Tony Smith ushered in his reign as Hull FC head coach with a hard-fought friendly victory in Sheffield capped off by the encouraging sight of an impressive comeback from Joe Cator.
Switching from Hull KR last year, Smith powered new Australian recruits Tex Hoy and Jake Clifford early on against the Championship side as a strong second-half comeback sealed a hard-fought 22-20 success.
But arguably the biggest silver lining for Smith was that the 24-year-old Cator emerged unscathed from a 17-month injury nightmare, interspersed with a 40-minute return offer in March that resulted in a rare break from his injury to the knee. Achilles tendon.
Smith was full of praise for the loose forward, who appeared from the bench just before the interval as he made more and more substitutions, saying: “Joe handled it very well and it was great to see him come out unscathed.
“He is aware and has been confident for a while, but it is another thing to go out on the field and do it all over again.”
Cator himself is convinced that he will emerge a stronger person and player from the experience, and hopes to play an integral role in Smith’s new side when the Super League season kicks off next month.
“It’s been 17 months since I walked off the field fit and injury-free, so it was a real milestone for me today,” said Cator, who was employed on the back row for periods in the second half.
“It’s been a long 17 months with 40 minutes in the middle of it. I want to downplay it, but in the back of my mind I’m proud of myself. It’s been a long time and it meant a lot to me to be on the field.
“I think if you go through something like that, it makes you a better person, and it makes me mentally stronger. If I can get past that and play again, it gives me a lot of confidence.”
Meanwhile, Smith, whose team’s ability to rally from an eight-point halftime deficit was due in no small part to a 20-minute cameo from former Leeds hooker Brad Dwyer, believes his team are making their way in the new campaign.
“We’re going to go in a little raw,” Smith admitted. “I know some teams started before us and have probably done harder things than us.
“I am afraid of being overcooked. You can put the cake back in the oven if it’s not cooked through, and we’re probably not done enough yet, but we still have a month to go.”