St Helens 22 Hull FC 22: match report
AS the Super League season unfolds, Hull FC coach Peter Gentle may well look back at this round three game at St Helens not as a point gained or lost, but as a pivotal moment in his side’s campaign.
Coming from behind, Hull showed the first glimpses of their potential this season to level an enthralling encounter at Langtree Park and take a share of the spoils in a 22-22 draw against a Saints side tipped for big things.
Two failed Daniel Holdsworth drop-goal attempts denied Hull the victory their final 20 minutes had perhaps warranted. In a game that was always in the balance though, a point was a good return from their night’s work.
It was the manner of the Hull display which was in many ways more important than the point.
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Following an indifferent opening two rounds, Hull lived up to their pre-season hype with both a gutsy and eye-catching display. There were still errors and the timing is not right, but in terms of encouragement the large travelling contingent will have returned home happy.
Twice in the past three years Hull had returned home from Saints celebrating a victory, but not since Paul Cooke’s drop-goal drama of 2006 have the two played out such a nip and tuck game with the destination of the points always in doubt.
Gentle kept faith with the same side that picked up their first win of the season last week at home to Bradford, meaning another chance for Richard Horne and Daniel Holdsworth to build on their partnership in the halves.
Saints were missing Lance Hohia and Josh Perry, but with coach Nathan Brown able to bring James Roby and Tony Puletua into the starting 13, the hosts looked a tricky prospect.
But it was Hull who got on the front foot early on from a Jason Crookes try for the second successive week.
Making full use of a repeat set, the visitors shifted the ball out wide with Ben Crooks tipping a loose high pass on to the oncoming Crookes, who did well to touchdown in the corner with pressure from Francis Meli.
Having gained the advantage, Hull were happy to take a patient approach, getting through their sets before handing Holdsworth the ball to kick them down field. Saints were being asked time and again to start from their own try-line and with the Hull defence organised and quick to get in shape, the hosts were finding metres hard to come by.
The game still in its infancy, Hull looked comfortable in defence while keeping Saints away from their try-line. But two mistakes in nearly as many minutes turned the game as the Black and Whites handed Saints field position and ultimately 12 points.
Jon Wilkin’s testing kicks had already been a feature of Saints’ play, but when Crookes dropped one on his own 10 metre line Brown’s men were handed their first real opportunity to put pressure on the Hull defence. That pressure told as Anthony Laffranchi ran a terrific line to exploit a gap and force his way over for a try.
To compound matters Crookes injured himself in his attempts to take the high catch and had to be replaced with Richard Whiting lining up at centre and Ben Crooks moving to the wing.
Hull’s new right-sided partnership were soon tested and from six points they were six points behind in no time as Gentle’s men found Saints hitting one of their infamous purple patches.
With Shannon McDonnell this time dropping a high ball in front of his try-line, Saints were immediately back on the front foot and sniffing another opportunity to score. Moving the ball to the right, Meli’s experience saw him score.
Hull tried to wrestle their way back into the game and stayed with their game plan, but worse was to follow, and again it was of their own making. Successive penalties for infringements in the tackle piggy-backed Saints down field and when they threw the ball out wide, ex-Hull centre Jordan Turner cut back on the inside of Kirk Yeaman to score.
Content there was still not a lot between the sides, Hull stayed calm, to their credit. Playing out their sets, they settled back into the game and reduced the deficit before the break thanks to McDonnell darting through the line to get on the end of Holdsworth’s deft grubber kick.
But, having worked to first stay in the match and then get back to within a try of the hosts, Hull couldn’t stay with Saints at the start of the second half.
With penalties hampering their attempts at keeping Saints in their own half, Hull went 10 points behind again when, in a carbon copy play to the one that sent Turner over, Josh Jones took advantage of numbers out wide to touch down.
Hull were playing their best rugby of the early weeks of the season, but needed an immediate response if they were to hold onto any hope of winning the game. So, up stepped Holdsworth and Tom Briscoe.
The half-back’s latest sublime kick sat up perfectly in the corner for Briscoe to race on to and with a four-point ball game Hull’s tails were up once again.
A forward pass and then a foot in touch denied Hull a game-levelling score, as the visitors enjoyed a purple patch.
Hull continued to come forward with vigour and with eight minutes remaining got their rewards when Whiting dived over. The scores level, Holdsworth was left with a testing kick which was not his hardest of the night. But despite the attempts of the Hull fans to suck the ball through the posts, he pulled it wide.
In a grandstand finish, Holdsworth tried to atone with a drop-goal from 50 metres and another from 40, but sliced both wide as the game ended with a hard-earned point.