Hull derby rivals hard to split.
Hull City may be preparing to occupy the national spotlight in the club’s first ever FA Cup Final appearance but – to a good few thousand Hullensians at least – Saturday evening is all about another sporting event involving a Hull club…or two to be precise!
Yes, the headline act on day one of Super League’s ‘Magic Weekend’ at Manchester’s Etihad Stadium is a Hull derby, featuring cross-city rivals Hull Kingston Rovers and Hull FC which – unbelievably to many – kicks off at exactly the same time as the FA Cup Final itself!
Put simply, the Hull derby is rugby league’s answer to Liverpool V Everton. It splits families, it transcends friendships, it divides workplaces. Banter and bragging rights are the order of the day and the result is all that matters.
Bags of passion, intensity, aggression and controversy is what you invariably get from this fixture and the ingredients are there for another must-see thriller, with both teams currently locked together on 10 points in the scramble for a play-off berth.
A last-gasp Craig Hall drop goal helped Hull KR narrowly maximise home advantage when the two teams squared off last month and the Robins will be quietly confident of repeating that result in Manchester despite protestations to the contrary.
A one-point winning margin probably didn’t do Rovers justice on a night when they were the victims of some over-officious use of the video referee but, far from kicking on from that victory, they have failed to win in three subsequent games.
That said, coach Craig Sandercock had every right to be proud of his side’s defensive resolve in repelling a second-half barrage from Salford in last weekend’s 16-16 draw but he was equally frustrated with the lack of ball control shown by his team in the first-half when the Red Devils were there to be put away.
But, any consternation Sandercock may feel right now will pale into insignificance to that felt by his FC counterpart Lee Radford who publicly questioned the attitude and application of his players after a woeful home defeat against struggling Wakefield on their penultimate outing.
Radford hoped that outburst would have prompted a response in last week’s game vs a severely depleted Wigan outfit but, instead, his side plumbed new depths with an error-strewn display which had fans streaming for the exits long before Wigan passed the 40 point mark.
Performances like that are simply unacceptable for a side boasting some handsomely-paid forwards in the shape of former England men Gareth Ellis and Gareth Carvell, not to mention Tongan powerhouse Mickey Paea, workaholic hooker Danny Houghton and talented back-rower Joe Westerman.
Restless owner Adam Pearson could easily pull the trigger on Radford unless there is a marked improvement but unless the rookie coach can get more from his misfiring halfback roster, things could get worse before they get better.
By contrast, Hull KR’s ever-improving half-back partnership of NRL stars Travis Burns and Kris Keating bring a welter of experience and know-how to the table, and the Robins won’t lack for anything up front either with the likes of PNG skipper Neville Costigan, rugged prop Michael Weyman and local hooker Josh Hodgson again primed to deliver the sort of ‘mongrel’ which nullified their opposite numbers so effectively in last month’s fixture.
If anything, Hull KR’s weakness lies behind the scrum, where the three-quarters line is short on genuine quality and low on confidence. This tempers enthusiasm over the Robins chances and provides Hull FC with an area to exploit.
So, the scene is set for another torrid struggle. And, with us bookmakers mindful of the fact that the last two Magic Weekend fixtures involving these clubs was only settled by virtue of last minute touchdowns, it is no surprise that we are struggling to pick a favourite.
Are we set for a long overdue draw between these two great rivals? We’re offering 17/1 on that particular outcome!
The match kicks off at 5.00pm on Saturday at Manchester’s Etihad Stadium.