LEE CROOKS reckons Hull FC have got the ability to further deepen Leeds Rhinos’ Super League concerns.
The ex-Great Britain prop, who commanded a world record £150,000 transfer fee when he left hometown Hull for the Loiners in 1987, expects a classic game when the two sides meet at Headingley on Sunday.
Leeds lost grip of top spot in Super League to St Helens after Thursday’s 31-24 defeat against another of Crooks’ former clubs – Castleford Tigers.
That means they have won just two of their last seven league games and are in urgent need of a lift, especially given they face Hull again quickly next Friday when defending their Challenge Cup in a quarter-final tie at KC Stadium.
Crooks, who now works for the RFL as England regional performance coach for the north-east, told the Yorkshire Evening Post: “I don’t think this weekend’s game will have any effect on that Cup match; they are totally separate.
“But I think Hull can certainly win at Headingley. They have changed their style and are playing more off the cuff now.
“With that you have to defend your errors as you will make them. But they have been doing that generally and it was probably just a 10-minute spell before half-time that cost them in Perpignan on Saturday.
“I was over there for that game and Hull, while not playing as well as they have been, were still good enough to win.
“They’ll be smarting from that and, the league being as tight as it is – to quote the “every minute matters” slogan – Hull realise they can’t be beaten again this Sunday as if not it puts them back in the mire.”
Lee Radford’s side had won eight of their last 1o games before narrowly losing 20-14 in France, where the only team to win this term has been Leeds.
But, for all of that impressive form, a dire start to the year means they have been playing catch-up and, therefore, are still only in eighth, holding on by a point from Widnes although, admittedly, the East Yorkshire club does have a game in hand.
Crooks, 51, highlighted Hull’s in-form props Liam Watts and Mickey Paea as central to their hopes in what should be a fascinating contest with the hosts’ own front-rows – Jamie Peacock, Kylie Leuluai, Adam Cuthbertson and Brad Singleton.
“That forward battle will be immense,” said someone who knows a thing about prop play.
“Liam Watts is playing outstanding and so is Mickey Paea to be honest. I do think they will miss him next year (when Paea joins Newcastle Knights).
“Ultimately those two get them going forward and Watts’ offloads have been causing teams all sorts of problems.
“Gareth Ellis and Mark Minihchiello have been superb, too, in the back-row so that battle up front is all set. Cas’ showed Hull how to go about causing Leeds problems. They’ll look at that quite closely and try to replicate some of the stuff Castleford did.
“They have to play for the full 80 and keep hold of the ball. Against other teams you can defend your errors and get away with it but Leeds will punish you.”