St Helens v Hull FC: '˜Risk and reward' for Radford as Airlie Birds duo prepare for early return

THERE is a predilection at times for '˜mind games' in professional sport.

Hull FC's Albert Kelly.

At first glance, you would feel the suggestion that Hull FC will field two players in tomorrow’s Ladbrokes Challenge Cup quarter-final five weeks ahead of their scheduled return from injuries is just that.

However, head coach Lee Radford is adamant that is not the case; he maintains that both Albert Kelly and Carlos Tuimavave could, indeed, line-up against prolific Super League leaders St Helens at the Totally Wicked Stadium.

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If that is the case, to borrow the phrase, it would be ‘totally wicked’ in terms of the holders’ chances of progressing to tomorrow’s semi-final draw.

Hull, who have won the Challenge Cup in each of the last two years, have been given little chance of winning at the home of the team that has been so brilliant in the first part of 2018.

That, in the main, is down to their crippling injury list but, if mercurial Australian stand-off Kelly and the dynamic Kiwi centre Tuimavave are passed fit, and not merely the two unneeded players in their 19-man squad, their hopes of success will increase significantly.

Kelly, shortlisted for Man of Steel last term, has not played since injuring his hamstring in the 25-24 loss at Catalans Dragons on April 28 and was initially facing a 10 week lay-off.

Tuimavave was given a similar time-frame when he hurt an ankle in the Challenge Cup win at Featherstone Rovers on May 10.

“We’re going to give them as long as we can,” Radford told The Yorkshire Post last night.

“We’ll see how they look in our final training session tomorrow.

“They are both four or five weeks ahead of schedule and ahead of where they should be in their recovery.

“But, as I’ve said to our conditioning staff, it’s all about risk and reward. We have to look at that; if they can play and help us get through again we have to look at it. If they say they are ready we have to trust them. To be fair, they’re not going to want to make themselves look like idiots live on national television are they?

“They won’t want to let their mates down, either.

“We’ll be led by what they say. They both knocked on my door last week and said they wanted to push as hard as they could to be potentially be back for this game.

“If it was a normal match I wouldn’t even consider it. But it’s not is it? It’s a Challenge Cup quarter-final and probably our most important game of the year.”

Hull, who won a sixth round tie 47-18 at Saints when they won at Wembley for the first time in 2016, are enjoying being written off so conclusively.

Granted, Saints are on a six-match winning run and embarrassed Castleford Tigers 40-18 at Wheldon Road last week while, in Ben Barba, they have the competition’s stand-out player.

Radford admitted: “They’ve been on fire this year and are like Cas were last year in terms of pace-setting.

“It’s going to be an unbelievable task for us to get it done but it’s a Challenge Cup quarter-final so it should. It will take a monumental effort.

“Of course there’s still pressure. But we’re used to difficult ties in this competition.

“Featherstone was supposed to be an easy one but look at how that turned out. We finished the game with nine players on the pitch and three injuries.

“We’ve been synonymous with being pulled out of the hat in tricky ties for the last three years. We’ve not been beaten in two and a half of those.

“If you’re not pumped and excited by this you probably shouldn’t be at this club.”

For all Australian full-back Barba has been sublime, Jonny Lomax, playing in his preferred stand-off role, was central to Saints’ win last week.

“The last time we played them Barba didn’t play and Lomax knocked us off anyway,” noted Radford, his side losing 26-12 in Merseyside at the start of April.

“He’s doing some good things is Barba – don’t get me wrong – but the foundation their pack is laying for their outside backs has been excellent.”

Lomax could be up against Hull’s own silky half-back Jake Connor with both being tipped for potential England involvement against New Zealand on June 23.

“I think George Williams and Gareth Widdop are probably the two if you ask me now,” said Radford about England’s likely halves in Denver.

“But I’d like to think both Lomax and Jake would be in contention too. What they add as well is a little bit of versatility.

“I don’t think either would look out of place if they were on that plane.”

Meanwhile, despite their injury issues, Hull generally keep on winning themselves.

Before tripping up at Warrington last week, they had lost just once in their six games since falling in that outing at Saints; they have a dogged spirit about them that helps dig themselves out of invidious positions.

That will surely come into play tomorrow while the expected return of England prop Scott Taylor will also bolster their hand.

More importantly, they now love this competition that once caused so much pain.

“Once you get a taste of winning this Cup, you just want to win it again and again; you won’t ever tire of that,” said the coach.