The Dentist’s Diary – 520th

Welcome back to the Dentists Diary, a Happy New Year to all Hull FC Supporters and here’s to an exciting and successful 2017! If its half as good as 2016 I’ll be very happy indeed!

It’s a funny old time to be writing this weekly diatribe and one that has me a bit lost when it comes to what to make of things. I say that not because I won’t be totally immersed in Hull FC once the proper 2017 season begins, because I certainly will, I always am! However, it’s more a case for me that unlike last season when we played at Donny, took on Rovers, had a 12 day build up period and then were throw headlong into the new season and a big home clash with Salford, this year, with the first trial game being played 48 days before the first match of the season the whole pre-season process seems to be going on and on and on.

I guess however I should be grateful that is all I have to grumble about and that everything at Hull FC seems a bit mundane at times because the reality is that with relegation, departures, retirements and injuries in training at Hull KR and the absolute debacle that is Hull City at present, the state of our Club compared with the rest of those in the City of Culture 2017 is boringly stable. For us FC fans that certainly makes a change and long may it continue!

Even our coach resisted the pressure of wringing every last pound of passion out of the local Derby game by playing it down as just another trial match against Championship opposition and by fielding a team of mainly fringe players in an effort to protect our starting 13 from what will be as long and as gruelling a season as any Club has experienced in the Super League era. For me the Club have now to decide whether to stick with this fixture and take it seriously as far as putting out a competitive team is concerned in future or scrap it. The fact remains that no one likes losing to Rovers at any time, so some were a tad disgruntle last night.

I’m trying just to see the pre-season games as a means to an end, furthermore I’m doing my best to understand why it all seems to be so drawn out, but with still 35 days to go to our first game its hard! Our Club is doing well and continuing to evolve and although after two years of turmoil followed by a wonderful 2016 season things are at present progressing smoothly on the playing side. However, the administration arm of the Club continues to adjust and re-invent itself in the face of changing circumstances within the sport, as they recognise the need to capitalise on our recent success and the impact it had on the fans.

The game on Boxing Day was certainly a good run out and I accept that a lot of the younger players will have learned from it. It was absolutely brilliant for those fans who wanted to see a game and I know plenty of people who had a great day out, partook of a few beers and took a real chance to get the season started in a good spirit.

Losing at Castleford in such a manner was just accepted by most of us committed and dedicated followers as just the outcome of a meaningless pre-season friendly between two vastly unbalances squads and indeed the Rovers game was little different. There were some good performances at Cas and a few players certainly stood out, but as is always the case in such contrived matches one or two didn’t. Poor old Nick Rawsthorne tried his heart out but had his skills severely tested playing opposite England international Michael Shenton, who watching the game back afterwards, created havoc all afternoon. But Rawsthorne has vast potential and will learn from the experience. I wasn’t that impressed with Curtis Naughton either who seemed to be by and large trying too hard, but he improved a lot against Rovers. However, Josh Griffin will undoubtedly be a big addition to the backs in every sense of the word and he’ll certainly create a lot of tries for his wing men this year.

That game also re-energized the big question many of us have been asking for ages; what the hell do we do when Danny Houghton is injured and doesn’t play? Houghton has excellent durability but there needs to be a ‘Plan B’ if he is to ever get injured and despite Danny Washbrook’s heroic efforts every time he is on the field, we simply don’t have one. The longer we leave it, the shorter become the odds of it happening.

Litten isn’t ready to play long minutes so Dean Hadley took on the hooking role at Castleford and did pretty well, but he’ll need to improve his speed from the ruck if he’s to be ever used in the position next season. Otherwise its Washy or Litten I guess. Of the rest, well some of the real young guns took the eye for me, Marvin Lee and Josh Wood showed some nice touches, while Jez Litten also took the game by the scruff of the neck when he came on to the field. However, as I say, an unbalanced hit up offered scant clarification for me, but there is little doubt too that in the circumstances Lee Radford adopted the right approach to the game and as was the case yesterday he stubbornly stuck to his guns and wasn’t tempted to risk more first teamers just to put numbers on the gate and thus increase the income from the games.

I didn’t go to Castleford myself, the family were all at home and anyway I knew what would happen when I saw the line up’s, it was nothing more than a trial match for us and yet was classed as a full blown ‘dress rehearsal’ for Castleford.

The Rovers game followed the same pattern and went much as I expected too and I certainly won’t be looking too closely at that either, because with Shaul, Talanoa, Fornua, Griffin, Logan, Sneyd, Watts, Taylor, Houghton, Ellis, Manu, Minniciello and Connor all not selected, we certainly have a good full first team of players missing. This year with the first real game at Wakefield still 5 weeks off, we changed our mindset completely on the importance of this game and it showed. We have to keep our best players fresh to peek for that first league game and although some of the youngsters looked a bit out of their depth, Connor Bower had a good game in the second half.

However, you can’t please everyone and a lot said to me last night that they felt disappointed. Harry from Lincoln who text me was typical when he said, “…because I’m a Hull fan its never OK to lose to Rovers and if we are to have such unbalanced pre-season games early in the run up to a season, then they should be played against another team”. Most sports fans outside Hull won’t get that, but those reading this will I think.

The structure and form was, a lot of the time, all over the place, but Kelly showed what an asset he is and what a great try he scored in the first half. With a smaller squad Rovers were always going to rotate less and so be better drilled and structured and so it was. In the end it was a training exercise to get some game time under the youngster’s belts and in the second half we pitted our scholarship team against what was a vastly more experienced Rovers outfit, yet at times with Bower growing into the game, we started to show some good stuff.

The Rovers fans who were gloating last night really do need to get a life. They just did what all Championship teams do against Super League opposition and made it a ‘Cup Final’ and played their best team. We saw it as part of the process in the build up to a long season. The thing is of course from our point of view any defeat to Rovers hurts the fans of Hull FC and so the Club have to decide whether they scrap it in future, or put out a competitive team, but I do know that it was the only date that the Stadium was available for the game this time around and so if it was to take place, then it had to be yesterday. However please, some squad numbers for everyone next time eh? The Coach may have been making a point about earning them, but no one knew who the hell was on the pitch in the second half.

Those are of course my thoughts and no doubt you’ll disagree and anyway on this one, what happens ‘down the road’ will be the final arbiter of the sense in it all. Lee Radford knows exactly what he’s doing and obviously saw some short comings with only playing two such games last season (You’ll remember there was a third planned just after Christmas at York, that was postponed much to the relief of Lee who said on that occasion it was too far away from the start of the season).

So, we are up and running of sorts and now have those two pre-season ‘run outs’ under our belts. However, you know if I’m honest and I always am in here, I do wonder about the stress that will be put onto all the players across our great game in a procession of matches that is likely to run for some, from Boxing Day to 7th October, with then 20 odd British based players expected to front up fresh and rearing to go in the World Cup and to perhaps play up to the Final on 2nd December 2017. And, all that after some of those players have been in pre-season training since early November 2016. Whether it is a hangover from the elation or even perhaps, the glorious foreclosure I experienced after that brilliant win at Wembley on that sunny afternoon last August I don’t know, but I guess I can be excused for finding it hard to get much of an appetite for what, perhaps quite rightly, are being looked upon by the Club as nothing more than 5 trial games.

Our coach has said already that it will only be when we play Salford in our fifth match of that programme that we will see our full starting squad playing and that some of our older and more experienced campaigners will not feature at all in the other games. We have to trust Lee, because it was he who masterminded the ‘structured’ build up to that win at Wembley last year and so he is now, I’m sure, trying to stage manage a similar assault on the League’s other two trophies as well.

This year will be so much harder because we won’t be flying under the radar, but rather out there to be shot at by every team we play. We found out last year after that Cup win that we were all of a sudden no longer the ‘Cinderella’s’ of the game, but having been ‘to the ball’ and returned with the main prize we were all of a sudden the Club that everyone wanted to beat and who everyone was on their guard against. This season will be little different. It’s going to be long, it’s going to be hard and its going to be very, very tough.

I guess only time will tell the actual validity of this drawn out pre-season. Both the first two games gave the clubs involved a chance to raise some much needed money and as both games have been endowed with a very worthy title and trophy, that ensures I think that they will be a ‘fixture’ in the pre-season schedule for years to come.

However, that post-Christmas game will also be one, because of issues with the football team and the SMC, that will never ever be played at home, but rather be a permanent Boxing Day game at Castleford. This year of course there is the chance to make a bit of history with the Canadian game being the first that the new Club have played in this country. It was I believe offered to us as a sop after being fiddled out of a World Club Challenge game, but it will be an interesting one and certainly a chance, I guess, to ‘be there’ as something new begins.

Looking a lot further ahead to the campaign proper and with two periods that contain two games in a 4 day spread, the 2017 season is going to be as tough as any Super League campaign has ever been. For many observers who have lobbied on the player’s behalf for a one game Easter, it’s all getting pretty ridiculous really, we are now playing too much rugby and the players will invariably suffer. Let’s face it pre-season games are a necessary evil and the Club has to keep its income levels up, but we all also learned from 2016 that winning a trophy and a good season ‘proper’ can see you reap massive benefits and generate massive amounts of income on the back of it.

I know nothing about how to prepare a team for an ordinary season, never mind one as demanding as the upcoming campaign, but I’m just a fan passing on his thoughts and what the hell do I know anyway. I’m not a party pooper and I know a lot of fans who will now look forward to the Castleford fixture as part of their regular Christmas festivities in years to come and let’s face it, a trip to Wheldon Road is always a really good day out anyway isn’t it?

At Hull FC the issue this year will no doubt be the need to address that worrying fall off of form that we saw at the end of the last campaign. Once the Cup is in the bag it is a trait that Wembley winners have shown in the past and one that no doubt our camp will be addressing as I write. There is no doubt that Lee Radford wants sustained success for his team in the future. Too often for teams who do what we did last season it is a means to a decline, as was the case with Huddersfield when they first got to Wembley and then won the plate a season or two later before their long term planning went astray and they flopped back to their current parlous state.

Sustained success in Sport is said to be all about creating a dynasty but that is so hard to achieve and Lee hit the nail on the head last week when he said in the Yorkshire Post that, “The last time we won the Challenge Cup was in 2005 and, 10 years on, whatever promo we did, whatever dinner we went to, they still showed footage of that. Now that we have won it again, our challenge as a club is to make sure it doesn’t take as long to win something else this time around so that we sustain success and our 2016 success becomes a distant memory. We don’t want to be showing the 2016 footage 10 years down the line because we’ve not done anything in between. That’s the goal.”

So Lee sees the win at Wembley last August as job done and a box ticked, it’s no longer the monkey on our back and we don’t fear it anymore. Last year he put so much emphasis on smashing the Dobbins in that pre-season game to give the fans something to cheer about, but now with Wembley won and ‘put in the box’ he wants to major on a more rounded and consistent season where we actually peak at the right time, get to the Grand Final and do it with some petrol left in the tank. Thus I think we see the reasoning behind what is happening in these early games and what is the thinking behind the massive squad we have. If we can fiddle a few wins in those back to back games next season by playing a younger team, then we’ll be good come that final run in.

Too often last season when we tried to rest players and ring the changes to keep some of the lads fresh, we suddenly lost a game and so the temptation to play the Minniciello’s, Taylor’s, Manu’s, Sneyd’s, Houghton’s and Ellis’s of our team week in week out became simply impossible to ignore if, that is, they were fit. Invariably of course they then ran out of petrol in the final critical run in. We can’t win them all, but as fans we want to and so perhaps this year we have to accept a few defeats and disappointments early on, as we build incrementally towards the final part of the campaign when Wigan, Saints and Warrington come on strong and the less experienced campaigners fall by the way side at the final hurdle.

Away from the playing side of things there is little doubt that pre-Christmas the fans really rallied around and the response to the season ticket scheme has been nothing short of phenomenal with subscriptions continuing to sell well right up to this weekend’s deadline which has now been extended. But, how well have we really done on those pass sales in what is a great value for money offer on season tickets this time around? The old trick of extending the deadline for another week was wheeled out this weekend but you know, I wouldn’t be surprised if by we kick off the season we will have reached around 8200 which would see around 2700 more than we sold last season.

That would be a tremendous response to the success of the last campaign but although it will help I don’t think that it will actually make up for the loss of the income we will see with no regular Derby games this year. You really can’t rely on Rovers to do anything right can you?

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For me that’s wrong really and we shouldn’t be relying on Derby games to survive financially, in fact it’s about time I think that the RL looks at the number of Clubs that are just bumping along on the TV money and doing little to build their gates and generate new customers. The product is excellent but the fact that we have sustained good gates throughout several seasons of hard times is down to the hard work of James Clark and Co and the inventiveness and appeal of our marketing. Some other Clubs like Huddersfield, Wakefield and Salford must be rubbing their hands when Hull FC come to town because on the back of the fervour that our back room boys have generated amongst the fans of the Hull Club over the years, we still turn up in droves wherever we are playing.

Perhaps the Rugby League should think about giving more of the income from tickets sold by the visiting club back to them, because that would soon make some get their fingers out and start thinking about building their own gates, encouraging more to travel to games and generally getting new customers on board. We take thousands away to some games and yet despite the fact that Hull FC have worked tirelessly to develop that loyalty and fervour as a club we get little back for the tickets we’ve sold to our travelling fans. While alternatively those Clubs who have low home attendances and ‘sit on their hands’ benefit from our visits, but invariably bring few to the KCOM in return.

Still on the administrative side of things and several of the staff have told me that there has been a big shake up in the top tier of Hull FC since Christmas, which appears to have seen James Clark promoted to Executive Director. That in effect I guess means that the top of the company has been restructured and Clarky will be taking up the sort of role that was last occupied by James Rule. At least now we know that, despite some of the rumours that have circulated about him moving on, he is certainly staying at Hull FC for now, but he’ll certainly have his work cut and I for one wish him well.

Having always adopted a ‘Jack of all Trades’ persona James Clark’s elevation in status means that yesterday was probably his last time as pitch announcer, which after around 94 consecutive games on the field and having attended 251 consecutive games all told, means he bows out leaving some big shoes to fill pre-match. In that time he has been central to that role and he’ll certainly be a hard act to follow.

Change through the constant evolution of the organisation off the field has been one of the hallmarks of Adam Pearson’s reign at our Club, as first he developed some order, focus and stability on the playing side of things, with quite amazing effect, before he set about an incremental and phased over haul of the back office and structure of the organisation. The constant evolution of that structure to make it more focussed and financially accountable has, whatever anyone says, already manifest itself in a better commercial turn over and take up of season tickets than we have seen for years. I went in the Stadium shop last Thursday and there were the staff working tirelessly as usual to deal with the mandatory queue to get served, which is a really good sign.

Of course much of the recent economic success is down to winning the Cup, but you have to have the structure in place to exploit that triumph and deliver the returns, otherwise you don’t capitalise on the opportunity afforded by that achievement and the chance is lost forever. Those currently at the top of the organisation are doing a good job and our Club is certainly in a much healthier state than it was say 12 months ago, when things looked a bit dodgy income wise.

The team are certainly training hard and could be seen running up the notorious toboggan run ‘Hill 60’ on Beverley Westwood last Thursday, meanwhile at this time of year the fans just look forward with anticipation and tend to consider who has come in and who has left and indeed how the team dynamic will evolve as it embraces those changes. Doing that at present it seems we are stronger in the backs and the half backs in particular, but in the second row, there is certainly an issue. The departure of Frank Pritchard does, for me, mean Hull have to fill a big hole in the back row rotation. Whatever his draw backs last season, Frank not only regularly had a spot on the bench and always brought some form of a step up when he came on to replace Mark Minichiello, Seke Manu or Gareth Ellis. There have been no high profile additions in the pack and so that job now falls onto the shoulders of the likes of Dean Hadley and Jordan Thompson but, that means that further down the pecking order a youngster has to perhaps now stand up and be counted.

If that doesn’t happen, we won’t be as competitive in the pack as we were in 2016 and many have attributed the success we had last term on the strength we had up front. Of course we also lost prop Iafeta Paleaaesina in the off-season as well, so there is a need with those two departures for someone out of the group of Masimbaashe Matongo, Jack Downs, Jansin Turgut and Brad Fash to step up as well. The challenge to all those emerging players is to get several first team games under their belts and when their chance comes around, to get close to matching their peers. Downs could be one to watch out for because I really rate him, but in camp at present I’m told that Brad Fash has also shown a lot of promise and he certainly showed up well on Boxing Day.

So on to the wider world of Rugby League Bradford are back in trouble again, they’ve gone into liquidation and yet, why are we not surprised?

Look it’s a tragedy for the Club, the City, the players and most of all for the fans who tip up every week to watch their beloved Club play a bit of rugby. However, the game has to move forward and you can’t have a club that goes bust ever couple of years continuing as if nothing has happened, that’s just not sustainable for the rest of the game on so many levels. However, I did think that there was a very telling comment at the end of the RFL statement issued last week, about ‘Rugby League needing Bradford’. If that is the case and although, as I have already indicated, I have great sympathy for all those concerned, then some ground rules have to be put in place.

My question to that RL statement would be, is there any guarantee that any other club would get the same treatment? In the modern era Bradford Bulls are an iconic brand champion for the game and RL would be a worse place for them departing it, but I just want some assurances that should that happen in Hull, Leigh or Halifax those clubs would be afforded the same assistance and security of tenure in their current division. I’m not sure I trust Redhall for that to be the case myself. If you step back a bit then it just doesn’t seem right that a club can get into so much trouble so often and still be given a clean slate and a fresh start in the same league does it? There has been no regard or questioning of what those in the bottom-tier think about it or whether another ‘new’ club, Toronto, feel there are double-standards at work here. You really do have to ask exactly where’s the deterrent to stop other clubs getting into so much debt themselves?

I really do hope that the Bulls survive in some form and that should others be in trouble in the future they are treated just the same. But I don’t like seeing certain clubs given preferential treatment from the RL and this whiffs a bit of that to me!

Looking further ahead, time has now to be of the essence as the RFL await proposals from interested parties to set up a new holding company, that is sound enough to be granted membership of the RFL. It’s a tall order and the decision to keep the Bulls in that Division instead of getting the fledgling club to start over again at the bottom of the ladder, may yet prove to not be a good one. If they are genuinely interested in preserving the season schemes and fixtures already arranged across the competition, perhaps they would have been better promoting say Whitehaven who have a ready-made and already assembled team to take over Bradford’s fixtures. I think that stuff about season ticket schemes is actually just a load of baloney myself and just a smokescreen for a bigger cause of worry for the RL.

You see, a word which, strangely, was not mentioned once by them in their 300-word statement announcing Bradford would retain a Championship place is ODSAL– despite the fact the ground is owned by the game’s governing body. Why did they ever take it on? Well that’s a question I have asked in here dozens of times. The RFL’s statement says that in making their decision, board members were “mindful” of the others clubs, season ticket holders, players and staff – but gave no mention as to whether their ownership of Odsal influenced their decision or not. The lack of transparency on the issue is disappointing if not I have to say pretty typical.

There are other concerns too and it did make me wonder that if this can happen to a team as big as Bradford, could other clubs with financial problems follow suit? Might there be a domino effect? It is a worrying thought for the game as a whole. Even in the Super League several Clubs are on the brink and relying solely on TV money and the magnanimity of their owners to keep them afloat and that’s not good at all. When sport can no longer rely on the paying customers filing through the turnstiles to keep it going, then that’s a real worry, because TV companies and individuals with a bit of brass are notoriously fickle, whilst loyal fans who are willing to invest in a dream are simply invaluable.

Nevertheless, at Bradford the decision has been made and once a new owner has been vetted and appointed a squad must now be assembled pretty sharpish ahead of the season-opener at Hull KR on February 5. It’s crisis time at Bradford and it’s a crisis that with just over 4 weeks to go to the season starting, is so acute that it’s difficult to see how they can resolve it all in time. Whatever happens history dictates that perhaps this is the Bulls’ 1964 moment all over again.

That was a time all us old timers remember well, when Bradford Northern’s home gates sank to 324 (against Barrow) before they dropped out mid-season and reformed a year later under the legendary Trevor Foster. Indeed, Hull KR were their first opponents at Odsal when over 16,000 turned up to support them. Boy would the current beleaguered Bradford Bulls kill for such an about turn this time around. Now however, finding the right ownership to lead the club out of its darkest hour is absolutely crucial and so the RFL need to quickly grow some and ensure that they get this one right, for a lot of folks both in Bradford and across the game are watching what they do very carefully.

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I’m certainly indebted to Ben and Kevin Horsley for this picture of a Road in South West England that arrived with the caption “Even in Plymouth it is appreciated what he has achieved”

I’m hearing that we can soon expect a big report on the impact and potential danger there is in head shots and collisions around the upper body and what the game can do to protect players in what some describe is a game that can be ‘vicious’ at times. That is extremely commendable, however when you look back somehow it seems the modern game isn’t as brutal as the one we witnessed back in the 80’s and this week I was talking to a few fans about that very subject and we got to considering a Cup semi-final replay in 1985 that was as tough as it has ever got in the game. On Saturday 6th April 1985 we played the unfancied Castleford full of expectation and believing that it was all a formality. We had Peter Sterling at the helm and thought that later that afternoon we would all be preparing for another trip to Wembley. However, no one told Castleford and in a dour and pretty unspectacular grind we ended up drawing 10-10, with ‘Sterlo’ who was truly outstanding for us at scrum half, scoring a brilliant late try to keep us in the Cup.

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Trevor Skerrett breaks the line in a hard fought 10-10 draw.

So, the ‘Mermaid’ bus was back on the road again the following Wednesday and I was back on it! Most of us twagged off work and by 4.00pm we were back in the ‘Three Horseshoes’ on Otley Road, before taking our places on the East Terracing at Headingley in a crowd of over 20,000 (for a night match on a neutral ground!). There must have been at least 12,000 spectators from Hull and after our heroics against Widnes in the previous round it was certainly turning out to be a season of replays. However, Castleford had obviously noted the important role that the wonderful Peter Stirling played in the first game and so targeted him from the off.

It was Ian Orum, the Cas’ scrum half, that literally drew first blood. Whilst we had started slowly, Castleford had scored an early try, but then Orum took Gary Kemble really late with ‘a coat hanger’ of a ‘stiff arm’ tackle which left the New Zealand International Full-Back severally concussed. The game was stopped for about 4 minutes whilst Gary was carried from the pitch to play no further part in the proceedings, or the next four games! With the referee taking no action we were all ‘baying for blood’ and were not disappointed as, in the very next play, John Muggleton laid out their centre Hyde and it was then the Castleford fans’ turn to go ‘ballistic’!

Then began to unfold one of the most intense and brutal halves of rugby I have ever seen. The Hull players were clearly enraged by the earlier foul by Orum (for which he got four games when it was reviewed by the Rugby League afterwards) and tore into Castleford. Sterling started to dictate the play as Lee Crooks broke their line and passed to Dane O’Hara who raced in just below us for Crooks to convert from the touchline. Four minutes later, with Castleford concentrating on trying to knock our heads off, we were ahead from a great Peter Sterling try. This prompted Castleford to bring on their secret weapon, Mal Reilly, their veteran Player/Coach. This was only his second game of the season and although he could hardly raise a trot and played the whole game ‘on one leg’ at the very next scrum he ‘stiff armed’ ‘Sterlo’ as he broke away; the hit was of such force that you could clearly hear the ‘slap’ echo around the Stadium. The Aussie’s feet left the ground and he was out cold on his back. Smelling salts brought him round before Timpson repeated the treatment a minute later and Sterling was carried off in a daze.

Back roared Castleford to equalize through David Rookley who shot through from Full Back to plant the ball between the posts. The conversion was successful and the game was ‘all square’. Miraculously a dazed and obviously confused Sterling returned to the fray ten minutes later as Crooks broke through and sent Muggleton away, he passed to Kevin James who scorched into the corner to score. Next, ‘Man of the Match’ Crooks broke again this time sending Leuluai through, to ‘shimmy’ round the full back and in for another great try, which increased our lead to 22-12.

It was almost half time, but the ‘action’ wasn’t over yet because after the hooter had sounded the linesman down on the touchline near us spotted a Castleford infringement and walked out with his flag held high. Hull took the penalty which Crooks dispatched into touch. Lee then fell onto the ball after he tapped the restart and was immediately penalised for the very rare offence of a ‘voluntary tackle’ and all hell broke loose. Reilly hoisted a ‘bomb’ which Sterling caught behind the posts as six Castleford players piled in. There then followed a massive fight behind the Hull try line which lasted well over two minutes and involved everyone, with the majority of the players openly brawling. Gary Schofield was pinned against the perimeter wall as two Castleford players pummelled him, whilst young Lee Crooks picked on probably the hardest man on the field Malcolm Reilly. The referee stood his ground to separate the teams and after a deal of finger wagging he was just happy to get the players off the pitch.

In comparison the second half was a ‘tepid’ affair as Hull’s fine defence restricted Castleford to a couple of breakaways and it ended as the first had begun with a solitary Castleford try leaving the final score 22-16. So, singing “we’re the famous Hull FC and were off to Wembley, Wembleeeeeey Wemberleeeeeey” at the top of our voices, we all tramped back to the buses, having witnessed one of the most brutal games most of us had ever attended but looking forward to Wembley and Wigan.

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A still obviously concussed Peter Sterling (left), Dane O’Hara, Kevin James and James Leuluai celebrate in the dressing room after the semi-final replay.

It had been a dour but sweet victory with a fracas the scale of which made for a deal of discussion for weeks to come. It was a game that immediately springs to my mind when anyone talks of player welfare and the dangers of the current game but it was just the same a great Semi, with some great memories; Peter Sterling eh; what a bloody player he was!

So that’s it as another ramble on about the state of the game and the Club I love draws to a conclusion. I should I guess at this point mention my good pal Tommy, who was a regular at the old Drum and Monkey and whose words of wisdom resonate a bit in the new book. At Christmas apparently Tom was involved in a rather competitive game of ‘Who am I’ but although he did his darndest to guess the answer that would have won him the game, he had a post it stuck on his head for a whole fifteen minutes and simply couldn’t get the answer. What was it? Well it was in fact the Dentist Diary! Oh dear!

However, that wasn’t the only story I got over Christmas and the amount of readers that got in touch was simply amazing and thanks to everyone who commented about the Diary and enquired as to how the book is coming along. I’m getting involved with Danny Houghton and his Testimonial Committee and I’ll be keeping you posted on how that’s progressing in the coming weeks, but in the mean-time, thanks for all your interest and support and for me at least, with snow forecast for the weekend I wish I was going away to warmer climes with the team. Keep in touch and thanks so much for sticking with another Diary at a time when its more about hypothesising, conjecture and dreaming than it is about reporting on any meaningful action.

Thanks for all your continued support and the next Diary will be out on Monday 23rd January.

Faithfully Yours

Wilf