Tony Smith marked the start of his reign as Hull FC head coach with a hard-fought friendly win at Sheffield capped by the encouraging sight of an impressive return by Joe Cator.
Smith, who switched from Hull KR last year, blooded new Australian recruits Tex Hoy and Jake Clifford from the start against the Championship side as a strong comeback in the second half sealed a hard-fought 22-20 success.
But arguably Smith’s biggest positive was 24-year-old Cator emerging unscathed from a 17-month long injury nightmare, interspersed with a 40-minute comeback bid in March which resulted in a rare re-rupture of his Achilles injury.
Smith was full of praise for the loose forward, who appeared off the bench just before the interval as he increasingly rang the changes, saying: “Joe handled it really well and it was great to see him come through it unscathed.
“He is on top of things and he has been confident for a while, but it is another thing going out on the pitch and doing it all again.”
Cator himself is convinced he will emerge as a stronger person and player for the experience, and is looking forward to playing an integral role in Smith’s new-look side when the Super League season gets under way next month.
“It’s 17 months since I walked off that pitch fit and injury-free, so that was a real box-tick for me today,” said Cator, who was employed in the back row for periods in the second half.
“It’s been a long 17 months with 40 minutes in the middle of that. I want to play it down, but in the back of my mind I’m proud of myself. It’s been a long time and it did mean a lot to me to get on the field.
“I think if you go through anything like that it makes you a better person, and mentally it does make me stronger. If I can get through that and get back to playing, it gives me a lot of confidence.”
Meanwhile Smith, whose side’s ability to claw back an eight-point half-time deficit was largely due to a 20-minute cameo appearance by former Leeds hooker Brad Dwyer, believes his side are easing their way into the new campaign.
“We’re going in a bit under-cooked,” Smith admitted. “I know some teams started before us and have probably done some harder stuff than us.
“I’m just wary of being over-cooked. You can put the cake back in the oven if it isn’t quite cooked, and we’re probably not cooked enough yet, but we’ve still got a month to go.”