Approaching Doncaster’s Keepmoat Stadium on Friday ahead of the Challenge Cup semi-final, you couldn’t help but feel that it could prove to be a defining night for Hull FC.
Any semi-final in such a prestigious competition would inevitably go down as season-defining in any club’s book, but with Hull, it just felt like it was so much more important than just getting to Wembley.
We all know by now that only four clubs have won the Grand Final in the Super League era. Wigan, St Helens, Leeds and Bradford are the only clubs to taste success in the 22 showpiece events at Old Trafford. But this year has promised to end that dominance for the duration, namely in the shape of Lee Radford’s black and white army. Their dominant forwards and clinical backs have gelled together to become what is currently the best team in the competition if you trust the outlook of the league table.
But over the years, optimism has been built by other clubs that this would be the year that things changed, only for it to be emphatically squashed. Warrington have so often threatened to break into the elite club of winning Grand Finalists without success while most notably, Huddersfield have looked like genuine contenders for the last three seasons, only to stutter and perhaps even ‘choke’ on the big stage.
So heading into this game, you couldn’t help but feel that if Hull were to be really taken seriously, they had to come out on top in what was their biggest game of the season. Beyond any further implications, this was an opportunity to vindicate their current position at the top of Super League. While it wasn’t their best performance, they ultimately defeated Wigan, one of the aforementioned clubs that all others have aspired to be for years.
To win a game of that magnitude legitimises their threat to the competition’s elite clubs. They have already proved that they can compete, and win, against the best when it truly matters, and for the club’s long-term progress, that has to be seen monumental. Had they lost that, there would have still been the big question above their head that Huddersfield never managed to answer.
Radford’s side have won nothing yet this season, and with nine games in their season remaining – ten if they make the Grand Final – ending the season trophyless would throw up a question about winning on the grandest stage. But following last week’s triumph, they have given their biggest indication yet that this isn’t a one off year, and instead, they are here to stay for a long, long time.