All last week I wondered and fretted a bit as to whether everything could continue in the same vein as the Derby performance, but in the end it was a……
A GREAT CROWD, A GREAT ATMOSPHERE AND A GREAT WIN!!
Of course, in the end, I need not have worried, as an amazing hour of power rugby (again) blew the Salford team away in an encouraging performance that must have left a lasting impression with everyone that attended. A couple of pals coming out at the end, no doubt steeped in recent ‘tradition’, grumbled to me about that last 20 minutes and anything that indicates a performance that’s at all ‘patchy’ is of course a worry. However this is the start of the season and the time when even the good teams look a bit scratchy, as they fight to gain cohesion and grow into the new campaign. But, we’d scored 8 tries and they were executed with such style that I’m pleased to report that after Round One there was a deal of real hope around again. With so much power and skill on display, last Friday was without doubt ‘Job done’ and we move on to an immensely difficult task at Catalan, with those precious first two points in the bag. Win your home games and your flying!!
Most of all however, I wanted to see a good game and a response from the stay away fans after the Rovers drubbing and got both. In the end some of the rugby was quite amazing and although many talked about the sheer power that was about up front, there were some superb skills on show as well. Top stuff, a good result and a great attendance which had the place bouncing!!!
The Chorus of ‘We are top of the League’ that rang round the Drum and Monkey at around midnight was a bit premature, but 5 hours earlier it had been with a mixture of anticipation and apprehension, that I’d walked towards the KC Stadium. We all knew that Salford had recruited well and were going to come out all guns blazing and let’s face it, we’d all been hurt so many times before in these circumstances hadn’t we? As the big kick off approached the whole equilibrium of the life of an average fan was about to be turned on its head once again, as the endless discussion, nagging expectation and unending debate of the closed season was over and we were about to be flung headlong into the week in week out turmoil of celebrating, lamenting, defending or just plain grumbling about, the team we all love.
The buzz and the enthusiasm in the crowd trekking across West Park indicated that I wasn’t on my own either, because game-day was here at last, the fans had responded to the clarion call to get there, the FC had captured the imagination again and it was show-time! Would it be a new dawn or just another ‘damp squib’? One thing was for sure, we’d all pitched in and done everything we could to get as many as possible there and 12,265 was a great effort. As I took my seat the East Stand was packed and all around me were animated fans who were ready to do their bit.
If we are all honest the big underlying questions were still there for everyone! Was the decimation of Rovers a flash in the pan? Was it just a run out against a poor team and would reality bite with the strongest Salford team for years in town? The Red Devils had talked it up, as had their fans and despite all the razzamatazz going on, at around 7.55pm as I looked around a quite amazing ‘gathering of the Faithful’, I slipped from my new found positivity and thought,”Oh dear, this is where we usually blow it!”
In fact at that moment my mind went back to Friday 7th March 2003 and another ‘new dawn’ when we played the London Bronco’s on a similarly night, in front of a similarly hyper crowd for our first Super League game at the KC. Remember that drizzly night? On that occasion we did blow it, but the crowd held firm and we had a good season; I wasn’t so sure that same outcome would be forthcoming should we fall flat on our faces this time around!
The entrance of the teams, with lights flashing, dimming and chasing round the Stadium and the atmosphere all that created was a credit, I think, to the members of Hull FC’s staff who have worked so hard all week to programme the lights and the music. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but a guy who sits near me and supports City said that it certainly blew what the Tigers do at night games completely out of the water! I was invited down to see a preview of the pre match stuff on Thursday night and grabbed a word with Lee Radford who said, “I’m really looking forward to the game, the place should be bouncing and it’s a great stage to perform on” Again after that comment I just thought that perhaps, as recent past history dictated, we might just be heading for another disappointment, but how wrong I was to be proved.
So, as the teams entered the arena at last all the hype and waiting was over and under some of the best and brightest Floodlights in Britain the stage was set for the start of Super League 2016 and we were about to set out on what is undoubtedly a defining season for the future of Hull FC.
The first few exchanges showed that the big pack stuff we had seen against Rovers certainly hadn’t gone away, as driven on by a vociferous and animated ;south east corner’ and with Manu, Mini, Watts and Taylor leading the charge Salford just couldn’t cope with what was thrown at them down the middle. We literally trampled all over them, but of course we needed a try to settle the nerves and it was man of the match Danny Houghton who broke brilliantly down the middle from acting half. He went weaving this way and that and succeeded in completely turning their defence inside out, before finding Leon Pryce in space on his left shoulder and we were off!
A changed man? Look at the effort of Leon Pryce’s face as he races to support Houghton as he breaks for the first try.
A Salford try followed to level things and it smacked of everything we’d feared, as the visitor’s halves swept the ball wide and early and we were caught out on the left. Their outside backs are their obvious strength and they showed in one cross field move what they could do! If in defence we were generally good throughout, over 30 missed tackles is not good and that certainly needs fixing. I knew before we started that with such an array of talent across the Salford backline, we couldn’t defend our way to a win, so we had to outscore them and we certainly did that with some style. In our defence there is still work to do on cut out passes to wingers and wide running centres, but that’s a small point in the context of everything else we witnessed.
After that levelling score however the next hour was all power and classy attacking and we were out of sight really by half time. What I found most rewarding was the way that, (unlike last year) when our rotating props entered the fray the pressure and intensity never dipped and in Green and particularly Bowden we had two players that equalled the barnstorming efforts of Watts and Taylor. They were both brilliant and deserve a big mention for the shifts that they put in.
Whilst I’m on about the usually unsung heroes a big mention too for Danny Houghton who has been criticised a bit in the past by our fans, but who on Friday produced a real ‘captains knock’. He led from the front, tackled his heart out and made numerous big gains with those trade mark scoots down the middle which, if he can get a quick play the ball to jump on the back of, are almost impossible to defend against. Scott Taylor was simply immense against his old team mates and what a player he is proving to be! Throughout the game he was seen to be running over, rather than round would be tacklers and his face at the end greeting his family in the East Stand, as he stayed out with the fans long after most of his colleagues had disappeared down the tunnel, was worth the admission fee alone!
On the wings if I’m honest I felt that Fornua was a bit patchy, before he got a knock, but Talanoa looked really potent and on a couple of occasions he turned on a real bit of pace in what was effectively his first game back from injury.
In the centres Carlos is going to be massive and Jack Logan is growing into the role as each game goes by. He scored a good try and will only improve position wise, in defence, by playing. In the halves Pryce has a new lease of life and Sneyd is revelling in the space he is now getting, he ran himself to a standstill while receiving a deal of ‘close attention’ from several of the Salford forwards. There is little doubt that the last quarter was scrappy and typical early season stuff and I though in that period Frank was absolutely out on his feet and really needed to be off the field, although a lack of rotating back rowers made that impossible. That meant at times our left hand side looking a bit dodgy defensively and in effect we leaked three tries, but that can be sorted as we progress.
As for my own personal highlights well, a real high spot for me was when Houghton in the first half picked up a loose Salford ball under the posts and planted a looping cross kick straight into Fornua’s hands in the corner, for him to catch and touch down on one movement.
Then there was Shaul’s kick and chase to score on a free play in the second half which was real Tompkins-esque to watch and a piece of great skill, as was Manu’s amazing pass for Logan’s try and so it goes on!!
Of course the man no one can take their eyes off has to be Frank the Tank who is living up to and at times even exceeding all the pre season hype. This time however instead of playing that wide running ball releasing game he used against Rovers, he was more into his battering ram mode and on several occasions he took up to 5 tacklers with him as he gained yard after yard. He is the star of the show at present and when he went down holding his arm after brilliantly catching a big up and under beneath the posts, there was a communal gasp as we witnessed the only silent moment in the crowd all night.
Friday was, for this fan at least, a tremendous night out and although I haven’t been that complimentary about him of late, I’ll leave the last word on our overall display to Marwan Koukash the Salford Chairman who tweeted immediately after the game “We played a Hull team tonight that was bloody awesome and look like the real deal”
So a really encouraging start to the campaign, in fact one as enjoyable as I can ever remember at the KC and well done to Clarky and Co for stage managing what was at times as much an entertainment, as a rugby game, of course had we faltered and failed on the pitch the lights etc. would have all have been for naught. Incidentally although a bit ‘naughty’ for me the ‘Bye bye baby’ moment when Tommy Lee was sin binned was priceless! So all in all in the end, rather than it being just another false dawn, it all felt just a bit, like a new beginning!!
If one thing really did p*ss me off it was the fact that Radio Humberside went off the air at 10-00pm and there was no interviews to listen to on the way home in the car. Typical of a public subsidised, customer led radio station that would have had probably 4 times as many listeners tuning into the rugby than the bland music and clap trap rhetoric that replaced it. AND guess what, there was plenty of post match interviews and discussion after Rovers game finished. However, why am I not surprised and it’s Radio Rovers again!!!!
Just going back to that pre-match lighting stuff, if I’m honest I can take it or leave it really, many loved it a few didn’t, but I get it and I think it’s innovative and something that certainly adds to the excitement on the night, especially for the younger fans. A couple of players said afterwards that stood in the tunnel the noise and chanting made the hairs on their necks stand on end, which is good too. It would be great if it could become the norm at the occasional big game in future, so that it is seen as a real trade mark of matches at the KC and lets also hope too that the SMC don’t become all ‘precious’ about it either!
In his programme notes Adam said, “The lights are a great way to help us build the atmosphere and will make it a special occasion for our first game of the season. Unfortunately, the charge to use the lights doesn’t come cheap so there is no guarantee we’ll be able to use them at future games, but we’re hopeful we can come to an arrangement with SMC to use them at our other games this season too”.
That stuff should be something that’s available to the tenant Clubs by right and the Stadium Management Company must surely realise that having that sort of happening out there at televised games on Sky will set the Stadium apart as probably the most advanced in the game and be great publicity for the KC? It will enhance the profile of the place and will I believe benefit everyone including the fans, the Club, the game and indeed the SMC! Charging us a four figure fee to switch the lights on and off is for me a bit rich even for the SMC!
As an organisation charged with running a community stadium they seem to do everything they can to put obstructions in our way and yet ten minutes into half time I had to literally fight my way through droves of supporters queuing for food and drink on the concourse. Big atmospheres bring big gates, from whom the potential to make money is phenomenal. They must see that! Let’s hope sense prevails because it was a great effort and a really innovative idea. You wouldn’t have guess how great the atmosphere was however when you compared the press coverage for our pre-match (about three lines) and that of a washed up pop star who appeared at Craven Park, but we’ve come to expect that as well haven’t we?
As the first round of Super league XXI began, I watched the season opener between Leeds and Warrington on Thursday and in the true spirit of modern journalism ‘the five things I learned’ were that Warrington are fit for the fight this time around, that Hardaker can’t kick, that Sandow will be a class act, that despite what Eddie Hemmings said that wasn’t ‘..a brilliant game with which to start to the new season’, and that Stevo is still a Dick!! It was a hard honest game were for long periods attacks failed to gel properly and there was a lot of scrappy play. For me it was far from a classic and little has changed commentary wise either. But we’re off and running so strap yourself in, because it’s going to be a long haul with those two until October!
If you did a word search on my computer in the back catalogue of Diary’s and looked for the words Paul Cooke or Judas you would usually find them mentioned dozens of times and usually in the same sentence! The way he treated us when he left was despicable and that and the way he was assisted by certain people in the game and indeed the media in his efforts to screw us over, will live long in the memory for some fans, including me! However time moves on and as I have mentioned in here several times over the last two years his emergence as a pundit in the Hull Daily Mail has showed that he has matured somewhat and in fact that he is a pretty intelligent judge of the game of Rugby League. It also comes across at times that he perhaps regrets the way he did things and most importantly that he understands, possibly from his experiences at the ‘blunt’ end, what Rugby League in this City is all about.
Indeed what he put himself through by his own foolishness and indeed how he was treated by the fans and administrations of both Clubs has made him a great ‘bell weather’ for the game in Hull because like it or not, he has no axe to grind either way. In short whether we like it or not, Paul Cooke shoots from the hip these days, which ends up with him talking quite a bit of sense. His re-appointment to a weekly column in the Hull Daily Mail is a shrewd move by the Sports Editor and he is always worth a read, because he’s also willing to exercise the arguments and scenario’s that the rest of the staff at the paper have to pussy foot around, for fear of tainting their relationship going with the Clubs.
This week’s offering from ‘Judas’ was no different and he was back on form immediately as he waded straight in saying in opening, “Adam Pearson has again backed the vision of head coach Lee Radford, assistant Andy Last and the rest of the staff. In financial terms I believe Adam has given all he can, it’s time for the team to deliver!! I believe Lee and everyone at the club understand just how big 2016 is for the club”. In short when no one else at the paper dare say it and I’ll get into trouble by readers and the Club for hinting at it in here, there is little doubt that Adam has either run out or is about to run out of money. No one has a bottomless pot and the Club has to become self sustaining and pretty damn quickly and that will only be possible in the end if we pack the terraces.
In short success is now likely to not be measured by how well we do on the field but rather by how many of us turn up at the KC, although of course both things are intrinsically linked. Adam himself said this week, “Financially, we have probably had one of our most challenging periods to date and I’ve made no secret of the effect that will have on the club. We are committed to returning success to Hull FC and we have made a bold statement with our investment in performance and recruitment. But to maintain that we need supporters to back the club! My passion, enthusiasm and optimism is as strong as ever, but we can’t do it on our own and you can play a big part for us. You’re our greatest ambassadors and you can help us encourage your friends and family back to the KC”.
For me there is little doubt that the size of the crowds we get in 2016 will dictate as to whether future seasons see us continuing at the level of recruitment we have come to expect or start scaling back, or worse. However, if that is the case, then I have to say that a squad of around 35 is a bit top heavy and must be a massive strain on resources. It was cost as much as salary cap that was restriction our options on Lee Smith and in the end, last Friday, it was him rather than Richard Whiting who ended up at Leigh (you’ll remember back in January I told you there was interest there and there was!) but it’s a settle camp and no one wants to move out!
So, perhaps failure on the field could well see our future as bleak. I told you a couple of weeks ago that Lee had made a big presentation to the whole squad to explain how gates had gone backwards and what that continuing would mean to the livelihoods of all the squad and if anyone needs further proof of our state, then look at the Lee Smith situation where, as I say, we couldn’t sign the player until we had unloaded another of our squad. That was more to do with the fact that it’s blooming hard for any club to sustain a squad the size of ours. However that number of players is what the Coach wanted and thanks to Adam that’s what he got!! As fans all we can do is get there in numbers, stick with the club whatever happens and hope that everything sorts itself out; which it will, if we continue to pack the KC as we did on Friday.
This isn’t shroud waving or being negative because I think we have all got a lot to be positive about, but it is, I believe, reading between the lines, the facts. Lesser people than Adam would have walked long before now and we have to respect him for that, whilst backing him and looking after him. He’s stuck at it despite at times the best efforts of the Rugby League and particularly the SMC to screw us up and he will I’m sure continue to do for a long time to come, but the level of support he can sustain will depend on how the players deliver, while we have to turn up and support both the owner and the players as best as we can. As Paul Cooke alluded to in the Mail last week, it’s certainly getting towards make or break time!
In the aftermath of Paul Rowley’s fall out (and resignation) with his Chairman over at Leigh it came out in the Lancashire press this week that he was offered the assistants job at Rovers last season but turned it down! On Rowley, the word on the street is that he apparently may have had enough of Derek Beaumont (his owner) and decided to walk. It appears to have been a matter of principle and the speculation is that there may have even been an issue at Leigh’s pre-season camp in Spain that brought things to a head. One thing’s for sure there could well be squeaky bum time for some Super League coaches, with the talented Rowley waiting in the wings!!
I would expect a few observers outside the game will have been scratching their heads a bit this week, as we all ‘watched from the touchline’ as to what was going on with Steve McNamara and the RL. The thing is I guess to the casual observer, we must as a sport be a strange ‘animal’ indeed if not even a totally unfathomable sporting entity. The sheer weirdness of what’s happening right now in our game is hard to take in, even for those of us who have been around that sort of ‘weirdness’, as far as the RL is concerned, for donkeys years.
Whether you like Steve or not and I’ve had plenty to say both for and against him in here (and he’s taken me to task about it at times), in most other mainline sports the notion that Wayne Bennett would be succeeding a deposed Steve McNamara, would have been deemed pretty preposterous. I say that simply because the announcement comes almost three months after McNamara guided England to a 2-1 victory over the world number one-ranked Kiwis, a feat which marked the national team’s first series triumph for eight years. Surely now of all times our national game and the stock of our coach should be on the up? They are not kicking McNamara when he is down, but perversely doing it when he’s up!! So perhaps he’s had a bit of a rough deal.
Still, Macca’s gone and so I guess if we have a better solution, then we should go for it, Wayne Bennett is a good coach, perhaps the best in the world, but he won’t be able to turn out miracles. He’ll be costing a fortune to bring on board and chances are he won’t be in the role for too long, but is he the right man to coach England and if a change was to be made, should we have opted for a top British Coach, of which there are certainly one or two?
Only perhaps time and whoever Bennett appoints to be his assistant (sense would point to a top British based coach for that job at least) will tell! However what’s even stranger is the tenure of Bennett at the present time and where he sees himself in his role as England supremo. Wayne is a very successful Coach but should we be allowing him to dictate his terms for running our national team? Bennett said this week on the subject of coaching the Broncos, “It is the absolute priority for me.”
Now, if we are all honest how many of us who want the best for our country and its representative RL team, were happy to hear such a declaration? Can you honestly imagine the national football, cricket or rugby union teams appointing a coach whose absolute priority is a full-time position as a club coach on the other side of the world? Furthermore would the media outlets attached to those sports blandly accept such a statement almost without question, as the RL press has done? It just wouldn’t happen, would it? In fact when will someone, somewhere be asking the RL the question as to whether Wayne’s “absolute priority” should be to coach England first and the Bronco’s second? We should all await developments I think!
There were a couple of uncharacteristically low scoring games this weekend and so I got thinking on Sunday night about some of those games of years gone by when things were very different. Even in that glorious 78/79 season when we won every game there were 6 games when the total scores numbered ten or less points. The following season when we lost to the Dobbins at Wembley there were actually 10 games that fell into the same category, and famously in 1988 we drew a cup semi final with Halifax 0-0 and lost 4-3 in the replay. One of the best low scoring affairs I can remember personally was against Carlisle at the Boulevard in November 82. We were having a good season, had won 7 out of 7 of our home games, and were sat just two points behind leaders Leeds on 20 points.
So it was on one of bleakest wettest November afternoons I can ever remember, that we faced the bottom team Carlisle at the Boulevard in the mud and 8,550 of us turned up for a game that we were expected to win, but one that was played in horrid conditions. It was our third game of the week having already beaten Oldham at the Watersheddings and Featherstone at the Boulevard. It was bitterly cold and the rain drove down from me getting up that morning till I went to bed early on Sunday. It was horrible, and the Threepennies was crammed as only it could be on days like that.
The game was the first ever to be played between the two clubs. We had a lot of injuries and players nursing bumps and bruises too, but although the media back then described our team as depleted, it was still pretty good on paper. The game was one that mirrored dozens of games at the KC in that we had tons of possession, lots of field position, but we just could not get over the white wash. The game started with the wind swirling Harkins kick-off straight into touch and a success in the ensuing scrum put the men from Cumbria on the front foot straight away. In fact, although we lost the first one, we won the first half scrums 14-2, so there was really no excuse for not getting a stack of points, but of course we didn’t.
Carlisle played tight constructive rugby with the ball, whilst in the first quarter we spilled possession and gave away too many penalties. In the main, chances for both sides were at a premium as both packs got bogged down in the morass that was the middle of the pitch. After 12 minutes Prendeville came inside to tackle Youngman who side stepped him and as he went away Taffy hung a very uncharacteristic stiff arm on the ex Rovers man. However from the resultant penalty Newton missed touch altogether, Taffy collected the ball in his own 25, and ran it out past the location of the previous incident, and deep into the Carlisle half. Talk about irony, it was not lost on the Threepennies who loved it.
Crane then made a superb 30 yard break only to find no one backing up, before managing in the next set, to single handedly tackle three Carlisle players at the same time. He charged into the ball carrier and two other players, thrust two to the ground with the other slipping in the mud, and sustaining a groin injury. On the 14th minute Crooks kicked a penalty after Sanderson had tripped Evans in full flight, and then Crane, who was everywhere, managed to release the ball from a three man tackle, to the waiting Leuluai. James shot off from a standing start and split the Carlisle defence before drawing their centre and winger and putting Prendiville away. He shot down the touch line to score in the corner just before Bargett crashed him to the ground. It was an excellent score that belied the conditions and the rest of the play we saw that night. Crooks however missed the goal and we were 5-0 up.
After that it was pretty much all one way although we could just not get the final touch to score more points. Youngman robbed Evans by kicking dead when Crane had kicked through and then the same player failed to score again when all he had to do was hold a looping pass out to the wing from Lee Crooks. Crooks took a knock in the second half and was replaced by veteran prop Mick Harrison who had returned to the club and was making his first appearance in the black and white for 8 years. Carlisle got on the board at last in the 57th minute when after three aborted attempts Newton managed a penalty to make the score 5-2. As the game wore on and we failed to score Carlisle sniff the chance of an unlikely win to lift them off the bottom of the table, and FC old boys Crowther and Birdsall combined well for the former to take a return pass and crash towards the posts.
It was only a massive effort from Proctor, Skerrett and Sutton that saw Charlie drop the ball when it would probably have been easier to touch down. Risman also went close but slipped in the mud with the line at his mercy to allow Kemble to track back and stop him. In the last few minutes it was all very tight and we couldn’t watch, although Crane twice broke away with interceptions he made in our own half, as Carlisle threw caution to the wind. On the wing for the visitors Ian Bell was having a great game and with two minutes to go he shot off from his own twenty five down the whitewash and looked likely to score, but the cover just got to him and happily a trip in back field by Crane, that the referee missed, ensured he had no support to pass to.
That was the last real action and soon after referee Allen blew his whistle for the end of the game, we had won and went top on point’s difference over Leeds. The score line of 5-2 reflected a dour game in which there were over 30 scrums and too many mistakes from both sides. Throughout referee Allen, who you will remember I featured last year after an abysmal showing when we lost at Bramley, was again appalling. Once again it was not the penalties he gave but rather those he didn’t that got the crowd roused. At one point, I remember, he fell full length in front of the Threepenny Stand and for a minute lay there poll axed and unable to get up. The Threepennies chanted straight away, ’Off, Off, Off’, because back then there was no escape for referee’s once the lads in the famous old stand had decided you were no good, and Mr Allen was certainly not a popular referee at the Boulevard. Sometimes I think with summer rugby and the KC Stadium we forget just how bad it was in the depth of winter at the Boulevard!
So we move onto a trip to Catalan at probably what is the best time to go there, unless you’re a fan that likes sunbathing! Our support out there will be greatly reduced this time around, but at least we can all watch on TV. But boy, it will be a tough one because they have recruited well and some pundits even fancy them as early possibilities for the Grand Final. What’s our record there, one win in nine? It’s also their 10th Birthday celebration game which will provide an added sideshow to what’s going on and they are whipping up a big crowd. I think that the best policy is for Hull FC to try and fly under the radar this week, keep things low key, keep our powder dry, get out there and try and spring a surprise.
They suffered from ‘dropsy’ at Wigan, but that won’t happen again as on their own ground they are notoriously difficult to beat and with a smaller than usual Hull following and a partisan crowd it will be a big, big ask! They are one of the only Clubs who have a pack that goes any way to matching ours and it will be a big, big ask. Well done to all of you who are going, you’re certainly committed supporters, whilst the rest of us will have to sit round the TV (or perhaps like me behind the settee) and endure the game at home.
Thanks to you all for reading the Diary this week and don’t we all feel a lot better for that win on Friday eh? Hull FC stand top of the league (early days I know), scored the most points in the round and won by the biggest margin. We now have to all work hard on capitalising on that and getting a similar gate for the Castleford game where the visitors are predicting bringing over 1000 fans. Thanks to everyone who has been in touch this week and to all the Diary readers who sought me out at the KC and came for a chat. It was a great night and one that left me with a bit of hope; and long may THAT continue. The Diary will be back next week when we’ll know what Round Two has brought for us in the South of France!!!
Have a safe journey if you’re going and Keep Believing!!