New dawn for wounded Hull
Hull FC will be aiming to put five months of hurt behind them when they begin the new First Utility Super League season against Catalan Dragons at the KC Stadium tomorrow.
The Black and Whites' 2013 campaign came to an abrupt and humiliating end with a 76-18 mauling by Huddersfield Giants in the second round of the play-offs, a crushing result that ultimately cost head coach Peter Gentle his job.
"That was our last game," reflected Hull captain Gareth Ellis. "When we came to evaluating the season, our problem was the lack of consistency.
"We had some great wins - the ones over Warrington will stick in my mind for a long period of time - but then we had some really bad losses where our standards slipped.
"A lot of our training has been geared towards narrowing that gap and hopefully we will have a more rewarding year."
Hull go into their first game on the back of a testing pre-season, with injuries and heavy trial defeats making for a difficult start for Gentle's successor Lee Radford, Super League's rookie head coach whose last-minute wheeling and dealing in the transfer market resulted in the controversial capture of former international prop Garreth Carvell.
Bradford Bulls are threatening to take legal action after Carvell walked out on them without playing anything other than a friendly match - coincidentally against Hull - but are powerless to prevent him making his second ‘debut’ for the Black and Whites.
Radford, who has overseen a major shake-up of the squad, is also expected to give debuts to former Wigan Warriors front rower Iafeta Paleaaesina, Fetuli Talanoa, Jordan Rankin, Jordan Thompson and Mickey Paea, who will be up against his older brother Lopini, the Catalan prop.
The Catalans got off to a flying start in East Yorkshire last season with an opening-round win at Hull KR but ended it on a disappointing note with a play-off defeat at the KC Stadium and Jason Baitieri, the Dragons' newly-appointed co-captain, says revenge will be in the air tomorrow evening.
"Everyone wants to have a big first game to get their season going and I think for us there is that little bit of extra spice because Hull did eliminate us last year," said Baitieri, who missed the last five months of the season with a knee injury.
"I think there is a bit of payback or a bit of revenge from certainly the Catalan boys to win this game. There is a bit more incentive."
The Dragons have lost Remi Casty, Steve Menzies and Damien Blanch from last year's squad but Baitieri believes they have more than adequate replacements in former Wigan prop Jeff Lima and Australian threequarters Ben Pomeroy and Michael Oldfield and says there is a new mentality about the team this year.
"I think we've got a really good, dynamic group this year," he said. "Even though we lost some quality star players, we recruited really well and I think we have a lot more depth this year and certainly this team is a lot hungrier than it was last year.
"We've really looked at ourselves and told ourselves we have a genuine chance of giving this competition a run for its money.
"We can be a top-four side when we want to. Unfortunately we were inconsistent last year and we also had some poor performances which we want to eradicate from our game."
The Catalans, who finished seventh last season, have traditionally been strong at home and they have taken steps to ensure they are better prepared for their trips to England.
"The Dragons have really stepped it up this year," explained Baitieri. "For every away game we have a chartered flight from Perpignan so there's no more early wake-up calls to get to Girona or Barcelona to fly low-cost airline, which is real big credit to the club.
"We'll fly out the day before the game and as soon as the game is finished we'll fly straight back home. The club have really dug deep and invested and we need to repay them."