KEEP SMILING, FRANKS COMING!!!!!!!!! (I think!)
At last after what seems like ages since we last played a game, pre-season training is under way and the arrival of the last four pieces of the ‘current’ jigsaw is imminent.
They all have something for us to look forward to but Frank will be a massive signing with, as someone said this week, his most exciting stat an amazing 1073 yards made in the NRL season of 2015…. AFTER contact. I think that Mrs Pritchard is going to get on well with this weekly Diary too, as she seemed to referenced my ‘life coach’ Homer Simpson, when she said on twitter last week, “UK bound in days, Woo Hoo!”
The question is of course exactly when is he jetting in, because Frank says, this week, Mrs P says, in days and the Club are saying in early December, so when is he really coming? Is he arriving early and not being announced so that he can settle in, are the Club planning a big ‘hello’ on his arrival which is under wraps, or have our people simply got their communications muddled up? The latest I can find out is that Sika Manu, Carlos Tuimavave and Mahe Fonua, arrive later this week and start training next week, while Frank the Tank will make his eagerly-anticipated arrival next week and start training the following week.
Let’s just hope that all the confusion over an NRL Club bidding for Frank is over with and he arrives soon!!!! I know we have all been re-assured, but this is Hull FC we are talking about here, and years of experience prove that quite frankly with our lot anything can happen! So, all we can do as fans is share the belief of the owner, put trust in the player’s integrity and hope!!
Both Pearson and Lee Radford have, in the last two years, seemed to major on the need to not just sign top class players, but to bring that standard of operative into the Club by recruiting seasoned professionals that also have the right mental attributes and belief systems. So, if that’s the case, then none of us should have been surprised to hear that Frank Pritchard has knocked back a late and lucrative offer from the NZ Warriors to continue his NRL career. In fact in a statement on Friday the test forward re-iterated that he will honour his commitment to Hull FC. You know, I had somehow been expecting a late offer like this for some time and no doubt like you I’ll just be glad when he’s finally here.
Why do I say that, well Pritchard might be getting on a bit but he is still one of the most feared forwards in the NRL and probably still one of the NRL’s top 20 players, so when he was released from the final year of his Canterbury contract to take up a three-year deal with us, it was certainly a shock for many administrations at both sides of the world who would have liked a shot at capturing his services for a couple of years.
The facts are that we all knew that it wouldn’t have been that difficult for the player to get out of his contract, because what’s the point of forcing someone to travel all this way and uproot his family if in the first place, he doesn’t want to be here. Sure you could sue, that’s what a lot of fans would demand, but what would be the point! Let’s face it, the biggest ever defeat at Wembley apart, our noisy neighbours don’t lead the way in many things in this City, but when it comes to making a cock up of importing a class NRL player, their handling of their last big name Aussie forward does still take some beating!
It now appears that the Warriors offered the New Zealand and Samoan international a shed load of money and a two-year deal in the hope of getting him to renege on his contract with us and so that they could add him to an imposing pack that already includes Simon Mannering, Ryan Hoffman, Ben Matulino, and Jacob Lillyman.
However, we are told that, despite having friends and family in New Zealand, Frank stood firm and said he would honour his commitment to us lot. “I will be heading over there next week and I’m really looking forward to it,” Pritchard said. “I think they are a team on the rise and I can’t wait to be part of it. It’s flattering that there may have been some interest elsewhere but I’m a man of my word and will see out my commitment” But you all know all that don’t you, because like me you have probably read it over and over again many times in the last few days, just for, if nothing else, a bit of re-assurance.
So although I won’t be happy until his feet are well and truly on British soil, at least it looks like Lee Radford has got what he set out to get and however much game time Frank gets, or doesn’t get in the next three years, his off the field qualities look to have passed the first test.
I just hoped when we signed him that he really was the honourable man we were told he was, but perhaps the proof of that particular pudding has already manifest itself in the last few days, now as I say I just want to see him here. I’m hearing the fans may get the chance to meet Frank once he arrives as the Club continue with their plans for something special once he’s here.
That’s where we are, as I put this edition to bed on Sunday evening, but who knows where we will be next week at this time, however for now it would have been a disaster had the Club missed out on him at this late stage, because he’s a real leader and just what we need. In fact as I say, even as an old, gnarled and battle weary sceptic, I’m excited and now I can’t wait to see him in the black and white!
Talking of upcoming events I can reveal that FC Voices should today at last be able to announce their annual Autumn fans forum, which is I believe taking place on Monday 30th at the new home of the FC Faithful in West Hull, The Walton Club. With tickets priced at £3 and already in both the Club shops, it should be a night not to be missed and a chance to quiz the Club about any future signing targets, our pre season so far, the fixtures, the new under 23’s league etc. etc. It should be a great night and as fans we really do need to support these events, so get a ticket and come along if you can.
Talking of that new competition I don’t know how successful this Under 23 League will be, but last week Steve Gill the Chief Executive at Castleford cast some desperations’ on it when he commented in an interview that he believed there are only 3 Clubs in Lancashire and us doing it now, so it looked like it could well fall flat on its face, which I thought would be a real pity because we could just be left with the bloody merged Academy!
However it now appears that five championship Clubs could be taking part too as the Halifax Courier announced last Friday that their home town Club would be taking part. The paper said, “Twenty-four hours before Halifax’s first team met at the club’s training base at Calderdale College to resume training, the newly-reformed reserve set up also gathered for the first time. The new side will play in the RFL’s revamped reserve grade competition, with 10 teams – five from the Championship, five from Super League – committed to a minimum of 15 games a season over the next three years. So despite what Mr Gill said it really does appear that the new competition is starting to at last take shape.
How tragic it was to hear as the Diary went to print of the death of Brad Parker, who played until just recently for our junior teams. Brad was a talented hooker, a really nice lad and was the former England Under 16’s Captain. He won junior boy of the year at the 2013 Hull Daily Mail’s Sporting Champions Awards and was part of Hull FC’s scholarship programme. As I sent the Diary off, I just heard that Brad had died with his pal in a car crash on Sunday Afternoon in South Holderness but I felt I just had to mention this tragic news. My thoughts and those of all the Hull FC family are with his family and friends at this time. Tragic news at the end of a tragic week! RIP Brad!
Now, it was good to see this week that Mark O’Meley’s son Nick, who always looked as if he would make a good outside back when he was a youngster here in Hull, has signed a professional contract in the NRL. O’Meley Jnr. has been signed by the Roosters to follow in his Dads footsteps, as Mark also played for the ‘tri-colours’. Nick has been starring this year for his junior club the Wyong Roos, where his great consistency and predatory try scoring, saw him made their player of the year. He has big shoes to step into, but his Dad always mentored and encouraged his son when he was here and I wish him the best of luck as he sets out to emulate his father, who gained hero status in the NRL and indeed here in Hull.
Boy, Gareth Ellis is doing well in his rehab and after such a horrendous injury it’s amazing to see it reported that he’s probably even in front of where players in their early 20 would be, had they suffered the same fate. He’s working really hard every day at training on the anti gravity treadmill Adam invested in last summer and as you can see below, there’s not much upper body wastage to report either!!
It was certainly good to read too how excited Feke is as he amazingly begins his 16th year of pre-season training. This will be his last ever season as he intends to retire at the end of it and his tireless work as the main ambassador for the Clubs Foundation means that he has only had two weeks off before he returned to County Road to restart the annual grind that is the next two months! He must realise that he’ll find it really hard to get into the starting 17 too, particularly when you look at the strength of our pack this year. However if he does, then I expect him to be played in two or three short bursts every game and having seen how he performed last year in that role, when he certainly brought something different to the front row when he was fit, I’m sure he won’t be letting us down when he’s out there. Top bloke is Feke!
There have been some big raps already from a couple of players I bumped into this week, because it seems that the new training plans and rehabilitation processes our new head of conditioning Paul Hatton has brought into the club are pretty popular. Here below he’s seen putting them through his paces last Tuesday!
Well, with 11 weeks to go to the off, our opening game of the 2016 campaign is starting to look both tasty and difficult in equal parts, as Salford continue to recruit well and last week added Daniel Vidot to their ranks. Vidot, who was at one time linked to us, is a good player who doesn’t mind a bit of biff and with Carney already signed up; their strike backs are looking impressive. So we had better be on our metal from the off, because we’ll certainly find ourselves up against a Tim Sheens inspired Red Devils outfit that are out to impress. In fact ourselves Rovers and Widnes will have noted just how well some of the teams who finished in the bottom half of the table last year like Salford, Wakey and Catalan have strengthened their rosters in the past few weeks and we should all be thinking that it’s going to be a tough season and one when perhaps the gap between the top 4 and the bottom four could well be even narrower.
Having seen first-hand what the middle eight is like, there is little doubt that the bottom 4 from the last campaign won’t be relishing that again and although at least a couple of them will invariably finish down there anyway, with Leigh and Bradford licking their wounds and building their teams for another tilt in the final quarter of the season, it’s going to be a real scrap in Super League next season. I wouldn’t be surprised if injuries don’t play a part and should one of the top teams get a real bad run of them, then one of the ‘big boys’ could even find themselves battling to avoid the middle eight play-offs. That’s how tight I think it’s going to be!
We simply have to get a good start and I was talking to Adam last week who said that because of our opening fixtures we had to look to win 4 of our first 5 games, (I set a target of 5 from the first 8 myself, but anything less with what follows could be disastrous). Looking again through the fixtures and the way that those other Clubs are strengthening, it’s certainly going to be interesting. As I said at length last week, I still think we desperately need a real quality strike outside back. The fans know it and I think the Club knows it as well, but the key word is ‘Quality’ and where that will be coming from, if at all, is the issue!!
I know that one of Adam Pearson’s main objectives since he curtailed his activities at Leeds United was to get the community and Foundation side of the Club back on track. Often hailed in its early day’s as the bench mark operation in British Rugby League, things in that area had certainly slipped a lot, not just because of those in charge, but also because of a reduction in the public sector and business funding that sort of operation thrives on. In football’s most successful community operations the trick has been to get double impact from such initiatives by not only obtaining funding for extensive community initiatives but to make those initiatives impact on your fan-base and gates.
The importance of these sorts of projects cannot be underestimated and it’s certainly something worth getting involved with if you can. I don’t have a lot of dosh, but last year trying to do my bit and like a few others I know, I saved up every month and bought an extra pass on the row behind us. I intended to bring people to games that would not normally go but found on several occasions the fare on show and the plight of the team in the league meant that it was left empty. I have given that up after finding a good home for the seat and will instead look at other ways I can try to do my bit.
One worth considering I think is the new and pioneering scheme called FC Community Champions, which aims to work with local businesses and supporters to give under privileged young people the chance to experience live sport for the first time, as well as allowing them the opportunity to earn qualifications and meet new people. As part of the club’s 150th anniversary, the Black and Whites will be working with local businesses and supporters to raise money to sponsor a youngster from one of the city’s less affluent areas, so they can enjoy live sport and a day out at the KC Stadium on a weekly basis.
This pushes all the buttons with regard to helping those less fortunate in the community as well as helping to build our attendances and is a great idea, especially as the minimum investment from any sponsor is a single pledge of £150. That outlay will then fund a 2016 pass membership for a full season of rugby league at the KC Stadium for one youngster. Then the club will match that pledge and will provide a match day meal, pre match entertainment, game day activities and work with their travel partners to provide free transport to and from the matches for each young fan. Better still, whilst attending matches, the youngsters, who will be aged between 5 and 19, will also have the chance to take part in accessible education sessions and earn awards and qualifications to aid their long-term development and do it in a fun and friendly environment.
In addition to that new initiative, this week it was also reported that Hull FC’s Fanbassadors scheme has grown again with over 90 schools and 23 community clubs now taking part. After starting the scheme to support local rugby league in the area, Fanbassadors have expanded their scope to boys’ and girls’ football teams, rugby union and netball. With a record number of clubs and schools already on board the scheme continues to grow. Membership offers a number of unique experiences including coaching sessions from the Hull FC players and coaching staff and the chance to meet the first-team and watch them train. In addition the scheme offers discounted tickets for any club, school or community group signed up, with any purchased ticket providing redeemable points, which can be exchanged for further benefits, shirts etc. The Foundation is certainly back on track again and hopefully our home gates will see the benefit of their efforts in coming years.
Last week I had another look at James Grahams disallowed try in the second Test, about which there was so much controversy. I still can’t say that I think the video referee’s got it wrong, I didn’t think that James convinced me that he had got it down nor did the look on his face make me feel he thought he had either, but he was concussed!!
In fact it was all a bit of a mess really and it did make me think that the rule that allows a ‘Torso’ try is a bit of a joke and will cause more problems in the future if it isn’t revised. I think the law should state a try is given after downward pressure with the hand or the forearm and not the upper arm or upper body. It’s just another confusing rule for the uninitiated viewer who is trying to get into the game to understand and should I believe be clarified. However I doubt it will be!
Now as an aside in another quiet week I have often in here extolled the virtues of fans owned Clubs and cited as an excellent example FC United of Manchester, who are fan owned and indeed although run by full time staff, completely led by their supporters in everything they do. Built on the disdain for the then new owners of Manchester United, inflated gate charges and a bitter disregard for Sky TV (and the way that the broadcasters manipulates the game), the fledgling Club have risen through the leagues and just built their own £6m Stadium.
The commercially driven disruption to 3pm Saturday kick-offs was in fact a factor in the original 2005 decision to break away from supporting Manchester United and form their own club. There should be little surprise therefore that when the Football League over ruled the Club and the fans that own it and ordered them to play their Round One FA Cup game at home to Chesterfield last Monday night instead of the traditional Saturday slot, (for BT Sports) the rank and file of the supporters were not happy.
However the supports who sing in their now famous Busby Babe’s chant….. “Won’t pay Glazer or work for sky”, didn’t leave it there. A vast swathe of the 4400 capacity gate decided to protest by buying tickets but staying outside the ground for the whole of the first half before going inside the Stadium for the second. Even more amazing was reports afterwards that BT Sport overdubbed crowd noise to cover their protests.
They were defeated 4-1 by the Division One Club, but the integrity and principles of the ‘Red Rebels’ were maintained and although beaten on the pitch the moral victory was that of the fans! Apparently the look of disbelief on the Chesterfield player’s faces as the FC United fans applauded them off at the end had to be seen to be believed!! It was just a small scratch on the shiny veneer that is televised sport, but most sages in the game agree that TV is ruining football and if we’re not careful the dependency we in Rugby League have on Sky TV, (Thursday night rugby, 4 day turn rounds, late game day switches, pathetic comedic commentators, gimmicks and all) will do the same to our beloved sport!
The structure of our game and it’s almost total dependency on TV money means such actions by the fans of any Super league Club are extremely unlikely, although I know many who would love to just go back to games always being at 3-00pm on a Sunday and a fixture list that meant you just played everyone twice!
Still at least I know, as you do, that should the wheel ever come off at a Super League Club (and it’s likely to go under), then for many that could be that, but at places like Hull FC, Rovers and Castleford, we would be there manning the barricades and fighting for the survival of the Club we love, because at Clubs like ours there’s a little bit of FC United’s passion and principle in all of us! However that said let’s hope we never have to find out eh?
Now, last week’s feature on James Leuluai in the Codgers spot seemed to go down well with a lot of readers and so I thought this week I would feature another Kiwi this time a Full Back from the past. About a year ago I featured the best number 1 I ever watched play our great game, Arthur Keegan, so this week let’s have a longing look back at the second best one I saw in a Hull FC shirt. Back in the early 80’s there is no doubt that Garry Kemble was a great last line of defence and a cutting and effective attacking weapon and an integral part of what was back then in a great team.
I mean to say, who is there reading this Diary today that watched the club back in the early 80’s, who cannot immediately remember Garry taking a high ball under pressure and turning defence into attack with one of those great breakaways of his, or picture him steaming into the line to surge through on a short ball! We must have had a load of great full backs since the club was formed and although Keegan is my favourite and I never ever saw Freddie Miller or Colin Hutton l none, I bet, was more ‘spectacular’ than ‘Crayfish’ Kemble.
Given the knick-name in his youth rugby days because of his spindly arms and legs, Gary was part of the 1980’s Kiwi touring team that took these shores by storm and that was literally stuffed full of great players. However no one in the British game ever guessed that the ambitious club from the banks of the Humber would swoop and sign three of them to play in British Rugby League. As I said last week the fact that Garry, James Leuluai and Dane O’Hara did in fact join our Club, is now etched in the history of the Airlie Birds and the three along with late arrival Fred Ah Kuoi, will be remembered with great reverence as long as fans that saw them play survive.
Garry, in fact, had already played against us in the British club competition before he signed, because he had a really successful season at Hunslet in 1977/78, when as a young lad he set the Elland Road Greyhound Stadium alight, with his running and handling. That year we played Hunslet twice over Christmas winning our home game and losing at the Elland Road Greyhound Stadium five days after that. Garry then returned to New Zealand and, a year later he became a fixture in their national team.
The arrival of the three ‘Kiwi’s’ was a time of great excitement for the FC Faithful, and none more so than when Rovers announced that they had signed Dane O’Hara only for us to snaffle him from under their noses at the last minute. There is though no doubt about the amount of impact the three made on our team, which had arguably the best forwards in the League without, until the lads arrived at least, too much in the backs! (Sounds familiar doesn’t it!!!) By the end of their first season the Challenge Cup was back at the Boulevard for the first time in 68 years. This was attained, in no small part, through of the efforts of Kemble, who was the man of the match in the semi final and scored a try in the epic Final replay game at Leeds United Ground which was just across the road from his old Hunslet home at the Elland Road Greyhound Stadium! If he played well that day however, his try against Cas in the semi-final was so good that it was voted the best solo try of the year in two RL publications. That try which I still remember, saw him running in an arc towards the corner flag, whilst magically dummying in both directions and sending the defence this way and that, as they grasped at thin air. It was a fine piece of work and a great try.
Another great touch-down was in the 1984 Yorkshire Cup final against the Dobbins at Boothferry Park when he fielded a drop out on the half way line and swept forward beating one tackler after another on a spectacular arcing run to the corner. It was not all spectacular attacking stuff for Kemble though, and he was a great last-ditch tackler too. He seemed to be able to sense just were the oppositions next thrust was coming from and be there waiting for the oncoming attacker with those long, long arms outstretched. As with all great players, and even when taking high balls under pressure, he still seemed to have all the time in the world!
His tackling was so brave at times, although it was once such act of bravado in the 1985 Challenge Cup semi final that brought him a few problems. He pulled off a great ‘ball and all’ tackle on Castleford’s scrum half Ian Orum, who was not slow at showing that he was none too pleased about it either. The next time Kemble got the ball Orum went for him, flooring our full back with an audacious and totally undisguised stiff arm tackle. We all went berserk at the referee that day, because he just gave Orum a ticking off, but our angst was nothing compared with that of Arthur Bunting, who ran on the field to take referee John McDonald to task.
Arthur was promptly sent off, and later after the game, Orum was cited for the tackle on Kemble, and got a 4 match ban on the strength of the video evidence. We won the game that featured more scraps that a Rocky movie, 22-16, however, Garry Kemble was in a really bad way after leaving the field on a stretcher, unconscious. He was diagnosed as suffering from acute concussion and did not play for the next 8 domestic matches, only to return for the final against Wigan at Wembley. Hull took a gamble on including him for that game, because he was obviously still not right, and it came back to haunt us when twice Garry missed the sort of one on one tackles he had become famous for, and Wigan just pipped us in that great showpiece final.
In six seasons with Hull FC Garry was a hero, a star and a household name in West Hull and the Rugby League World in general. He played 195 games, scored 45 tries and kicked 1 goal. But in the end although his tries make for great memories, it will be for the unrecorded statistics of balls caught, kick returns and tries prevented that he is remembered by me. For we were privileged supporters indeed to see the great Garry Kemble pull on the famous black and white for Hull FC and witness those amazing ‘catch and runs’, him standing up attackers in one on one tackles or striding through the line in an elegant and stately manner. What a player!
So that’s it, a quiet week at the FC at least, a bit of progress and despite a few missed heartbeats over Frank, hopefully all’s well there too. With 47 days to go to our first pre-season game at York, it’s traditionally the Diaries quietest time, but I’m always amazed by how many of you contact me, even during these rather boring periods and I really do appreciate it. Let’s just see who arrives this week and thanks again for sticking with the Diary. I hope I have found something to interest you again.
However in conclusion it would be wrong not to add that the days since the last Diary have also been a time when the happenings in Paris on Friday night have certainly put everything firmly into perspective for this fan! When ordinary folks like me and no doubt many of you, who like a beer, love going to rock concerts and enjoy accompanying their pals and their families to sporting fixtures, are indiscriminately targeted in the name of ‘religion’, it’s just a tragedy of epic proportions. All our thoughts I’m sure go out to those victims, their families and their friends at what must be a terrible, terrible time. I also feel personally that perhaps in the light of that shocking tragedy and in the context of our support for our club, we should all get things in prospective at times and realise that for all the anguish, fretting, frustration and upset it appears to cause us, this is, in the end, only sport!! For hundreds and hundreds of people in France and across Europe, life will never be the same again. God bless them all!
TRY TO KEEP BELIEVING!