In the battle for the coveted eighth position, Hull FC relinquish their home colours and travel to play the black and white of Widnes, with the winner guaranteed to be sitting in a playoff position at the close of the weekend.
As eyes turn towards the looming Super 8s, Widnes have the current upper hand for a playoff position, sitting in eighth position on 15 points, as opposed to Hull FC in ninth position on 14 points, but a win for the Yorkshire would put them a point above their opposition.
It is game such as these that, at the end of round 23, will be the difference between a side battling to survive relegation or in the hunt for prestige and honour with Old Trafford beckoning.
Both teams enter the game on Thursday night on the back of comprehensive wins over local rivals at the Magic Weekend; Hull FC dominating Hull KR 46-20, and Widnes defeating Salford 38-16; the Red Devils playing with only 12 men for the majority of the game.
It is consequently difficult to split the two sides. Widnes have won their last three, including a season’s best performance over table toppers Leeds Rhinos. Hull have won four of their last five, losing only to St. Helens by a seven point margin the week before last.
The recent form of both sides can be attributed to two very similar factors. For Widnes, this is the domination and leadership of captain Kevin Brown at stand-off, who scored a hat trick of tries over Salford; for Hull, the combination and link play between half-backs Mark Sneyd and Leon Pryce.
It shouldn’t be thought, however, that the games are won and lost on the strength of these three players. Hull’s Danny Houghton is the top tackler in the league with 78 more tackles than his nearest rival, whereas Kevin Brown in joined in the top 10 try assists table by team mates Rhys Hanbury and Aaron Heremaia.
The margin of the game will be close; certainly too close to call with any conviction. If there is any advantage to be gained, it is perhaps in the forwards of Hull FC over their counterparts and the kicking game of Mark Sneyd on the back of this.
By no means will Hull win easily, and may very well lose by an equal or greater margin of eight points, but Hull by eight points is my prediction, stealing a late try or two to make the game seem wider than it in fact was.
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