Will Hull FC be able to defend their Challenge Cup title as well as getting to their first Grand Final since 2006?
Captain: Danny Houghton
Coach: Lee Radford
2017 Position: Regular season – 3rd. Super 8s – 3rd (semi-finalists)
Key player – Albert Kelly
Dreamland for Hull FC fans last year. They signed their bitter rivals’ star player and he turned in a wonder season, helping the Black and Whites to a second successive Challenge Cup.
Yes, Albert Kelly made himself very popular in one half of Hull at least. He top scored for the club with 19 tries and provided 14 assists, contributing many game-breaking moments in the process.
Kelly struck up a fine partnership in the halves with Marc Sneyd, providing the sparkle to Sneyd’s organisational and kicking abilities. But it’s easy to forget Kelly also shone on his introduction to Super League with Hull KR, before suffering the so-called second season syndrome as the Robins were relegated.
Will he keep his levels up in his second year in Black and White?
Fresh face – Mickey Paea
Welcome back, Mickey Paea. The Tonga international has returned to Hull FC, just two years after leaving for the NRL for the Newcastle Knights.
He played just five times in 2017 Down Under though, with injuries hampering his progress. And despite being 31, FC were quick to bring him back to England.
A powerful runner in the front row, Paea will add plenty of oomph to Lee Radford’s pack, forming an eye-watering front row that already contains Scott Taylor and Liam Watts. That’s enough to put the shivers into any opposition forward.
One to watch – Masi Matongo
The Zimbabwe-born 21-year-old made an impression in 2017, breaking into the first team with nine appearances. But Matongo actually made his debut in 2015 and has been on the fringes ever since.
He’s a pacy front rower, capable of putting in a stint for Lee Radford, but with an offloading game in his locker as well.
There’s certainly competition for places in the Black and Whites front row, with Paea, Watts and Taylor likely to star, but that’s the perfect chance for Matongo to learn from some genuine quality players and develop his game.
Expect him to feature in plenty of matchday 17s this season.
Reasons for optimism
It’s getting closer. It’s two Challenge Cup wins in a row for Hull FC, but the Super League title still eludes them. They came up short at Headingley in the semi-final, losing narrowly to Leeds, and FC will feel that’s a big opportunity missed given Castleford’s Grand Final no show.
The cup finals have given the players big-game experience, and the taste for success too. Quality oozes throughout the squad, especially down the spine of the side from Jamie Shaul at full-back, to Kelly and Sneyd in the halves plus new captain Danny Houghton at hooker. Is this their year?
Reasons for concern
There’s been a couple of big losses for Hull FC in the off-season. First is the retirement of Gareth Ellis, an influential figure on and off the pitch. Inspirational to those around him and oozing in experience and leadership, it’s impossible to replace the qualities that Ellis brings to a squad.
At the other end of the spectrum, explosive back Mahe Fonua has returned to the NRL, signing for West Tigers. He was a genuine superstar, scoring plenty of tries, but making plenty of hard yards too to get the side moving forward. Will FC be able to cope without the pair?