Hello and welcome to the latest edition of the Dentists Diary.
Before a season starts there are always more questions than answers. The main two unanswered ones on an atrocious afternoon at Wakefield were, could we improve on our late season discipline and would the never say die spirit of 2016 still be there, for it was always going to be a pretty brutal affair. Towards the end of last season stupid penalties cost us points and yet throughout the campaign it was our grit and determination to grind out wins that just got us home so many times. So the big debate in the pubs and Clubs this past week was about the start of the season and whether the history made in 2016 was about to repeat itself in glorious fashion, or whether 2017 would be the equivalent of ‘that difficult second album’?
Thankfully by quarter to five the answer to that question was a positive one and it was another massive fighting effort, capped by a last minute game saver by Talanoa that saw us protect a flimsy lead and get our first two points on the board. At this time of year, that’s all you want isn’t it?
Furthermore, although not proving much of a pointer so early in the season, the game at Wakey was always destined to set the scene for two weeks of deliberation and discussion from the FC fans. I concur with the owner and a lot of the ‘keyboard warriors’ who feel we are perhaps a prop short up front, but yesterday we battled really well, took our chances, kept it tight and with Bowden on the road to recovery for the next game and no further injuries up front, yesterday was all about getting one over a team that are notoriously good starters at home and who had invested heavily in their pack in the closed season. Two points, job done and so we move on!
Now firstly my apologies for their being no Diary last week. The official line was that I was a bit under the weather, but in fact I was absolutely pole-axed by this bloody bug that is going around. I couldn’t get out of bed for 4 days, lost weight in worrying fashion and any energy I had was shot completely when I got a chest infection. As I write this I’m still not right, but last week was the first time in 11 years that I couldn’t fulfil my commitments towards the Diary and although I’m far from right, at least I’ve done my best to cobbled something together this week.
The readers of the Diary have been great and big thanks go to Harry Fletcher for the great letter he sent me and to everyone who got in touch and sent e mails enquiring why there wasn’t a diary, whether I’d forgotten to write one, or indeed, if I’d snuffed it! However, I really do apologise to all the readers who missed this rubbish and thanks to everyone who enquired as to how I was. The good news is (I think) that the new book is all but finished now, so we are back with the Diary on a weekly basis and as always thanks for sticking with it.
So, good old ‘summer rugby’ is here again and what atrocious condition we were faced with at Wakefield for our first game of the season. Perhaps it was fitting that in Wakefield’s first official game since reverting to their old Trinity moniker, they were faced with conditions reminiscent of the club’s glory days in the years of winter rugby league. There was mud, rain and driving wind aplenty and we’ve all been there in that a time or two over the years haven’t we? Early-season games are so often dictated by defensive arm-wrestles and attacks that are yet to hit full-flow and this was no different and certainly not one for the purists. Before the game my pal Dave Cooper told me, “Don’t be so blooming pessimistic” because having seen the conditions, the opposition and the circumstances surrounding the match, I wasn’t that confident that we could find the necessary focus and discipline, to get us home.
Although under new ownership, the ‘game playing’ at Belle Vue between Trinity and their new landlords continues and it was widely publicised last week that nothing had been spent on the playing surface over the winter and yesterday it showed! It was interesting to note the Hull coaches, who were out on the field for the warm up, constantly wiping the ball on the muddy playing surface. That was so that the lads got used to handling the wet and sticky ball and by and large it paid off, as we kept possession well when the going got boggy, something we suffered from not being able to do at times last year.
Both sides will have set out to keep it tight and play as much as they could in the opposition half and by and large that’s exactly what we did. It was always going to be who blinked and deviated from the game plan first and as Wakefield tried to force the ball a bit as they got frustrated, we stuck to our instructions and came home with the points….just. Discipline and errors would always be key and with the weather and two teams making their first tentative outing in the 2017 season, for most of the game it was always going to be nip and tuck.
Those first 40 minutes saw a lot of play down the middle, with the opportunity for attacking rugby severely limited, but it was always going to be down to who got that lucky break and which team had the game breaker to create it. Thankfully we had Marc Sneyd, but we had to have a good start to the second half and of course we didn’t have to concede a try early on! Good in principle but as often happens at Hull FC, hard in practise. So, we did concede, all be it after a pretty obvious knock on and all of a sudden we were up against it. But we held our composure, started to grind it out and a fortuitous try got us home, which in such games is all you need. Trinity closed him down but Sneyd stepped left and kicked brilliantly under tremendous pressure, Connor pounced and the points were ours.
It had to be low risk rugby and it’s hard for your backs and halves to shine in such conditions, but both Sneyd and Kelly showed great potential with the former kicking well and Kelly really getting pasted by their defence, but muscling in with some massive hits of his own. Last season’s 40/20 king Marc kicked another superb one, to take the pressure off us in the second half. While up front with two long spells Taylor was massive and Watts superb on the front foot taking the ball at the heart of the Wakey defence. Danny Houghton too was massive and made yards and yards out of acting half as the opposition tired.
Lee Radford said afterwards that Mahe Fonua was told that he was on the wing to be an extra forward and boy did he follow his instructions to the letter, as he carried the ball superbly from deep and of course his ‘Brother’ Talanoa mucked in too and saved the day with that last brilliant piece of action. After the game Gareth Ellis said of that amazing bit of endeavour, “That was a massive play from Fetuli. The match could have easily gone the other way, but he put in that extra effort and it just shows you the fine margins between winning and losing. It is what we have come to expect of each other though, from 1 to 17 I thought we were outstanding today, so it is really pleasing to come out the right side of the result.” Yep that spirit is certainly back for 2017! Fit or otherwise we are always a better team when Gareth is out there.
It was a massive play
At the death when we needed to defend, we were able to bring back Ellis and Manu which did the trick in the middle. Ellis proved that he certainly doesn’t need any sort of pre-season and at times he looked the strongest forward on the field.
Afterwards Lee Radford jokingly told the Guardian, “We have these conditions all the time in Hull so we’d pre-run how we wanted to play it. We said in the pre-game that we’d be scoring from kicks and to take our chances from penalties, so for them to listen to that and not chase the game was good. What we set about doing was making sure we fought, scratched and bit our way up field and tried to snag something up there. We wanted to take the two (points) every opportunity we got. It was really pleasing for me that they bought into it and were as patient as they were. When Grix scores – and it’s a clear knock-on – you can jump away from the game plan and try to chase the game, but they didn’t. They stayed patient and snagged a try off Sneydy’s boot. We managed to do enough to bring the game home, which is really pleasing. If they listen to the coach like that all year, I’ll be a happy man”
Some folks were grumbling afterwards about the conditions and the quality of the game and complaining that we didn’t square up to their expectations, but it’s the W in the column and the two points that matters at this time of year and in 10 days’ time with a better playing surface and a big gate we should see a much more open game against Catalan. So for me its job done and we move on to Catalan at home with those two points in the bag and a whole new challenge in front of us!
So, at Hull FC, after waving off Jordan Abdull to Rovers for a season long loan, we now say goodbye (for now) to ‘Noggers’ Naughton as he takes up a one-year loan contract at Leigh. I get the idea behind letting Curtis leave, because I’m still not convinced about him, but as I have said before, I would have soldiered on with Abdull and kept him at the Club. He could then have understudied both Kelly and Sneyd, two of the best half backs we have in the British game, but no doubt Radders has his reasons. He’s probably going to soldier on with Carlos under-studying those two, but for me, he’s someone else I’m not convinced about either.
It’s also interesting too that we are on the look-out for cover at hooker, which is something I’ve banged on in here about for the last year. Danny is an enigma and a super fit guy, but one day he’ll cop one and we could then be stuffed. I’m hearing that there could be other departures as well in the forwards with perhaps a couple more players going out on loan and indications are that they are forwards, so watch this space on that one.
The Q & A session with Adam Pearson in the Mail on Saturday threw up few surprises really although I smiled to myself to see him playing down the hype and expectation when 4 years ago he was whipping it up at this time of the year and I certainly thought just how things change. I did however find it interesting to see that the Club were looking for new offices and retail space, obviously, I thought, trying to get as far away from the Allams as they possibly could! Adams done a good job turning the Club around but now we just need stability and after last season to not to be a flash in the pan.
Now to what’s been happening elsewhere and on the Wilf’s Whiffs front I have been told by three different readers (one in Hull and two in Lancashire) that talks between the Clubs and the RL have led to the possibility that the middle eights could still be scrapped next season and we will return to a 14 team franchise led Super League, that still possesses an ability to allow promotion and relegation. Whether it’s true or not I don’t know but it’s strange it coming from such different angles and then on Thursday I heard the same thing from a reader on RL fans who indicated that he was told the same by a Club Chairman. Strange one that, perhaps it’s just the misinformation that seems to be so trendy in the national news these days, or maybe there is something in it, who knows? But they certainly ain’t going to tell anyone if there is!
There were certainly some interesting comments in the football world this week about the FA Cup competition, which seems to be more of a hindrance these days to the participating teams and appears to have lost its shine a bit. Of course in Rugby League we should not be surprised at that, because we have over the years seen a similar demise as far as the Challenge Cup is concerned. OK with football the magic of Wembley has been somewhat diluted with semi-finals and League Play-off finals being played at the national stadium, but there is little doubt that the FA Cup Final no longer holds the magic it did at one time. In the 80’s it was, like our Challenge Cup, the Holy Grail and getting there was the major achievement in any team’s year but now, as the Premier League has grabbed the glory in football and the Super League competition has grabbed the lime-light from the Challenge Cup in our game, both competitions are destined to be side-lined by their bigger and more high profile counterparts.
Of course in the end its all down to the needs of TV and their requirement to over hype the week in week out grind that is the League competitions whilst the Cup rounds, semi-finals and Wembley are under played. Perhaps there is a correlation between the fact that in both games Sky have the League competitions and the BBC the Cups, who knows, but for me it’s a real shame. We need the Cup as it is a unique selling point for our game and the one thing everyone across the world looks to watch even if during the year they never bother with another game. However, it’s an interesting debate and one that the British game of Rugby League has to address. Both football and rugby have been swallowed up by their all-consuming paymasters at the TV companies and the heart and spirit of the game as portrayed through the Cup competitions seems to have been eroded away. That’s a shame and cup football and cup rugby is something that will be hard to replace in years to come if the games continue to under value such prestigious competitions and eventually they fade away.
Talking of the TV companies I watched the first televised game of the season on Thursday night and of course it was the first match without the ubiquitous Stevo on the microphone. There have been many accolades flying about during the closed season about his efforts over the years and he has been a great servant to the game, but you know, I for one won’t miss him at all! He was for me a blooming liability to the game and it was interested to see just how the commentary would move on in 2017. Commentators, in any sport, should help set the scene and enhance the experience for the viewer, but not take over and in that facet of the viewers experience Stevo was certainly unique, both in terms of his persona and his colorful and yet predictable use of language. He was a harsh critic, often biased in his views and someone who always emphasized the negatives such as a bad piece of defending or some poor handling and yet he seemed to me to rarely praise the endeavor and classy play by the other side that often led to such incidents.
He would always think it clever to take aim at his targets with all guns blazing. In addition to that he had his own favourite words, with coaches always “furious” about their players’ performances, “T-R-Y” for when a team touched down, ‘wagering’ his bike on something, the “one-pointer” for a drop-goal and then there were players who had “lost the plot”, or who had “claret” pouring from a head wound etc etc etc. Thankfully I can report that all of that has now gone and the whole thing seemed to be better balanced, more professional and more informative. I was disappointed to see that they had disposed of the score/time clock feature on the screen in the first half, which appeared to be an oversight on the part of Sky and thankfully it was back in the second half. However overall it was all a big improvement I thought! It’s just a pity the games weren’t!
I watched all three matches, two were tight uncompromising and for long periods, pretty boring affairs, while in the other the promoted team was simply blown away at Cas. All to be expected I guess, but I think both British Clubs might just struggle next week in the World Club Challenge don’t you?
You will probably have read a recent article that stated that a new study has revealed that Salford Red Devils offer the cheapest season tickets in Super League, while Huddersfield have the most expensive. A season pass at Huddersfield will set a fan back £305, (£100 more than us) though they do have the cheapest ‘early bird’ renewal at £99. At Salford, fans pay £199 per season pass, with us lot at Hull FC almost as good value, at £205. Unsurprisingly perhaps, the cost of a pie is cheapest at Wigan, but you can find the cheapest pint of lager at Warrington Wolves and the most expensive at Leeds and the KCOM. Leigh and Castleford offer replica shirts at £45, which is the cheapest in Super League, while Huddersfield fans have to fork out £55 per jersey as the Fartowners really are being ‘salted’ as far as the cost of their support is concerned. In the Championship, a season ticket at Hull KR is the most expensive, with one retailing at £250. London Broncos are the cheapest, at £99.
Whitehaven top the season ticket price table for League 1 at £160, with Hemel Stags the cheapest at just £75.Linda Firth from LoveMyVouchers.co.uk, who carried out the survey, maintains that the study shows the importance to fans of seeking out the best options wherever possible. “The study has highlighted the large price differences that supporters of different clubs are faced with and as changing teams is not an option, fans looking to save money should always consider buying their tickets early in order to benefit from the best discounts.” On average the cost of supporting Rugby League at home throughout a season is £431 per person for standard adult season ticket; an adult replica shirt; and a programme, pint and pie at each of 14 home games.
Well because of the way that the fixtures have fallen our first home game is the most difficult one there is to fill with spectators in the season and in addition we have got the Catalan match at the KCOM on a Thursday night. The Club has worked hard with ticketing deals to get a good gate and have had a lot of success as folk’s clamber to get tickets to see if the feel good factor of last season can continue. A few fans who should know better were grumbling last week on social media about the Club saying it was heading for a sell-out, when the Club said there were thousands of seats left, but they have to accept that as far as what we have available to sell it is almost full. As we refuse quite rightly I think, to pay through the nose to have the North End open for what is sometimes just a sprinkling of away fans and the ‘on costs’ of opening the top tier of the West Stand means that’s a none starter too, so in effect we have the bottom areas of the West, and the South and East to sell. Of what we have available to purchase, last Thursday morning I know that we only had around 1200 seats left in those areas. So well done to the Club for giving the game the big sell and just about shifting everything that is available. We could see 13/14,000 there which would be quite amazing for that fixture, but despite all the hard work, it still doesn’t detract from the fact that Thursday night rugby is still a bit of a disaster really isn’t it?
Sky viewing figures might be up since 2013 when Thursdays were introduced but the Clubs hate the idea because they cannot get the response to these games that they need from the fans. It was therefore good this week to hear from Roger Draper, (who joined the RFL as Operations Manager in December, after leaving his post as Warrington Wolves chief executive), concede it is one matter he aims to resolve. “It is something we have to look at,” he told The Yorkshire Post this week, “Although, crucially, the broadcaster is happy with how Thursday nights have fared since replaced their previous regular Saturday evening slot. If you’re Sky, the viewing figures are up but if you’re a club it’s a nightmare as attendances are down as is the local economy. I know in Warrington, the pubs and restaurants would come to me and say on a Thursday night they’re down up to 70 per cent of what they would normally take. It’s a bit of a conundrum but what we’ve said to the clubs is you come up with a better solution”
I hope that they has some success but I won’t be holding my breath because the game now runs almost exclusively on Sky income and without it I’m afraid we would cease to be a fully ‘professional game’ and it would be back to part time contracts, so it’s a tough one that I think is pretty unresolvable without Thursdays being substituted for say either Saturday or Monday nights which as a solution would be just as bad. He who pays the piper invariably calls the tune and so it is with Sky TV and Rugby League.
The death of Colin Hutton was a massive loss to Hull KR and indeed one that resonated around the RL scene in the City because he was a tremendous ambassador for the sport, a stalwart of our rivals and a very special player for Hull FC as well. I know my Mum and Dad always held his accomplishments as an FC player in very high esteem and so here I’ll to try and do justice to Colin and what he did for Hull FC, as well. I have therefore chosen in this week’s Codgers spot to include an extract from the first book, which I think sets the scene and should highlight Colin’s importance to fans at both sides of the City. If Danny Houghton’s effort last year at Wembley was the best tackle ever pulled off by a Hull player, then perhaps a goal kick by Colin back in 1956 can be judged just as important in the history of our great Club.
Colin Hutton the Hero of the Hour
Saturday 12th May 1956: Hull 10 Halifax 9
Hull FC battled on through the season and managed to scrape in at fourth position in the final league table. That gave us entry into the play-offs again and this time the club travelled all the way to Barrow on 12th April and won 30-12. My Mother always told me she did not go to that one simply because it would have meant leaving me too long at Granny’s. That was a good decision too although about two hundred Hull FC fans made the round trip, which in those days took around 6 hours in each direction by coach. I remember being woken by them, in my little bedroom in Airlie Street overlooking the car park, as they noisily tumbled off the bus at around 3-00am that Sunday Morning, they were tired, hung over, but happy and we were through to the semi-final.
The success at Barrow meant that we had to go to Wildespool to play the most feared team in the Rugby League that year, Warrington, or the “Wire Pullers” as they were nicknamed back then. The Hull Directors, sensing a possible final appearance and the revenue that it would bring to the club slapped a £25 a man winning bonus on our players, something that was, down our street at least, considered a fortune. They probably thought that their money was reasonably safe anyway because to win at Wildespool would be a really tall order, which was understandable when you consider that Warrington, boasting such famous players as Harry Bath and Brian Bevan, had not been beaten at home by a Yorkshire club for seventeen years (how’s that for a statistic?). In contrast this was our first championship play-off semi-final for twenty years. The odds were certainly stacked against Hull FC.
Roy Francis our Coach had devised a game plan that was based around creating a fast mobile set of forwards. He had in fact ordered that no one besides the players should be admitted to the two training sessions at the Boulevard that week and in this atmosphere of secrecy, he trained with the backs acting as forwards and the forwards playing the game of the backs! It was not unusual in the days when Francis reigned as coach, to see the ‘backs’ hobbling out of the player’s gate at the Boulevard on a Tuesday and Thursday night after training.
Years later one of them Brian Darlington told me a story from those days about Francis and how he constantly went on and on about the importance of strong legs at just about every training session. He maintained that they were the most significant and yet fragile part of a rugby players metabolism, particularly, he said, if you were a ‘back‘. To build the players’ leg strength up he used to make all the three quarters, full-backs and half-backs we had on our books, stand in a line at the bottom of the terracing with a rugby ball between their knees. He then made them hop up and down the terrace ten times without dropping the ball, if you did drop it you started again! Most of them, Brian said, collapsed at the end of the session grasping their legs. On the occasion of the big game at Warrington though this intensive training seemed to pay off as Hull scored an early try by Cooper and Hutton kicked a couple of goals and from then on our forwards led by Bill Drake, Bob Coverdale and Johnny Whiteley ground the Wire into the Lancashire mud.
The Hull forwards ran the Warrington pack off their feet that day and once the big Warrington forwards started to capitulate, scrum half Tommy Finn began to run the game and that brought two late tries for Bill Drake and hooker Tommy Harris both made by great passes from Colin Hutton. It was a magnificent performance with Hull finishing up 17-0 winners. That result shook the world of Rugby League to the core and did not please the Warrington supporters much either. There were reports of one or two fights breaking out in the streets around the ground as the home supporters argued amongst themselves. It was one of the best wins in Hull’s long and celebrated history, and back in Airlie Street no one could believe it.
As kids it was hard to understand just what all the fuss in the street that teatime was all about! Most supporters had seen the score quickly flashed up on the TV but everyone thought it must be wrong. With no mobile phones or local radio, everyone had to wait about an hour for confirmation and queued at the newsagents for the Green Sports Mail to be delivered. A big cheer went up across the whole of West Hull as the little red Austin Daily Mail vans delivered the papers and the result was confirmed. The success starved Hull supporters began to make plans to attend the final, which would be against Halifax, the team they all loved to hate, particularly after an early season ‘Blood Bath’ of a Yorkshire Cup Final at Headingley between the two teams.
So, on 12th May 1956 Hull FC met Halifax in the final of the Championship at Maine Road, Manchester, the home of Manchester City football club. Dad got a very rare day off work and accompanied Mum by train to Manchester, whilst no doubt I stayed at Granny Evers.
Apparently Maine Road was packed to the rafters that day. The first half-hour of the game was tight and neither team seemed to be able to make a break or get on top. Slowly but surely though the Hull pack were starting to wrestle the advantage away from the Halifax six and at half time, thanks to a Tommy Harris try, engineered by Whiteley, and a goal by Colin Hutton we were in front. The second half was a real battle, which many that attended thought might, any minute erupt into hand to hand combat on the field, as the Yorkshire Cup final had a few months earlier. Then, halfway through the second period of play, Halifax lost the ball at a scrum 10 yards from their line and Tommy Finn nipped in to touch down near the corner flag, before the “Fax” six had even managed to get their heads out of the scrum. Hutton missed the conversion but “Old Faithful” rang out across Manchester.
Back came Halifax with three unconverted tries in just twenty minutes and they were in the lead. Then it was ‘nip and tuck’ for the rest of the game. We had Brian Darlington our flying winger playing as an injured passenger on the right and as our forwards started to tire, Halifax moved in for the kill. It looked all over but in the final minute Darlington somehow found the strength to run through the pain barrier on a swerving 30-yard charge that left us just 10 yards from the Halifax line. The Hull crowd cheered the move so loudly that most of them missed the referee blowing for the West Yorkshire outfit being off side at the play the ball and with us trailing 9-8, Hutton had the chance to kick the goal and grab the two points that would herald an unlikely victory for Hull.
It was a very difficult kick and usually, with the unlimited tackle rule in place back then, we would have opted for a punt into touch or a tap restart after the penalty, but captain Mick Scott grabbed the ball and presented it to Hutton indicating as he did with a nod of the head towards the posts in front of the packed stand. In those days before the recent and I think somewhat stupid trend of opposition supporters booing kickers, had arrived, the whole place went deathly silent and you could have heard a pin drop. From about six yards in from the right hand touch line, Colin Hutton prepared meticulously before he struck the wet and heavy leather ball with a thud that it was said could be heard as it echoed around the silent terraces, the ball rose majestically and seemed to hang in the air forever, before it sailed through the uprights and the place went ballistic! The referee, Charlie “Apple cart” Appleton, (so named because he always upset everyone) blew the final whistle, Hutton was carried off shoulder high by the Hull fans and we had won the Championship 10-9 in a game that saw the players pick up pay packets of £33 and my Mum and Dad arrived back home drunk, for probably the only time I can ever remember.
It was a great victory and one that made Colin Hutton a real hero of the FC Faithful. Colin was a top bloke and his death is a sad loss to the local and national game; God bless to his family and RIP Colin Hutton.
So that’s it and we are back up and running in the wonderful world of the good old working class ballet that is rugby league. Now at last the 2017 season is underway and thank goodness for that, but thanks to the vagaries of the Rugby League everything stops again next week for us because of the World Club Challenge. I wish we could get on and keep the ball rolling but we can’t! Well done to everyone who made the trip to Belle Vue, you deserve a medal to have stuck it out there in the rain but oh dear, what a dump the old place is these day eh? Still we got the points and we move on, because at this time of year it really doesn’t matter how you get them as long as you do! Thanks for returning to the Diary and apologies again for missing out last week. Keep the feedback coming and keep believing, for if we can get a win a week on Thursday then we will really be on our way!