The Dentist’s Diary – 472nd

‘Carlos Tuimavave’s here at last and it appears that we now have the full roster that will go into the 2016 season ‘in house’ and in Hull.

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Set to impress….we’ll see!

Season tickets are back on sale after the allocation of switched seats etc, both playing shirts are on out there too and everything is right for the last run in to Christmas and the start of our pre season games in the New Year. Talking to many FC fans as I do every week, the disappointment of last term is behind them, they are getting a bit excited again and there are certainly a lot of withdrawal symptoms around with this long closed season seeming to go on forever. However the ‘friendlies’ are almost here and come 3rd January we will be up and running, although I expect that for reasons of impact (and ticket sales) Frank’s debut could well be left until the Derby at the KC later that month, when we also hope to see Gareth Ellis play a part as well!

Well, as the media scratch around for something to talk about as at last our full squad is together at County Road, I’m hearing that Lee Smith is shaping up well in training and showing some unexpected skills and a deal of commitment. I’m not sure at all about signing him, it seems like a cheap fix to me, but apparently he is putting a lot of effort in and the position he finds himself in, as a trialist, means he will be given a run out in all three pre season friendlies before we make any decisions.

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On sale or return?

At least he is a pretty handy goal kicker which could prove useful I guess, but I just can’t stop thinking about the rather futile Howarth experiment last season and liking it to that debacle I worry a bit, but we’ll see how it goes I guess.

Well, if there is one thing we are learning about new star signing Frank Pritchard, it is that if nothing else, he is a totally honest bloke. Not for him all the secrecy and subterfuge that often surrounds transfer deals, because if you ask him the question, he’ll give you the answer. So when asked if Hull were the only British Club that had been in for him by the Yorkshire Post last week he said, “There was St Helens, Leeds, Catalan and Wakefield I think, they were all interested but I eventually narrowed it down to Hull and Catalans,” But Frank admits it was then down to his former international team-mate Motu Tony, our director of rugby, who helped secure his prized signature and he did it with a bit of a nod towards the difference between winter in East Yorkshire, when compared with Christmas in the South of France.

He explained, “This move to Hull was the most suited to myself and my family, and the long history I have with Motu helped. It’s not easy negotiating a contract but I played with Motu and I know his wife and family. My kids said they wanted a white Christmas. Motu said it snows in Hull and that sealed the deal!” The local amateur scene appealed too as Frank has two sons one 15 the other 8 who both play the game. We might not have the playing record or the financial muscle but It’s good to see that we can still beat the big clubs to the odd high profile signature isn’t it?

Now, I know that some reading this won’t believe me, but for what it’s worth I can confirm that we definitely did go for Brett Ferris who is currently suspended by Huddersfield. Having apparently established his backside as a ‘star’ of the home movie scene around West Yorkshire, he’s on the market having been branded an outcast by his team mates at the Giants. He’s another second row forward, (and we have a few of them already!!) but it was thought at the Club that if a player of that quality becomes available, you have at least to make an enquiry and show an interest.

We were however surprised how much he was on at Huddersfield and at this late stage in squad building, he was without doubt out of reach financially. In fact he’s out of the grasp of most Super league clubs who have now completed their team building and although a close friend of our coach he ain’t coming to us and a move to Australia now seems most likely.

At quiet times like this, as I said earlier, we all have withdrawal symptoms and while there seems to be nothing much happening you do tend to get to thinking about the ‘minutia’ of the Club you support. So it was this week that my mind was focused on pre-season and the progress or otherwise, that we have made so far. I soon came to the conclusion that when players are arriving at different times and the squad is made up of last year’s ‘core’ plus half a dozen strangers, (many of whom are at different places in their build up to the new campaign), it can’t be the easiest preparation for the 2016 season, can it?

In a situation which simply seems ridiculous to me, Seke Manu was here, then he went home to bring his family back over to Hull (around 50 hours of flying), now he’s back again at the Club, meanwhile Tumavauve has been held up as he awaited the extra paper work needed to secure his dispensation for not having enough first team games under his belt, while Franks here, but his family only arrived this weekend…… and so it goes on. Add to that the 4 players coming from the southern hemisphere having to find some accommodation and source all their household appliances TV, satellite etc and get used to the other distractions and big local culture shocks (like the weather,, living in the City of Culture, Patty and chips and Peter Levy) and it’s hard to see how there can be much time for training at all.

Still at least they’re all here now and in future years, with those players at least settling in and bonding with their team mates, it shouldn’t be such a big issue. However, the start to this new campaign is so, so important because if there is such a thing in a twelve team competition, we have an ‘easyish’ looking start to the 2015 campaign, and that has to a the time for getting some points in the bag!

We have improved a lot on paper, but so have just about every other team in the League and anyway the game isn’t played on paper is it? Even our noisy neighbours, who have made several signings that have had a few of their camp followers pretty underwhelmed, have got in some quality youngsters and increased their strength in depth. They of course recruited pretty well last year and have the added advantage of most of their senior players now being settled in the squad after getting a difficult first season under their belts. So, even the Dobbins will have no excuses for not hitting their straps straight away.

Then there are the rest. Wakey have strengthened a lot and now have a wily old Coach in Brian Smith who could just steer them clear of the bottom 4, Warrington have completely rebuilt their team and made a couple of big money purchases on the way, while Salford have had another big change round. They too have a wise old hand on the rudder in Tim Sheens and on paper they could well have enough to avoid the bottom 4 as well, while for me I’d be amazed if, following some great recruitment in the closed season, Catalan are not found to be the most improved team in the comp next year! In fact for me of the bottom Clubs last season, only Widnes have failed to recruit to a level that could see them safely in the top 8, but of course everyone can’t be in there can they?

I guess what I’m saying here is that next season we could well see a bit of a changing of the guard as far who is hot and who is not, although some things never change and it’s hard to see Wigan or Saints slipping down the table that far, Castleford, with arguably the best coach in the league, will run on the usual guts, spirit and determination and win more than they lose and then there is Leeds. Some pundits will have you believe that the Loiners will struggle to compensate for the loss of Peacock, Sinfield, Leuluai et all, but can you see then slipping to near the bottom 4? No neither can I, as once again they have a top Coach who knows how to get the best out of what is a really tight and pretty settled group of players.

In that top most group there is only Huddersfield who, without Ferris, might just be a bit of an unknown quantity come the 2016 season. That of course leaves us in a league competition that seems to indicate a lot of tight games and close encounters and you know how good we have been in those hit ups of late, don’t we!

I think what I’m trying to say here is that although I’m excited about Frank and the new players pulling on the black and white shirts, if I’m honest, I have a nagging feeling that it’s going to be another tough, tough Super league season and, for many Clubs, even more of a lottery than it was last time around. Even in the Championship Bradford and Leigh have licked their wounds, regrouped, made some great signings on the back of an increased salary cap allocation and obviously learning from their mistakes of last year, they are now both ready to pounce come the middle eight’s as well.

You know I think that the battle to avoid the bottom 4 in Super League is going to be on from day one and there could well be 12 very evenly matched clubs in that tussle. I therefore think that it’s going to be hard for everyone particularly the FC and from day one the battle for points will be on. That said if I was coach (thank goodness that aint ever going to happen) then I think my first priority would be to play to our strengths, the greatest of which is our support. So if we have one aim above all other, it would be to make the KC a fortress and win all our home games!

Do that or even win most of you matches at the KC and with a couple of wins away from home, the bottom eight play-off’s ain’t a worry, but if we start losing our home matches, with away points becoming increasingly hard to come by, then the ‘Group of Death’ beckons. That’s why for me our season start, (which sees 4 home games in a run of 6 matches and a chance to meet Catalan away when the climate and the unpredictable nature of an early season fixture suits the visitors), has to be one of top quality. AND, there’s the rub for me, because I do wonder if our disjointed pre-season thus far, the staggered arrival of players and the ensuing upheaval that can cause to them and our current staff, will make a much needed strong start difficult to deliver. With just around a week and a half before they break up for Christmas, it’s hardly ideal and that old chestnut of being ‘Under cooked’ will no doubt be creeping into the rhetoric radiating from the Club come early January; can’t you just hear it now?

If all the disruption does make it tough getting going, then come May and June with all those away games on the trot we really could find ourselves in trouble.

It’s all hypothetical of course but the reality for me is that we simply have to get 4 wins from those first 6 games and for the fans at least any calls from the post match press conferences that a defeat can be traced to the fact that the team is ‘rusty’ or ‘undercooked’ will be taken very badly indeed. Following those first six games in our next five we travel to Rovers, Saints and Leeds and face Warrington and Huddersfield at home!!! It’s not difficult therefore to see that success in that first phase of the season is absolutely crucial.

At Hull FC, in our quest to get more leaders and steady characters into the Club the days of us having loads of single blokes playing for us has moved on too and so instead of ‘hanging’ together after practise and having nights out together, many players these days, after training, just go home to the wife and kids!! All of which is a further obstruction to our bonding as a group. When the chips are down, you’re leading by a couple of points with five minutes to go and your line is under threat, you need to know every aspect, facet and belief of the bloke who is stood in the defensive line next to you. You only get that by spending time together.

Between now and the start of February we have to get the players in each other’s company as much as possible as well as out on the field whenever we can, while we also need them working together on the game plan and the plays that it includes. That for me is where the Club and our owner might just rue the day that the decision was made to not go away to a warm weather camp. I know Lee desperately wanted to go and Adam gets that need as well, but money is tight, there is no doubt on that score and I think that fact is the reason behind us deciding on staying ‘home alone’ this year.

Adam said at the forum that although this year’s trip was off, we would definitely go next year. However, perhaps looking longer term it would have been better to forego a trip to the sun next year when, because of all our signings this time around, we could have a pretty settled squad from day one of pre season anyway and to go now instead. With so much disruption before Christmas this year, causing such a fragmented start to the pre season campaign, some time away in their own company 24/7 some concentrated training and enforced bonding as a group would appear to me to be a must.

We just have to hope that the weather holds in January, that we can get loads of time with the ball before the season starts, that the new players blend well with the rest of the squad and that we at least get those 4 wins in the first six weeks of the season. If we don’t attain that level of early success then I can just hear the platitudes now can’t you?

Judging on past experience, stuff like “With all the new players coming in its been hard to get any coherent training in”, “It’s been hard to get the game time for the squad to gel” and “The bad weather has meant ball work has been kept down to a minimum” etc. etc. will no doubt be forthcoming. When you’re gifted such a start by the guys who sort the fixtures out, you have to grab it with both hands if another annus horribilis is to be avoided. This year’s Super League competition is likely to be the closest contested ever and because that is the case, if you start badly then you might well find it almost impossible to catch up. It’s an interesting conundrum really which I hope has at least given some food for thought for all of us?

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Frank the Tank stood in front of the Clubs Heritage Wall at the Training centre on County Road. It was something Lee Radford insisted was included down there and well done to Bill Dalton who no doubt, as one of the unsung heroes of the Club, did the spadework on that one!

It seems that the situation of the Club at present and the constant need to restructure sees those who know the personalities involved reflecting on staff losses just about every week. I don’t usually mention them too much in here, because it’s an evolving situation, we are restructuring and they are usually staff from the backroom and rarely if at all from the playing side of things. However that said this week I make an exception, because I would like to just mention a real stalwart of the Club who sadly left the Hull FC offices for the last time last weekend.

Sue Smith has been a fixture at the Club I love as long as I can remember and for many years, whether as writer of this rubbish or Chairman of the fans association, she has been for me the go-to person at the Club. If you wanted to know who to speak to, wanted a contact number or needed to know how something worked she was the one you rang and the one who could fix it. In fact her love of and caring for the Club simply shone out in everything she did. I was sad to see her leave, but I certainly wish her all the best.

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Another massive effort from everyone concerned as the Club Pantomime yesterday at the Walton Club sees players and youngsters having a great time.

Well I always liked him when he was at the Club, but our coach certainly didn’t and neither it appeared did our owner after he doled out a hefty settlement in lieu of the last year on his contract. However I rated Jacob Miller! I said so in here and I also felt that he was never really given his chance or the time to mature from when he was in effect ‘a project’, who was brought to this country as a young unproven player by Peter Gentle. I did ask the question in this Diary a year last September as to whether we should have stuck with Miller or twisted with the ageing Leon Pryce and although in the short term last season Leon did well at times, his age makes him little more than a ‘fill gap’.

True to form last season when given a settled run in a first team environment, the young Australian half-back, despite playing for a struggling Wildcats side, showed some terrific form at the back end of the campaign. This I think perhaps illustrated just why Gentle originally wanted to bring him over here in the spring of 2013. His move from Wests Tigers didn’t pay off in the end as he, like so many before him, failed to bring the instant dazzle and sparkle that many FC fans demand. The pressure of life with us lot then started to get to him and his development was stilted. We all felt he hadn’t been given a decent stab at, it but wondered just the same whether he would ever emerge with the quality needed to impress in Super League

However for me, he’s always looked far more relaxed at Wakey where he was first choice half back and in the end he enjoyed an impressive debut campaign. ‘Milky’ scored 15 tries in 30 games for the Wildcats, a good return for a half back particularly a rejected one, but his development seemed to go into overdrive once fellow countryman Brian Smith took over in June. Jacob said last week, “I do think I’m definitely well and truly settled in now over here and this is home now. The family is settled, the bunch of boys at Wakefield have helped me out ever since I got here and welcomed me on board and it is certainly the most settled I’ve been in the UK”. That told us then and well done to him. There is little doubt at all that he’ll be back to bite us!!

‘Has Mahe Fanua got the Best Smile in Sport’ ran the headline in the national ‘Daily Star’ newspaper on Wednesday, as they actually ran a poll on the subject. This came about because our new centre can probably boast of having the most unusual smile in British sport. Not only are his two front teeth coated in gold but they’re also moulded into the shape of his initials MF.

He told the paper, “It’s a Tongan cultural thing. They like to get gold on their teeth back home. I just wanted to get the one tooth done, but my mum wanted to take it to the next level and get my initials put on both front teeth. The gold is from my dad’s wedding ring. We got it melted down and I had it put on my teeth when I was 15. It’s like engraving metal. The engraving didn’t hurt but the big needle they used to numb the tooth was a killer. To be 15 with white teeth and then next thing you have gold hanging out of your mouth, it was pretty weird. But it doesn’t faze me now.”

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Mahe Fornua shows off the MF on his front teeth and bears a quite striking resemblance to Bond villain ‘Jaws’

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He must have had a lot of initials in his name!

That wasn’t the only time Hull FC featured in the National Daily’s last week either because the Sun also carried a headline that stated, “Lee Radford is convinced he has hit the jackpot at Hull”. No, our Coach hasn’t installed a one armed bandit at County Road, but it was in fact an interesting piece that listed the bigger and more lucrative deals Pritchard and Scott Taylor had received both before and after they signed for us. It appears both had bigger offers in the first place and were illegally enticed by other clubs after they had signed too. However both stuck to their word and that augers well for the future.

Now I did wonder how the great Super League season we saw last time around would impact on a game where grass roots participation has been receded in worrying proportions for years. I therefore found it really interesting when Sport England released the latest grassroots sports participation figures in their ‘Active People’ survey this last week. Since the last benchmark figure six months ago, the survey shows that regular participation in Rugby League has increased by 9,900. This is a figure that coincides with a great end to the domestic season and also reflects some brilliant work to use that momentum, by the amateur game through Clubs like this Diary’s adopted Club Hull Wyke.

RFL Director of Performance and Development Jon Roberts said of the announcement, “2015 has been a strong year for our sport. With a great Super League season, an exciting Championship, a sell-out Grand Final, and the success of England Rugby League in defeating the world champions New Zealand, more and more people see Rugby League as one of the nation’s best summer sports. Our challenge is to continue to use this inspiration to drive participation in our sport. The latest figures are a recognition of the hard work of hundreds of community clubs and coaches, and the Rugby League foundations. The numbers better reflect our own data, which shows that participation levels are positive and on track, and include a 50% increase in the numbers involved in ‘Play Touch Rugby League’. We are particularly pleased to report the growth in regular play, as well as a 7% increase in the total number of games played in 2015”

How good it was to read that and well done to everyone involved, now let’s keep that number of people participating at grass roots level growing year on year; I think myself that’s the challenge we face.

These days in sport there seems to be a few specialists in every team, (at Hull FC we have Houghton, Pryce, Sneyd and Shaul and a couple of props who in general can play just one position) while at most Clubs it seems that there are many more who are generally know as the ubiquitous ‘utility players’. Back in the early 80’s of course things were different and although we had a couple of utility players, we had lots of specialist in what was for a time at least the best team in the League. In fact we had in Harkin and Dean two of the best 7’s in the game. Did we play one at scrum half and one somewhere else, did we heck, we gave each of them a game every other week.

The vagaries of the salary cap mean that today that scenario is pretty unlikely but back then, if we wanted someone for a specific position we looked at who was a ‘specialist’ there and just went out and got them, whether they were available or not. One place I used to enjoy going to in the early 1980’s with the Half Way pub coach trips, was Post Office Road Featherstone. Not just because of the stripper that used to perform on the covered Pool table before games in the supporters Club, but (also) because we always had a great game there in the midst of a great atmosphere. Much of that was down to a great home crowd and a wizard of a half back, who ran us ragged time and again; his name was Steve Evans. I guess as Steve was the godson of our coach Arthur Bunting, his arrival at the Boulevard was, at some time, always going to happen. However we still had to pay a record £70,000 fee to secure his services before he made his debut against Wakey at Belle Vue on 7th February 1982.

Although a great try poacher and that rare commodity back then a player who could play in several positions (wing centre and both half back berths), I guess one of the most interesting things about Steve, was the fact that he achieved a unique feat in that year, when he played in every round of the Challenge Cup and for two separate Clubs. He actually played in the preliminary round when the Colliers were beaten by Hull KR, before transferring to us before the first round proper. The RL closed that loophole PDQ and so that will never happen again! However, before the administration had noticed Evans signed for Hull for that record fee, just 4 days before the actual cup deadline which was after the preliminary round had been played. Interestingly enough our club beat their own record signing fee (of £40,000 when they signed Trevor Skerrett), to secure Steve’s services. He certainly was a prodigious talent having captained the GB under 24 side, and being elected the RL Young Player of the Season in 1979 when he toured New Zealand and Australia with the full GB team.

Although Steve built his fine reputation in the West Riding as a stand-off and centre, he played most of his international games on the wing, a position he frequently occupied at Hull too. So I guess he was that rare commodity back then I just spoke of, a utility back. I remember him best for his rangy, lazy style of running which disguised a blistering turn of speed. I guess in modern day parlance he was probably a bit like Craig Hall in that respect, but Craig has a long way to go to get near the quality of Steve Evans. I wouldn’t say that he was windy but he was certainly laid back and I remember that Peter Stirling always used to target Steve with a pass after the scrum half had fielded a kick off. The ball never went to a forward and Stirling ensured that Steve got it every time. Then ‘Sterlo’ would wave him on with his hand, as he sped headlong into the ranks of the waiting opposition forwards; bit cruel that I always thought.

At a post match drinking session with the players, I once asked Arthur Bunting what he thought was Steve’s best asset. Straight away Arthur replied “His Speed”, but when he asked what made him so much faster than other players and his peers he just wryly replied, “ His scared any of ‘em catch him”.

One of the most vivid memories I have of Evans though was the try he scored at Boothferry Park in the 1984 Yorkshire Cup final against the Dobbins. Anyone who was there will no doubt remember it too. We were well in the lead, and Rovers were close to our line trying everything to get a consolation try. Evans sprinted out of the line onto a long pass to the wing and starting from his own ten yard line, he sprinted the length of the field to touch down with three Rovers players in his wake. There is little doubt in hindsight that Steve was a class finisher and had 5 good seasons at Hull FC literally scoring tries for fun. He appeared at Wembley on 3 occasions and scored the first of the 4 ‘comeback’ tries in that epic final against Wigan in 1985.

Despite getting a lot of attention from the opposition Steve was strangely resilient and in the 1982/83 season when we won the Championship, he played in 2 friendlies and all but one of the 46 league and Cup games. In his career at the Boulevard Steve Evans made 161 appearances and scored 90 tries; a pretty impressive strike rate indeed!

However as often happens with speedy backs his form started to dip a bit as his pace deserted him and in the end he could still make the break but then he was getting caught more often than not. In the end he moved to Wakey in 1986, where he did not settle, and he moved on to Bradford that same season.1988/89 was his last season as a player which he saw out at Sheffield Eagles helping them to promotion that year. He actually played substitute when the Eagles beat Swinton in the Second Division Premiership final at Old Trafford that year.

Steve heart though was always at his hometown club Featherstone and he has regularly been involved with them one way or another over the past years. In fact he succeeded Paul Coventry and became Chairman of the club in 2005 only to stand down on 6th Sep. 2006. He is a stalwart of that great club to this day, but I will always remember his as optimising the days when if we wanted a great player we went out and got him, and Steve was a great player!!

I heard a good Frank Pritchard story the other day at the gym which concerned, well we’ll call him Bill, who is a hardened but sceptical fan of over 60 years. He had seen Frank in the Club shop and immediately said to him, “Hey mate I hope you’re not going to be one of those bloody Aussie we seem to get here, that gets an early knock and then is injured most of the time he’s here” To this Frank shook his hand smiled, leaned towards Bill’s ear and said, “Don’t worry about my health my friend, just worry about that of the players I’m going to hit!!” They then both had a good laugh and even Bill, that biggest of sceptics, had to agree afterwards that there was simply no answer to that and that Frank will, “Do for him!”

So one more Diary will probably come out between now and Christmas and the next after that on around the 4th January will actually (weather permitting) be reporting on our first pre season game before the season starts. How good will it be to at last get into some games again? In another week when news has been in short supply it’s been great to hear from so many of you and thanks for your continued loyalty and support for this weekly drivel. Around Wednesday I sometimes wonder what the hell I’ll find to write about, but I usually see something that interests me and hopefully something that you’ll enjoy too. Thanks again for sticking with me for another week!

Keep Believing

Faithfully Yours
Wilf