Michael Shenton hails Hull FC Academy development ahead of semi-final showdown

-Credit: (Image: News Images)
-Credit: (Image: News Images)

Hull FC Under 18s are just eighty minutes away from the Academy Championship Grand Final. It's the first time that they've been in this position since 2015, and the opposition is once again St Helens.

Travelling to Langtree Park this Saturday, Hull, who finished fourth in the table, will take on the Saints, who finished the regular season top of the pile. It's been a great year for Michael Shenton's side, who won their first nine games and spent the majority of them at the competitions summit.

Unfortunately, three defeats and a draw have followed since, with contributing factors to that being two of Shenton's key players playing for Hull in Super League; Denive Balmforth and Matty Laidlaw. That's no drama for Shenton, though.

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In fact, it's exactly what the former Castleford and St Helens centre wants. If his players are developing into first team players, then he's doing something right at his end. Add to that his side are playing in a big semi-final game this weekend, and it shows the progress.

"It's great that we're in a semi-final and it's a reward for all of their hard work this year," Shenton told Hull Live. "It's also important that they learn how to win and get that winning mentality - to be in those big games and get that experience is important for their development.

"I think any team at any level goes through some sort of adversity. We had a tremendous start to the year and the boys really bought into the programme. To lose players to the first team is what the job is all about. That's what we need to do.

"Ideally, the likes of Matty Laidlaw might not have played eight games in his first year, but with the injury crisis for the first team it was just necessary for him to play. I thought that he held his own when he came in as did the other boys like Charlie Severs and Denive Balmforth. I'm proud of what they did and they will be a lot better for it."

The likes of Laidlaw and Balmforth will be back in the Academy fold to take on St Helens. It's hoped that their recent Super league experience can help Hull find a result, but up against an outstanding Saints set up, they know it will be a challenge.

Unfortunately, Charlie Severs misses the clash with a shoulder injury and Nick Staveley is ill, but like the whole season so far, it's about who comes into the side and the team unit.

"We get a couple back but it's been a full squad effort from the boys this year," Shenton continued. "We've seen some good improvements from a lot of the players. They've worked really hard on their game and they've developed.

"It's been a really productive year and for us as a new department, we've learned some great lessons as well. The programme will keep getting stronger and stronger as we keep reviewing and reflecting.

"The longer the players keep working with the staff, we can keep improving them. Hopefully we can keep getting better."

Development is the key word for Shenton and Hull FC. With the Academy setups back to normal this year after two years of Covid interruptions, the programmes are back on track again. There has been a lot of lost time there, but now after a fuller fixture card, the only way is forward.

Shenton has observed that progress, with the challenge now to develop continuous age groups of players good enough to play Super League for Hull FC. That takes a lot of work, but the processes, based on professionalism and attitude, are just starting to bear their fruit.

"It was a fresh start for them all coming out of Covid and getting used to a full programme of training again," Shenton added. "Knowing there were no restrictions in place was pretty exciting but daunting at the same time.

"But once you start winning a few games they start realising that what you're telling them is right and you get confidence from that and the belief grows. All the little bits and pieces around that really help those boys progress and move up.

"They all know the standards that we expect in the programme. Even for those boys coming up from Under 16s - we've had them training with us for the last few weeks and it won't take them long to learn what we expect from them and what it takes to be an Academy player and a Hull FC player. It's an exciting process."


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