Leeds Rhinos v Hull FC build-up: We will have to produce our best yet says Lee Radford

Final push: Hull FC players celebrate victory at Castleford.
Picture: Allan McKenzie/SWpix
Final push: Hull FC players celebrate victory at Castleford. Picture: Allan McKenzie/SWpix
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UNDER his command, Hull FC are making a habit of ending hoodoos, which means Lee Radford has every confidence in his side breaking not just one but three more during the next fortnight.

The Black and Whites had been taunted for many of the previous 87 years for never winning at Wembley only for their head coach to finally lead them to a Challenge Cup final success their last season.

They backed it up by doing the same again last month, but now it is the Super League title they have their eyes firmly set on as Hull visit Leeds Rhinos on Friday with a place in the Grand Final at stake for the winners.

Granted, Leeds have already won seven of them while the East Yorkshire club are still yet to claim a solitary title of that sort; they have never lifted a league championship since 1983, in the days long before the summer era and when Hull-born Radford was still just a toddler.

“Yeah, and we’ve not been to Old Trafford since 2006, not won at Headingley in 10 years… there’s an awful lot of hoodoos to break,” he said, as if knowing what was coming next.

“But, if anyone is going to break it, it will be this squad. They are capable of breaking it; the 17 that play on Friday are capable of doing all that and I can’t wait.

“I think it’s the best squad I’ve had here. They are the most together and probably the most talented as well.

“When you put those two together, they work hand in hand.

“There’s been some ups and downs; there’s times when we’ve been licked during the year.

“Leeds put 50 past us (in April), Salford put 50 on us the week before, and everyone was putting a line through you at those points.

“But we have consciously made an effort this year to not dwell on our losses too much – get past it and get onto the next game – and that’s paid dividends throughout the season.”

For all Hull, who secured third spot after winning 48-16 at an under-strength league leaders Castleford Tigers on Friday night, have not prospered at Headingley since 2007, Radford, who played for FC on that occasion, remains unperturbed.

However, against second-placed Leeds, who are desperate to send legends Danny McGuire and Rob Burrow off to Hull KR and retirement as champions again, he acknowledges they must deliver their finest display yet.

Indeed, it must even eclipse July’s 43-24 defeat of the Rhinos in the Challenge Cup semi-final at Doncaster, a performance that left Radford purring. “One thing that was notable from that game – and even Friday’s game – was our level of execution with the ball,” offered the 38-year-old.

“There were very few errors from us in both of those games and when you have so much possession and you are retaining the ball as much as we were, it makes it difficult to defend against, especially with some of the big boys we have in our squad.

“That’s a must. The fact we did it in those (rainy) conditions like Friday, I do think it was a very special effort.

“Yes, Leeds at Leeds is a real tough gig. We haven’t won there in 10 years which just shows how tough a gig it is.

“It will be an unbelievable challenge, but one I’m really looking forward to. I know all the players are bouncing about it. I felt that when they came into training (on Monday). We’re all really looking forward to this.”

Unusually, it is the last of those dozen consecutive defeats at Leeds only last month that perhaps gives Radford the most confidence about his side’s hopes of success come Friday.

Playing at Headingley just five days after beating Wigan Warriors at Wembley, with 13 of their Challenge Cup final squad present and having duly partied hard, they showed tremendous spirit, character and guts to then only narrowly lose 38-26 against a well-rested Rhinos outfit.

Hull collapsed after their Wembley heroics 12 months ago, losing four of their next five games to miss out on the League Leaders’ Shield and fail in their Super League semi-final at Wigan.

Some feared they were heading the same way again after defeats to Leeds and Wigan this time around, but victories over Wakefield Trinity and Castleford suggested otherwise.

Radford added: “If anyone did have any doubts then the effort in both those (lost) games was an advertisement of what it meant to us, particularly that Thursday one against Leeds.

“That drew a line for us; we didn’t have any preparation for that game – straight out of the pub and onto the pitch – and we almost nicked it at the end.

“When you look at the effort the team put in that night, it was phenomenal.

“That was a real pat on the back for the players and just a sign of the hunger they have to obviously reach Old Trafford. Now we have that chance.”

Francis Cummins dives in to score.

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