Super League's Magic Weekend: Pressure is on Lee Radford for the other Hull showpiece
Pressure on coach as he takes on Hull KR in derby
Dave Hadfield was a schoolboy convert to rugby league, the game which, one way or another, has dominated his life ever since. After working for newspapers in Shropshire and Blackpool (where he covered the fortunes of Blackpool Borough) he travelled the world, working mainly in Hong Kong and Sydney. He became The Independent's rugby league man in 1990 and has written five books on the game and broadcast extensively for Sky and the BBC. Dave played his last game at the age of 53 and would have set up a try if anyone could have been bothered supporting his break. When not writing about the sport, he now limits himself to a bit of tick and pass with his local club, the Bolton Mets. Family includes supporters - of varying degrees of dedication - of Salford, Wigan, Sheffield Eagles and St George Illawarra.
Friday 16 May 2014
The attentions of much of the city of Hull will inevitably be on Wembley on Saturday afternoon, but Humberside's two rugby league clubs have a cup final of their own at the Etihad.
Hull and Hull KR's Super League campaigns might have a long way to go, but both have dropped enough points to mean that defeat at Manchester City's ground in Super League's Magic Weekend will not only be a blow to local pride, but will leave either of them with a lot of catching up to do if they are to make any impression on the play-offs later this year.
Of the two sets of fans who once put up a banner asking the last one to leave to turn out the lights in the city when they played each other in the 1980 Challenge Cup final, it is the black-and-whites of Hull FC who have been making the more disappointed noises. Yet again, this is the season when they were supposed to get it right, especially at half-back; yet again there are no convincing signs of it happening.
Halfway through his first season there are mutterings that coach Lee Radford's job might not be safe, but a convincing win over Rovers will no doubt quieten that down.
"It's a great day for the city," said the Hull captain, Gareth Ellis. "It's a credit to the city for having two Super League clubs and a Premier League club that happens to be playing at Wembley. I'm sure there will be plenty of people on their phones to find out the scores at both events."
By contrast with the angst across the city, Hull KR seem relatively happy with their coach, Craig Sandercock, and are talking about a contract extension. Expectations must be that tad lower in East Hull, because the Robins are points difference and a place behind their city rivals in ninth.
Whatever the broader picture, there is no such thing as a dull Hull derby, or one without its share of controversy. Last year was a case in point, with Rovers beaten by a clearly offside try that somehow was not spotted by Steve Ganson in the video referee's booth.
That injustice has formed part of their motivation this year, with Sandercock declaring that they intend to be far enough ahead that the odd glitch will not be fatal.
If the Humberside tussle is a highlight of the first day at the Etihad, the other is the second meeting in a fortnight of last season's champions, Wigan, and this season's Super League leaders, Leeds.
The Rhinos won at Headingley two weeks ago but have had the unsettling news this week that the richly talented utility back Ben Jones-Bishop was not content to sit around and wait for his chances in Leeds' outstanding back division. Nine Super League clubs were said to be interested in signing him, but he has opted for a three-year contract at Salford, starting next season.
On the other hand, Wigan are again without their captain, Sean O'Loughlin, not because of his recurring neck problem but with a groin injury sustained in training; at least they showed at Hull last week that they are capable of winning without him.
Leeds' coach, Brian McDermott, is one of the most enthusiastic advocates of the Magic Weekend concept. "It's something no other sport does," he said. "We put all our matches on in one place – and they'll all be pretty watchable."
The first test of that confidence is the game between the London Broncos and the Catalan Dragons that opens the weekend. London are still without a win this season but, given the Catalans' woeful away form, chances do not come much better than this.
Salford might already be strengthening for next season but if they are to make any impression on this one they really need to reverse their recent defeat by Widnes.
They have a half-back headache for this match, with Theo Fages injured and Tim Smith still absent for unspecified reasons that could be connected with the bipolar disorder from which he has suffered in the past.
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