GIVEN the spectacular electrical storm that preceded this contest it was only fitting that Hull FC and Hull KR duly played their part in a thunderous derby.
Kick-off was delayed for 10 minutes last night – many who witnessed the lightning and torrential downpour thought the game would be called off altogether – to allow fans to gain safe access to the KCOM Stadium, but it was worth the wait.
Although Rovers chairman Neil Hudgell described it beforehand as the most “pointless” derby in more than a decade, clearly the players taking part in a thrilling contest thought otherwise.
You could, though, understand Hudgell’s point; the forthcoming Qualifiers are all that matter to his club as they strive to secure Super League safety while Hull’s top-four hopes are already all but gone following the previous week’s embarrassing 72-10 loss at Wakefield Trinity.
In that regard this final regular round game did initially feel like a damp squib and not just because of that relentless rain.
Still, in the end it was one of the most fascinating derbies of recent times as Rovers – 16-0 ahead at half-time following a brilliant ‘second’ debut from ex-Hull star Craig Hall – were pegged back to 16-16 by the 57th minute only for Danny Tickle’s penalty to win it and end FC’s seven-match winning sequence in the fixture.
Winger Hall, who spent the first four years of his career at Hull, was one of three debutants for Rovers last night after joining on loan from Leigh Centurions until the end of the season.
The others were the excellent centre Ben Crooks – another former Airlie Bird in a similar deal from cash-strapped Leigh – and the more celebrated Todd Carney.
Much of the build-up centred on Carney, the former Kangaroos stand-off who only arrived from Sydney on Sunday and had just three practice sessions before being named on the bench.
Granted he had an instant impact, coming on to fire a 40/20 kick that led to Tickle’s 100th Super League try just before the break and, undoubtedly, will be a crucial acquisition in the critical weeks ahead.
Rovers have been searching for a half-back of his calibre all season and the 32-year-old former Salford Red Devils star is just what they need now to ensure they emerge from the Qualifiers in tact.
But not even Carney – rated the NRL’s finest player in 2010 – could overshadow Hall, the 30-year-old who scored 42 tries in 80 games for the Robins before joining Wakefield in 2014.
He scored his first try inside just two minutes following a lovely floated pass from Maurice Blair, the veteran second-row who, with Danny McGuire suspended, excelled in his old position of stand-off before Carney came off the bench.
Hall, captaining Toronto Wolfpack to League 1 success just 10 months ago, added his second in the 21st minute when his side instantly turned defence into attack.
Fetuli Talanoa spilled in Rovers’ 20 – Hull struggled most in the conditions in that first period – and Adam Quinlan quickly gave Crooks a bit of space.
He kicked down the touchline, Hall twice hacked on and produced a remarkable finish.
Hall thought he would be in for a first half hat-trick when Carney’s pass gace Crooks a chance, but the centre went himself and Talanoa wrapped him up.
Nonetheless, Tickle – a third erstwhile Black and White in the Robins’ ranks – showed real strength to bundle over from dummy-half.
Tickle could only improve one of their three tries so, with the interval hooter sounded, it was no surprise when he handed the ball to Hall to have an attempt from halfway after Josh Griffin’s high tackle.
Hall is well-known for his long-range accuracy and, typically, he did not disappoint, coolly sending his team in 16-0 ahead.
Hull gave themselves a chance when Jordan Abdull capitalised on Will Oakes’s error to score in the 44th minute, Blair sin-binned for dissent after arguing the decision with referee Gareth Hewer, even though it was the video official who confirmed.
They made the extra man pay; a late high tackle from Lee Jewitt, the Rovers prop who was in a particularly irritated mood last night, gave them another chance, Bureta Faraimo palming down Abdull’s chipped kick for Josh Griffin to touch down.
Marc Sneyd improved and, as Hull bombarded young Rovers winger Will Oakes with kicks, they forced more pressure.
Nick Scruton was penalised for a wild shoulder charge and it was no surprise Mark Minichiello somehow shrugged his way through a three-man tackle to stretch over for Sneyd to level in the 57th minute.
Nevertheless, Liam Harris fumbled the restart and Minichiello was penalised for lying on, meaning Tickle immediately regained the lead.
Sneyd hit a post with a difficult penalty of his own before Tickle made sure with his second late on and a fourth win in five games suggests KR will be just fine when those Qualifiers do begin.
Hull FC: Shaul; Faraimo, Griffin, Tuimavave, Talanoa; Abdull, Sneyd; Taylor, Houghton, Matongo, Minichiello, Washbrook, Manu. Substitutes: Fash, Paea, Lane, Harris.
Hull KR: Quinlan; Oakes, Salter, Crooks, Hall; Blair, Atkin; Jewitt, Cator, Mulhern, Tickle, Clarkson, Kavanagh. Substitutes: Scruton, Donaldson, Wardill, T Carney.
Referee: Gareth Hewer (Whitehaven).