The Dentist’s Diary – 525th

Well that was a predictable outcome I guess, because how often in the past have we got that elusive big gate to the KCOM only to let them down? Last Thursday’s was a game that was perhaps best summed up in one word, because our display in the first home game was for me a decidedly ‘Flat’ one!

It was a game that we should have won but one in which we allowed a poor referee (for both sides) to get to us and we were guilty of permitting the opposition to dictate the speed of the encounter and thus the terms at which it was played. It was only our first home game, it’s not a disaster and its certainly not the shape of things to come …. just yet. Early indications are that it’s going to be a really tight league this year and we should have won what was a pretty undisciplined affair, however on the night the opposition had just a bit more control over what was happening than we did.

The fans did everything they could by getting there in numbers on what was a crap night, and at the Club some people put in hours and hours of work attracting that marvellous crowd and in the end everyone deserved better really. Whether the fans were right or not, the fact is that 13,500 people left the game disappointed and once again in the main, discussing just one subject …the referee.

It’s always easy to be wise after the event or as the Americans say, ‘To play Monday morning Quarter Back’, but after the game I drove home lamenting two points lost and a massive chance spurned, because our inability to find a way to overcome the Catalans spoiling and slowing down tactics meant that we blew a great opportunity to go top of the League. As for the opposition, well, credit to them for whatever you think about the quality of the encounter, they played the conditions, the crowd and the referee perfectly and for long periods they controlled the game.

My old pal Tom has often been quoted in here for his constant mantra that “Goal Kicks Win You Games”, but they do and as so often happens on such dour wet nights, in such tight matches played early in the season, one team went for goal every chance they got and won and the other went for glory a time or two even when the kicking T was already on its way onto the field and didn’t!

However, in the cold light of day we didn’t really deserved to win or indeed draw, because when we went behind with 15 minutes to go we simply didn’t seem to have the wherewithal to get back at them. In fact, after that point we never looked like scoring or to have anyone who could create that bit of magic to get us home. It was a real Albert Kelly moment, but he was suspended!

After Storm Doris had rattled much of the country and yet somewhat passed us by, as we arrived at the Stadium it had stopped raining and after worrying about the conditions for a couple of days, it looked like the weather gods at least, had shone on us. Once inside, it all looked great as the fans eagerly packed the seats and awaited the start of the season proper at the KCOM. ‘A Sky Full of Stars’ rang out around the Terraces as the lights flashed and chased around the place and to all intents and purposes the magic was back!

Perhaps I should have taken more notice of the good lady behind me who was a ‘victim’ of the £5 ‘bring the wife’ ticket deal and who said before kick-off, “Wow they have the two screens working tonight, I hope they put Emmerdale on one of them”. How we laughed and yet by the end of the night I have to say I wished they had too. Everything was primed for a big opening performance but it all went flat within seconds of both halves starting. That pricked the balloon as far as atmosphere was concerned and for the rest of the game in general we all squirmed and fidgeted in our seats as the night got colder and colder and the general demeanour across the crowd became more and more frustrating.

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A great crowd packed out the KCOM but it’s a pity the rugby failed to reach their expectations.

It was a strange sort of game in many respects, but something that has happened before at the start of a season when big things were expected. Just after half time my pal Richard who had travelled all the way from London for the match, text me to say how much what we were witnessing was like that first league game at the Stadium against London back in 2002, when the rain poured down, the occasion got to us and the niggling, time wasting, Londoners spoilt the party on a poor night weather wise.

If there is just one observation I’d make before I even discuss the game in any sort of detail, then it would be that there is little doubt that when Ellis leaves the Club we will have a big problem, because at present when he doesn’t play or even when he departs from the field, we aren’t the same team anymore.

Things didn’t start at all well for us lot either with Jake Connor, (given his first start at stand-off after Albert Kelly’s suspension), watching the kick-off bounce dead and, soon after, dropping a hanging kick on his own line. In fairness the youngster grew into the game but looked early on to be struggling a tad with the pressure of the occasion. His showing was poor at times but he did for me indicate that he has some skill and a lot of enthusiasm and his push on their winger in the NW corner in the second half saved a certain try. So perhaps it will come, but the lad was very honest when he spoke about his performance in the paper on Saturday and he’ll get his head down and get better I’m sure.

It was always going to be tough going and Jodie Broughton went close early on to indicate what the Catalans intended to do but, in fairness, our defence took up where it left off at Wakey and we tackled really well to see off 6 minutes of self-inflicted early pressure before we actually even really got the ball. From then on it was a procession of stops, re-starts, ridiculous decisions dealt out to both sides, brain farts, feigned injuries and muddled play.

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A dodgy start but I thought there were signs of some vision and potential from Connor once he settled down a bit.

So, looking back I think that it’s fair to say that there was little quality rugby on show, as Mr. Hick struggled to control the ruck and both teams were penalised at regular intervals. Both sets of players laid on too long or messed around in the tackle but the referee showed abject inconsistency when penalising them. That made for an awful spectacle, with the ‘game’ continually stop-starting and there were 15 penalties and 5 delays for’ injuries’ in the first half alone.

There was nothing much missing in Hull FC’s grunt department and the Catalans forwards were certainly the worse for wear by the end, but instead of getting them to that position and then spreading the ball wide to kill them off, we played into the oppositions hands by turning the ball back inside and trying to constantly out muscle them down the middle. It was a frustrating night for us all, none more so than for Lee Radford who sank lower and lower into his seat and used the neck of his jacket to cover his mouth as he no doubt attempted to thwart the more competent lip readers watching the telly from de-syphoning his true thoughts; expletives and all! Around me there was no such restraint, because we all got more and more frustrated; it was that sort of game. “How are you allowed to …… Referee”, shouted my pal whose comments, echoing his observations on so many occasions last season and perhaps reflected perfectly the parlous state of the officials in our game.

Lee Radford having composed himself somewhat, commented to ‘The Guardian’ post-match, “It was a massive missed opportunity. It was a real chance to get the fans on our side with more than 13,000 here but to sling that performance in, especially with ball in hand, was unbelievably frustrating. Some of it was painful to watch; whether you’re playing Catalans or West Hull you just can’t win games like that. I thought physically we were as good as we’ve been for a long time, but we’ve got to be better with the ball. We looked as bad as we’ve been for ages with ball in hand.”

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Great player that Greg Bird, but he does like the odd high tackle!

Certain aspects of the game made me reflect afterwards that it was hardly surprising that we had lost. Yes, we spurned the chance to go for goal in front of the sticks in the second half and thus blew the opportunity to come away with a draw but as I said earlier, it’s easy to be wise after the event. However, we looked dodgy under all the re-starts, put a fourty-twenty attempt straight out, failed to find touch with a penalty, let the kick off right at the start bounce dead and conceded a critical but sloppy try just seconds after half time. The latter two instances right at the beginning of each half were the real atmosphere killers! After that incident on the kick-off, I’ve never heard the place go so quiet so quickly, as weeks of anticipation flew off into the night!

But, on the positive side of things at least we outscored the visitors two tries to one and so as Tommy always says, that spurned chance for two points cost us dearly and was in the end pretty critical. Also good to see was a fabulous Fonua pass for that first try, that superb ball steal by Wattsy and a crunching massive tackle by Danny Houghton on Sam Moa, that’s was worth the admission money in itself. Indeed, what heartened me as well was the fact that Manu (who had a great game) and Tumavive look to be combining well. Carlos had a big match in defence which led to me feeling pleased that I’ve not seen so far this season, any evidence at all of those right side defensive weaknesses that plagued us so often last year. Once again too, our goal line defence was absolutely superb.

Performance wise, of those I haven’t already mentioned, Houghton made an incredible 67 tackles and had a fine game. Minnichiello ran hard and sucked in the tacklers as he always does, while in Watts we had a player who really wanted it, but who also swung from hero to villain and he and Taylor (who again was massive in the pack), could cop bans for some late over exuberant tackling, but both had a real go. Manu had perhaps one of his best games for the FC, whilst in the backs Shaul played well and I thought Talanoa, who didn’t make a single mistake all night, worked his socks off. Fornua is a real handful but he needs to get the ball one on one with a defender on more occasions, because in those clashes there is always only one winner really. He’s a massive strike weapon and needs to be used as such.

But there’s no getting away with the fact that last Thursday night we were frustrated for long periods and in the end our own worst enemies and I don’t think that we deserved to get a result. Sadly however there we were again with a big gate built patiently over the weeks and on the back of last season’s heroics, but yet all those folks were sat like me in a freezing cold stand for what seemed like hours, watching a game that stopped and re-started almost every minute. It was an encounter littered with poor refereeing decisions for both sides and beset with Catalans players laying on the floor for ages with what turned out a time or two to be at best minor injuries. Whatever the reasons for it all, that certainly isn’t going to attract new supporters to the game.

I’ll not dwell too long on the referee but he was poor for both sides. He simply lost control of the game. If Catalans had a grumble about a disallowed try in the first half when they were deemed to have been held up, Mr Hicks aided and abetted by two ‘quality’ linesmen, was shocking at times for us too.

Those of you who read this regularly will know that I don’t waste too many column inches on referees and so I’ll leave the judgement on Mr Hicks to the knowledgeable pundits around the game who text whilst it was going on.

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You can’t argue with much of that and indeed those views reflect the thoughts of thousands of other ordinary fans sat at the KCOM or at home watching on TV. As for me well it was either a bad day at the office or something more worrying and how we respond at Huddersfield will dictate which one of those assumptions is fact. But you know, as for me, well there is a nagging seed of doubt in my mind that we might struggle a bit in what is going to be a really tough and tight competition, well we will if we don’t quickly sort some of that muddled, turn it back inside, stuff out and do it quickly!

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Houghton v Bird was the big battle of the night and I think that both players got one over the other and came out pretty even at the end. Two great players with Bird being an early candidate for signing of the season.

You know, I don’t think any of us went along expecting a classic on Thursday and the fact that the weather had relented a bit by 7-00pm was a real godsend, but a pal of mine who sits behind me did say in the second half that you have to wonder just where our game will eventually end up, when it comes to entertaining new fans. I had to concur with him because I have watched all the games I could this season and for every exciting match like the Castleford v Warrington encounter, there have been at least four or five dour and negative offerings. Of course both of ours have been played in poor conditions but across the league, whatever the weather, the whole game has become increasingly negative and at times down right boring to watch.

All this crap about players staying down after minor injuries and milking penalties by wriggling around in the tackle, goes hand in hand with a ‘safety first’ game, as both sides just cancel each other out. Then there is the practise of teams taking forever to form a scrum and take drop outs, whilst the refereeing is getting worse and worse and if it isn’t always downright bad, then it’s certainly ponderous and pedantic at best. In many games we sit there watching penalty after penalty, while the video referee takes forever, as do the scrums and the stoppages for minor injuries and that sees us all leaving the night games after 10 o’clock; which is ridiculous.

That’s not just a Hull FC thing, because it is a malaise that is spreading across the whole game and it’s ruining it as a spectacle. I know the game has progressed, but before we set off for the game last week Sky Sports 2 were showing a rerun of the highlights of the 2002 Grand Final and you know I saw more clean breaks in that game than you see in a whole round these days. It was exciting to watch and really whet my appetite for the game that night; but then in the end how disappointed I was to be!

One things for sure and that is that I think it’s time that the game introduced the sort of time penalties that they have in the NRL and time scrums getting set and drop outs being taken. At least that would speed things up, because a game that takes two hours to complete just 80 minutes of rugby, is a farce. Nick Pinkney said on Radio Humberside afterwards that Catalans managed the game well, but in fact all they did was milk the obvious shortcoming that there are in our management of the time that players are allowed take to do various things and on Thursday Catalans did that a whole lot better than we did. Who can blame them either, for they got away with it all night and flew back home across The Channel with the points. If these sorts of games becoming a more and more frequent occurrence is starting to p*ss off the long term diehard fanatics like me, what chances are there of wooing new fans and retaining any that we attract to their first game?

And finally while I’m on about last Thursday if you feel up to a bit of gentle stressing this early in the season, then as someone said on RL fans, “It’s a little worrying when you compare how far on we are after the first two games this season when judged against the same period last season. Then we destroyed Salford and Catalans with some great attacking and smart rugby”.

That was a sobering observation indeed but we have to put last Thursday behind us and move on, because we can’t afford such a dumb display at Huddersfield on Thursday, can we?

So, what been happening elsewhere this week? Well, I have intimated in here on several occasions that the only cloud I could see in the closed season after that wonderful Wembley win was the need to ensure that Marc Sneyd was signed up for the future, because I have always been aware that his contract was up at the end of 2016. I was therefore mightily relieved by the news we got this week that Marc had indeed activated the option he had on his Hull FC contract and was staying until the end of the 2019 season. That’s absolutely top news, because half backs of quality that are British and settled in this country, are like absolute gold dust. I was impressed with Marc when he signed for the Club for over £100,000 and he has certainly developed and blossomed since then. Some of his performances last year including that one at Wembley were absolutely first class and to now see him pairing up with Kelly is great for the club. You simply can’t function in the modern game without a top quality pair of half backs and a quality number 9.

They seem more and more to be the critical positions from which the play is generated these days and with Danny Houghton signed on until the end of the decade and now Marc tied up, we just have to see whether Kelly or Connor are to make up the other position, because if either really flourishes there (and at present it seems as if Kelly will find it hard not to) then we will be really well places to move forward and create the dynasty that Adam and Lee talk about.

Marc is a prodigious talent and perhaps his finest ability is the way that he is cool when under pressure. You only have to look at how he was pressurised by the Wakefield defence before he launched that kick that led to Connor scoring the winning try in the opening game. That’s a great quality to have and perhaps the fact that some players nick-name him ‘Laid Back Lenny’ is hardly a co-incidence. The fact is, if you are to execute those kicks so well and on a consistent basis, as well as delaying the pass as you hit the line, when that is needed, then you have to be an ultra-cool individual and I think Marc is just that. Great news and a great bit of business in the bigger scheme of all things Hull FC.

Following his being granted a three-month Testimonial by the Rugby Football League, Feke Paleeaesina’s Testimonial Committee have now announced the first events taking place for the ex-New Zealand Warriors, Wigan Warriors, Salford City Reds, Hull FC and current Doncaster player. The ‘Feke and Friends’ official Testimonial Dinner will take place at the KCOM Stadium on Sunday 30th April at 2pm when his special guests will be Kylie Leuluai, Sam Tomkins, Gareth Ellis and Motu Tony. With the usual auction and raffle and a three course meal, tickets for what should be a memorable afternoon are priced at £35 per person, with VIP tickets priced at £50.

Feke will then be hosting a Gala Golf Day on Tuesday 16th May at Cottingham Parks Golf Club with a shotgun start at 1-30pm. This should also be a great occasion with Coffee and Bacon Sandwiches on arrival, a two course meal and a special prize presentation at the conclusion. Places for this are still available at £160 for a four ball or £40 per person and the committee are still looking for hole sponsors at £40 and an overall event sponsor at £600.

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I grabbed a word about Feka’s big three months with Hull FC Executive Director James Clark on Saturday and he said, “Feka has been a tremendous servant to the game of Rugby League and it is fantastic that the Rugby Football League have seen fit to honour that dedication and service with a testimonial. The organising committee are working hard to put together a programme of events that are befitting such a tremendous player, who is recognised not only for his on-field performances but his unrivalled efforts in the local community. I’m sure in return that fans will rally around both these events and other activities planned to acknowledge his contribution to a number of great clubs.”

Places for both events are strictly limited and for more information and to book tickets for both E Mail fp17testimonial@hotmail.com or call 07780 117302.

Please spread the word and get involved with these worthy promotions for a great servant to the game if you can.

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I watched the Siddal v Toronto Wolfpack game on Saturday afternoon and what a refreshing change it made. It was just like watching a game at the Boulevard in the 70’s, mud, guts and plenty of thunderous hits were the constant throughout and I absolutely loved it! Welcome to Rugby League Canada!

Well done this week to Danny Washbrook who, in his second stint with the club, chalked up his 250th Super League appearance last time out against Wakefield Trinity and who made his 150th top flight appearance for the Black and Whites on Thursday night. Washy is such an unassuming character when you meet him and a decent guy and so it’s great that not only has he passed that milestone but he’s also proving a very useful player for us in this his second spell at the Club. On several occasions last season he came on from the bench and really lifted the spirit and intensity on the field. Well done Washy!

Well there’s something I didn’t know! Reading Adams programme notes on Thursday night how interesting it was that after he had stated that the levy for the selling club on away tickets had risen from the 10% of previous seasons, he then went on to say that “Although Clubs will receive 25% commission on tickets sold for away games this year it will rise to 50% the following year” That’s a massive income boost for us in future years and as I stressed last week, if you’re travelling away this season you must make sure you buy your tickets from the Hull FC shops.

There was a lot of interest in the announcement of Yeamo’s book last week and ‘My Career In Black and White’ should be a great read. It has since been announced that if you wish to pre order a copy you can now do so at Amazon.com. There have already been a lot of pre-orders and so it looks like it will be a big hit when it comes out in the summer; let’s face it Yeamo deserves to do well with it too! As for ‘2016: The Year of the Airliebird’, well I’m off to the publishers next week, so fingers crossed!

After another bumper bundle of comments about last week’s Codgers Corner when I featured that great game between Hull and Bramley when Wilf Rosenberg and Clive Sullivan made their debuts, I was left to ponder on the wide spectrum of memories and views you sent me. These ranged from me being chastised for under rating Terry Hollingdrake, to a really interesting revelation from my old pal Stephen Kirkwood who, as a lad, was so impressed with what he saw that day he said that, “At home I put a hose pipe on the lawn and flooded a couple of square yards and then set about practising my Rosenberg dives! I seem to remember the old man wasn’t too impressed with my mini Boulevard, it was that and the smell of embrocation that I remember most from back then!”. Thanks so much Stephen and to you all, for all the feedback on what appears to continue to be a popular feature in the Diary.

This week in Codgers Corner I want to take you back not quite so far to the happier times of the reign of Brian Smith and the 1989/90 season when despite being knocked out of the Premiership in the first round by Widnes, before that, we won our last 8 league games on the bounce and were building a great team. Smithy put together a fearsome outfit made up of a couple of big buys, some astute imports and a load of local lads, something thatw as well animated by our front row at the back end of that season, which was made up of local lads Andy Dannett and Lee Jackson and big buy Karl Harrison.

The game that sticks in my mind in that run was one at the Boulevard against Warrington. Warrington came fresh from a Cup semi-final win and were on their way to Wembley were they would lose to Wigan in front of 77,000 people. However, they were the form team of the competition back then and always difficult to beat either at home or away.

That day I remember watching from my ‘Lucky Step’ on the Airlie Street terracing with Gary Hart, Billy ‘the wiz’ and Steve Massam and from what I recall it was a beautiful sunny afternoon which attracted a large shirt sleeve crowd. It was also a significant game because the following Wednesday, the team was to be announced for the Great Britain tour of Papua New Guinea and New Zealand and quite a few players from both teams had an interest in that! After Crompton had kicked off for Warrington an early period of Hull pressure and a penalty for a high tackle on Jon Sharp, saw us pressing their line and a dummy to the left and scoot from acting half saw Lee Jackson shoot in after just 4 minutes.

An Eastwood conversion saw us settle things down a bit, but after a period of Warrington pressure, their full-back Wernham stroked over a 30-yard penalty to peg us back again. However with Greg Mackey and Phil Windley in control at half back Warrington just couldn’t handle Hull’s kicking game and it was a Mackey bomb, that was completely missed by Martin Crompton, that saw Brian Blacker ghosting up on the bouncing ball, out stepping Wernham and scoring near the posts for Eastwood to convert. I remember that it was probably the best game I saw Brian Blacker play for us, and he had a hand in the next touch down too.

Wriggling from a three man tackle Blacker got his hands free and passed onto Eastwood and then the Windley/ Mackey combination worked its magic as they exchanged passes for Greg to brilliantly put Phil Windley in the open 10 yards out. He ran in untouched to score a brilliant try which had the Warrington defenders arguing amongst themselves behind the posts as Eastwood stroked over the conversion. At 18-2 it looked like the Wire were desperately hanging on for half-time but ‘Bluey’ Mackey had different ideas. In a sweeping move that started 20 yards from our own line, Jackson broke and ran about 40 yards before releasing our number 6 who stepped Burke before magnificently using ‘Crusher’ Cleal as a foil to feed Sharp. Our loose forward then cut inside before turning to swing out a 15-yard looping pass to Eastwood who was running at full pelt unmarked along the white wash of the touchline. He collected the ball and continued on to score in the corner, where a missed conversion saw us leading 22-2 at half time.

As regularly happened even in those heady days (and how often have I said this in here) we started the second half a ‘bit shakily’ allowing two sloppy tries by Rudd and Derbyshire that were sandwiched between a lucky touch down for Phil Windley for us. This saw the scoreboard read 26-12 and the Wire sniffed an opportunity!

However, then Folkes came to the rescue and got us back on track. He had switched to half back from second row when Windley went off injured after his try and he then somehow threaded through a brilliant grubber kick which Dannett charged onto while Des Drummond looked on. Young Jon Sharp was brilliantly positioned to take the pass and he charged in with Warrington’s Sanderson hanging round his waist. By now every time we got the ball, the home side went on a steam-rollering charge towards the visitor’s line and Noel Cleal was wreaking havoc. On one occasion he left four Warrington tacklers in a heap as he got up to play the ball and we loved it as the man mountain started to rattle the visitors. Great play by Mackey and Lee Jackson saw Cleal get the ball 30 yards out and a 20-yard rumble downfield saw a perfectly flighted pass from the big man find Russ Walker to speed in. It was now becoming a rout.

At 38-12 the game was won, but the crowd ‘bayed’ for more ‘blood’ and got it after Warrington’s Foster had scored a breakaway consolation effort. Folkes broke down the left and with winger Neil Turner coming more and more into the game, the number 5 lofted a great cross kick on the fifth tackle for Richard Price to out jump the floundering Wire defence to put the ball down over the line in the 79th minute. An Eastwood conversion made it 44-16 and but for three brilliant try scoring tackles from Des Drummond tracking back it could have been a much bigger victory. As the hooter sounded, (as was his want in those days), Brian Smith having descended from his crows-nest in the Best Stand, came over to the crowd with the players to celebrate and everyone partied in the sunshine. Cleal, Mackey and Folkes had all had superb games, while the front row of Dannett, Jackson and Harrison had ground the opposition into the ground. It was a superb performance, which was followed in the last regular season game with a 34-4 thrashing of Sheffield Eagles away. That I remember was another pretty remarkable match, which I might just feature here in the future. Great memories!

So that’s it and thank you all for joining me for another Diary. It’s going to be an important week for Hull FC, because how we react against Huddersfield on Thursday will show us where we are and we can’t make excuses if a couple of players are absent. The fact is we have to somehow realise and quickly, 2that whilst Ellis has a big impact, we are not a one-man team. Can we play that badly again? Was Catalans just a blip and will the meat pies at Huddersfield still be as good as they were last season? As usual there are more questions than answers but we should have most of them sorted by 10-00pm (or likely just after) on Thursday night! Thanks as always for your support and for reading the Diary and if you’re going to the game, then as I always say, get your tickets from the Club shop and think about going to that Feka dinner which should be brilliant as well, but above all, try to Keep Believing!

Faithfully Yours

Wilf