Danny Houghton: Hull’s tackling machine

Hooker can be a strange position in rugby league. While some number nines are silky skilled pivot players with dash and elan, others are obdurate, stubborn practitioners, able to absorb tons of punishment in the middle unit, and dish it out too.

Hull FC‘s Danny Houghton seems to be able to combine both those strands of dummy half ability perfectly.

Although by no means the biggest or quickest hooker, Houghton leads Super League‘s tackling leaderboard, having made a fantastic 1130 tackles this season so far.

He has also made 171 marker tackles, 20 behind the leader, Hep Cahill of Widnes, and one behind second-placed Jamie Jones-Buchanan.

His cool mind and fine distribution also play their part in keeping Hull’s monster pack keep moving forwards too.

As for the tackling, Houghton is pretty philosophical about the extreme efforts he makes while playing big minutes in the middle unit.

“I think it’s just something that comes with the job, really,” he told Love Rugby League.

“You defend in the middle for 80 minutes, and you’re a small kid, you get run at a lot.

“I pride myself on being as good as I can be in there. I make my tackles and try and be as tight in there as possible.

“I do pride myself on my defence, but the amount of tackles I make is not a number I go chasing.

“I get run at a lot, so I’ve just got to make those tackles!”

Hookers, whatever their particular assets, all do seem to be cast from a similar mould mentally, however, with a wirry aggression and resilience seemingly stamped into every dummy half’s genetic code.

Houghton agrees that it takes a special kind of mentality to make a hooker.

“I think it’s small man syndrome,” he laughed.

“Maybe it’s a bit of a mindset where you know you’re going to have to do a bit of work, and  struggle through the game being short of breath, but it’s something that you get used to.

“I’ve been doing it for a few years now and it’s just part and parcel of my game.”

Playing alongside Houghton in the middle unit this season is prop forward Liam Watts, a man whose own form has looked good in 2016.

The big front rower believes that his team-mate’s relaxed mentality is a big part of why he is such a good player, and why he works so well with the rest of Hull’s forwards.

“He plays off the back of us!” Watts joked.

“We do all the hard work really.

“He’s a freak, though. For a kid of his size he plays well above his weight, to do the amount of tackling he does.

“People run at him thinking he’s a spot, but he’s not, because you don’t get anything from him.

“Nine times out of 10 you get put on your back by the kid.

“He plays well above his weight and he’s a credit to Hull.

“He’s a Hull lad too, and to have someone of his calibre playing alongside me in the final is great.

“He’s just so relaxed too. Me and him sit tend to sit next to each other, and we’re laughing and joking all the way through.

“He takes your mind off things.

“In these big games, there’s always a time when everybody’s going to be tense, and it’s people like me and him who can relax things.

“Hopefully, when we get down that will be vital for us.”

The ‘big game’ on the immediate horizon for Watts and Houghton is, of course, Saturday’s Challenge Cup final at Wembley against Warrington.

Houghton is relishing the challenge of testing himself against Wire’s livewire hooking duo of Daryl Clark and Brad Dwyer, a pair who ask plenty of the Airlie Birds.

“It’s a great challenge, it’s always good to come up against the best and test yourself,” he said.

“We know that Daryl Clark and Brad Dwyer, like the Warrington team as a whole, play fast. They’re very quick.

“So that’s something that we need to keep an eye on, because those two are pretty decent.

“They’re both opportunists, and if they have opportunities then they can burn you and sting you.

“So hopefully we’ll do our homework on them and not given them room.”

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