Adam Pearson has been consistent when asked what the expectation was for his Hull FC this season.
The Black and Whites owner and chairman was full of optimism as he set his stall out on the eve of the season, confident that the side Lee Radford had built would bring the rewards to repay the expense.
Silverware was the aim then, or at the very least Hull’s first play-off finish since 2017 and it was because of that target that he made the decision to cut ties with the long-standing head coach seven games into the campaign after spotting FC were moving in the wrong direction.
Some months later, as interim head coach Andy Last prepared to bring Hull out of lockdown and restart the season, Pearson was asked the same question and despite the seven games that had gone previously, he gave the same answer.
“With the squad we’ve got? Definitely,” Pearson told Hull Live in August when asked about whether a Grand Final berth was the aim. “We feel we can beat anybody on our day.”
Last knew the task would be a difficult one, but he echoed such ambitions in his head, confident that with the talent the club possesses, he would be the man to turn them around.
However, on Thursday, those dreams lay beaten and tattered on the Halliwell Jones Stadium turf as the Black and Whites slumped to a 28-22 defeat to Salford Red Devils.
There were positives to take from the game but the result was a damning one and it leaves Hull needing to climb a mountain if they are to sneak into the play-offs.
Of course, Hull haven’t been helped by the goalposts being moved following the virus. In an effort to end the season as sensibly as possible the decision was made to make the play-offs a four-team competition rather than five, making it more exclusive.
While sorting the league table by win percentage only makes the top four feel further away, but Last’s side, who currently sit eighth can have no complaints.
They’ve failed to meet Pearson’s and their own expectations and it leaves the hierarchy with decisions they didn’t want to have to make ahead of next season.
That’s not to say Last doesn’t deserve a huge amount of credit for the job he’s done, in unparalleled circumstances.
In fact, no head coach in Hull’s history can say they’ve been through what Last has and come out of the other side.
Just days into the job the interim head coach was told to send his troops home from training with the club’s County Road training base considered out of bounds while the nation was gripped by coronavirus.
The Super League season was subsequently suspended in March and Last would go on to spend the next 18 weeks trying to manage his players and handle his new responsibilities from home.
If that wasn’t testing enough for a man whose only previous senior head coach experience came in 2015 at Wheldon Road after stepping up in Radford’s absence to oversee a narrow defeat to Castleford Tigers, the club would then be directly affected by the virus.
A total of 12 members of the set-up, including Last himself according to an interview with BBC Radio Humberside, tested positive, prompting another two weeks of self-isolation and a number of difficulties have stemmed from that period.
The Black and Whites have since been forced to deal with a build-up of fixtures which has left them battling for quality time on the training field.
Nevertheless, Last has taken it in his stride and even those who watched the club’s loss to Salford at the Halliwell Jones will admit there have been small improvements in the Black and Whites under the 39-year-old.
Things just haven’t gone his way since taking his place in the hot seat but he certainly doesn’t deserve criticising, in fact the effort can be described as valiant given the list of circumstances that have prevented him from doing his job efficiently.
The issue, though, is that Hull’s problems are old ones. Progress hasn’t been made in key areas of the field, both attack and defence, while results have been inconsistent as players continue to perform below their potential.
These aren’t problems that have arisen under his stewardship, they were there under Radford and they ultimately proved his undoing after two seasons of disappointment.
It's a contention of some that Last is too closely associated to the old regime having stepped up from the assistant role he previous held, with a style of play that’s not wholly dissimilar either. There are also those who would answer to that the players remain the same and how much can one man change with the same tools, especially in these trying circumstances?
With the news filtering through this week that fans won’t be returning to stadiums for some time, Pearson will be forced to balance the books accordingly.
But it is becoming clear the chairman has a decision to make as the Black and Whites continue to stumble their way through the 2020 campaign and whether he believes a new direction is needed. That goes for both on and off the field.
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There are still eight games to play this season but it seems FC will fall someway short of expectations once more.
There feel bigger issues at stake right now for the game than what changes FC may make moving forward.
In truth, there are. But that doesn't take away from the fact the Black and Whites will find themselves with a decision to be made and Pearson in particular.
There are financial concerns for the league and FC, playing concerns and a consideration over the future of Last, who still has that interim coach tag.
Next season could be make or break for Super League in a coronavirus-hit world. Keeping afloat remains the priority for nearly all clubs, but a strong product is at the heart of that and for FC, they need to be a strong player.