Super League XXIII kicked off last night with our visit to the KCOM and - in a sadly familiar spectacle - it was a game of two halves, with the Giants only being aware of one. On the plus side, it meant that 7/8 tries were scored in the away end, so we got a good view. On the minus side....well. You know.
Things didn't look their best for the Claret and Gold in the opening ten minutes, with Hull getting an early 4-0 lead through a pair of penalty goals. At the time it felt odd that Hull would opt to kick twice so early on, but with hindsight it worked out well for them, as it left them only two points behind going into half time. The 30 minutes that followed were a joy to watch for the Fartowners. The ever-in-form Ryan Hinchcliffe nabbed the first try of the Super League season by dragging a helpless Hull FC defence over the line, and it lit a spark in the side. For the rest of the half, the Giants forced repeat sets, rarely let Hull out of their own half and looked more creative going forward than we have in two years.
In our season preview we highlighted this change in attacking style as a big positive from the preseason, and specifically mentioned Adam O'Brien as a key player. He didn't disappoint in the opener, his distribution was great and even helped out with the kicking duties, putting through a nice little grubber from dummy half to set up Ukuma for our second try. While it was Adam who set up the tries, he wasn't the only one impressing with his boot in the first half. Two 40/20 attempts from Brough to Faraimo's edge narrowly stayed in after unfortunate bounces. Rankin and Gaskell were also kicking well to put Hull under pressure and, although they were from fairly easy positions, Brough nailed both conversions, giving us a 12-4 lead.
From then on we looked like scoring a few times but couldn't make our chances count, due to some good goal-line defence from the home side. Turner was held up over the line, and some really nice passing play out wide saw the ball move from O'Brien to Rankin to Gaskell. Gaskell's pass would have then seen Darnell clean through, had Talanoa not gotten the slightest of fingertips to the pass, knocking the ball dead. While he likely was awarded man of the match as a result of his hat-trick, that was arguably the key moment in the game; had he not intercepted McIntosh would have surely been over, and the half time score would have likely been 18-4. Soon after, Hull were awarded a penalty as Mamo tried to play the ball (don't ask), and Albert Kelly got his side's first try in a similar way to Hinchcliffe, this time dragging a helpless Huddersfield defence over the line. Sneyd added the extras, and despite a dominant performance, the Giants returned to the dressing room only two points in the lead
It didn't take long for Hull to take charge for the final 40. Whatever Radford said over the break must have put the fear of God into the home side. For me, there were three moments in the first half that saw us begin to lose a little control: O'Brien leaving the field, Lawrence leaving the field and Talanoa intercepting the McIntosh try. The real shift in momentum then happened early in the second half. Following Brough's example, Sneyd aimed a 40/20 out to the left corner. While it technically didn't go out from the kick, in effect it was a successful attempt, as with Talanoa chasing the ball Mamo had no choice but to boot it into the stands, giving Hull a set 10m out. In the set that followed, a wide pass out left found its way to Talanoa, and the man of the match powered through 3 Giants to touch down for his first effort. His second followed soon after following a high kick from Sneyd, extending Hull's lead to 22-12.
While momentum was against us, all was not lost at this point. We'd now started both halves poorly, but if we could turn it around in the first, why not the second? If we'd kept our heads and stuck to the gameplan, we'd have still been well in the game. Sadly, as it so often does for the Giants, panic set in and it all began to go wrong. Following an excellent first half of kicking, nothing personified the change in performance better than Brough kicking the ball dead from our 30m line. It wasn't long before a huge gap in our defensive line was exposed by Jake Connor who easily ran through a poor Murphy tackle to put the ball down. Hull went 28-12 up and it was hard to see a way back. The black and whites were on a roll, executing perfectly and putting us under huge pressure. At this point I don't think we'd had possession (or at least a set that lasted for more than 2 tackles) in about 15 minutes. And while I don't claim to be a coach, I firmly believe that if you don't have the ball, it's significantly harder to score tries.
There was still plenty of time for Talanoa to get his third of the night from a Minichiello offload, and after Mamo let a Sneyd bomb bounce out of his hands, his opposite number Shaul went over for the final try of the night, leaving the second half score at 28-0.
What went right...
There were positives to the night. I previously mentioned the quality of Adam O'Brien in his stint, and while Kruise didn't necessarily do anything wrong, we didn't have the same flair in attack when Adam left the field. No word as of yet on why he didn't return, but hopefully he'll be ready for Warrington on Thursday. Hinchcliffe didn't put a foot wrong all night, new signing Walne seemed to handle himself well, and while he could have run a little harder at times, Clough had a decent game too. Some players impressed in the first half if not in the second, namely Brough and Smith, whose errors early in the second half allowed Hull to build up momentum. Our defence in Hull's half was pretty good too, forcing them to kick from inside their own 40 on more than one occasion. The problem was, we couldn't apply this quality to the goal line defence as they gained better field position in the second half
What went wrong...
How many times do we have to say this about the Giants. We don't play for 80 minutes. While Hull did execute a lot better in the second half, to an extent we allowed them to do so. However on paper, if we dominate for the first half, and Hull dominate for the second, the score should be fairly even, right? That's how halves work. While the field position and possession was split across the halves, the difference was the goal-line defence. We were held up and intercepted in a way that Hull just weren't in the second half. This was reflected in the stats, with Hull missing only 10 tackles all night (97% success), while the Giants missed a huge 34 (91% success).
As well as that, a common problem with Huddersfield is that when we're in control of the game, we still don't always get points on the board. To be in attack for the vast majority of the first half and to end only 2 points up isn't good enough. If we're not going to stay in form for a whole game, at the very least we need to make the most of the chances we do have. The difference is once again clear in the stats, with Hull making a huge 1378m to our 852m, making 11 clean breaks to our 0, and making 40 more carries.
I think it's no coincidence that our better players on the night were playing in the back end of the last season. A lot of the strugglers last night missed the end of 2017 to injury. While he managed 115m going forward, Murphy's defence was really disappointing at times. I think it's also fair to say that was Mamo's worst game in a Giants top to date, but that's perhaps understandable, given that it was his first competitive fixture in over six months. It took him time to find his feet after making his debut, not getting a win till his third game. We need to be patient as he regains his form.
The final say
Overall, while we should have been better on the night, we were up against a very good Hull side in the second half. Sneyd's kicking was nearly perfect, Abdull and Manu looked very good with the ball in hand, Masi Matongo has made a very good case for his spot in the team, and Talanoa not only bagged three tries, but his first half interception meant Hull had a 2 point deficit at half time instead of a potential 14 point one.
On our side, if we can extend that first half to a full 80 minutes we'll do well this year. If not, we'll struggle. It's as simple as that We have what it takes to improve, we just need to nail our goal line defence, our attitude and our consistency if we want to compete in 2018. Hopefully the head knock Seb took in the 78th minute is nothing too serious, and that O'Brien and Lawrence's substitutions aren't indicative of a bigger problem. With a home advantage ahead and some hard lessons learned after round 1, all we can do is move on and try to get two points for Warrington's visit next week.