THERE could have been no better game for Hull FC’s Jamie Shaul to make his timely return.
The Airlie Birds needed to produce a defensive performance full of grit, determination and sheer bloody-mindedness to get a shock win at double-chasing Warrington Wolves on Saturday.
With that in mind, it was ideal that Shaul, the home-grown full-back who is such a hero among the Hull faithful, should make his long-awaited comeback after almost two months on the sidelines due to concussion problems.
Granted, the 26-year-old – who made his England debut last autumn – is perhaps best known for his evasive kick-returns, lightning pace and verve in attack.
However, it often goes unnoticed just how good his actual defensive work and positional sense is; it certainly did not in the Halliwell Jones Stadium.
At the last count, Shaul had produced at least three try-saving tackles as Hull, under a barrage of pressure for most of the second half, simply refused to yield.
It was like he had never been away but afterwards he revealed: “I was quite tired, to be fair; I was still trying to get up to game-speed as match-fitness is something you can’t really train for.
“But I tried to do my best and I thought if I just hang back in attack a bit and try not to do too much work – just concentrate on my defence, sort the boys out there and cover where I can – that’d be the best way.
“It seemed to work out and it was a great win.”
The first of his interventions came towards the end of the first half with depleted Hull leading 18-6 after a wonderful purple patch of three tries in just nine minutes from Mickey Paea, Scott Taylor and Albert Kelly.
Bryson Goodwin escaped down the left and looked odds-on to score but Shaul glided across to make up the ground and cut the former Kiwi star down.
At the start of the second period, he also managed to deny Josh Charnley and, crucially, Blake Austin, the man who had scored four tries when Warrington humiliated Hull 63-12 at the KCOM Stadium in March.
When Austin did finally get over to see his side trail just 18-12 in the 54th minute, you sensed there would only be one winner, especially when FC’s England star Jake Connor got himself sin-binned for punching soon after.
However, Lee Radford’s 12 men carried on regardless, defending resolutely, continually protecting their line, and actually did not concede during his absence.
Instead, moments after the return of Connor – whose earlier biting allegation against Declan Patton will be investigated today – they cemented a priceless victory with Marc Sneyd’s drop-goal.
Radford had explained Shaul had been a disheartened spectator for some time before finally getting the green light to return.
Shaul said: “I was really frustrated as I’d been symptom-free and doing all the training for about four weeks. I was allowed to do everything apart from contact so it feels like I’ve been doing all the training and just not getting picked on game day.
“In the past, the symptoms have been really bad headaches. I had those after the Hull KR game and that prolonged me not being able to come back. But literally two days after I went to see the consultant I felt fine, so that’s why it’s been frustrating.
“It’s a weird one as it’s a concussion; you can’t see it and not many people really know about it. But I went to see the specialist Monday and he gave me the all-clear. I was buzzing. Like a big Cheshire cat! The time came and it was a tough opposition but I was just delighted to be back and felt I helped the team out.”
Shaul heaped praise on Hull’s front-rows as they set the platform against second-placed Warrington while the display was all the more impressive given FC lost three players – captain Danny Houghton, Sika Manu and Bureta Farimo – to injuries in Friday’s final practice session.
They were missing 10 players in total but ignored that to fully restore pride, having lost 80-12 on their last visit here in August.
Warrington have cut a swathe through so many teams this year but, with the likes of Shaul, Dean Hadley, Taylor and Ratu Naulago in such commanding form – and Danny Washbrook producing a fine stand-in stint at hooker for Houghton – the steely visitors proved too good.
Wolves’ Ben Murdoch-Masila was yellow-carded at the death and Hull, up to joint-third, head to Magic Weekend in high spirits.
Warrington Wolves: Ratchford; Charnley, King, Atkins, Goodwin; Austin, Patton; Hill, D Clark, Cooper, Currie, Hughes, Westwood. Substitutes: Philbin, Murdoch-Masila, J Clark, Akauola.
Hull FC: Shaul; Naulago, Connor, Griffin, Buchanan; Kelly, Sneyd; Taylor, Washbrook, Paea, Hadley, Minichiello, Westerman. Substitutes: Green, Thompson, Matongo, Fash.
Referee: J Child (Dewsbury).