AS they prepare to start their Challenge Cup defence this week, it was fitting that Jamie Shaul – Hull FC’s matchwinner at Wembley last August – came up with the crucial score yet again in this truly remarkable Super League game.
The East Yorkshire club produced a stunning comeback, their biggest ever in the competition’s history, rallying from 22-0 down at bottom-placed Widnes Vikings to prevail with six unanswered tries in an emphatic response.
Full-back Shaul was influential in so many key moments, not just his sublime second effort in the 67th minute that broke Widnes hearts and saw Hull rise up to second ahead of hosting Catalans Dragons in Friday’s sixth round Cup tie.
It was the 24 year-old who produced a crucial run to set up FC’s first try for Jansin Turgut with just 49 seconds remaining of what had been a turgid first half for the Black and Whites.
At that point, desperate, lethargic Hull – with Man of Steel Danny Houghton back after a six-game absence – needed a lifeline of any sorts. They got it and certainly grabbed it.
Within 49 seconds, ironically, of the restart, Josh Griffin – on at the break for Jake Connor – immediately broke through to set Shaul up for his first and suddenly the revival gathered pace.
Griffin could have gone over himself after talisman Albert Kelly came alive with a dazzling midfield run but the replacement stretched out and fumbled.
However, former Hull hooker Aaron Heremaia was then forced into a last-gasp tackle on Turgut, too, as Mahe Fonua found open space and it was clear more scores would come.
Nevertheless, arguably the most telling point was in the 57th minute when, trailing 22-10, Griffin produced a stunning tackle to halt Chris Dean when surging for the line on the last.
Moments later, Kelly escaped Widnes once more to find Shaul, as ever, on his shoulder and Carlos Tuimavave raced in for Sneyd to edge them closer at 22-16.
Widnes, with just two wins all year, were badly wilting under the pressure.
Kelly, who had been limping moments earlier, latched onto Liam Watts’s pass inside his own half in the 63rd minute and raced away for a lovely 65-metre try.
Marc Sneyd leveled the game before Shaul produced his latest piece of brilliance, coming into the line on halfway before leaving Tom Gilmore and Charly Runciman clutching at thin air and also leaving Hanbury in his wake.
It was the sort of try worthy of winning any game.
Sneyd added a drop goal soon after before Danny Washbrook, in the final minute, added Hull’s sixth try to complete their fourth successive victory.
It was heartbreak for Widnes who had utterly dominated the first period. They opened the scoring in the sixth minute, Gil Dudson’s offload sucking in Hull defenders and seeing Chris Houston rumble over.
They stretched that lead to 10-0 inside just 11 minutes when Hanbury – easily rounding Shaul – sprinted in from halfway from a fine pass from Matt Whiteley, Bridge’s replacement.
Still, Hull had threatened moments earlier when Fonua had dived in at the corner from Connor’s quickfire flick only for referee Gareth Hewer to rule the winger had not grounded. So, with that in mind, there was still no great alarm especially given Widnes’s fragile state of late.
However, signs became more worrying with a series of unforced errors that only served to encourage the hosts. Attacking Widnes’s line, prop Chris Green spun out of a tackle but offered a blind offload that went to ground for Mellor to happily lap up.
Later, Green was found driving it in on the fourth tackle of an attacking set as Hull lost their way; Sneyd fumbled trying to get his arms free for an offload; Mark Minichiello lost possession in a heavy hit; a Sneyd grubber amounted to nothing.
Most alarmingly, perhaps, both Houghton and Jordan Thompson were swatted away in the middle as Widnes’s Stefan Marsh broke clear.
When Minichiello then conceded a needless penalty near his own line, Patrick Ah Van scored his first try in the 28th minute of his 100th club appearance.
His second came nine minutes later as the former Bradford Bulls winger collected Tom Gilmore’s chip on the full, the creator’s conversion making it 22-0, a lead they would surely not let slip…
Widnes Vikings: Hanbury; Marsh, Bridge, Runciman, Ah Van; Mellor, Gilmore; Dudson, Heremaia, Buchanan, Houston, Dean, Cahill. Subsitutes: Whitley, O’Carroll, Gerrard, Walker.
Hull FC: Shaul; Fonua, Connor, Tuimavave, Michaels; Kelly, Sneyd; Green, Houghton, Watts, Washbrook, Minichiello, Thompson. Substitutes: Fash, Turgut, Griffin, Bowden.
Referee: G Hewer (Whitehaven).