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Hull FC

Cooke-ing up a storm in Hull Forty-20welcomes East Yorkshire legend PAUL COOKE, below, to our pages with his look at the black and whites

Live in Hull and the start of every Super League season is approached with promise, excitement and big hopes. It often ends in disappointment but this year really could be different.

For me the black and whites have more of a chance than ever to break the top five stranglehold and establish themselves. And yet, I am still sceptical as to whether they will actually take that step.

The deciding factor will not necessarily be their ability, though, but the continuity of the other top clubs. Wigan may have a newlook half-back pairing, but that aside they’ve got a settled side of international players, as have St Helens, Warrington and Leeds, while Catalan look strong again. These teams have a history and, more importantly, the habit of making semis and finals.

Also, Hull’s seemingly annual serious injury crisis has to end. Peter Gentle did a good job in his first year and he’s recruited well in Gareth Ellis, Shannon McDonnell, Ben Galea and Daniel Holdsworth. Ellis’s shrewd signing is massive. His reputation will gradually attract others of similar standing so there is a long-term benefit, but for now what he brings is obvious.

When it gets tough, he will be the first to put his hand up and lift the side. He’s not a Rangi Chase who will win you a game with his smart thinking and sleight of hand, but he’s a player that inspires those around him to be better and that increases your chances of not just claiming one game but winning ever week.

The indications are that he will get the left-sided second-row position vacated by Willie Manu’s move to St Helens. Willie is a special player and one who you can’t replace like for like because there’s simply not many of his breed around. If you’re going to overcome the loss of one of the most destructive forwards in Super League, why not do it with one of the best in the world in that position.

Much has been made of Hull’s halfback woes in recent years, and I’ll come back to those later, but their failure to have a settled full-back has also been crucial in dashing early aspirations. Since Shaun Briscoe left and the then coach Peter Sharp handed Motu Tony the role, Hull have struggled in that position. Injuries has left a procession of players tried and, last year, Wade McKinnon lasted barely a couple of months before returning to Australia.

This time Shannon McDonnell has come from Hull KR and will offer Hull a

Point to prove: Hull’s Brett Seymour encounters Huddersfield - can he kick on in 2013? SWPix.com

“While the full-back issue is sorted,

the half-back problem that has hampered Hull is to be resolved...”

Vital cross-towner: Shannon McDonnell vital element they’ve missed. The role has evolved and is almost as important as your half-backs now or hooker. McDonnell has the experience to be a big success and he’s got the fitness and creativity Hull need.

But while the full-back issue is sorted, the half-back problem that has hampered Hull in recent years is still to be resolved. A

combination of injuries, a dearth of cover and even the lack of a real general have hurt the team’s chances in past seasons. Last year it led to owner Adam Pearson saying he wanted two new halves. Only one has arrived in Holdsworth, leaving the pressure on Brett Seymour. What last year’s criticism did to his confidence and desire, who knows, and the jury is still out.

There are debates that since the derby game last season - when Seymour was fantastic and instrumental in Hull’s win against Rovers - he hasn’t done it. I think you could argue it wasn’t his last great performance but his solitary one at the highest level last season. Alongside Holdsworth, Seymour could yet still prove the doubters wrong, but should either of them go down for more than a few weeks, then Hull are back to square one again with the same worries.

Richard Horne isn’t getting any younger and I cannot see him starting games anymore, I believe his role in the side is now to come off the bench. The squad numbers indicate that. Rich still has a major part to play and he remains someone that can actively change a game. He’s only 30 but his body is slowing down, and that happens to us all. He’s still got it though and the fact he can cover full-back, wing, centre, half-back and hooker makes him a great asset among the replacements. If Gentle doesn’t want to carry two hookers he can let Danny Houghton or Aaron Heremaia have 20 minutes rest and bring Horne on.

I’m sure the squad depth, the halves aside, is much better this season and I feel as a group Hull are now equipped to have a real go at the top five. They’ve recruited the quality players, they’ve got a good coach, now it is time for it all to come together.

30 Forty-20 January 2013

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