In this most extraordinary of seasons we’ve finally made it within five games of the end of the season as the Superleague 2020 play-off got underway at the Halliwell-Jones Stadium in Warrington where sixth placed Hull FC were the visitors.
Up until a week ago FC were outside the, then four, play-off places and making up the numbers but a truncation of the regular season and extension of end of season competition to six teams gave them a shot at the grand final, to be held at their home ground in a fortnights time.
Warrington ended the regular season in third and were strong favourites ahead of the game, having been given an eight-point handicap on the coupon. But this was knock-out rugby league and we’ve learnt this season that it is almost impossible to pick a winner.
It took a mighty seventeen minutes for the first points and they came from a Hull side who had been under the kosh. Mark Sneyd was instrumental in passing to Jake Connor who then found Bureta Faraimo who stepped inside the last the last defender to dive over. Sneyd added the conversion from the touchline for a 6-0 lead.
Warrington were over for their opener on twenty-four with a well worked move as the ball was moved from right to left, Matty Ashton taking the final pass to ground one handed by the corner flag. Stefan Ratchford was just wide of the uprights with his conversion, the Wolves still trailing by two.
On twenty-eight Anthony Gelling rose above the Hull defenders to take a Gareth Widdop kick and spin out of the tackle to ground the ball over the line. Ratchford was again wide of the mark with his conversion, the lead a slender two points.
The lead swung back to Hull on thirty-two, Joe Cator taking a Connor cross field kick after it bounced through a couple of pairs of Warrington hands and into the in-goal area, the touch down unhindered. Sneyd added the conversion for a 12-8 lead.
Sneyd smacked over a twenty-metre drop goal with ten seconds left on the clock to extend the half time lead to five points after a thrilling first half of end to end action.
Within three minutes of the restart the Airlie Birds were in again as Tevita Satae took a short pass from Connor to go through the broken Wolves defence and despite being taken to ground he stretched for the line and got the ball on the ground. Sneyd added the conversion for an eleven-point lead.
Last ditch Warrington defence prevented Faraimo from further extending the lead as three men bundled him into touch within half a metre of the try line.
Warrington hit back on fifty-one as Matty Ashton grabbed his second of the night as fast hands and then miss-out pass from Blake Austin put the winger free on the overlap. Ratchford kicked his first two pointer of the night to get his side back within a converted try.
A high tackle gifted Sneyd a penalty goal on sixty-eight to extend the lead to seven points, the task for the Wolves becoming increasingly difficult.
A Sneyd pinpoint kick was taken by Ben Currie which was taken by Widdop before being stolen by Connor, one on one, and grounded by the FC full-back for the match winning try. Sneyd added the goal for 27-14, Hull FC booking themselves a date against the Minor Premiers, Wigan Warriors, next week.
The enthusiasm from Hull FC was clear from the outset and while they did have to sustain periods of Warrington pressure they prevailed through attacking prowess which will set alarm bells ringing at the DW Stadium ahead of next weeks play-off semi-final. Warrington will wonder how they could have been so comprehensively beaten by the side that finished sixth and looked like their season was over just a few days before. All credit to Hull, perhaps their performance of the season.
Warrington Wolves: Ratchford (G), Charnley, Gelling (T), King, Ashton (2T), Austin, Widdop, Hill, Clark D, Ohilbin, Currie, Hughes, Clark J. Subs: Murdoch-Masila, Mamo, Davis, Robson.
Hull FC: Connor (T), Naulago, Fonua, Griffin, Faraimo (T), Tuimavave, Sneyd (5G, DG), Taylor, Johnstone, Bowden, Ama’u, Savelio, Cator (T). Subs: Houghton, Satae (T), Sao, Fash.
Referee: Liam Moore.
Full Time: 14-27.
Venue: Halliwell-Jones Stadium, Warrington.