Con­nor can be mar­quee or medi­ocre, it’s up to him – Rad­ford

Yorkshire Post - Sports Monday - - SUPER LEAGUE KICK-OFF -

THERE IS a cross­roads in the ca­reer of ev­ery player and, for Hull FC’s Jake Con­nor, it could im­mi­nently ap­pear on the hori­zon.

The ver­sa­tile back is in an en­vi­ous po­si­tion; his coach Lee Rad­ford ac­tu­ally be­lieves he can be one of the world’s greats. Or merely a de­cent squad player.

In­ter­est­ingly, though, in the eyes of Rad­ford, the de­ci­sion is en­tirely up to the player him­self.

Con­nor, a silky han­dler and el­e­gant run­ner, is pre­par­ing for his sec­ond sea­son with the East York­shire club af­ter a con­tro­ver­sial switch from Hud­der­s­field Giants.

Last term the 23-year-old cer­tainly showed flashes of real bril­liance and there has al­ready been more of the same in pre-sea­son this time around.

It re­mains to be seen what Con­nor’s best po­si­tion is, though, and whether he can de­liver con­sist- ently. He played 33 games last sea­son, in­clud­ing the Chal­lenge Cup fi­nal win at Wem­b­ley, scor­ing 11 tries and op­er­at­ing pre­dom­i­nantly at cen­tre.

Nine ap­pear­ances came off the bench, Con­nor can also fea­ture at full-back – but Jamie Shaul seems to have that po­si­tion sorted – while many see his long-term po­si­tion be­ing half-back.

In­deed, will that be his role if cur­rent No6 and Man of Steel nom­i­nee Al­bert Kelly does head back to the NRL in 2019?

Cen­tre prob­a­bly is Con­nor’s best chance of nail­ing down a reg­u­lar place this term as he con­tin­ues to ri­val Car­los Tuimavave and Josh Grif­fin for a spot.

In fact, the player, who quickly earned a con­tract ex­ten­sion un­til the end of 2020, has gone on record say­ing that that is where he would pre­fer to play in the JAKE CON­NOR: cam­paign ahead. Asked if this is the sea­son he will make a spot his own and lose that ver­sa­til­ity tag, Rad­ford told The York­shire Post: “Jake will be any­thing he wants to be. He could be ‘mar­quee’ if he wanted to be. He could be a squad player with num­ber 14 on his back if he wants to be that as well.

“The tal­ent is as high or as good as I’ve seen in many a play- er so what­ever Jake be­comes is what Jake de­cides he wants to be­come.”

Rad­ford be­lieves most of that is down to his men­tal­ity and, if that is pos­i­tive, it will be key in how his ca­reer does progress.

The coach added: “I think it is and I think he is nat­u­rally com­ing to an age where you de­cide what you want to be a lit­tle bit.

“You take a look around the com­pe­ti­tion and think ‘well I could do what he’s do­ing’. Jake’s in a good en­vi­ron­ment to reach his po­ten­tial.”

Bar­ring any late prob­lems, he is sure to be in the 17 when Hull start their Super League cam­paign at home to his for­mer club Hud­der­s­field on Thurs­day.

Rad­ford is ex­pect­ing a test­ing en­counter; Giants only nar­rowly scraped into the top-eight last term but showed signs of im­prove­ment, es­pe­cially af­ter the mid-sea­son re­cruit­ment of exHull play­ers Jor­dan Rankin and Jor­dan Turner from the NRL.

“It will be tasty,” he said, his side fly­ing out to Syd­ney the fol­low­ing day for their his­toric Super League game against Wi­gan War­riors on Fe­bru­ary 10.

“When they got their blokes (fit) on the field at the back end of last year there was ob­vi­ously a spike and a mas­sive up­turn in their per­for­mances and re­sults.

“And I’ve men­tioned be­fore how it’s re­ally ironic; we played them the week be­fore the Chal­lenge Cup fi­nal so ev­ery­body was think­ing about Wem­b­ley, play­ing not to get in­jured. And now we play Hud­der­s­field again the day be­fore we get on a flight to Aus­tralia so all that’s been made clear to all the play­ers.

“They are aware of that and I in­tend to show them what hap­pens when they don’t men­tally pre­pare for a game.

“We got our back­sides handed to us last year (46-18) by Hud­der­s­field and I’m real con­scious we don’t make that mis­take again.”

Hull, mean­while, fell at the Super League semi-fi­nal hur­dle for the sec­ond year run­ning last sea­son, some­thing they hope to rem­edy this time around.

Hard-run­ning winger Bureta Faraimo, a re­place­ment for the pop­u­lar Mahe Fonua who headed back to the NRL, has looked sharp in pre-sea­son.

Rad­ford said: “The boy can play. He’s a phys­i­cal thing. I said it when Mahe hit these shores, too – he’ll be a ben­e­fit to Super League.

“We’ve a few op­tions which I’m look­ing to get set­tled as early as we can. There hasn’t been many changes in our group so hope­fully we’re not rein­vent­ing the wheel. We’re just tweak­ing a few things.”

Hull coach Lee Rad­ford says the for­mer Hud­der­s­field cen­tre has the tal­ent to be one of the world’s best.

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