Last week we talked about the importance of getting two points, and moving up to seventh. It didn't work out. Now down to 9th, the Giants will have to go into every fixture with a must-win attitude, or we're set for a trip to arguably the most difficult Qualifiers since the format began.
Our trip to East Hull was a repeat of our last encounter with Rovers, but maybe a little worse. A good kickchase from Gaskell got us on the scoreboard, but even with a huge defensive effort from Bruno, Murph and AOB, it wasn't enough to prevent an embarrassment. We spent 30 minutes defending our line and losing the ball in every attacking set, followed by 50 minutes of being too tired to get a grip on the game.
The stakes are now even higher following Catalans' win over Cas. Despite this good result, the Dragons famously don't travel well and Wakefield (who were unlucky to lose at Saints) will likely be too tough for their visitors on Saturday. The day after, Leeds head to Cas with one win in ten games and no coach. Now is the time for us to really turn up the intensity and get a good home win, to give us the edge in that top 8 race.
Thankfully, we'll have some big names back for this game. Brough has completed his latest ban (no doubt he'll sneeze near a Hull player tonight and miss the rest of the season), while Clough and Ukuma return from injury. Russell, Hewitt and Mellor miss out, with Alex being the biggest concern of the three. He's been unstoppable over the past month or so and has regularly been leading the stat rundowns.
The Brough for Russell swap seems obvious, so the big question mark over our squad is who takes Mellor's place in the pack. Bruno has been doing a great job at prop (46 tackles, 0 missed last week!), but with Clough and Ukuma back, he may move into the second row.
It's unclear whether both of these returnees will feature, given that they're both back from injury, especially as we'd need to drop someone to accommodate for them. My first reaction to the 19 man squad was that Clough would be the safe bet of the two, having had a lesser injury, but Thorman has been speaking very highly of Ukuma to the media, implying he's set for a return (thanks, Bumper). Bruno, Smith, Ta'ai and Clough can all play anywhere in the pack, and based on performances this year any one of them would be unlucky to miss out. It's too close to call.
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I really hope we can send the ball out wide tonight. Too many of our plays see the first receiver run straight back into the ruck. A full set of that and we end up making very few metres and lose control of the game. A few times last week we'd see a playmaker go to pass further out only to find nobody in position, forcing an awkward change of direction. In many ways, Rovers' high scoreline last week came as a result of poor discipline and poor attack on our part, not poor defence. Defensively we started off really well, weaknesses in the rest of our game left us stuck on our line for too long and got tired out.
Our key man will be Danny Brough. The Claret and Gold will be hoping the former Hull star takes charge of the match, brings his best kicking game and does whatever he has to to trigger Jake Connor's short fuse.
Chris Green remains in the 19 man squad after pulling out at the last minute last week, but Hull will be without Sika Manu, Dean Hadley and Jamie Shaul for Thursday night's game, with youngsters Jez Litten, Jordan Lane and Cameron Scott coming into the side.
Having won 4 of their last 7 games, it's been an inconsistent few months for the away side, and after almost suffering a shock upset to Widnes, they'll be looking to put their mark on this game early on and move closer to 4th ahead of a tough trip to Saints. Up against a side now in the bottom four, courtesy of their local rivals, they'll fancy their odds.
While it's unclear how the Giants' pack will line up, Lee Radford's 1-7 selection will be interesting. With Sneyd and Shaul both out, it's not clear where Connor will feature, although Thorman has said he's expecting him to slot in at fullback, with Carlos Tuimavave partnering Kelly in the halves.
Either way, Hull's key man will be Jake Connor. The Black and Whites will be hoping the former Huddersfield star takes charge of the match, brings his best kicking game and does whatever he has to to trigger Danny Brough's short fuse.
Where will the game be won?
This game could come down to who can hold their discipline the longest, Brough or Connor. Dear lord.
With Sky in town, Jake will no doubt be trying to see what he can get away with, it's on us to not react to it and play the game at our own pace. Complete sets, kick well and don't panic if things aren't going our way. If we can control the game for the opening 20 minutes or so and keep Hull on the back foot, the cracks will begin to show and we can take advantage.
If, however, we carry on last week's discipline, error count and uninspiring carries, we won't have a chance.
2Jermaine McGillvary3Leroy Cudjoe4Jordan Turner5Aaron Murphy6Lee Gaskell7Danny Brough8Sebastine Ikahihifo9Kruise Leeming12Michael Lawrence13Ryan Hinchcliffe15Jordan Rankin16Oliver Roberts17Ukuma Ta'ai18Paul Clough19Daniel Smith21Adam O'Brien23Darnell McIntosh26Sam Wood27Matty English