As they prepare for a season in which the pundits are expecting big things, MARTYN SADLER talks to Hull FC coach LEE RADFORD about his team’s prospects for the 2020 season.
On the face of it, defining Lee Radford’s objective for Hull FC this season is fairly simple.
He has to find a way to make his side much more consistent than it was in 2019, when their results could vary from the sublime (a golden-point win at Wigan and a 56-12 home victory over Hull Kingston Rovers) to the ridiculous (a home 12-56 defeat to Warrington Wolves and a Magic Weekend 55-2 hammering by Huddersfield Giants).
Radford has recruited heavily during the close-season, and he admits he has that aim primarily in mind, although it will take some time to judge whether he’s achieved it, although his aim is to make the play-offs initially on the way to winning the competition.
“It’s hard to work on consistency in pre-season,” he says.
“You can work on things in pre-season, but when you lose three games on the bounce you do things a little differently. You don’t find out about your side until you have had a couple of obstacles thrown at you. You have to wait and see what comes out of that.
“But do we want to be more consistent? Definitely!
“Have we got a squad capable of doing it? Yes!
“You can win the competition from fifth place, so that’s the minimum that’s required.
“What has been good for us to date is that new blokes joining the squad have refreshed it. And it’s been beneficial for the players who are already here, who are now facing some competition for their places.
“But the key thing is how players react to results; you tend not to see the chemistry of the team until the situation arises. You do background checks on the players you bring in, but ultimately you don’t know how hot the fire is until you stand in it.
“Everybody is recruiting to catch St Helens. When a team finishes 16 points clear of anyone else, they are clearly the benchmark.”
Radford is also aware that Super League will be a different competition in 2020, with Toronto Wolfpack – and Sonny Bill Williams – arriving as well as some other quality NRL recruits dotted around the competition.
“I think the competition looks healthy with the recruitment elsewhere and the team that is coming up,” admits Radford.
“I think they (Toronto) are going to be as strong as most teams in the competition.
“It all bodes well for a really good Super League in 2020 and one we’re going to prepare for as hard as we can.”
And Radford admits he is looking forward to seeing some of his new recruits in action, with former fans’ favourite Mahe Fonua returning the club after a two-year break playing for Wests Tigers.
“Mahe is good for us because he’s vocal. We have a young set of outside backs and his knowledge and experience will be good for us. We are at that stage where players are asking for combinations, and in the backs we have a lot of choices.
“We wanted more competition to bring out the best in our players as individuals, so that they know that if they are not doing something right, someone else will jump in and do it for them.
“We have always had competition for places, but a few injuries then mean that a bloke has to jump into another position. I hope we stay injury free and there will be plenty of competition, with players who aren’t selected initially working hard to try to win a spot.
“On paper we have a good side. Perhaps we are a little thin in terms of quantity, but we made a conscious decision to bring the numbers down a little and go for quantity. Of course if we get a lot of injuries we’ll be in bother, but if we don’t it should see us well throughout the year.
“Manu Ma’u is the type of person who plays the game in a way that you have to admire, with his toughness. You respect that and he’ll go down as a real favourite with the supporters, I am sure.
“Ligi Sao will be good for us. I really like the way he plays. From what I’ve seen he looks a real tidy player who will be suited to us. He likes to keep the football alive and he likes to whack as well, which we are lacking a little.”
But the 2020 season won’t just be about the overseas newcomers. Radford has high expectations for some of his younger players and the players he’s signed from other clubs.
“Lewis Bienek has had a real go during the close-season. He looks a different player this time around. You sometimes forget how young he is. Liam Harris has been fantastic as well. They have really caught the eye in pre-season and hopefully they will continue to do the right things. Lewis’ rugby IQ is getting higher. He is doing things this pre-season that he struggled with last year. Maybe he is getting used to the system. He seems to have the bit between his teeth, and that can only be a good thing.
“Josh Jones was the best backrower in the competition last year. You look at his partnership with Jackson Hastings and how they play together, and we want to get something similar going with Marc Sneyd next season.
“We don’t want to change how Josh plays; we just need to make sure we maximise it.
“Then there is Adam Swift, who came first on both occasions in our Bronco fitness test.
“I was really pleased to get him over the line. I have coached against him and he’s always caused us trouble. I hope he can really kick on in 2020 and pick up on where he left off a couple of years ago. He was one of the top wingers in the competition then, and hopefully he can find that form with us.”
And Radford will also be able to call on Gareth Ellis, who will become the oldest player in Super League next season if and when he steps onto the field.
“Gareth’s role off the field is as important as on it. In our last game of the season against St Helens, in the week leading up to it he looked like a robot that needed oiling. I didn’t know what I was going to get out of him. But the performance he gave that night showed how he takes on that mental challenge. That’s why he was the best backrower in the world at one stage in his career.
“He came in during week one we did the Bronco test. He came fourteenth or thereabouts. We did a similar test two weeks later and he finished fifth. That is just a mental thing. Whereas everyone else dropped a little, he went harder. You just wish you could take that out of him and put it into one or two other blokes who have all the talent in the world. You would then have a fair old Rugby League team. That’s what he possesses and it’s what got him the career he’s enjoyed. If we could get a few more blokes around the place with that mentality we would give ourselves a better chance.”
2020 Squad: 1 Jamie Shaul, 2 Bureta Faraimo, 3 Carlos Tuimavave, 4 Josh Griffin, 5 Adam Swift, 6 Jake Connor, 7 Marc Sneyd, 8 Scott Taylor, 9 Danny Houghton, 10 Tevita Satae, 11 Josh Jones, 12 Manu Ma’u, 13 Ligi Sao, 14 Albert Kelly, 15 Joe Cator, 16 Jordan Johnstone, 18 Old Faithful, 19 Masimbaashe Matongo, 20 Brad Fash, 21 Jordan Lane, 22 Josh Bowden, 23 Andre Savelio, 24 Mahe Fonua, 25 Connor Wynne, 26 Kieran Buchanan, 27 Liam Harris, 28 Lewis Bienek, 29 Gareth Ellis, 30 Jack Brown, 31 Cameron Scott, 33 Ratu Naulago.
INS: Adam Swift (St Helens), Tevita Satae (New Zealand Warriors), Josh Jones (Salford Red Devils), Manu Ma’u (Parramatta Eels), Ligi Sao (New Zealand Warriors), Joe Cator (Leigh Centurions), Jordan Johnstone (Widnes Vikings), Mahe Fonua (Wests Tigers)
OUTS: Fetuli Talanoa (retired), Dean Hadley (Hull Kingston Rovers), Mark Minichiello (retired), Joe Westerman (Wakefield Trinity), Chris Green (Wakefield Trinity), Jordan Thompson (Leigh Centurions), Sika Manu (retired), Mickey Paea (retired), Jack Logan (Doncaster), Danny Langtree (Oldham)
5 January: Halifax 18 Hull FC 10
12 January: Hull FC 20 London Broncos 6
19 January: Batley Bulldogs 6 Hull FC 38
Head Coach: Lee Radford
Assistant Coach: Andy Last
Sports Scientist: Tom Bennett
Head of High Performance: Paul Hatton
Player Welfare Manager: Iafeta Palea’aesina
Video Analyst: Richard Peaks
Match Day Team Manager: Colin Stephenson
Assistant Conditioner: Kirk Yeaman
Physiotherapist: David Ferguson
Sports Therapist: Jordan Mounsey
Sports Physiotherapist: Chris John
Home shirt: Black and white hoops
Away shirt: Black shirt with pink shoulders