2016 SEASON REVIEW | Hull FC

Regular Season: Played 23 Wins 17 Drawn 0 Lost 6 Points 34 Super 8s: Played 7 Wins 3 Drawn 0 Lost 4

Position after Regular Season 1st: After Super 8s 3rd

Play Offs: Semi-Final Challenge Cup: Winners

Where to start writing about Hull FC in 2016? In a year when the team, and individual players re-wrote so much history, and confounded many experts in the process, only to see Wayne Bennett restore some of the old prejudice against them.

Danny Houghton: The man known as Mint set new boundaries for himself and his teammates in 2016, with 1,289 tackles he easily topped the Super League tackle count table yet again.

However for all those tackles in the Super League, he will always be remembered for one tackle which didn’t happen in Super League. With 78 minutes and 21 seconds played in the Challenge Cup Final at Wembley, Ben Currie got away from two tired defenders, and seemed destined to win the Challenge Cup for Warrington Wolves and, once again, break Hull hearts on the biggest stage of all.

But, as you’ve probably guessed by now, if you need a match-winning tackle to be made, Danny Houghton is the man to rely on for it, a fact he proved as he dragged Currie down, forcing him to knock-on, right in front of an inviting try-line to preserve the Black & Whites two point lead.

After that unbelievable high Houghton went on to become the first ever Hull FC player to secure the Steve Prescott Man of Steel award as the most outstanding player in Super League, surely, after so much team and personal success, international recognition would follow, wouldn’t it?

Club, and Coach of the Year: In 2014 Lee Radford took charge of his first season as head coach, having replaced the ousted Peter Gentle, a local lad who had won everything in the domestic game with the then dominant Bradford Bulls, it was a very popular appointment among the Old Faithful supporters.

However it was to prove a tough season, with top 8 qualification missed, the buck was seen to stop with Radford, and supporters venting their frustration at the new coach, but chairman Adam Pearson made a decision then that ultimately turned the clubs fortunes around.

Faced with a barrage of criticism, Pearson kept faith with the youngest coach in Super League, realising that another change in coach would enforce another transition from top to bottom, something that the chairman was unwilling to start all over again.

In 2015 progress was made, with a place in the Super 8s secured as a new era dawned on Super League, but 2016 was when faith in the coach started to really pay dividends and secure success both on and off the pitch.

In massively deserved fashion Radford won the Coach of the Year accolade and the Black & Whites were deservedly named as Club of the Year, while other awards were secured with Danny Houghton and Gareth Ellis sharing the Rugby League Writer’s Player of the Year award, and Marc Sneyd winning the Super League Top Gun award with the highest kick success ratio.

Keys to Success: After securing the League Leaders Shield with victory at the KCOM Stadium, Warrington Wolves coach Tony Smith pointed out a fact that could prove uncomfortable for certain teams in Super League, including some of the big hitters.

The Wolves coach pointed out that all top 4 teams in Super League have reserve teams, enabling players who play occasionally for their first team, to keep getting game time, against other top flight opposition, while waiting for a chance in the first team.

Radford is a great advocate of the reserve team league, which has enabled some of his players to make a big step up when required, a case in point being Steve Michaels.

The popular Australian was put in the reserve team earlier in the season as Curtis Naughton was dominating the right wing spot, Michaels was a double try-scorer in a sensational comeback by the Hull reserves as they overcame Wigan reserves away from home.

As a result of his short stint in the reserves, Michaels was able to be relied upon to step back into first team duty, and ended up making his 50th start for the first team at Wembley.

Breaking the Wembley hoodoo: For 36 years the Airlie Birds near neighbours Hull KR took great delight in reminding them that they had never won at Wembley, ever since the Robins beat them there in 1980.

But this is a very tight group these days and, while that jinx maybe seemed to weigh down on previous Hull teams, it seemingly inspired this group to go and succeed where others had failed before them.

Warrington Wolves looked to be heading to victory as they led 10-0 with less than a quarter of the game to go, but they seemingly hadn’t yet learned the harsh lesson that had been handed to them twice in their league encounters with the Black & White army.

In 2016, if you gave Hull FC even just a sniff of a chance, invariably it was grabbed with relish, and a losing position would be turned into a victory, this was exactly the case at Wembley.

The first problem for the Wolves occurred when talisman Kurt Gidley decided to seemingly head-butt Steve Michaels, rather than trying to tackle him, an action that saw blood pouring from both players heads. Gidley then proceeded, bravely this time, to try and tackle Mark Minichiello as the Airlie Birds continued to crank up the pressure, the Wolves stand-off had to be withdrawn due to profuse bleeding from just above his eye.

Soon after, Marc Sneyd produced a masterful 40/20 giving Hull territory and possession and, on the last tackle, he launched a high kick which Mahe Fonua snaffled to get Hull a foothold in the game. Another kick by Sneyd with seven minutes left, led to another try as Fonua batted the ball back inside to the scrum-half who sent Jamie Shaul in behind the sticks for the winning score.

As a result the Airlie Birds not only beat Warrington that day, they beat history and pain like no other, which must not be underestimated, it was a huge achievement, especially considering the teams they had beat to get to Wembley in the first place, St. Helens, Catalans Dragons and eventual champions Wigan Warriors.

Comeback Kings: On 10 March, after the debacle at Widnes, the players locked the coaching staff out of the changing room, as they discussed what had just happened on the pitch between themselves.

That would be very easy to point out as the time when the Airlie Birds season turned around, but I believe there was a much more telling occurrence, it was on Good Friday, in the Easter Derby against Hull KR.

At 20-0 down with a quarter of the game to go, the game looked lost for the Black & White army, that was until Jamie Shaul took matters into his own hands, and provided the spark for the most astonishing comeback in the most intense derby in rugby league.

Providing a try from 60 meters out the full-back dragged his team up off the floor, and breathed new life into them with contributions like a 40 meter kick return to set up the position for their second try, and a kick and chase which led to him taking opposite number Ben Cockayne out in his own in-goal area, heaping more pressure on a creaking defence, pressure which finally made them give way.

With four tries in 17 minutes, and three conversions the Black & Whites silenced the home support at the Lightstream Stadium, and left their players and officials gobsmacked as they snatched the unlikeliest of victories.

Then on Easter Monday, with something of a fringe team, they handed out a similarly ruthless lesson to then unbeaten Warrington Wolves, coming back from a ten point deficit at half time, to pinch another unlikely win.

What these wins did for the Airlie Birds was provide them with belief in their own ability, and taught them that, even when the chips are down, no team is ever safe against them until the final whistle sounds, it was a lesson that was dealt out with seemingly monotonous regularity, as the likes of Warrington, St. Helens, Wigan, and Castleford would find out to their cost, some of them more than once.

International Recognition: Or should that be lack of it? England coach Wayne Bennett seemed to be somewhat influenced by others when it came to selecting his squad for the 4 Nations.

It’s a well known fact that, when it comes to selecting an international squad, you should select players on form, not reputation, however Mr Bennett, the coach who lost Australia the World Cup and their World Number 1 spot, seems to have been absent when that lesson was handed out.

Outstanding prop forward Scott Taylor was rewarded with caps against France before the tournament started, and minnows Scotland, but that’s where the international recognition stopped.

Man of Steel Danny Houghton was snubbed in favour of Warrington hooker Daryl Clark, a player who offered so little, he was dropped for the last game against Bennett’s native Australia

Dream Team member, and another Wembley hero Jamie Shaul suffered the same fate, with Jonny Lomax preferred. Another perplexing omission was Lance Todd Trophy winner, and Super League top gun and top points scorer Marc Sneyd also left out in the cold.

In his place was the hugely ineffective Kevin Brown, a player who was hopelessly outplayed against the Australians, was the Australian England coach having a laugh at us?

Ins:

Albert Kelly, Josh Griffin, Jake Connor, Nick Rawsthorne, Jack Wray

Outs:

Frank Pritchard, Richard Whiting, Kirk Yeaman (Retired) Feka Palea’aesina, Leon Pryce, Jordan Abdull (Loan)

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