JAKE CONNOR underlined his England credentials once more as Hull FC continued their dominance over city rivals Hull KR last night.
The gifted stand-off produced the majority of the telling and quality moments here in Newcastle and, though he is in the England Knights squad, really needs to be on that flight to Denver with Wayne Bennett’s full side next month.
Leading 24-16, Hull - with full-back Jamie Shaul having scored twice - were already in control but far from certain of victory when Connor emerged with two brilliant pieces of play to see off their beleaguered derby rivals.
First, he crabbed across Rovers’ defence, teasing and tormenting before finding the killer pass for Jack Logan’s try and then, in the next set, dropped a shoulder to crusie clear himself before stepping Adam Quinlan with ease. Game over.
For Rovers, there was another derby day hat-trick but yet another derby day defeat as they suffered a seventh successive loss against their fierce rivals.
Whereas Thomas Minns crossed three times but still ended up on the losing side on Good Friday, at Magic Weekend it was winger Kieran Moss who scored a treble in vain.
It was a strange affair that rounded off the festivities in Newcastle, (probably to be expected given the level of absenteeism) but entertaining nonetheless.
At the last call, the agreed consensus was Rovers - bottom of Super League - were missing 10 first-team players compared to Hull’s eight.
However, Rovers lost another when young hooker Aaron Smith, on loan from St Helens, departed with concussion after clashing heads with Josh Griffin in the early exchanges. Still, perhaps inevitably, Griffin was helped off with a knee injury in the second period while the Robins’ impressive Junior Vaivai departed late on as well with his own knee issue.
Meanwhile, it was a case of young and old in the Hull centres with Cameron Scott, the Bradford-born 18-year-old making his Super League debut alongside Kirk Yeaman who, 20 months after retiring, pulled on the Black and Whites jersey once more aged 34.
Furthermore, Lee Radford handed a debut to Liam Harris, the 21-year-old who only joined from Doncaster on Thursday but scored a fine solo try here for the club he supported as a boy against the ones he was playing for last year.
Harris, who linked well with Connor throughout, stepped between Chris Atkin and Chris Clarkson, shrugging them off before beating Quinlan, too, to put his side 18-10 ahead in the first period.
Still, despite that loss of Smith, Tim Sheens’ side were the brightest early on, enjoying plenty of success down their left edge where centre Vaivai twice got Moss away.
On the third instance, the winger actually scored giving his side a 13th minute lead.
However, their opponents quickly responded with a freakish score, Connor’s reverse kick from 20m out bouncing off the crossbar and seeing Scott Taylor follow-up.
Connor has some repertoire but even he will not be able to claim it was a set move.
That said, England prop Taylor - doubtful all week due to a shoulder injury - deserved the score; he was swift on his feet while Rovers defenders dawdled.
Connor added the first of his five conversions adding another soon after following the first of Shaul’s brace.
Mark Minichiello, who refuses to show any signs of his 36 years, set it up with a storming run off Harris’ perfectly-timed short pass, then gaining the quick play-the-ball for Shaul to profit as scattered Rovers defenders tried to recover.
Rovers, initially, did not crumble with Moss adding his second from a blindside scrum move that saw Vaivai badly catch the otherwise impressive Griffin out of position. After Ryan Shaw failed to add his second conversion, the turning point arguably came in the restart set; Liam Salter had created space down the right to send Shaw free from his own half but, crucially, the pass was wayward and it ended in touch.
Instead, FC benefitted by scoring in the next set, Harris with his memorable moment and then - after a Jordan Walne fumble - rounded the half off in style. Masi Matongo came up with an offload and Danny Houghton scoured for space before Joe Westerman delivered a lovely flick pass to see Shaul race in again.
Radford would never have imagined Westerman fitting back in so quickly and effectively after last month’s arrival from Toronto Wolfpack but the loose forward’s acquisition continues to look both timely and increasingly important.
He brought all his experience to the fore in this derby, leading in the middle alongside Houghton and helping negate some difficult periods when Rovers threatened to gain the ascendancy.
Rovers were unlucky to see Nick Scruton sin-binned in the 52nd minute for a late tackle on Houghton but, while down to 12 men, Moss did complete his treble for Shaw to make it 24-16.
But then Connor stood up and all Rovers had left was a consolation try for Tommy Lee.
Hull KR: Quinlan; Shaw, Salter, Vaivai, Moss; Blair, Lee; Masoe, Smith, Scruton, Tickle, Clarkson, Donaldson. Substitutes: Greenwood, Atkin, Walne, Kavanagh.
Hull FC: Shaul; Griffin, Scott, Yeaman, Logan; Connor, Harris; Taylor, Houghton, Green, Manu, Minichiello, Westerman. Substitutes: Matongo, Paea, Hadley, Miloudi.
Referee: Ben Thaler (Wakefield).