Totally and absolutely unbelievable!!!!!!!
That was impressive and I mean impressive, but maybe not quite as impressive as the scoreboard operator thought it was!!
However, that victory was certainly as good as it gets and in positively tropical conditions a massive contingent of the FC Army watched in awe as their heroes absolutely battered the opposition before systematically taking the Saints apart to impart on the hosts their biggest defeat on their own ground for 3 seasons!
Most significant of all was the fact that this was the most important game of the season thus far for us and it was our best performance too; that’s what really good teams do!
It was simply superb and after all that has gone before in here over the years, I really can’t believe what I saw at Langtree Park yesterday. In fact by the last quarter of the game I was thinking that any minute I was about to wake up at home in bed!!!
You see for me watching it back after all the nervousness had subsided, it was a performance every bit as good as that famous semi in 2005, for like that sunny day in Huddersfield this too will live long in the memory of everyone who witnessed it!!
Well for me as games go, this year we have seen some good ones, but that was the best yet, as an almost complete performance blew the Saints away. We’ve had some great games to watch of late but this time I have just run out of superlatives. However if you were there then you’ll probably agree with me that had we witnessed again the last minute, ‘drop goal drama’ of the league game, then by the end we would have been totally wrung out, but this was different, this was a case of us being in so much control that at times I couldn’t believe what I was witnessing. Standing behind the sticks you could see the lines our forwards ran and the movement Houghton, Sneyd and Pryce created and it was simply fantastic to watch.
In fact, sat here in the car tapping away on my lap top, as I watch the cars with scarves and flags flying from the windows stream by, it’s still hard to believe what I actually saw this afternoon in a hot and steamy Lancashire, stood there on the terraces surrounded by the jubilant massed ranks of the ‘glowing red’ and sun-kissed, FC Army. We’d all seen drama a plenty already this season, but nothing compared with this.
We absolutely battered them and they just had no answer to our relentless onslaught. Houghton was magnificent, Sneyd superb and as for Talanoa, rising like Rudolf Nureyev to catch and pass to Yeamo for the game breaking try, our performance simply had everything. With 17 real heroes, a game plan that blew the much fancied opposition away and simply the best and loudest supporters in the game, it was one to saver and keep forever! I was so, so proud to be there to witness it and so pleased the BBC picked it as their featured Sunday match so that everyone out there across the game and the country saw just how good we actually were! That performance and that exposure put us on the map!
So Sunday 8th May 2016 was a day to saver for a long, long time. We had left Beverley at around 1-00pm in wall to wall sunshine and just as the annual Beverley 10k race was over and the barriers were being removed from the Westwood. I mused on the fact that it was more of an afternoon for sitting and having a few beers in the back garden and switching on the TV at 4-25pm than trekking all the way to Lancashire. But, then again 230 miles and 8 hours later how pleased I was that I’d made the trip.
The vagaries of being hooked on it all meant that as has been the case for so many years, there was simply nowhere else I could be besides Langtree Park, come kick off time yesterday afternoon. The massed ranks who made the journey reflected a new found expectation and indeed a new hope borne out of a run of 7 wins from 8 games and driving there down the M62, made me think back to those halcyon days of the early 80’s when such processions of vehicles, bedecked in black and white favours, were last the norm for us lot.
When we got to St Helens the City centre was awash with black and white, with I guess, in the end, getting on for 2,500 FC fans making the trip. It was certainly just like the old days, but I had no time to reminisce because I was anxious and worried about this one! Saints were on the up, while we had been on a tremendous run which as each game approaches makes the pressure increase incrementally and indeed brings the next defeat closer. I thought to myself that I’d have gladly taken a defeat at Wigan this coming Friday, if we could just somehow get over the line and into the hat for the quarter finals, but I knew it was going to be tough and I still feared (because of what has gone before) that sooner or later the old Hull FC would return. Oh me of little faith eh?
Just after half time, in fact when we had a try disallowed and then were just short in the corner, we conceded immediately afterwards, as the disappointment of not getting those tries saw us falter mentally for a moment and they pounced; that was the point that last season we would have folded and they would have come steaming back to take the game. However this lot of ours is made of much sterner stuff than that and as behind the posts Ellis wagged his finger and Pryce looked at them all straight in the eyes and tapped his forehead as if to say ‘Use your brains’, we steadied ourselves, our composure returned and we killed them off!
Ellis enjoys his try!!
I have seldom been prouder and as we all baked in the sun, the party started about 10 minutes before the end. There were few tears this time around because they usually come at the end of a tight game and this was such a comprehensive win that we were all partying well before the end. As Yeamo went in for his try Pryce, with his arms aloft, turned in midfield to face the FC fans and it was job done, in quite spectacular fashion. However a small note of caution because we have to get rid of the Dicks with the smoke bombs because they do us no good at all; another case of Drink in wits out for me!! Get a grip lads!
Much will be made in the next 48 hours or so about our pack and so it should be, for they were giants; every one of them. However spare a minute too for our backs. I have already mentioned Yeamo’s try, created by Talanoa’s piece of absolute brilliance, but what about the line and pass from Pryce for Houghton’s first half touch-down and that amazing try from Talanoa, where he even surpassed Tommy Lineham as he seemed to hang in the air for ages in producing that flying dive to touch down in the corner. Then there was Scott Taylors two bulldozing tries after the second of which you could clearly hear Leon Pryce shout, “You’ll be absolutely legendary today’; and he was!
There were heroics, endeavour wanting and sheer determination right across the park and everyone was a star. You simply couldn’t single anyone out because they all ran themselves into the ground. I worried that without Frank and Seke we might just struggle once we rotated the second row, but Mini and Ellis were absolutely massive as were our rotating forwards, who when they entered the fray provided no significant dip in our performance at all.
How do you actually describe such a monumental victory to someone who wasn’t there or watched it on the TV? Well I guess in a nut shell it was as rounded and as well executed a performance as you get and although I was (as usual) pretty stressed until the very end, to a casual observer watching from a neutral position, yes we went behind, but from then on we controlled the whole game! Most of the second half was in fact played in the Saints half of the pitch and that was the trick to it! Pressure, pressure, pressure and an extremely high completion rate saw us home pretty easily in the end. The game management which surrounded our ability to cope with the conditions better and get up quickly and play the ball had Saints in panic mode for long periods. In those situations Sneyd is imperious and with Houghton and Taylor, for me, they were the standout performers in a team where everyone excelled.
Our forwards got us there though and the front row was simply sensational with both Watts and particularly Taylor outstanding in the go forward, whilst Houghton’s mastery of acting half was sensational. He shaded Roby in the first half and completely outshone him in the second whilst Mini and Ellis played so well for long periods in the hot conditions. But big ‘ups’ as well to Bowden, Green, Hadley and Thompson because they were so good off the bench and never let us down one bit!
To win sudden death games like that one needs not just a massive effort but also a deal of tenacity and some poise as well and as I said earlier after Walsh’s try, last season we would have folded or continued in an uneasy mode created by a bit of disappointment. At that point we did take our eye off the ball and Walsh scythed through to score. That was followed by a period where we knocked on twice before we got a penalty down at their end, Naughton scored wide out, we steadied ourselves and the rest as they say is history.
It was a fine showing and a great victory and we should all as fans be so proud that this is our team and at last we have something that we can believe in. The fans on the day were as loud as I have heard them and the backing we gave the team throughout was a good as you will ever hear from an away contingent anywhere! For too long over the years all we had was hope, now we have some real and credible potential and we can aspire to be great again. In fact all the signs are there that when this lot are firing on all cylinders we are in for a treat, just as someone is in for that 70 point drubbing predicted on the scoreboard in the not too distant future too.
So, to the last 7 days and I guess the resonating question throughout the last week has been one of should we have let Prichard and Manu go Down Under for the international games? I guess as I sit here in the early hours of Monday morning it’s all quite academic really. In the end it proved to be either a shrewd move or one that we ‘got away with’. However in the end whatever we think it was down to the Club to decide what to do when the call up’s came. It must have been a tough shout all round, particularly if the players were desperate to go. However it became apparent in an article in The Sun, that had the boot been on the other foot Kieran Cunningham wouldn’t have agreed to it. In the national newspaper he said, “Frank and Sika are two game-breakers and if you asked me if I would let them go, if they we’re in my team, then I am not sure I would” Just shows what you know Cunno!!
Lee Radford explained the situation a bit more when he said, “I didn’t want it to come across as being arrogant or disrespectful about letting them go back it was hugely important to Frank to play with his brother – he wanted his parents to see that back in Australia – and obviously to captain your country is a special honour for both of them. We were always going to say yes and we’re thankful they didn’t pick up any knocks and we’ve managed to get a result as well. Rugby league’s a winner all round. However I think Frank’s been put on report and, after doing the right thing by letting them go, it will be typical if they ban him for a game. Hopefully they will sympathise with us”
However for me it rankles that the Rugby League are so quick to encourage anyone who can get the best players to play over here in Super League to do just that. They must be pleased that there are guys like Adam Pearson around who will go out, invest their own money and move heaven and earth to get the big name ‘box office’ signings. Of course, when something like this happens they are not prepared to have the equivalent of an International break to accommodate it and worse still, they put the first ‘proper’ round of the Challenge Cup on a predetermined international weekend that has been decided for over a year. I know that few British players were likely to be involved, but there does seem to be a distinct lack of any sort of joined up thinking!
All the other Clubs who didn’t have the enterprise and vision to snare a ‘Frank’ or a ‘Seke’, were able to field their full teams in the Cup but of course we weren’t!! It seems that we were on this occasion penalised for our endeavour, but of course then again, we could have refused them going, as Mr Cunningham would have done; or could we? Last week I rehearsed all the arguments about why although it could turn out to be the wrong thing in the short term, in the longer view it would mean that the two ‘owed us one’ so to speak and that it would bode well for their futures at the Club.
I question whether we could actually refuse them going and play them instead at Saints because amazingly enough I heard this week from the RL that the players had to go if called up. I was also told that the governing body would maybe even have said that the players would not be allowed to play at Saints anyway if they were stopped, by the club, from going on International duty. For me I have to say that’s all a bit hard to believe, but that’s what I was told.
Of course no-one can be arsed to have an opinion on this situation this morning, because we won, handsomely and we did it without Pritchard and Manu!! It could of course all been so different and you can bet if we were now out of the Cup, the accusations and recriminations would be flying this morning on social media. However in the end the episode closed with a happy ending and we got out of jail there didn’t we?
Now moving on and as far a strange individuals go, Leon Pryce does at times take some beating. I have spoken to him only twice at official functions since he’s been here and although I’m sure he’s a thoroughly nice guy he does come across as being a bit, well, ‘off the wall’ at times. Asking as many questions as he answers he really keeps even the casual well wisher (which I was) on his toes. That fact was again borne out on Saturday, in what can only be classed as one of the most bizarre interviews I have read in the Mail for some time.
In it Leon said, in what Paul Clarke described as a mixed half serious, half joking tone, “I’ve created the buzz. I think finally they are listening to me. I’ve been telling them for a year you always keep the buzz,” That is, I guess, pretty typical for the man who let’s face it is in a position to say what he likes, having already done most things in the game. It was for me though a bizarre sort of interview throughout and I wonder what you made of it if you read it too? In life as in rugby teams, it takes all sorts I guess!
If as far as Leon is concerned there are “More questions than answers”, the one thing that you just can’t question at Hull FC at present is the presence of that rare commodity that is much talked about but so hard to actually attain; the much vaunted ‘team spirit’. Again at Saints it shone through everything we did and the demeanour and body language of every one of the 17 on duty at Langtree Park smacked of the principle of watching your mates back and supporting him.
Team spirit is something that is always spoken about by coaches and captains with comments like, ‘everything is great in the Camp’ or ‘it’s a really tight group’ but real spirit, the hardened long term supporter realises, is only really gauged by watching what goes on in a game, how players react when things go wrong and how the players interact and relate to each other on and off the field. For me at present it’s as good as it gets and we find ourselves as fans mirroring what the Tank and his Polynesian mates are saying and increasingly refer to as, ‘The Brotherhood’ that exists within the Club.
Last week Mahe Fornua was talking about it and gave an interesting insight as to the way that the ethos of a brotherhood of South Sea islanders has rubbed off and spread through the team. He said it was all down to unity and that ‘looking out for your mate’ is crucial if the Black and Whites are to test the usual hierarchy at the top of Super League.
There was a bit of handbags and ‘eye balling’ towards the end of the Catalan game of which Fornua said, “I had just seen one of my team-mates getting pushed around and the only brothers out there are the ones wearing the same jersey. I went to stick up for him and that was just my natural instinct. You’ve got to protect a mate. It was only a little altercation on the field and when you come off you shake hands and we’re all mates off the field. But, your team-mates are your family on the field. They’re the only ones who are going to protect and help you out on the field so you need to provide that for them” He concluded, “We are a pretty tight unit at the club.” And on this occasion having seen what we have seen as fans and indeed what we saw again yesterday, we know that he’s not kidding about that either.
The thing is that this new found bonding and spirit seems to be around the younger players in our squad at present too? The Under 23’s, having already shaved a close game against Wigan at Brantingham, did it again on Thursday evening at Orrell, when their fight back was nothing short of spectacular. What Richard Horne said to them at half time, I don’t know, but the reaction across the whole team was amazing? Trailing at the end of a first half, (which Wigan dominated with superior ruck speed and enterprising play), at 34-10 it looked all over. However 5 unanswered tries and none for the hosts saw an amazing second half turn around, as we eventually came out victors 34-36. With the exception of Steve Michaels, the rest of the team were either ‘ring fenced’ youngsters from the bogus academy and fringe young players like Lancaster, Logan, Turgot, Downs and Fash.
You know, to many it was going to be a nothing competition and several Clubs including our noisy neighbours ‘poo pooed’ it. Indeed a couple of clubs have dropped out, but we pressed on with the Under 23’s and we’re reaping the rewards as now most of those Clubs who disputed the benefits of the competition back in the last closed season are planning to take part next year. That’s because three of the top four clubs are running such second strings and maintaining the big squads needed to participate, appears to be assisting those clubs getting through the injuries that all Clubs are getting at present. Plus our youngsters are getting great experience in a higher grade than Under19’s and playing against some much better players.
So, a big well done to both Lee Radford and indeed Adam Pearson for pushing on with the plan to introduce an Under 23’s team in the closed season when many including the owner of Hull KR were scoffing at the idea, saying it would never work or even get off the ground. OK there have been teams drop out but there is little doubt that the position that teams are in the League correlates almost exactly with whether they are running such a ‘Reserve grade’ team.
This week even Jamie Peacock gave us a back-handed sort of compliment in his Mirror column, when he said, “The reserve grade is something that all Super League clubs should be made to do. I don’t think that it’s any coincidence that four of the top five teams at the moment are the ones running reserve sides. Having a reserve team allows you to keep all your players together working under the same systems, and also means you can trial players over the age of 19 that you might have missed”. So Mr Hudgell and Mr Hetherington time to perhaps be considering a bit of humble pie eh?
The loss last week of a real hero of the Rugby League world in Roger ‘The Dodger’ Millward was another blow in a catalogue of bereavements that seem to be incrementally decimating the ranks of the players that we remember playing the game in the 60’s 70’s and 80’s. I ain’t got that much time at all for many in the ranks of those who have played for Rovers, but Roger was different for he was a iconic figure and one who not only starred for Rovers but who also, as both a coach and a player, carried the hopes and aspirations of half the City of Hull.
I remember watching him playing as a teenager in the early 60’s on an ITV programme that featured different town’s and City’s junior teams. He progressed from that to playing for the senior Castleford outfit at a time when the West Riding Club was a ‘half back factory’. Understudying the then iconic half back partnership of Keith Hepworth and Alan Hardisty meant that the two other outstanding half’s that Cas had around the place then, had to look elsewhere for a game and so Roger signed for Rovers and another great servant to the game, Kenny Foulkes, signed for Hull FC. As far as Millward is concerned the rest as they say is history! He was in future years to become without doubt one of the best ‘tricky dicky’ half backs there has ever has been. He was our great adversary for years and years and although some said back then, “You have to agree that he’s good” I never could and it is only now when I look back over the passing years, that I realised just how great a player he was.
That’s of course, because I have always hated Rovers and I always will, but I can appreciate just what the Dodger did for the game at an international level and, because he was such a thorn in our side for so many year, just what a great and inspiring player he was at club level too. Once at Rovers he was totally loyal to the Club and it was never ever muted that he would move on. He was a real fighter on the pitch and that continue through his life as a coach and then as he battled Cancer for over 10 years.
Slowly but surely Roger and many other giants of the game are being taken away from us and that’s bloody tragic really and so I hope that Rovers make the necessary noises and moves to ensure there is a lasting memorial to their hero, because his memory deserves it as he’s one of those rare, rare talents that would actually perhaps warrant a statue. However for now the game mourns a real star as another great character and player is lost to us! R.I.P. Roger Millward.
Now who watched Castleford v Salford in the Cup last Saturday? If you did were you, as I was, left wondering how the video referee could give that Cas try when their winger obviously didn’t even score as you could clearly see the ball went nowhere near the ground as he rolled over the line. So there we were on the BBC, looking stupid again, as Jonathon Davis protested while the other commentators just ploughed on as if to indicate that, “yeh it was no try but that such decisions are simply par for the course these days in our game!!”
My piece a few weeks ago about the dark, dark times of the 70’s, certainly got a few people talking so this week, by way of a change, I would like to use Codgers Corner to feature two matches which show just how our great game has changed since then. You tend to forget with under soil heating and part synthetic pitches that back in the 70’s winter rugby often meant watching a game with player’s ankle deep in mud.
This week’s first featured game was against Bramley on Sunday 28th November 1976. Great times were around the corner at the Boulevard, although we certainly didn’t know it that season, as we battled away to handle poor attendances and a deal of debt. Back then it was really difficult for most clubs to make ends meet, and our pitch was just a mess, as the drains silting up with Speedway shale leaving a morass of mud with very little grass evident at all.
The previous Friday, we had played and beaten Bramley’s A team at the Barley Mow, the significance of which you will see a little later. The weather that month was shocking and the general opinion then was that we would be lucky to see a game that day at all. Still as game day dawned our desperation to generate some cash dictated that the match was still on, and I watched from the well in the best stand with four of my pals that I had met in the Eagle for a pint beforehand. Just 4000 other hardy souls were in attendance!
As we walked down Saner Street and onto the Boulevard the rain was coming down ‘like stair rods’ although by we had got through the turnstiles it had stopped again! The pitch was covered in small puddles and the groundsman, Mr. Daddy, was busy forking the pitch to ease the water away. It was a thankless task, as even the ‘invalid carriages’ that usually parked behind the dead ball line got stuck in the mud!
Bramley’s player/coach back then was Peter Fox, who got the usual rousing and abusive welcome when he ran out onto the pitch and although the conditions were dreadful the game started on time. The match itself was a nail biting tussle with Keith Hepworth playing a storming game for us. Bramley were a handy outfit back then, and it was only through three great last ditch tackles by our full back George Robinson that we kept them out in the first ten minutes! However then, on the eleven minute mark, from our first attack Hepworth, Hancock and Hunter linked to send ‘Super’ Alf Macklin in at the corner. We continued to press until a long looping pass by Hancock was intercepted by Langton and he scooted fifty yards along the thin track of green on the wing, to score for the visitors.
That mistake turned the game, and with Fox behind just about every move they made, Bramley started to dominate, in fact after Boxall had punch Jack Austin in the tackle it was their player coach that stretched their lead to 7-5 with a penalty goal. Try as we may we could not get another score and with the ball like a bar of soap we saw 24 scrums in the first 40 minutes. On three or four occasions the respective scrum halves dropped the ball before they had even left the back of the scrum and the players left the field at half time, muddied from head to foot, with that same score on the score board.
During half time as we went for the Bovril, it poured down again, and when we got back to the Well we all had to move back out of the rain, to avoid being drenched. Both teams changed their shirts at half time as the rain eased, but no further points were scored before once again it became really dark and the heavens opened. It rained so hard that the referee had to stop the game at a scrum, as no one on the field could see. After 56 minutes so muddy were their kits, that both teams looked exactly the same, so the referee had little choice but to take both sets of players off the field to change their shirts again.
Unfortunately our Chairman Charlie Watson claimed that we had already gone through two full strips on Friday in the A team game, and now having used up two more strips that day, we had no more shirts left. Bramley had just brought two sets of kit and although the referee said he would play on if just one team changed, neither side had anymore shirts!
As we stood on the terraces stamping our feet the tannoy interrupted the Batchelors singing ‘Diane’ for the umpteenth time, to announced that the referee had abandoned the game, and we all trudged off chuntering about getting our money back and what a farce the whole afternoon had been. Peter Fox was more vociferous in Mondays Yorkshire Post though, saying that they could have won the game and it was the responsibility of the home team to change their strips. He also refuted what Watson had said about changing strips at half time in the previous A team game and it all got a bit messy!!! However, the RL decided that the game should be declared void and so it was replayed later that year when on a Wednesday night we won 26-10!!
The second game I want to feature this week was played on Friday 29th November 1974 under the floodlights at Craven Park, Barrow. I didn’t go to this particular game, Barrow on Friday back then was around a 20 hour round trip!!! But the match did have some strange circumstances surrounding it! Friday night games just did not happen back then, but Barrow had a major employer in the Vickers Ship Yard and insisted that because of the strange shift system the Company operated, the game would be played on a Friday.
I would not have minded but, in the end, only 1400 attended anyway. This was a major problem for Hull FC though, because many of our playing staff were in full time employment and would find it hard to get off work for a full day to take the 7 or 8 hour bus trip to North West Lancashire. You see back then the pay for playing was way below what they would get for a full day’s work at the day job, and as it was performance related that was certainly the case when you lost!
The RL ruled that the game had to go ahead as they said that it was ‘Barrows call’ and so 7 of our first team players had to then drop out, because they couldn’t get released from, or afford to miss, a full day at work. The squad we took was certainly a strange one. Tony Banham, only half fit and just signed from Keighley was at prop, whilst we had to sign young Ray Butler from the amateur game to make up the numbers in the second row. Incidentally in the second row that night too was Barry Kear, a big name signing, who promised much, but who never achieved his potential.
Apparently Kenny Foulkes and Brian Hancock tried really hard at half back that night and Barrow’s winning margin of 14 points flattered them no end, but sadly our inexperience meant that we were never going to win and we came home empty handed losing 21-7. Hull gave half back Steve Lane his debut that night, and according to the papers next day, Boxhall had a good game too. But with players like Alf Macklin, Len Casey and Howard Firth missing it was always going to be a struggle! Good old Chris Davidson was missing too, but he was in the middle of a six match suspension for scrapping, (nothing new there then for Chris) but that, as they say, is another story!
So there we are two games that show just how our sport has evolved from a part time, winter spectacle in the mud, to the professional, big money game that it is today!!
Well, the big question is now all about just how we get turned round and ready for a very difficult visit to Wigan on Friday. As I said earlier I would have sacrificed two points on Friday for a win in the Cup, but now we have that win in the bag, I of course want our run to continue. However Wigan in 5 days is a massive task. It’s a hell of a trip at the best of times, but after yesterday its going to be a very big ask and a really difficult game to get up for. I feel it will be really hard to get anything from it myself. However then, after a 9 day break, we face another potential banana skin at Newcastle late on a Sunday afternoon. The challenges to our new found resolve and tenacity, particularly in the face of adversity, are now coming thick and fast. I just hope that we can keep going!!
It’s should be an interesting week ahead though, particularly when the Club have to explain whether the next round of the cup will be played at the KC or at another venue!! But now, it’s 2-30 on Monday Morning and so I guess it’s about time to finish another Diary, after what was without doubt a wonderful and quite amazing win yesterday in St Helens.
We should all be very, very proud after that showing and also be thankful that at last we have a team who really does do the business and that does it, dare I say, on a regular basis!
Thanks for reading what has been a rather hurried Diary as I burned the midnight oil after the long journey home from Saints last night and I’m really grateful to everyone who has taken the time to pass on an opinion or offer a viewpoint over the last week. Don’t forget the memories books that are in the Club shops in which you can leave a message for Richard Whiting and I’ll see you all at Wigan and………………….
Faithfully Yours, a very proud,