I think it’s fair to say that FC will want to take a mulligan over last year’s efforts. After reaching the playoffs six times in the previous seven years (and only just missing out on them in 2003) last season turned out to be somewhat of a disaster. Finishing second from bottom ahead of a struggling Castleford (and only just ahead in the end) was not in the plans of a side who had been in the Grand Final a mere two seasons before. Worse yet, they surrendered Humberside’s bragging rights to Hull KR, who were victorious in three of their four meetings and finished above them in the table. A run to the Challenge Cup final did little to ease the suffering.
What really set FC back last year was an absolutely dire injury situation, which saw Adam Dykes barely get out of his sick bed and left them without Richard Horne for all but three matches. It also left them without a first-choice pack for the majority of the season. If the Airlie Birds want to challenge for silverware this season, their imperative must be to make sure that they have their first-choice out on the field for as much of the season as is possible. Although they have a talented core of youngsters, relying on them for too much of the season is asking for trouble.
Of course, one of the (very few) positives to come out of last season for FC last season was that they blooded an awful lot of those youngsters. Considering they had been hyped as one of the best group of Academy players, last season may have done some damage to their reputation. However it is not their fault that FC weren’t able to introduce them to Super League in a sensible manner (it’s not really FC’s fault either). If any of them are able to take last season’s experience and use it to kick on this season them perhaps it will all have been worth it. Plus added to the current squad come Chris Thorman and Mark Calderwood, players who have both been around the block when it comes to Super League and also tend not to miss too many games.
Hull will probably be aiming to win the title, thinking that last season was an aberration and that they can get right back onto the course they were heading before it. Whether that’s realistic or not I’m not so sure. What they really need is stability in the halves, and that’s something that Thorman should bring. If Horne is fit and able to last the course then that can only be a good thing for FC. But having taken a few steps back last season Hull might find it tricky to get back to where they were, and they’ll be hoping they haven’t fallen into that pack of teams hoping to scrape into the bottom of the playoffs.Pros: Hull have a talented batch of Academy players who are now battle-hardened after last season. On top of that they’re bringing in players who are either proven at this level or have a point to prove. They play in front of passionate crowds in pne of the best stadiums in the competition, and despite the debacle of last season they still have a core of players who has proven to make a playoff-caliber side. Even last year’s injury-hit side managed to find a way to reach the Challenge Cup final, so a fully fit, cohesive side should theoretically find success.
Cons: There’s no two ways about it: last season was a disaster. They also seemed to display a lack of steel and coolness under adversity, best exemplified by their narrow defeats in the Humberside derbies and their collapse away at Harlequins (which was fun to watch, by the way). Hull have to show they can bounce back, but this season mayturn out to be more of a rebuilding process.
Coach: Richard Agar has been dropped into the deep end of Super League coaching, and still has to prove he can swim in its shark-infested waters. Although he had success at York beforehand, he’s finding out that coaching one of the biggest and most demanding clubs in Super League is a different matter entirely. Still, he didn’t fare too badly with limited resources last year, so look for him to hopefully take advantage of using a fully equipped squad this year.
Captain: Lee Radford will lead the Black & Whites from the back row.
Key Man: Some facts to consider: Richard Horne misses very large swathes of the 2008 season; Hull FC’s 2008 season was their worst in a long time. Coincidence? I’m not so sure myself. He has his doubters, but there can be little argument about the importance of the elder Horne to the Airlie Birds’ cause. With Chris Thorman and Shaun Berrigan there to take some of the organisational pressure off of Horne, look for him to have free rein this season.
Young ‘un: It’s hard to believe Craig Hall is only twenty. In a recurring theme for emerging talent this year, a good showing this season would go a long way to securing international honours in what promises to be a very open contest for the England three-quarter spots. Will size and speed on his side, Hall just needs a consistent run in the side to prove his worth.
Wild Card: Chris Thorman is an enigma of sorts, and depending from which direction you look at him from he’s either an overrated has-been or an underrated fulcrum of any side. He hasn’t really lived up to the consistent standard that he was playing at during his spell with the London Broncos, but he’s still a more than capable player and he will take some of the pressure off of Richard Horne’s shoulders.
Gains: Dominic Maloney, Mark Calderwood, Chris Thorman, Sam Moa, Michael Crocker (?)
The only reason I haven’t taken Michael Crocker off this list is because he’s appealing the British Consulate’s decision to not grant him a visa, and technically he’s still under contract for the Black & Whites. If they don’t get him it’ll be a big shame because he’s definitely the biggest potential name to be arriving at the KC Stadium this year. Both Calderwood and Thorman could be said to have underachieved at their last clubs and will be looking for a fresh start with FC
Losses: Scott Wheeldon, Gareth Carvell, Matt Sing, Matty Dale, James Webster, Adam Dykes
Giving up both Carvell and Wheeldon seems an especially risky move, as both are amongst the better props in Super League. Indeed, losing one of your best prospects to your local rivals (as FC are with Wheeldon going to Hull KR) can be pretty galling. Both Webster and Dykes never really got it going at FC, so their departure has an air of inevitability about it.