HULL FC chairman Adam Pearson admits he now has even more respect for 2015 treble-winners Leeds Rhinos as his own club begin the difficult quest of replicating those exploits.
Having won the Challenge Cup on Saturday, the Airlie Birds are on the road towards potentially lifting all three trophies this season.
Leeds famously did that last year becoming the first side to win the Challenge Cup, League Leaders’ Shield and Grand Final since St Helens in 2006.
It has occurred just seven times in the sport’s entire history and, nowadays, it takes not only genuine stamina but character, too, to achieve such success given the small window in which all the key fixtures take place.
There are just six weeks between Wembley and Old Trafford meaning the Challenge Cup victors have to immediately get back into a rhythm in Super League if they are to finish top, negotiate another semi-final and then win in Manchester on October 8.
Hull – who have not been crowned champions since 1983 – are top of Super League but lead beaten Wembley opponents Warrington Wolves by just a solitary point with four games to go as they chase the League Leaders’ Shield. Granted, they have already secured a top-four spot and, therefore, Super League semi-final place, having beaten Catalans Dragons the week before Wembley, but they must still finish in the top two to gain a home semi-final.
The East Yorkshire club have made it known they do want to progress on all fronts but Pearson conceded it will be a massive test of their credentials.
“I watched the end of last season unfurl and didn’t really realise what an unbelievable effort that was from Leeds,” he said.
“Even before what we did at Wembley, I thought that.
“When we played Wigan in the semi-final, we struggled to back it up the following week and lost against Castleford and that made me realise what a professional job Leeds had done last year.
“I have so much admiration for what they managed. They were led fantastically well by Brian (McDermott) and Kev (Sinfield).
“We know it will take some doing but we’ll give it a real go.
“I said before Saturday when asked if I’d prefer the Challenge Cup or Grand Final I’d take either but because of our history, and where we’ve been at Wembley, it’d have to be that.
“But, no doubt, the Grand Final winner is the best team in the league, which is a nice tag to have.”
Leeds, of course, initially looked like being derailed after they vanquished Hull KR 50-0 in a record-breaking Challenge Cup final win 12 months ago.
They had been easing towards first place but lost their next three Super League games.
Leeds, like Hull now, faced Saints next after Wembley but fell 32-18 at Headingley and then McDermott’s side went on to suffer a 46-16 defeat in Perpignan and, most worryingly, a 29-22 loss at home to Castleford.
Following that alarming sequence, they were left still needing a win at Huddersfield Giants on the final night to make sure of top place.
What occurred, thereafter, will go down in rugby league folklore.
Leeds were level 16-16 with the clock down to zero but Ryan Hall raced away on the final play of the game and clinched Rhinos’ success, snatching the League Leaders’ Shield only due to a superior points difference than Wigan.
They then safely plotted their way past Saints 20-13 in the semi-final before a crowning victory over Wigan at Old Trafford.
Pearson hopes his Hull side will be able to repeat such feats without such drama but acknowledges it will be a stern task.
Firstly, their game at Saints will be testing not only because their hosts need a win to cement their own top-four spot but, primarily, due to the fact Hull were still celebrating their Wembley success in the early part of this week.
They had a home-coming and civic reception in Hull on Monday and were given the following day off before finally returning to work yesterday.
Pearson admitted: “We have to get our feet back on the ground at some point as there is still so much to play for.
“But whoever plays at Saints on Friday will be ready to go.”
He explained why he always believed Radford – the first coach to lead Hull to a Wembley win in 151 years – was the right man for the No 1 role at KCOM Stadium.
He was promoted from assistant to replace Pete Gentle at the end of 2013 but came under scrutiny after failing to make the play-offs in his first year.
However, as his third season nears its conclusion, Radford’s stock has never been higher.
“I think everyone needs time to grow into a role and it would have been wrong to put Lee through the two years he went through and then not let him build on that experience,” said Pearson.
“He needed that and I knew after a year he was the right guy as he was such a strong personality and his work ethic was so strong, too. Organisational-wise Lee’s very good and he just needed a group of players he trusted and who trusted him.
“He’s pulled that together now and he’s got a style of play as well while he’s now adding to players already for next season that fit into it all.
“I’m so pleased for Lee after what happened on Saturday. But we don’t stop here. We’ve got two more trophies to contend.
“This season could be something very, very special. It’s already been a special one with the Cup but it could be something truly great if we can go all the way in Super League, too.”
As expected, Radford has made a raft of alterations to his squad for tomorrow night’s game with five fresh faces coming into the 19-man squad.
Hooker Danny Houghton misses his first match of the season, captain Gareth Ellis is rested as is Mark Minichiello while Lance Todd Trophy winner Marc Sneyd and fellow half-back Carlos Tuimavave are also not included.
Former Saints and Great Britain stand-off Leon Pryce is drafted in along with Jordan Abdull, Iafeta Paleaaesina, Curtis Naughton and Jansin Turgut.
With Jordan Thompson and Dean Hadley – unused members of the Wembley 19-man squad – set for a run-out, too, there is likely to be as many as seven changes.
Meanwhile, Hull’s game at Wakefield Trinity has been brought forward from Sunday September 18 to Thursday September 15 (8pm) having been chosen for live Sky Sports broadcast.