The Dentist’s Diary – 517th

Well, here we are again, it’s been quite a busy two weeks really and thanks for returning again to the Diary, as I attempt to make some sense of what’s happening at the Club as we all start to get a bit twitchy awaiting some rugby coming our way in five weeks’ time, on Boxing Day.

This last fortnight there’s been plenty going on with Kelly arriving, Frank ‘tanking’ it back to the NRL, Abbo going out on loan to help ‘the basement boy’s’, rumours of a possible departure on the management side of things, the Wolf Pack coming to town and our progress, or otherwise, with season ticket sales. So here’s a quick look at what has come to pass in the last fortnight through, as usual, the eyes of this ordinary fan.

Well despite the fact that the deal had actually been completed for three weeks and the player had already been training with our conditioning staff to get a flying start (so that he could fit into our new home shirt), it was at last announced last weekend that we had captured former Dobbins star and notorious bad boy Albert Kelly, on a one-year deal for the 2017 season.

Then, just like buses, after weeks of speculation and waiting, along comes another signing with the conformation that we had secured the future of winger Steve Michaels, in a deal that was actually sorted out and informed to the players at the end of last season, before they broke up for their holidays. There is little doubt that at present several of our news announcements seem to be suffering from ‘jet lag’ don’t they?

After we had won the Challenge Cup, Adam Pearson admitted that they’d sat down, looked at the squad and had a re-think and that more recruitment would need to be done to push on in 2017. When he said we needed a game breaking half-back we all wondered who it could be and some of the keyboard warriors had a field day, but Mr. Kelly wasn’t really on any of the pundit’s radar’s, whilst it now appears behind the scenes, the deal was being set up.

Knowing that it was all done and dusted over a fortnight ago, I rehearsed all the arguments in here last time and I still think that with the contract etched in such a way that it benefits the Club in every aspect of the small print and because its only for a year, we really can’t lose with this move. Lee Radford certainly seemed pleased as it was announced, when he said that he believes Kelly could be exactly the game-changer we needed, while he also waxed lyrical about how delighted he was to re-sign the popular Michaels.

I thought it was very telling when Lee said last week, “As soon as we were notified that a player of his quality was available we decided to move and despite leaving Hull KR under clouded circumstances, it means he comes across the city in a very motivated mindset and with a firm focus on delivering his career best form” The last bit certainly bears out what a senior official said to me when he stated that Albert was coming with a point to prove to ‘a few people in Hull’. As one Diary reader said to me last week at Waitrose in Willerby “You just have to step back and remember how relieved we all where when he was injured and couldn’t play in a Derby against us last season”. That was for me quite a telling observation on the situation.

Kelly has been a done deal for a while and indeed he turned down a better offer from another Super League club to join us. But this announcement was, I believe, put on hold to allow the Pritchard stuff to sort itself out and to coincide with another big push on season tickets as they went on general sale.

It was however hard to fathom out just why the Club had left the announcement on Michaels for so long. Did we need some of Pritchard’s cap space to pull it off? The player sorted everything out just before the final Wigan game at the end of the last campaign and if proof of that was needed then we only have to look at the fact that he was never once linked with signing for anyone else in the last two months. Huddersfield offered him a contract not long after Wembley, but once we had made our intentions clear he was only interested in staying with us and well done to him for that.

Michaels is certainly a real 100% player who always looks a danger with the ball. What I (and by what we have been told, the players) liked about Stevie is the way that he was always there to smash up-field to help the forwards and to stick his head through the line when he was needed to do it, plus, I think one of his biggest assets was the way that he often punched well above his weight when the going got tough. I’m pleased he’s staying myself!

As I say the announcements of these deals all-but confirmed Frank Pritchard’s departure from the Black and Whites, with the back rower’s exit opening up quota room for Kelly to join Michaels at the club for the 2017 campaign. The official announcement on Frank’s departure finally followed last Thursday although that deal too had been done for some time, but Frank apparently was still trying to get a two-year deal at the Eels. However, no one was that surprised when it was announced, were they?

It was as if the Club wanted the news to leak out first, so that they didn’t have to make a surprise announcement and then justify his leaving. It is, I think quite interesting that we had chosen to just issue quite a curt short statement that outlined the facts with no comments from the player or his family, whilst the same low key, no interview, approach was taken by Parramatta Eels over in the NRL on their announcing his signing. That contact in Australia who told me about him wanting a two-year deal (who is very close to the hierarchy at the Bulldogs) also insisted that Frank was intimating over there that he had got a pay-off in lieu of the rest of his contract from us. Which if true, indicates that perhaps it was in fact Hull FC that wanted rid, so who knows? On that one, perhaps we will never really know, but the fans particularly the young ones invested a lot in the Tank and it would have at least been nice to get a farewell statement for them from him.

It was a strange one and made for a rather ignominious end for a bloke who had at times in the last 12 months been the highest profile member of our squad and indeed the face of Hull FC. I still maintain that all was not well but our management would never ever comment on that. But, I’m sure as well that the actions taken benefit both parties and we all now have to move on. But as I said last week, larger than life characters have a big part to play in marketing and developing a game that has few real eccentrics left these days. They are often hard to handle, but that has to be the challenge.

Frank never really blossomed into the Marquee signing that we had hoped for and looking at twitter, the local paper and the Club’s social media sites his departure has been largely accepted without much fuss by a group of fans who are still buoyed by the exploits of last season and who have therefore tried to be ‘understanding’ over the departure.

That understanding is underpinned by a feeling that Frank never really made the high standards that he set himself and in any case perhaps folks think that we should all trust the judgement of those who served us so well with signings, player welfare and indeed results last season. I think that’s pretty fair really. However, at present there seems to be a lot of head scratching by the fans and a real hiatus as far as actual detail coming out is concerned, which, as with the Frank stuff, is leaving the supporters I speak with making it up themselves.

As a final point think on this one; why did a bloke like Frank who was always out there, always engaging with the supporters and who always had an opinion and something to say on most things, disappear without a word to the fans who idolized him? Perhaps he was ‘gagged’ or perhaps even it was an indication of ‘true colors’ and perhaps too, we’ll never know the answer to that one either?

I’d like next to extol the virtues of the fans because of the way they are responding in their hundreds to the Season ticket offer this time around, but I struggle to work out just how many we have sold! One day its over 5000 and then in the next press release its 4000, so it’s all a bit of a mystery. I know it’s the closed season and traditionally a quiet time, but as in the case of the departure of Pritchard, when even the local paper has been vague on the issue, the same seems to go for ticket sales.

However, if we are not sure how many we have sold I’m told that the Club are really pleased with the response to season ticket sales so far and as I have said before with the exception of Huddersfield, who seem to be just about giving them away, our offer is without doubt the best in the League. It appears that in the last two week’s new subscribers have been signing up in their hundreds for what should be an exciting season and that makes me think that we might just beat last year’s total. With educated guesses from those reporting to be ‘in the know’ indicating that at present we are up to around 5500 sold, the inclusion of Kelly will now give just the spice and added interest that we all need. However, I wouldn’t be underestimating the likely impact of Josh Griffin and Connor either, because both bring something new to what we had at the KCOM last year and it could be an exciting proposition come next February.

If the Pritchard and Kelly news was expected by most fans then the announcement that Jordan Abdull has moved to Rovers on a one-year deal, was hardly surprising either. Again it had been allowed to leak out with “The Daily Mail believe that….” stories as they ‘trailed’ the news weeks ago. What was heartening was the fact that both Jordan and the Club were quick to make it clear from the off that it was definitely ’only a loan’ and that he would be returning to Hull FC at the end of it all. It’s a great move for the young half, because with Kelly coming in to join Sneyd and Carlos and Connor in waiting, chances in the half backs were always going to be at a premium and Abbo desperately needed some game time to hone his skills and improve his experience.

I did wonder a bit about why there was a staggering in the re-introduction of our players back into training this month but it appears that just as was the case during the season last year when we put some of our older players on ‘light duties’ between game, we are managing the energy levels of certain players to ensure they peak at the right time. Lee Radford and his advisors are obviously putting great store on balancing the need for players to be fit to play to their best ability, against flogging them so that they are over trained and not at their peak when they have to play.

Lee Radford alluded to this very situation this week when he said, “This season is an absolute marathon and I think last year we went through 48 weeks of training, having to train every other day for 48 weeks is a fair old effort for any player. The likes of Gareth Ellis and Mark Minichiello were managed well during the season just gone and we aim to do that again next year to ensure like last season we get the best out of them again” There is little doubt that with the clubs not wanting to lose income or games and the RL pressing on with ‘Mission England’ for the World Cup, this is going to be the most taxing and energy sapping season in the modern era.

Talking of International matters, there was an interesting piece in the Mail this week which outlined the concern that coaches across the game have about England Rugby League’s plans for a winter camp in January. National team head coach Wayne Bennett had announced that he will be taking his players away on a two-week training camp to Dubai, with the focus being one of getting his squad fit!

The Mail stated that all the guys selected for the train on squad will travel to Dubai on Sunday, January 1, the day before Hull are due to return to pre-season training following a short Christmas break. I guess that could see Sneyd, Taylor, Shaul and Houghton all disappearing from our training regime at a pretty crucial time. That’s a lot of the spine of our team missing two weeks of critical preparations and a friendly against the Championship side from across the River.

Scott Taylor, who has been given December off, having only ended his season last weekend, will now not return to Hull training until the middle of January, three weeks before the first game. That can’t be any use at all to Lee Radford and our coaching staff can it? I’m not sure about this Wayne Bennett character at all, he’s had a brilliant career but I honestly wonder if he is any better than Steve McNamara. Recent results would for me, see the jury well and truly out on that one.

You see he might be ‘The best coach in the World’ but as yet I haven’t seen much evidence of the players ‘doing it’ for him, have you? The British game needs all the help it can get at present and of course winning the World Cup would perhaps go some way to doing that, but looking at Australia yesterday do we really think we can do that? What really irks me about Bennett though is the fact that he seems to have a great disdain for anything that is actually ‘British Rugby League’. He is a man of few words and certainly one who doesn’t seem to exude any passion for our country or our game in his post and pre match interviews. He picks, wherever possible, players that are soldiers of fortune and playing not in this country but in the NRL (does anyone else thing some British based players could have done as well in the last three games?) and then takes the players away to Dubai in January to ‘get them fit’ showing that he obviously has little respect for our own Club’s coach’s ability to do that here.

You know it appears to me that with the Clubs insisting for economic reasons that the season is stretched to up to 35 games and the RL vainly trying to prioritize the international game in this country, we have to have one or the other, because the players are going to be knackered, Super League will be devalued and the fans disillusioned. So I believe that as a game we have to decide whether our priority is International Rugby League or our Super League competition, because the way things are going scheduling wise it will be difficult to have both.

The problem is that, with the fans at least, you only have to look at the 4 nations to see that International game is just not as popular as the domestic competition. The RL should consider the fact that, at a critical time for the domestic game, they piss the ordinary, revenue providing Club fans off at their peril. However, it’s hard to have much faith in their ability to do anything much really isn’t it? I mean to say, an administration who arranges the final of a top International Tournament for a Stadium where they then discover (when it’s too late) that the pitch will have to be 9 meters shorter than the International regulation size, hardly engenders confidence does it? I hear that at least six senior Club Coaches have objected to that early ‘I’ll Get them Fit’ camp idea already and having rehearsed the arguments above I can see their point myself!

Well we were in the awards again last week this time for some of our off the field activities when last Friday night in Liverpool at the Super League Club Awards (that followed the Super League Conference) we won one, were shortlisted for two and nominated for 5 prizes. James Clark received the award for Best use of Digital and Social media for the club’s efforts with the website, FC live and a myriad of social web campaigns like V4Victory etc. etc.

There is little doubt that off the field in the marketing and communications area we do very well and well done to all the guys involved. You’ll remember that I reported in here this time last year that James Clark our Marketing and Communications Director, was awarded the accolade of ‘Hull Daily Mail, Young Businessman of the Year’ and so following this most recent success in Liverpool and our recognition of ‘Club of the Year’ for the that goes into the administration side of things, it was for me hardly surprising to hear that young, Mr. Clark was in demand.

I always just tell you it as it was told to me and last week I had a coffee with some pals who are in business and events locally and there are whispers that he might be courting the attention of some other interested parties. It would be no surprise to me if another club or business were to come knocking, which I intimated some months ago in the Diary when the rumors first came to light.

I hope we don’t lose him because in my book, when you actually see what he does, he’s pretty innovative and often Hull FC lead where other clubs follow. As I’ve said before as various staff have come and gone (good riddance to some!) there are certain people we should be trying to keep hold of, to take our club forward, which is all helped by a winning team of course! The recent membership scheme and record shirt sales that I’ve mentioned in here before don’t happen by magic and are probably a case in point, with new records being set on both fronts this year. To lose James Clark would certainly be a body blow, but it could be on the cards and so what will be will be, however well done Hull FC on grabbing another award!

Now while that awards ceremony was going on last Friday in Liverpool, I was in deepest darkest East Hull when I was very privileged to be invited to Kirk Yeaman’s ‘secret’ farewell party at Sutton Golf Club. I say secret because, although there were well over 250 people there, he knew nothing about it until he walked through the door. There was a great gathering in attendance with every member of the first team who was in this country there, with the coach and all the coaching staff, some old mates from 2005 like Richard Whiting, Jamie Thackerey and Gareth Carvell as well as loads of fans, family and friends.

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The family Yeamans pose for the Diary

Young Dylan Yeaman gave a brilliant speech on behalf of his Dad to thank everyone for coming and it was great to see Kirk so well appreciated and held in such high esteem for the loyal years of service he had given our club. In fact, I mused on the point that it was a measure of the respect that everyone had for him that no-one spilled the beans and spoiled the surprise! I spoke to Kirk and he was really enjoying his new role at the Club and settling in well!

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Interestingly enough, I also had a chat to several people during the evening who believed that it was very likely that with the signing of Kelly, our recruitment was over for next season. It was certainly an informative couple of hours and while I was there I had a good chat with a bit of a hero of mine the ubiquitous Karl Brooks. He was the guy you’ll remember, who, with a group of his pals devised and paid for the now legendary Caravan Park fly past before their Leigh game. He has been working closely with the club and doing all the new carpeting and floor covering at the refurbished County Road training Centre, which has gone through a massive overhaul since the end of the season and is now one of the best facilities in the game.

The size of the gym has been increased and they have even built a new physio room while just this week a new wrestling area was also installed next to the old building and with all new equipment throughout the facility no expense has been spared by Adam Pearson to overhaul the premises. Brooksey told me about the new motivational graphics that have been put up on the walls and told me how Lee Radford and his staff had all mucked in with the refurb and how Lee was a dab-hand at putting up wall panels etc. It has been a massive effort and a big commitment by Adam to help us consolidate and indeed build on the great season we had last year.

So what do we all make of our latest and last pre-season friendly which was revealed this week? Yesterday we announced that the new boys of the competition ‘The Toronto Wolf Pack’ were heading to town on Sunday 22nd January, to complete our pre-season schedule and make landmark history in rugby league at the same time. Let’s face it, the Rugby League had to give us the honor after we were fiddled out of a World Club Challenge game didn’t they?

It will be the Canadians first game as a fledgling Club and will mark the advent of the first ever transatlantic professional sports team. It’s a story that is certainly capturing the imaginations of the world press at present but of course, this being rugby league, it will be interesting to see just how long it all lasts. However, I think it will be great because history will be made when they take to the field and we’ll be part of it! Well done to the Club for arranging it as a game that comes in that wonderful pre-season no pressure no stress period before all the serious stuff starts. I’m looking forward to it!

Now, last time in the Diary I featured a piece in Codgers Corner about Dave Topliss which certainly seemed to go down well with a lot of readers. My good friend John Upson enjoyed it and it evoked some great memories of Dave’s famous ‘Run around’ move for him, which I’ll share with you all here because I certainly found them interesting. He said……

“Re the Toppo run around, I asked David the question in the Dee St Club “cocktail lounge” how he managed to think up such a complex move, dummy runners, precise timing of runs and ball release etc.

He told me 2 things of note.

Initially, he’d first had it done on him by Ken Gill who was Salford’s 6 when Toppo was playing at Trinity. He said he had been mesmerised by it and hadn’t realised that Gill even still had the ball as the move progressed. He said it took him a long while to work it out and was struggling to do so, but then Dave saw it again when watching a Salford ‘A’ team game, and the penny finally dropped.

He spoke to Gill about it, and he said he had picked it up from Australia. Toppo said that the key to it succeeding at top level was not just the timing, pass release etc.

The main things were;

Firstly, the close proximity of all runners crossing at the time of the final pass, but the most important thing Toppo said was the deceit. He added, “I had to look like my job was done whilst running into the receiving position quite fast, but not at full speed, whilst still getting to the crossing position at the same time as the dummy runner, in order to shield any sight of the final pass, but the onus was on the dummy runner to time his run right, not me. Then my job was to hit top speed from the moment I received the ball. He added that the execution was not perfect at Elland Rd and Eric Hughes almost got to him”

Uppo concluded his message by saying;

“Anyway thank God he didn’t get to him, although watching on the terraces I’d thought it was executed perfectly”

That’s all a bit complex to understand unless you were there in the days of that great move which I think I have said before was, with the ‘Buzzer’ (that was developed by the great David Doyle Davidson when he was Coach), one of the most innovative pieces of rugby you will ever see; simply because it was something that was completely new.

I spoke last time at length about how the sport was getting stale and like a game of Chess and why teams were now having to look towards bringing maverick players like Kelly, Chase, Brough and Carney back into the fold to provide the off the cuff innovation needed to add that spark to today’s rather staid format. For me, that’s what those two moves provided for our team in the past. Thanks for that Uppo mate, brilliant insight into a chat with a player who was without doubt a great icon of our Club and the game of Rugby League, a real off the cuff player and who is now sadly with us no more.

This week in Codgers Corner I want to look again at a game featuring a real unsung hero of our Club who I recently featured only a couple of weeks ago. Last Monday I was at the funeral of a great FC fan and an old mate Eric Rhodes whose obituary I included in the last Diary. It was a great event in fact and just as Eric would have wanted, more of a celebration than a funeral. It was certainly great to see Barry Edwards, Mick Harrison and a few other ex FC stalwarts there as well.

However, whilst waiting for the cortege to arrive I got talking to a Diary reader who had enjoyed the piece I did about Steve Crooks and he reminded me of another game in which he had been recalled to the first team to star for us, this time back in the days of Noel Cleal. Of course Steve is someone who, for so many years, was there working hard behind the scenes at Hull FC and indeed played and coached at both Hull clubs too.

Back in 1991/92, by October, we had lost seven, won two and drawn one of our games. In fact, following the club falling on hard times, and having to sell Karl Harrison and let players like Patrick Entat go, we all watched as what we hoped would be a bright future started to unravel before our eyes.

A shocking 24-12 defeat at home to Salford had seen us slump to the bottom of Division One and we already looking doomed. It was therefore with some trepidation that we travelled the short distance down the M62 to that great little ground of Post Office Road, which that year Featherstone Rovers were making a real fortress. It was always a good trip and on ‘Hull Fair’ Sunday’ 13th October despite a deal of trepidation and concern about our Club, as always the FC Army went in numbers, and took over the South terracing which backs onto that little row of houses. There, as usual, folks were stood in their bedroom windows, with one or two even sat outside on their flat ‘dorma’ roofs, getting a free view of the game.

In addition to having lost a lot of early season promise our team was riddled with injuries. Already without Andy Dannett, Ian Marlow and Steve Durham, we also lost both Steve McNamara and Jon Sharp, just 24 hours before kick-off, when both failed fitness tests. If that wasn’t enough, what we as fans didn’t know until we read the papers next day was that Coach Noel Cleal also had Richard Gay (Hamstring), Russ Walker (Calf Strain), Lee Jackson (Bruised toe), Chico Jackson (Ligament injury) and Paul Eastwood and Mark Jones (Back injuries) all struggling to make it out onto the field.

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Noel Cleal; a short introduction to the financial realities of British Rugby League.

It was said that under normal circumstances Jackson, Gay and Walker simply wouldn’t have played but a small squad and those injuries meant that Cleal had to take a massive gamble on them getting through the game. Such were the problems on the training field, Cleal had to bring Steve Crooks, who had not played for the first team for two years, back into the fold. Crooks in fact had only played two Alliance games that year but he emerged as the ‘fairy tale’ hero that day.

When the game started we on the open terracing were certainly heartened as the rain held off and Hull FC played with more commitment and adventure, than we had seen for weeks. We could so easily had scored twice in the first quarter, when Walker and Gay were held inches short in last ditch tackles by Paul Newlove. However, after 20 minutes, all we had to show for all our efforts were three penalties from Paul Eastwood. What amazed all of us lot though, was the way that Steve Crooks was playing, as he took the big Featherstone pack on down the middle. He was certainly proving a steadying influence and with so many youngsters in the team he was, with some telling passing, able to point all their youthful energy in the right direction.

As often happens when you are down and short of luck, right against the run of play, Featherstone scored. Andy Fisher broke a tackle, Newlove took the ball on strongly and Owen Simpson finished the move off to score near the posts. But, almost immediately Hull struck back in amazing style, as a superb move started by Greg Mackey, saw Portlock brilliantly dummy past three bemused Featherstone players. He fed onto Welham who set Lee Jackson tearing away down the left hand channel to pass to young Dean Busby on his shoulder, who strolled in wide out. Three minutes later we were back in the Featherstone half and superb handling and support play by Portlock and Crooks sent Ronson through a gap. He drew the full back before just running over him to touch down. We danced on the terraces as we simply couldn’t believe what we were seeing as at half time we led the game.

Obviously Hull needed a quick score to cement our superiority at the start of the second half and we got one when Lee Jackson broke and sent Ronson side stepping past Chris Bibb, to score again. An amazing string of penalties (which saw the final count 16-6 to the home team) had us rocking at times, however Crooks held us together but when we were caught a bit short of cover on the left the wily Derek Fox and Fisher laid on a great try for Paul Newlove. This caused some amount of delight for the home fans who scented a comeback. But, that was it for the hosts, as Hull and Steve Crooks took control. A dazzling ‘break out’ by Richard Gay split the defence and Eastwood showed amazing pace as he ran 60 yards hugging the touchline. Holding off local flyer Simpson, he ran on all the way to touch down in the corner, from where a panting Paul, brilliantly converted his own try.

Then substitute Mark Jones, who had since his introduction in the 58th minute, battered the Featherstone front row relentlessly, (his best display in black and white to date) broke a tackle, stood in another and passed out to Busby who set Lee Jackson scorching towards the Featherstone line to touch down with four players trailing and stumbling in his wake. Then came what I suppose was the standout moment for me when Featherstone’s Fisher who was now getting really rattled, waited till Bibb and Newlove had tackled Portlock into touch before picking our stand-off up and throwing him bodily into the hoop topped metal perimeter fencing. A massive scrap broke out, which culminated in Portlock receiving treatment from the St John’s Ambulance boys and Fisher being sent off. Then just to rub salt into the home sides wounds Eastwood brilliantly landed the penalty from the touchline, which sent the home supporters that were left in the Ground, scurrying for the exits.

Meanwhile to crown one of those rare, rare afternoons that makes all the heartache and fretting so worthwhile, we finished in style. Paul Harrison broke loose and left a flat footed home defence grabbing thin air as he cut through and released Russ Walker who crashed in to cap a towering performance. As the hooter went Crooks who was back on the field again, could hardly walk off the pitch, as we sang and danced and ‘Old Faithful’ rang out across the little mining town. We had won 40-12 on a rare afternoon in what was a disappointing season. It was a day when our walking wounded, inspired by Steve Crooks totally destroyed and demoralised a proud side in front of their own fans.

Our form picked up in the next few weeks but we were soon on the back foot again and Cleal was sacked well before we had to grind out a 12-8 win at Caravan Park at the end of the campaign to stay in the top Division! Steve Crooks eh, a real hero over the years, in so many ways!

So there we are another Diary finished and I hope that you found something of interest this week. Things are certainly starting to move again rugby wise although I have to say the 4 Nations has been a big disappointment for me. After the tension of the end of the league season, it was I thought a bit of an anti-climax really, but that was maybe because England were a big disappointment for me. Still the book is now finished in first draft at least, so a week off last week was useful to me. Thanks again to Uppo and everyone who has contributed this week, it was also great to the meet several Diary readers at the funeral last week and in the Hull shop at the KC last Tuesday lunch-time. Who knows what the next couple of week bring eh?

Keep Believing

Faithfully Yours

Wilf