For the last few weeks, Hull FC’s end-of-season form has resembled nothing more than a flurry of victories that would ultimately mean little in what has largely been a season to forget. But suddenly, events both on and off the field in Super League suggest that there may be much more than pride to play for in the final month of the campaign. Here, the headline is that they were too efficient to see off their fiercest rivals in the 237th Hull derby.
With Hull’s fourth victory in five games, the prospect of Super League clubs approving an extension to the end-of-season play-offs on Monday becomes fascinating for a club who have spent large parts of 2020 stranded in mid-table. With clubs set to discuss the possibility of moving what is currently a top four play-off system to a top five or six, any such approval suddenly makes Hull – who are now breathing down the necks of fifth-placed Leeds – a nuisance to the sides above them in the table.
Their latest victory was spearheaded by the form of the outstanding Jake Connor, who had a hand in almost every try Hull scored to put them in control by half-time against a resolute, but ultimately disappointing Hull KR side. With Wakefield’s victory against Leeds earlier in the night on Thursday, the prospect of the wooden spoon looks an increased likelihood for Hull KR.
Form is so often cited as irrelevant when it comes to derbies like these. Hull, with three wins from their last four games, were heavy pre-match favourites here, but despite conceding almost 50 points in defeat to Wakefield last weekend, Rovers certainly played their part in a compelling first half, which was played in horrendous weather conditions.
It was Hull who took an early lead when Josh Bowden’s run was too strong for the Hull KR defence, but despite Marc Sneyd converting to make it 6-0, the Robins soon forged level when former Hull forward Dean Hadley dummied over from close range. By now, the rain was relentless in St Helens, only the fourth different neutral venue to host the Hull derby in 237 meetings between the sides.
However,Connor was one of several to make light of the difficult conditions throughout the opening 40 minutes: epitomised by his clever kick which led to Bureta Faraimo restoring Hull’s lead in the corner. Hull KR hit back again when Kane Linnett forced his way over, but Hull – and Connor – were soon back in control.
This time, the England international’s cutout pass created a fraction of space for Ratu Naulago, with the rugby union-bound Fijian crossing for his fourth try in three games. And with half-time approaching, Connor’s influence was again pivotal. This time, it was his footwork which was decisive in unlocking the Hull KR defence, as his step created the space to send Ligi Sao over under the posts, with Sneyd converting to put Hull ahead by 10 at half-time.
With that cushion to rely on, Hull showed just as much composure to their play after half-time, as the conditions continued to worsen. The first try of the second half was decisive, as Faraimo powered his way over in the corner to seemingly put the game beyond Rovers. That feeling was emphasised when a number of chances to reduce the deficit came and went.
And Hull KR’s profligacy was punished further in the final quarter, when Naulago finished well for his second before a Sneyd drop goal established a four-score buffer. Ben Crooks’s try in the final minutes was perhaps the least Rovers’ efforts deserved: but it was never likely to be anything more than consolation.