Hull FC: Luke Gale’s return from suspension gives Brett Hodgson a welcome dilemma
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Gale was banned for five matches after being sent-off for kicking out at Jonny Lomax in a home defeat by St Helens on February 19.
With stand-off Josh Reynolds on the injury list, Hull have been missing both their first-choice half-backs, but youngster Ben McNamara and specialist hooker/back-rower Ben Lovodua have done an impressive job filling in and the black and whites have lost only once during Gale’s stint on the sidelines.
They will take a three-match winning run – against Leeds Rhinos, Huddersfield Giants and Sheffield Eagles, in a Challenge Cup tie last weekend – into Thursday’s game.
Hodgson knows he has a “big decision to make” when he names his side, but is happy to take that responsibility head on.
“I will manage it by being truthful to the players in the conversations we have this week,” he said.
“I’ll tell them why we are going a certain way and why, potentially, someone misses out on a starting spot.
“It is difficult, but ultimately that’s the position we want to be in, with people missing out through other people contributing to the team’s performance.
“We have not been in that position too many times and thankfully this week we have got a couple of tough conversations.”
According to Hodgson, Gale, who joined Hull from Leeds in pre-season, is “excited” about his impending return, but the coach has urged him not to get too far ahead of himself.
Hodgson stressed: “The important thing for Luke is not to play the game too many times in his head before he gets to it.
“It has been a long time for him and he wants to contribute to our performances so he just needs to make sure he is ready to go on Thursday night, not now.”
Another of Hodgson’s ‘big decisions’ will revolve around whether to bring winger Darnell McIntosh straight back from his injury layoff.
He confirmed McIntosh will be in the initial 21-man squad, which is named today, but stressed he has been impressed with the recent form of outside-backs Connor Wynne and Mitieli Vulikijapani.
“These players are coming into our team and performing,” said the coach.
“That’s what we are asking of them and it is pleasing we are in that position.”
Hull are fifth in Super League, but will swap places with third-placed Wigan if they win in two days’ time. Hodgson feels his team have shown positive signs so far this year, but is also aware nothing is won at this stage of the season.
He said: “We’ve shown we are willing to work hard and graft it out when it’s not all perfect. Against Huddersfield, our attacking options weren’t great, but our defence stood up. At the weekend, we were excellent mentally and to pile on points late in the game showed we wanted to continue playing.
“I am very pleased, but ultimately we are only six weeks into the Super League competition and we’ve progressed just one round in the Challenge Cup.
“We started well last year as well, so it’s pleasing to have had a solid start, but we have got to continue that now.
“It is no use thinking we are going great, because the reality is it only takes one week to not be at your best and you get stung again.
“It is a big challenge for us this week, off a short turnaround against Wigan, who are playing quite well at the moment.”
Wigan back Jai Field is arguably the player of the season so far and Hodgson accepts his men will need to be resolute in defence for the full 80 minutes.
“They are throwing the ball around a lot more,” said Hodgson of Wigan’s new style of play under coach Matt Peet.
“Jai Field is a big threat so we have to make sure we are aware of where he is. They have good speed in their team, especially their outside-backs.
“It looks like Thomas Leuluai is getting banned and Kai Pearce-Paul might be out so we don’t know what they are going to throw at us in terms of their shape, but we need to make sure we are improving again.”
After Thursday, Hull’s next fixture is a Cup quarter-final away to Huddersfield Giants, but Hodgson insisted they aren’t looking past Wigan.
“I’ve not really thought too much about who we play next,” he said of Hull’s prospects of going all the way in the Cup.
“We have obviously got a league game this week to prepare for, so we’ll worry about that [the Cup tie] next week.”
The Cup game will be played just three weeks after Hull recorded a 14-6 home win over Giants in Super League, a game notorious for Huddersfield scrum-half Will Pryce’s sending-off for a dangerous tackle and subsequent 10-match ban.
“There were some elements in that game we were happy with and some we could have improved as well,” said Hodgson. “They will be saying the same.”