The time between the end of the season and the start of pre season training is often one for reflection, re-charging your batteries and starting to look forward with a bit of hope.
However, this time around, the critical nature of both the Clubs finances and the importance of the next campaign are never far away from all our thoughts and it really is shaping up to be a case of make or break. Even our Coach commented in an interview last week, “We have a number of bloke’s off-contract in 2016. If we are in the same situation again next year regarding our position in the league, then we won’t be renewing a lot of them, let’s put it that way.” Radford went on to tell the Hull Daily Mail that he also realise his future was on the line when he said, “If we are not in the eight or we are on the corner of it, then we are not improving and it will effect things (contract wise) and that includes myself.”
The fans are still doing their bit and last week saw a really impressive surge in season ticket sales which is certainly heartening, in fact if we can get half way to last year’s total by the end of October which is still very do-able, then with a final discount deadline extended to the New Year I think we are as supporters, doing OK. However the fans have to keep the steady flow of renewals going and also keep buying those shirts so that we all get behind the team at what appears to be a critical time for the Club.
However, for their part, the administration have to do their bit and can’t give us hope of another signing as they did this week and then for whatever reason not deliver on that promise. I’d rather they didn’t say anything until these things are properly sorted out myself.
Reading between the lines of those comments from Lee this will certainly be a decisive season for him and also for players like Hadley, Bowden and Green who have made the progression from the junior ranks in the last year or so. They now have to kick on and shape up as first team regulars, because their time on the ‘conveyor belt’ is getting short as other young players are now snapping at their heels. In turn, some of those like Callum Lancaster, Harry Tyson-Wilson and Reece Dean, have to jump on board and stake a claim to join Abdull, Fash, Turgot and Downs in becoming genuine emerging talents for 2016.
As I said last week, at the top of the pile a new contract for Mini is for me (providing he continues to keep himself fit) pretty much of a no brainer. However, the situation concerning senior professionals such as Ellis, Yeaman, Whiting and Pryce must be largely down to how they get over their injuries and whether they still have enough in the tank (and their bodies), to go round again after this campaign.
I guess most importantly of all for all the young players, this has to be a time for some deep thinking as they strive to ensure that they get a big pre season under their belts, which will hopefully force them into first team contention. That will, with our new signings, be a big ‘ask’ for some of them; particularly those who play in the forwards! That said, the depth of the squad will also ensure even the seasoned campaigners have to watch their backs and no places are guaranteed. For me, despite perhaps still being a little thin on the ground strike wise in the backs, that has to be a pretty healthy situation.
So now to the late and perhaps not so lamented Joe Westerman! You know someone commented that I didn’t mention him and his possible departure in here last week, but at the time of going to print I just felt that things hadn’t changed that much since the 4 paragraphs I wrote on the subject in the previous Diary. In fact 8 or 9 days ago the rumour mill was only really catching up with what I’d said in here anyway.
However the story certainly moved apace last Monday morning, when before we knew it the deal was done and Joe Westerman, the much discussed ‘marmite man’, was gone. He followed Tom Lineham to Warrington, a team that appear to spend money like it’s going out of fashion. However I have to say that £290,000 (ish) for two players over whom there have been big question marks concerning their attitude and off field behaviour, is pretty good business and probably in the long term good for morale in the camp and our attempts to get a ‘settled’ squad. I have to say here and now however that I’m a big believer in retaining the best players and managing their issues, rather than getting rid of the bad lads just to secure a quiet life, but more of that later.
On his day Joe was good, but sadly as I’ve said in here so many times before, those ‘days’ were few and far between and when he wasn’t on his game at best he acted like an extra prop and at worst he just went missing. However rather than being the ball handling loose man he once threatened to be, of late he’s appeared pretty ineffective.
However, I do think we’ll miss Lineham, he’ll score a few in the corner for anyone, but for me, if I’m honest, Joe won’t be missed that much at all.
He’s had what can only be described as a very ordinary campaign and hadn’t even started contract talks when he announced to everyone in West Yorkshire who wanted to listen, that he was off and thus, even if we insisted that he stayed for next season, he’d be away next year come the end of his contract. That would then have replicated the Tom Briscoe situation where no fee was forthcoming for a player in whom we had invested a lot of time and money. With one year to go on his contract, I was expecting if we were very lucky, to get around £60,000, so to get £150,000 is amazing business really.
Leeds were definitely interested and Joe even spoke to them, but they refused to match the big fee that had been offered by the Wire. The Lancashire Club were, I believe, a tad naive and the fee we got is without doubt the best deal, finance wise, there has been in Super League this year. However money is one thing, but for the fans the acid test of our Club’s intentions, commitment and ambition would always be indicated by what they did next.
Will those two come back to bite us? For me Lineham definitely will, but ironically I also believe that if we now bring in a top quality strike back then we’ll be in a better position, balance wise, than we were before Westy went! However of course it’s a big ‘If’!
Should there be no new signing, then it will indicate to the fans that we are a side selling to survive, which sometimes has to happen, but invariably points to a team in decline. That would show that despite having some spare cash and a bit of cap space we’ve had to ‘trouser’ all that, to keep going and would certainly indicate hard times, which would soon be linked by the fans to the ambitions of the owner. I’m sure (when measured on ability) a top Club would have let Westy go, but they might just have kept Lineham and managed any off field issues he had because often the most talented players carry the most baggage anyway. Constantly getting rid of difficult characters who are good players is just for many a cop out, particularly when those players guarantee you tries, as Tom does.
However what’s done is done and there’s no use crying over spilt milk and with the talent that we have signed already, next year using Westerman’s cap space to bring in a strike player would I think show a team at least addressing the main weakness in the balance of the side. It may also, even more importantly, persuade a few more to re-new their passes!
To me we still look to be over endowed with forwards, but light on ‘predatory’ backs. I think a big name try scorer also takes the spotlight off other players when other teams are marking you and that could really benefit Michaels, Lancaster and Logan. However it’s all poised very interestingly now and I think a lot of fans will be watching Adams next move very closely.
That said, on Wednesday, it all started so well, as in the Mail Adam announced that the money we got for Joe and indeed the salary cap space his departure freed up, would be spent on an outside back to rebalance the team. The Club are, the article announced, looking now for a centre/winger but that was said by the Club after rumours were already rife, (as early as the day before), that our primary target was Justin Carney. That possible move immediately saw the moralistic brigade out in force and the banners being panted, whilst if I’m honest the thought of him replacing Lineham had me pretty excited.
Rumours were everywhere, most of which were as usual completely unsubstantiated, but within a few hours Carney was all but signed, then Radford wasn’t sure, Pearson wanted him, then the players had a vote and declined the idea etc. etc. etc. Hans Christian Anderson would have been proud of the inventiveness of the stories and I guess in the end we’ll never really know what actually did happen!
However I ain’t getting into moralistic arguments and won’t be getting all ‘holier than though’ about what Carney did and what went on at Castleford, I’ll leave that to all the ‘cynics’ on the message boards. I’ve always taken the view that as my pal always says, “it takes two to tango!” You see for many fans it’s just really down to a simple philosophy and all they want in the end is the best possible 13 ‘rugby players’ out there on the pitch wearing the strip of the Club they love. They don’t really care what they do away from the playing area and will only be questioning their commitment and off the field activities if they are searching for a reason for some poor form on the pitch.
Anyway, if anyone was to get too moralistic about someone like Carney, then after some of the stories I heard at the time, a deal of the greatest players I have seen in the irregular hoops would never have even got in the changing rooms! Then there’s this year’s Man of Steel and how Leeds have straightened him out! Carney is, whatever else is said, both a hard running, yard gaining predatory strike winger and a proper ‘pantomime’ villain (and of course a bit of a ‘fat bastard’ according to the FC fans every time they sing to him at the jungle) all of which makes him pure ‘box office’ as far as ticket sales are concerned. Could you envisage many fans taking their passes back if we’d had signed him, there would have been grumbles but that’s about all!
The whole story is hypothetical anyway and in essence a bit far-fetched too but it’s the sort of thing that occupies the fertile minds of the average fan in a quite closed season, although I have to say that I would be hard pressed to imagine Shaun Wane or Alex Ferguson polling the staff about whether they should sign a player or not, surely they would immediately know what was right for the team and the team dynamic. Nah, that can’t have really happened can it? However whether it’s true or not the story is out there and headlines in the RL Press that read ‘Hull FC players Veto Carney move’ do little for the Clubs credibility and smack I guess to the outside observer of the tail wagging the dog a bit!
I think Carney’s signing was a goer when the news broke, almost done on Thursday and perhaps down the pan again by Friday. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if it still isn’t a possibility, but it’s looking pretty unlikely now! I say that because there are players in our squad who you would expect would find such a move hard to take, but in the end whatever his faults, Carney would have scored a shed load of tries for us and isn’t that all that matters? I don’t know I’m torn really!
I trust our administration I have to, because in the end they are all I’ve got!! I’ve always believed that if you own a Club or coach a team then you should always try to act in the interest of entertaining and inspiring the fans, because they are the stakeholders. However I think that it’s worth commenting here too that if you’re the boss then it’s good to consult your workforce, but you should always do it bearing in mind that acting on consensus management is a wise move in isolation. However if you are forced into it once, it can become accepted practise to some and that down the road can only end in ‘toothless’ management and in the worst cases, as we have seen, eventual mutiny!
As I say it’s still just a rumour anyway, but Carney will no doubt sign for Saints or Salford, because they believe they can handle him (and because his baggage is something their Coach and players can deal with), simply because with 72 tries in 67 appearances he is an undisputed talent. He’ll score loads of tries wherever he plays, while we‘ll be told we were never in for him in the first place and we’ll all just sit there out on the terraces, watch the efforts of our wingers trying to tackle him next season and wonder! Let’s hope we sign a quality outside back soon and lets all pray that it isn’t Chris Welham!!
Well it’s about time that we had a whiffs section again and although (Carney apart) things are quiet at our Club at present, I’m hearing that we could soon see the arrival of a new back room assistant on the conditioning side who used to work for Rovers and I would expect another of those uplifting and informative interviews with our owner any time soon as well. There’s also news that the afore mentioned Chris Welham, could well be signing for Salford, while the deal between Joel Monaghan and The Red Devils has stalled and the aging winger is perhaps looking for another Club. He had thought of going back to (or in fact staying at) Warrington but cap pressure after Westerman’s arrival makes that unlikely. However Castleford are favourites to now sign him now which points to the fact that Carney is going…..somewhere!
While we are on other Clubs it seems that Leigh are struggling and in dispute with the RL about their salary cap and their move for Rangi Chase could well now be off. Most unlikely suitors touted about for Mr Chase last week indicated a possible return to Castleford, but again it’s still only a whiff. While we are on Leigh too, if Adam is absolutely desperate for someone to buy into the Club he could do worse than have a look at Mandy Koukash (although with her husband she comes with more baggage than British Airways or even dare I say Justin Carney) who is said to be currently interested in buying a 20% share in the Lancashire Club. After all the fallout from the Hock stuff between the Chairman of Salford and Leigh, peace seems to have suddenly broken out between those two. It’s a strange old game isn’t it?
Last week I touched on the fact that I had been perusing the stats from last season and reader Dan said how much he enjoyed the ‘Statto’ stuff, so continuing on that theme this week, I want to feature the offload ability of some of Hull’s forwards, which is surprisingly pretty amazing. In 2015, master of the art Liam Watts made 66 offloads which only Adam Cuthbertson could better in the whole of Super League. As a team we were averaging just over 11 offloads per game, equalling Wigan’s figure (but still way behind the 19 of Leeds). But Hull’s average would be much higher and closer to that of the Rhinos if our support play had been better and there had actually been someone there to off load to! On many occasions we all witnessed Watts, Minichiello, Ellis and a few others taking on the defensive line and getting an arm free to no avail. When we managed to actually get it away and make some second phase play, we looked pretty good, so making it happen more often can only improve the sides attacking ability further. The thing is of course we need Sneyd, Abdull, Pryce and Houghton to be there to receive offloads and instigate second phase play more often in 2016, otherwise as I said last week we will see little difference however impressive is the pack we are fielding.
Now a question; is Rugby league falling behind the other premier sports in the country? Well, we seem to be as far as finance is concerned and that means should Rugby Union come calling our best players will undoubtedly be poached and with the wages they offer who can blame our lads for leaving? With a salary cap of around £2m our game is hardly cash rich, well it’s not compared with the 15 a side game and that was certainly proved last week. During an interview about both Saracens and Bath potentially breaking the £4.5m salary cap last season, the Premiership Rugby Chief Executive, Mark McCafferty, said that a board meeting had agreed to substantially increase the cap from £5.5m this season to £6.5m in 2016-17 and £7m the following year. The fact is that we simply can’t compete with that sort of cash can we?
Trying to put this weekly drivel together does mean that at this time of year at least I do quite a bit of what is for want of a better word ‘research’! That gets me around the media outlets and at least once a week, I usually visit most Clubs message boards, to try and gauge what the feelings are and indeed that includes from time to time visiting the ‘secret’ Rovers board which again at times is quite useful.
This week was a point of fact when I visited that most un-sacred of places to see how the arguments about several Sunday games being removed from the Dobbins fixture list this season, was being greeted by the rank and file of the Rovers fans. Over the years of Super league we, as a club, are seasoned campaigners at p*ssing off the fans by constantly switching match days, but I discovered that there was a deal of outrage over in the land that time forgot, which is as a fan completely understandable. However I also learned that it really does appear that the slow removal of Sunday fixtures from the schedules of all Clubs is not as straight forward as the conspiracy theorists would have us believe. Even Castleford who traditionally play on a Sunday have started moving none televised games to Fridays.
On the Rovers message board one aggrieved contributor had spoken directly to Blake Solly at the RFL about the current demise of Sunday fixtures (The Dobbins traditional match day) in their fixture list for next season and it transpired that although the change was not entirely a RFL decision, they did drive the final outcome. The situation appears to centre on the fact that both the Clubs and the RFL are becoming very concerned about the number of injuries and lack of ‘rehab’ that occur because of short 4 day ‘turnarounds’ which are even said by some, to be endangering the health and wellbeing of players.
Every week, due to TV commitments, at least one Thursday game has to happen, these games have, as you will notice, been set in stone throughout the complete fixture list from the day it was released. So, the league in an attempt to cut out 4 day turnarounds, is trying to remove any Sunday games for the participating Clubs the weekend before those Thursday games.
The Thursday games were set first and then participating clubs were offered the option of a Friday or Saturdays fixture for the preceding round, however if both clubs agreed to stick to a Sunday game and thus a short turnaround, then that was still allowed, although understandably in most cases one or both clubs declined these. In an ideal situation I guess everything would just go back to playing on Sunday’s and that would give regular and uniform 7 day gaps between matches and solve all the problems, but with TV funding keeping the game afloat and Sky absolutely insisting on one Thursday game a week, that simply won’t happen and so you can see the RL’s point I guess.
It was pointed out by the fan who spoke to Solly, that having 2 games over Easter and trying to also fit in a midweek game in 2015 (if you finished in the bottom 4 and entered the Cup a round early), makes the whole Sunday/Thursday player welfare argument a bit of a joke. But it was said that Solly pointed out then that the players and coaches wanted to keep 2 games over Easter. Which is, the way they whinge on every year, pretty hard to comprehend!
Solly was also reported to have said he agreed that, although it’s all well and good for the clubs and playing side of the sport, there is still no way of getting the views of the 3rd important group (The fans), but he said that plans are in place to include the supporters in the fixture setting process in future. In addition this season they are going to do studies to see if these enforced longer turnarounds actually do make a difference to injury numbers and make a decision in 2017 on the back of those findings. That seems to explain things a bit I guess and player safety has to be paramount, but it’s still hardly a satisfactory outcome to the fans whose lives, jobs and routines have been built around regular Sunday home games. Then again at Hull FC we know all about issues surrounding changing your game day, don’t we?
So to the Codgers spot and by request another visit to the golden era of the early 1980’s. .In those days Leeds were OK as were Saints and Widnes but with the obvious exception of Hull KR, Wigan were still always the team to beat and along with probably Bradford their scalps home or away were a valuable pointer to how any Club was doing. In the early 80’s in fact as we progressed from a team with a big pack and an even bigger heart to the best Club in the competition, the visit of Wigan was always still a big occasion and usually spawned the type of tough uncompromising game that we all loved. This week I was talking about injuries to Stan Bishop and Harry Cobb, two readers who I discovered hail from just round the corner in Beverley and soon the talk got round to backs to the walls performances against all the odds. So, I promised them a Codgers Corner that featured a great game I remembered not just for the result, but for the injuries we suffered both before and during the match. This week we go back in time to 1982, when almost 11,000 packed into the Boulevard for the visit of those famous ‘Pies’.
I recollect it was a night when the crowd was buzzing with rumours about the possibility of us signing International half back Steve Evans from Featherstone, something that was to become a reality, for a world record fee, two days later. However we were also captivated by a cut-and-thrust clash in which the outcome was in the balance until the final whistle. It was certainly not a game for the faint hearted and I watched it with an enthralled crowd in a packed Threepenny Stand. You tend to forget sometimes that in those halcyon days, it wasn’t all 30 point wins and scintillating performances and there was still those times when we ground out victories and others, like on this occasion, when despite all our skill and class, we simply didn’t click.
Wigan arrived at the Boulevard on a chilly Wednesday night full of determination after a heavy defeat at Widnes the previous Sunday which had dented their own title hopes, whilst we chasing the same prize but wracked with injuries with 11 players on the sick list. Unfortunately in the first quarter we looked more like we were relegation candidates. In fact Hull’s first half display was probably one of the worst we had seen all year as Wigan punched holes in our defence at will and our own attack failed to fire at all.
The Wigan side started strongly and took a surprise 5-0 lead in that first quarter although it was an advantage they certainly deserved. It all started so badly for Wigan when after just 4 minutes they lost their influential hooker Nicky Kiss with what looked like a serious leg injury. However they pressed on playing some blistering rugby that had the Hull defence on the back foot and twice Barry (the Sidewinder) Banks saved the day at Full Back with great tackles on Cuncliffe and Campbell. However then Stephens hoisted a massive kick that rose way above the floodlights, so that when it came down Banks failed to even attempt to catch the ball, which then bounced into the in goal area as Scott steamed in to touch down. With a Whitfield conversion we were 5-0 down with our depleted troops looking decidedly bemused by the enterprise of the visitors. Paul Prendiville got a real ‘bell ringer’ of a tackle in the lead up to that try and stayed on the ground long after the kick had been taken. It was the first of three big hit’s Taffy was to sustain that day!
It took us 21 minutes to even exert any pressure on the Wigan line and then it was Dane O’Hara that took a pin point pass from Mick Crane to be stopped inches short of the line by Colin Whitfield and Mal Aspey. The latter actually came in late and high and was lucky to stay on the field having already been booked for the same offence ten minutes earlier. On the 26th minute the break through finally came as after another period of backs to the wall defence we broke out and a trip by Foy on Terry Day allowed our young 18 year old sensation Lee Crooks to stroke over a penalty, that finally get us on the score board. However Wigan came straight back up the field and three minutes later only a brilliant leap to knock the ball dead by Dane O’Hara prevented Henderson Gill from scoring in the corner.
Lee Crooks was easily our best player and his constant crashing into the Wigan forwards was obviously rattling them a bit as with ten minutes to go to the break, he was fouled by Hodgson who punched him ‘in his tackle’ in the tackle. Crooks was bent double in pain and the Threepenny’s laughed as the ‘magic sponge’ was administered down his shorts before he coolly converted the penalty only for Wigan’s Whitfield to drop a goal to extend that lead. That looked to be it for half time, but as the fans trickled out of the Threepennys to take their places in the drinks queue or round the back we at last came good. Firstly a good heel against the head at a scrum on our 40 yard line by Wileman saw the ball sweep down field and Kevin Harkin and Mick Crane almost got Paul Prendiville in on the right. From a play there ball 10 yards out we swept the play laterally back across field and Crane threw a short ball to Crooks who blasted two defenders out of his way before running 15 yards to score a great try which he improved, to send us in at half time holding a very unlikely 9-6 lead.
Afterwards it was revealed that Arthur Bunting really tore into the lads at half time and they were all sent out early to await the return of the officials and the Wigan side. At last the second half started and but it only saw more Wigan pressure that led to both Day and Mick Crane being injured in tackles. They were replaced immediately by second team coach Clive Sullivan (who came out of retirement again) and the returning from injury James Leuluai, before we were reduced to 12 men when Trevor Skerrett limped off injured and although he returned, he was almost a passenger for the rest of the game hobbling out in the right centre position. This was real backs to the wall stuff now, but Crooks eased the pressure a bit as he was again on target with a penalty after 54 minutes. However at 11-6 we could not relax and three minutes later the hobbling Skerrett could not reach Hodkinson and instead stuck an arm out and caught him across the face. Another successful penalty from Whitfield reduced the arrears again and at 11-8 with 20 minutes to go it was all to play for. Eventually Skerrett could go on no more and so back came a limping Mick Crane who immediately pulled off a brilliant ball and all tackle on Des Foy that brought the Wigan man to a shuddering stop.
Craney stayed down too but after a bit of further treatment and then with a wink and a wave to the cheering ‘Threepenny’s’, he was back in the battle. Tindall and Lloyd had to be alert for the FC as Ramsdale wriggled out of a Harkin tackle and then it was down to Man of the Match Crooks to somehow get across the defensive line and onto the wing to stop Ramsdale as it looked like he would break clear. We were hanging on for dear life as everyone seemed to be playing out of position to cover the Wigan pressure. However in the end it was that man Mick Crane that finished things off. As Tindall got up to play the ball 30 yards out and still limping heavily, Mick pushed Harkin away from acting half and ran into his place as in one movement he scooped the ball up in one hand, dummied right, stepped left and landed a great drop goal from a really tight angle. This stretched the lead to four points and seemed to sap the energy of Wigan as we played out the last 10 minutes deep in the Wigan half. As Referee Ken Allett blew the whistle we all let out a great cheer of relief before the battle cry of ‘Old Faithful’ was struck up by all the fans around the ground.
Thankfully that interval blasting from Arthur Bunting had been enough to ensure that we stayed on course for the title, but it was a close thing in a game where I have to say we played poorly at times. Mick Crane was simply a player who could do the impossible to win a match and yet to look at him he was the most unlikely of characters to do anything. Afterwards Crooks was hailed as a hero as the 18 year old scored 11 of our 12 points and I guess the lasting memory for me has to be the way that after a disastrous opening an injury ravaged Hull side clawed their way back into the game and showed tremendous character and determination to come through and win. Often in successful seasons it’s those scrappy hard earned victories that get you through. Great days eh!
You have to laugh at Hull FC fans and the spirit and inventiveness they have and this week’s quote of the week goes to a RL fans poster called Saf who said of the transfer speculation going on at present, “If Carney scores a hat trick in the Challenge Cup final for FC and wins us the cup he can sleep with my wife!”
So there we are another week gone by and despite the French national team embarrassing the game somewhat last Saturday, it’s been a curious sort of week, but there was still plenty to talk about at the Drum and Monkey on Sunday evening! I hope that you found something of interest in the Diary and I that might see you next Thursday at the City Hall for the 150th Anniversary Dinner, which I will report back on in here next week. Thanks to everyone who contributed this week and complained, gave me encouragement or just took time to read the Diary, you all make it so worthwhile. Finally a special mention for reader John who wrote to the City Council this week suggesting that the proposed new footbridge over the A63 at Castle Street should be named The Johnny Whiteley Bridge! Well done mate, great sentiments and well done. I’ll see you all next week.