taia, Peyroux, Wilkin. Substitutes: Smith, Walmsley, Amor, Knowles.
Hull FC: Connor; Griffin, Thompson, Tuimavave, Michaels; Kelly, Sneyd; Taylor, Houghton, Watts, Turgut, Manu, Ellis. Substitutes: Green, Washbrook, Fash, Matongo.
Referee: James Child (Dewsbury).