Wigan Warriors v Hull FC: Depleted Hull turn to retired Ellis to play again

There was a time when, in such desperate need for forward firepower, Hull FC’s Lee Radford would have stepped up himself.

The erstwhile prop did just that back in 2012 when, at the age of 33, the then Hull assistant coach came out of retirement to help the injury-ravaged Black and Whites to a famous derby win over Hull KR.

Fast forward seven years and, as much as the now head coach probably still fancies the challenge as they find themselves in a similar predicament, he doesn’t need to do the same.

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That is because the club’s current assistant coach and Radford’s former captain Gareth Ellis is, this time, ready to come out of retirement and face Super League champions Wigan Warriors tomorrow.

Gareth Ellis.

It has been almost 18 months since the ex-Great Britain back-row, one of the finest players of his generation, bowed out in Hull’s Super League semi-final defeat at one of his former clubs Leeds Rhinos.

He turns 38 in May but the man who famously led the East Yorkshire club to two Wembley wins has answered the challenge with the depleted side embroiled in a miserable run of form.

After operating as football manager last year, Ellis took charge of Hull’s reserves side this season as well as assisting Radford, but he made a surprise playing return in the second string’s game against Wakefield Trinity a week ago.

“That’s what going into coaching does to you – it makes you want to play again!” quipped Radford yesterday, as he explained why his trusted lieutenant is set to appear at the DW Stadium.

Clearly, Hull are bereft of ‘middles’, the modern parlance for props and loose forwards, with Josh Bowden and Chris Green injured plus England front-row Scott Taylor starting a two-game ban and Dean Hadley facing a late fitness test this morning.

Lewis Bienek, the young prop signed from London Broncos last summer, is just making his return from injury, but Radford did not think it right to throw him straight in against a side of Wigan’s ilk.

He starts his comeback, instead, with Batley Bulldogs in the Championship with Ellis, then, lending his experience to a side that has lost 13 successive games dating back to last June.

Radford insisted: “I think Gaz is ready.

“We’re in a unique situation with Josh (Bowden), Chris Green, Lewis (Bienek) injured and Tag (Scott Taylor) now with his suspension.

“We’re in a funny situation with regards our go-forward.

“Gaz has been ticking over with regards training – constantly jumping in and out with the team – and what I saw on Saturday against Wakefield in the reserves, I’m pretty sure he’s not going to be far off the pace.

“We needed to see – and he needed to see – where he was at, I think between his ears.

“But yes he still showed some glimpses there of what forged the career he obviously has had.”

Ellis, who will make his 100th appearance for Hull if called upon, was twice named the best second-row in the world after starring for Leeds and then Wests Tigers in the NRL.

He almost came out of retirement last year when the Black and Whites hit an injury crisis but resisted the temptation.

Asked if he will definitely play, Radford said: “Yes, I think he’ll play.

“He was there or thereabouts last year and was getting tinkered and toyed about with.

“It probably came just too soon then in terms of training. He probably had not had enough. But this time around he’s been pedalling around the country, doing keep-fit challenges etcetera and he looks as good as he did when he played.

“He brings that steel in the middle and, just watching the game on Saturday, his voice as well. Vocally he’s still the loudest bloke out there, in the right sense, and I’m pretty sure he can have an influence on the game in that department as well.

“You can put a number on his age, clearly, but you can’t quantify what he brings to the group.

“You listen to his contacts. It was nice on Saturday as I was really close to the touchline and it sounds a little bit different to other players when he belts them.

“I think some of the blokes he was running at were too young to have watched him play – as they kept going at him unfortunately,” he added.

Wigan were involved in the World Club Challenge on Sunday, missing out 20-8 against NRL champions Sydney Roosters, while Hull have also included in their 19-man squad winger Ratu Naulago, a rugby union convert who has now signed a permanent deal having enjoyed an impressive trial spell.

The Fijian recently helped Saracens to the Premiership 7s title and has represented the British Army on the international stage.