Rugby League talking points: Hull FC's return to form, Halifax's Challenge Cup run and State of Origin
By Marc Bazeley
Last Updated: 03/06/19 12:13pm
Hull FC turning on the style, Halifax flying the flag for the Championship and not mentioning your rivals ahead of State of Origin all feature in this week's talking points.
Hull FC find form to slay Dragons
Is there a more Jekyll-and-Hyde team in rugby league at present than Hull FC?
Just one week after succumbing to a 50-plus points defeat against Huddersfield Giants at Magic Weekend, the Black and Whites dumped holders Catalans Dragons out of the Coral Challenge Cup by racking up a half-century themselves.
Leading 12-8 at half time in Thursday's quarter-final, the hosts went on the rampage when play resumed.
Ratu Naulago scored twice, with Sika Manu, Albert Kelly, Jamie Shaul and Danny Houghton going over as well to go with first-half tries from Jake Connor and Bureta Faraimo, plus Marc Sneyd kicking 19 points.
Although they have suffered some heavy defeats in Super League this season, Hull are still fourth and now through to the Challenge Cup semis.
Knockout rugby seems to suit the team, who won this competition in 2016 and 2017. So while he would like to find some more consistent displays, head coach Lee Radford wants his side to ensure they can replicate their Challenge Cup form if they make the Super League play-offs.
"We only want to make the [top] five, because we can beat anyone on our day as we have proven in the last three years in the cup," Radford told Sky Sports post-match, adding: "We turn up."
Halifax get ready for 1987 rerun
The all-Championship quarter-final clash at Odsal went the way of visitors Halifax as they overcame Bradford Bulls 20-16 - a match which included a rarely-seen eight-point try awarded to Fax - to book their place in the last four for the first time in 31 years.
On a personal note, it was a memorable day for centre Steve Tyrer too, who scored 12 points on his 200th appearance.
Their reward is a tie with Super League leaders and Challenge Cup favourites St Helens in the semi-finals double-header in Bolton next month, which will no doubt evoke memories of the 1987 meeting between the sides at Wembley.
On that occasion, a Halifax side including Australian great Graham Eadie - who won the Lance Todd Trophy - edged a thriller 19-18, with John Pendlebury kicking the match-winning drop-goal and then coming up with a try-saving tackle to deny Saints' Mark Elia late on.
It is unlikely to be as close when they go head-to-head again this year, with St Helens odds-on favourites to go all the way and lift the trophy for the 13th time and Fax 100/1 outsiders with the bookies.
Not that it will stop head coach Simon Grix or his players from thinking they can cause an upset - or, indeed, stop those Halifax fans from dreaming of a return to Wembley.
Still up for the cup
Even after exiting the Challenge Cup, Bradford still have another chance to reach Wembley via the 1895 Cup, the second round of which got underway over the weekend.
The competition for Championship and League One teams will see the finalists playing at the famous venue on Challenge Cup final day - albeit after the main event - with five ties being played on Sunday.
Batley Bulldogs, Dewbury Rams, Leigh Centurions, Doncaster and York City Knights all progressed to the last eight, with the three outstanding ties to be play this Wednesday evening.
Bradford face the long trip to Barrow Raiders, Halifax host Sheffield Eagles and Widnes Vikings - who beat the Eagles in their re-arranged league match last Friday - are at home to Featherstone Rovers.
All of those sides playing on Wednesday have previously written their own piece of Wembley history and this competition gives them a chance to do that again.
Don't mention the Blues!
It is probably fair to say most of the rugby league world's attention will be focused Down Under on Wednesday, when New South Wales and Queensland go head-to-head in the first match of this year's State of Origin series.
The annual clash of state versus state and mate versus mate always features plenty of mind games and kidology in the build-up, although one of the more bizarre stories in recent years came last week.
It transpired Queensland head coach Kevin Walters had hired a so-called 'coach whisperer' by the name of Bradley Charles Stubbs to help prepare the Maroons for the series, with the Australian media report his key contribution had apparently been to get Walters to ban his players from mentioning their rivals in the build-up.
Stubbs came to prominence for supposedly helping New South Wales club South Sydney Rabbitohs when they won the NRL title in 2014, although Souths were quick to play down his role.
"I promise you the players were not impressed by him," Rabbitohs general manager Shane Richardson told the Sydney Morning Herald last week.
"I want it known very clearly: the comp win belonged to the players, not Bradley Charles Stubbs. He is not welcome at our club."
If Queensland can wrest the title back from the Blues, however, few will worry about what approach Walters took to achieve that.
It's good to be back
John Bateman has won plenty of rave reviews in Australia for his performances with Canberra Raiders so far this year and the England international made an immediate impact for the team on his return from injury.
Bateman got over for a try, showing good footwork by kicking forward twice and then chasing down the bouncing ball to score in the corner in a 12-10 win for the Raiders over bottom markers Canterbury Bulldogs.
It has been a long-awaited return for the 25-year-old, who suffered a fractured eye socket early in May and came back sooner than expected from the injury.
However, compatriot Sam Burgess is set for an extended spell on the sidelines after confirming he will undergo surgery on a shoulder injury following South Sydney's game against Newcastle Knights this Friday.
"If this was round 22 I am not getting it done but this is round 12 and I can't carry it, I am in too much pain every day," Burgess said.