RARELY have Hull FC deserved to win a game quite as much as this so, for all their sakes, what a relief that they finally did.
Given Lee Radford’s side were on a 13-match losing run and visiting Wigan Warriors, the defending Super League champions who had faced Sydney Roosters in the World Club Challenge a week before, it was never going to be easy.
Essentially, Wigan just do not give up so it was perhaps no surprise that, from 22-12 down late on, they forced a gripping contest into a first-ever Golden Point extra-time with the very final play.
Defiant Hull, missing seven first-teamers and with Gareth Ellis coming out of retirement approaching his 38th birthday, had played some superb rugby beforehand and then defended manfully only to see Oliver Gildart scramble over for his second try and level the game. Zak Hardaker, who had slotted all his previous kicks, faced a difficult conversion attempt to win it but it went narrowly wide and relieved Hull knew they would have a reprieve. They had little energy left, mind, but Wigan conceded a penalty in the first set of the new-fangled extra-time process and Hull worked their way forward for Marc Sneyd to coolly slot the winning drop goal in front of their ecstatic travelling support.
Radford revealed his side practised Golden Point scenarios in midweek – and Sneyd’s team lost.
Radford said: “He messed up in training and did it on game day.
“He’s the ice man. He generally doesn’t feel pressure and not many strike a ball like him.
“With Gaz, it was a Gareth Ellis performance. (Gabe) Hamlin ran at him in that first set and I think he regretted it pretty quickly. And you don’t realise how much you miss what Gaz does in the changing room until it isn’t there.”
The inspirational loose forward had not played Super League since September 2017 but came on in the 25th minute to make his 100th Hull appearance and gave his side an instant lift.
With his hard-hitting defence and carries, the veteran ex-Great Britain forward truly helped take the game to Wigan.
But the East Yorkshire club, without a league win since last June, were brilliant throughout with Ratu Naulago, their Fijian-born winger recruited from the British Army, scoring two tries on his Super League debut.
Naulago, who starred for Saracens in their Premiership 7s title win, clearly made an instant impression while young prop Masi Matongo came of age up front.
Captain Danny Houghton constantly worked swiftly out of dummy-half, the veteran back-rows Sika Manu and Mark Minichiello looked ageless while Joe Westerman brought classy touches at No13. Jamie Shaul, the full-back making his 150th career appearance, continued his flying start to the season with some brilliant runs from the back while Sneyd and Jake Connor had great moments in the halves, too.
Jordan Thompson, though, summed up the Hull attitude with a no-nonsense approach in the middle – before coming back to defend on the wing after Naulago was injured.
There was a real willingness from the visitors to off-load the ball, too, and that caused Wigan no end of problems.
Wigan took the lead via Gildart early on but Hull came back strongly with Carlos Tuimavave’s try and then Westerman scored with an outrageous dummy, pirouetting in front of the Wigan sticks. Connor produced a stunning long pass for Naulago’s first try in the 28th minute as Sneyd made it 16-6. Wigan hit back with a try for Liam Byrne on his debut but then saw Taulima Tautai sin-binned for a high tackle on Thompson just before the break.
At the start of the second period, Sneyd sent Westerman through and then found Naulago for his second try, Sneyd converting.
Ellis went off after 55 minutes following a 25-minute stint but then came the Wigan onslaught.
Connor was penalised for dissent and, in the next set, Jarrod Sammut put Ben Flower over in the 65th minute for Hardaker to get them in touching distance.
Gildart added his second but it would not be enough.
Wigan Warriors: Hardaker; Davies, Gildart, Sarginson, Marshall; Williams, Leuluai; Bullock, Powell, Flower, Greenwood, Isa, O’Loughlin. Substitutes: Tautai, Byrne, Hamlin, Sammut.
Hull FC: Shaul; Naulago, Tuimavave, Griffin, Faraimo; Connor, Sneyd; Paea, Houghton, Matongo, Manu, Minichiello, Westerman. Substitutes: Ellis, Thompson, Lane, Litten.
Referee: Ben Thaler (Wakefield)