McRae urges his troops to rescue Hull's season

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Throughout Super League, but especially on Humberside, they are asking a question with no obvious answer: what has gone wrong with Hull?

Throughout Super League, but especially on Humberside, they are asking a question with no obvious answer: what has gone wrong with Hull?

A month ago, Shaun McRae's side were coasting towards the play-offs, seemingly with second spot secured and all the benefits it can bring in the finals series. Since then, Hull have lost three games in a row, two of them to Castleford and Huddersfield, teams who could not buy a win until the high-flyers landed on their patch.

Even McRae, whose nine seasons in Super League have been characterised by his famed equability, was visibly angry at Huddersfield last Saturday, accusing his players of "stupidity" and "a lack of courage". Well, they weren't very good, that's for sure, but why have a team who could claim to be the second best in the country at the end of the home-and-away fixtures fallen flat on their face during a supposedly easier run-in?

Maybe that is part of the problem. Possibly the players, somewhere in the back of their minds, have assumed that the job was done, at least until the start of the play-offs.

It is possible that the knowledge that McRae is going, to be replaced by his assistant, John Kear, has lessened his impact on his players. It shouldn't happen, but it has elsewhere at times.

Another strand is that Hull have rediscovered one of their bad old habits by showing an excessive reliance on Jason Smith - a gifted player, but not one, with his injury record, who should be leaned on too heavily. Against Bradford in the middle of their three defeats, the Australian loose- forward was not so much a match-by-match as a minute-by-minute proposition.

Had he been on the field for the full 80, Hull would almost certainly have won and clinched second place. When he was out of action, however, Hull waited in vain for players such as Richard Horne and Paul Cooke to shoulder the extra responsibility. During this slump, they have shown no signs of doing so - and now Smith has a cracked shoulder, which means he has played his last game for the club.

"The players haven't been putting their hands up when necessary," says McRae, who leaves for South Sydney at the end of this season.

"People have been looking around for other people to do the job, rather than doing it themselves, and a lot of guys have gone off the boil."

They need to get back to the boil today, against a Salford side who have secured their Super League future and have little left to play for. Then they must hope that Bradford slip, either at Warrington today or against St Helens next Friday.

"We're relying on Bradford losing, but, if we can't finish second, we at least want to go into the play-offs performing well," McRae says.

Bradford could deny them second place, meaning that they would have to take the long route to the Grand Final. Hull have the chance today to show that they can still make an impact on the play-offs.