The Dentist’s Diary – 527th

Another game, another hard fought encounter. Another 80 minutes on the edge of your seat and another win. It’s 6 points from 4 games and who amongst us, back in January, wouldn’t have taken that?

In fact, some said that a wounded Wakefield with a point to prove, a resurgent Huddersfield and a strengthened Saints would all cause us big problems, with perhaps the game against a Catalan team that doesn’t travel well at all, our best chance for early points. Well that’s what I said anyway, but what did I know?

At this time of the year it’s all about accruing the points by grinding out the wins. If you attack is a bit stop-start, but your defence is sound, then you’ll come through and do what you have to, which is to win more than you lose in these early rounds, so that you just keep in touch with the top of the table.

With a miserly 6 tries conceded in 4 games it’s certainly evident that we have our priorities right, while our ability to manage the game so well when we are short-handed or under the cosh is certainly paying dividends. Hull FC were famous for their resilience last year when we came back from a losing situation on 18 occasions to win games and, so far at least that has continued this year as well. With Ellis and Watts out, two youngsters on the bench, Talanoa out at half time and Danny Washbrook drafted into the centre, no wonder Lee Radford, in charge for his one hundredth game at Hull FC, was happy afterwards. Friday was job done, in so many ways.

In Super League, when you peak too early then, as we found out last year, you run out of puff late on when it matters. However, for now at least it’s going well and for me we can ask for little more after our first 4 games.

“Beware the wounded Saints”, said Paul Cooke last Wednesday in the Mail and how right he was with that assertion.

The Saints came to the KC with as much spirit and tenacity as we have seen from an opposition for ages. They scrapped for everything, spoilt the play whenever they could and laid on and niggled throughout, so we had to be at our best ‘nous wise’ to come through. After scoring first, following a great released ball and kick back by Taylor created a broken play opportunity, the game ebbed and flowed, with neither team able to get a real foot hold against some torrid and desperate defence from both sets of forwards. Perhaps in the end a vociferous and partisan crowd that got behind the team, just made the difference?

Of course Kieron Cunningham had to have a grumble afterwards, he usually does and true to form after the game he said, “I thought again we had some really tough calls go against us. I think we were 13-6 behind on the penalties, before Phil (Bentham) comes up with another great call for us”. Well Kieron, when you look back at those 13 penalties whose fault is that? They were all for some pretty obvious spoiling tactics! For Saints all week the mantra in camp must have been win at any cost, do anything you have to but win!

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The outspoken Kieron ‘Jack Black’ Cunningham, I didn’t like him much in School of Rock!

However, when we went down to 12 men, as recently as two years ago that Saints try would have heralded a crisis, but we marched back up the field, forced a drop out which saved us valuable energy and then actually scored a brilliant try while we were short-handed. As I often say in here, that’s what good teams do! The combination between Sneyd and Kelly was brilliant as were the deft feet of Carlos and the ability to strike so conclusively down the right when the line was a man short was a real pointer towards things to come. Kelly was superb throughout and tackled really well, in addition to of course, taking his two tries brilliantly.

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Described by Sky after the game as, ‘Possibly the best signing of the year’, ‘Albo’ had another superb game and as long as we can keep him on the straight and narrow he could well turn out to be just that.

Radford’s plan had always been to have a big squad with lots of fringe youngsters and to have them ready to step up as soon as the first choice players are out. This week with both Watts and Ellis out and the need to have a big bench, two had to step up and Turgot and Matongo both did reasonably well. OK Turgot had a rush of blood and could get charged for that elbow, but the rest of the time he was on the field he did alright, while Matongo found it tough to gain ground, but still continues to progress game on game and is doing well getting some experience under his belt along the way. They both came up against a pretty uncompromising Saints 6 on the night and will have learned a lesson or two from that!

There was another good performance from Tuimavave and he and Griffin will offer so much in the centres going forward. However, reviewing the game afterwards, it was probably a succession of plays from Carlos that contributed most to us winning the game. He first needed to be on hand to deny Percival a second try, as 12-man FC looked to stay in the contest and his effort then proved crucial as, while still without Turgut, he somehow then responded with the vital score that saw us home. Sneyd’s well-placed grubber forced a drop-out and, from there, ‘Laid back Lenny’ looped around his half-back partner Kelly, before sending Tuimavave dancing through untouched in the 68th minute, for a touch-down that then evolved into a rather fortuitous penalty try.

That was the signal for Saints to throw caution to the wind and throw the ball around like it was a game of basketball. Again our centre was the hero of the moment, as the visitors pushed hard again to try and rally, Percival thinking he was in sight of the line once more lunged forward only for Carlos to again come to the rescue in the corner in the last minute.

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Don’t get me angry, you won’t like me when I’m angry!

All that was left then was for Scott Taylor, who had a massive game, to swat off the hapless Tommy Lee and feed Kelly to finish the game off. As at Wakefield, commeth the hour commeth that ‘desperation and will to win’ and boy how we battled in that final quarter to hold onto a slender lead. It was only befitting that we got the win though, because there were great performances right across the field with Manu, who started slowly last season, exploding onto the scene again and completely controlling his side of the field. Houghton was relentless in his tackling and running from half back in a typical display and I also thought that both Bowden and Thompson took on their extra responsibility well too. Minniciello was a tower of strength with the ball and tackled everything in sight making 33 tackles, which is pretty phenomenal for a 35 year-old; he’s such an unsung hero really! So all in all a great win and a big, big two points! We need to be clinical and focused next week against Widnes though, because we have to win that one, with two massive away games Wigan and Warrington after that.

So to the other big talking point of this week and what about us single-handedly buggering up Hull City’s chances of staying in the Premier League eh? It’s all down to us folks, as if they stay up it will be hailed as a miracle and if they go down it will all be our fault…Oh and nothing to do with Mr Silva! I think the City Coach is a pretty naive guy really and although his comments after the City v Swansea game have been taken out of context a bit, with the media around here you have to be careful what you say!

Having seen the national papers and heard from the BBC and had to endure David Burns and other camp followers of the Tigers going over the top and calling fowl, I’d had enough of it all by Sunday night!

You know, I have problems all the time with the BBC coverage of several issues of current affairs including the Brexit debate because they seem to like to make the news (or make the news up) instead of reporting it. It was therefore no surprise to me that after it had sat there for almost 24 hours, they changed their web site headline about ‘Silva calling for ground share to be scrapped’, to reflect more what he actually said about the scheduling of fixtures and for me that’s a classic example of what they all refer to these days as ‘Fake News’.

That was all on BBC on line, a service that usually draws its content from local radio sports teams. However of course, by then the damage was done and so I think in the spirit of getting some balance into everything, we should get a few things straight don’t you? I don’t think Mr Silva was doing much more than criticising the scheduling of matches at the KCOM, but the media had a field day and if the BBC and Co. can have a rant, then so can I!

Mr. Silva’s been here in Hull for five minutes and in his desperation to cover his bases with excuses and ‘I told You So’s’ should City go down, he went for it and was made out to be demanding that the current Challenge Cup holders should have their game days dictated by the whims of the football Club. You know I feel I have every right, like the City Manager and the ill-informed media to have my say, so here goes!

This year so far Hull FC have played four home games, I mean to say that’s hardly overuse of the pitch is it? If the football Clubs coach thinks the pitch can’t handle it, then why did Hull City recently play a meaningless friendly on a Monday night in the rain, just to please their sponsors?

Why as well, have that irritating pitch wrecking Rugby team played away from home throughout June and some of July for years, so the SMC could re seed the pitch for the football season. We don’t complain when they make us play away for over a month at a peak time in our season do we? Can you imagine City being asked to do that? Last year they planned a concert and in so doing they completely ignored our commitments for a potential home tie in the Cup! We didn’t complain though when they made us play on sand against the Catalan Dragons. We stomached it, won the game on a pitch that was hardly playable and went on to lift the Cup.

We play all our non-competitive games and friendlies during pre-season on a Sunday when some opposition teams prefer a Friday night but we do it out of respect for the football club’s needs and do we complain? We didn’t moan when they put a squash tournament on in our season so we had to play on dry bare plastic and then the owners of Hull City bring in a load of horses and play polo on it too! We didn’t report them when they left the sprinkler heads up showing through the grass during a super league game because they didn’t get the pitch ready in time after not giving themselves enough time to finish pitch renovations either, did we?

More recently and coming right up to date to last week and the game in question, we didn’t complain when, despite the bulk of the fields of the East Riding displaying copious amounts of standing water, according to a friend of mine at the SMC, they drenched the pitch on Friday to prepare it for the football next day. Something that our coach mentioned in passing after the match, because it actually did affect our play. But, did we complain, did we hell! Then what about soaking it again on Saturday to prepare it for football and then wondering why it cut up? If you put all that water on a sports field around here it’s going to cut up and create an uneven surface. Look at the pitch now, the goal areas and corners are the worst effected by wear and tear and for most of us the causes of that are pretty self-explanatory!

We’ve played for over a decade with no problems like this. We even once had two games in a day. City have beaten Man. Utd and Liverpool during the rugby season and they never complained about the pitch then! The manager that got Hull City back to back promotions up to the Championship never complained (and he managed England!!) The manager that got them to the Premier League for the first time ever never complained. The manager who got them promoted to the Premier League again and to an FA Cup final never complained either. But, Silva’s been here eight weeks and thinks the answer to all his problems is the rugby played at the KCOM.

As for Clement, the Swansea manager, well why he’s moaning I don’t know, he’s just band-wagoning because his club quite happily share the Liberty Stadium with the Ospreys RU team, so he’s a bloody hypocrite to even get involved!

Look OK, maybe I am over reacting, but I love Hull FC and plenty have over reacted in support of Silva, while we as a Club have to stay quiet and indeed, reading some of the local shroud waivers in the media and the national papers, someone has to put it all into some sort of prospective. Perhaps too, Mr Silva should be availed of the fact that we are the oldest club in the city, have been in the top flight longer than any other team in Hull, won more league’s and trophies than any other team in the city and are the reigning Cup champions. We are a club proud of our roots and no less than eight Hull boys played for our team with pride last Friday and did it in their home town community stadium. On Saturday City had none in their ranks at all!

We have equal rights to using the Stadium, although you’d never believe it sometimes. However, I think that we probably deserve a little more respect than is being given to us by Hull City’s manager who has literally been here a matter of weeks and who has clearly very little understanding of the city and its sporting heritage. If nothing else I think his comments were as I said earlier, very naïve and have been jumped on and ‘moulded’ somewhat by the media to their own devices.

The fact is this last weekend both teams bloody won. So surely above anything else that is a successful weekend for everyone and everyone in the city should be proud of what both clubs achieved. Talk like that made by a manager who has probably never heard of rugby league anyway, is dangerous and plays into the hands of those who want us out of a people’s stadium that the Football Clubs owners believe should be gifted to them anyway!

As FC fans the time may one day come when we have to man the barricades against this sort of stuff and one day we may yet have to rise up and protect the very existence of the club we all love. Yeh I’ve over reacted but what a bloody farce and a storm in a tea cup it all is and as for Mr Silva, well I don’t understand much Portugese, but I recognise double-dutch when I hear it!!

Now onto more pertinent things and despite the fact that he went on to spout a load more drivel about Marc Sneyd last week I won’t be wasting too much time of Mr Schofield in here because you know my thoughts on him. However, what is interesting is the way that ‘Laid Back Lenny’ dealt with the issue both on the field and off it. He chose not to comment at all until last Wednesday when he said about the win at Huddersfield, “I’m genuinely not bothered what he thinks to be fair. He has no impact on my life whatsoever so I couldn’t care less. He can carry on all he wants, but I was just happy to have three of tries on the night and a few assists and I had a good time with the boot”. Humble, succinct, accurate and positive, boy a few folks could learn a lot from Marc! I got ‘pleasantly fed up’ of the number of times that Marc Sneyd was described on the TV coverage of Fridays game as a ‘Great player’ and of how well he was starting to play with Kelly! Schofield will no doubt be moving onto bullying someone else as we speak!

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Answered all his critics!

Sneyd is a great asset, a brilliant goal kicker and a player that is blossoming into something we have lacked for ages, a real quality half back and what’s more he loves it here at Hull FC! Just look what he said the other day when he triggered his contract extension, as he commented, “As soon as the contract was there I took it. I’m playing probably the best rugby of my career. I’m the happiest I’ve ever been playing rugby. There was no reason for me to go or even think about leaving. I’m over the moon here and feel good to be here” We as fans can ask no more of any player and have we seen the future of play making at Hull FC and is his name Marc Sneyd? Well perhaps we have! What an exciting prospect he is and how great it will be to watch him progress, safe in the knowledge that he’s going nowhere.

Last Wednesday, after a call from my pal Dave to tell me it was on Premier Sport, I watched that rather one sided Toronto win against the London Scholars from the previous weekend. It was great to see Richard Whiting playing although unlike the ‘Stilts’ we all used to love he seemed to struggle to get involved in the game and at times it looked like some of the players were ignoring him. Perhaps the fact he has been out injured had something to do with it, but it was still good to see him out there, defusing a couple of short kicks and running some great lines usually without the ball!

In the old days how long you played the game at the top level was usually down to the injuries you carried and how your body was holding up whilst these days it is usually down to how well you have looked after yourself over the previous decade or so of battering and how fit you are at present. At 35 years of age many swashbuckling hard running second rowers would be thinking about calling it a day, unless that is they have been as meticulous with their personal fitness as Mark Minniciello has. Mark is a real hero and has been a great success at Hull FC a club he joined in what could only be called the twilight of his career.

He has signed a one-year extension for this year but the Australian says that deal had a one-year option on it and he’s certainly eager to play on next season after a strong start to 2017. Crucial to his mind-set moving forward has been his love for the game and his fitness, which are both at their peak. He really enjoys being part of things at Hull FC and says that his body is holding up really well. I’ve already told you in here several times how he is first in the gym in a morning and last out after training.

In addition, he has one big ambition and that is to win a Grand Final and part of his current desire is based on the fact that he believes he can do that with Hull FC. He said to the Mail on Tuesday. The drive is there to go on and win a Grand Final. That’s something that we as a club can achieve this year,” We obviously have to work hard and put a lot of performances together. It’s something I want to achieve before I finish playing. We have a good chance.” What a bloke eh and I think that if he stays as fit as he believes he can, then his ability to be in that lead group of players will be critical for us as he, Manu, Houghton and Ellis head the change and drive the Club on to great things. I repeat, what a bloke!

You know when you step back from our own concerns and Club we all love, the game is in a real state, something that was hammered home by an article in the Hull Daily Mail that for the Dobbins Championship game Sheffield Eagles brought just 16 fans with them down the M18 and that the total attendance of away supporters for that game and the one against Oldham was 38. That’s not bad, its bloody appalling and if that’s not enough, then a quick look at the attendances across the three divisions last weekend should send a shiver down the spines of the games administrators. After Rovers match the highest attendance in the Championship was 1800 at Featherstone with Batley only attracting 700.

Go down a division and the game is in crisis. 161 watched Oxford put 40 points on Hemel Stags, there were 223 at South Wales’s game, but more worry still, in the traditional rugby league areas there were 407 at Hunslet, 550 at Donny and 660 at Workington. Expansionism isn’t working at all, but are we surprised? Of course we are not, because we could have told the RL that trying to parachute teams into places like Oxford is ludicrous, simply because it has been so, on many times in the past. Remember Kent Invicta? I don’t know what the new operations manager at the RL is cooking up for the future with the Super league Clubs, but it had better be good.

Last weekend, too late for the previous Diary I heard of the death of a great stalwart from the late 50’s and early 60’s George Matthews. The son of a professional footballer for Barrow, George was a player I remember well as he plied his trade at our Club between 1958 and 1963 and as a lad he was a bit of a hero of mine. In his time at the Club he played 138 games and scored 63 tries. He lived near my Auntie Ethel in Camden Street off Airlie Street and was, if I remember rightly, a painter and decorator by trade. I guess few FC players made the impact on the Club as he did when he signed for us in April 1958 from Barrow Junior Club, St Mary’s. His fame as a young and brilliant half back came before him and after being ‘bigged’ up by the local paper, he made his debut for the A team in front of an unprecedented 5000 gate at the Boulevard that same month.

I dug out a copy of the Daily Mail for that weekend and it said, “Hull A’s victory over Huddersfield was inspired by a young genius of a lad in George Matthews who was playing his first professional game of Rugby League. He was in scintillating form revealing speed and all the capabilities of a born rugby player. He scored two great tries and generally showed the form that will guarantee him a place in the first team next season”

That next season was indeed a success for George as he started by scoring two tries on his debut at home against Bramley and eventually amassing 23 tries by the end of the campaign. A total which saw him crowned our top scorer in 1958/59. In one period of 7 matches he scored 12 tries. However his form was a bit hit and miss, but he still made some superb contributions to a great team that had one of the best packs of forwards the game has ever seen.

That run of scoring included him touching down for a hat-trick of tries in our Challenge Cup semi-final encounter against Featherstone in which we won 15-5 before we went on to face Wigan in the 1959 Final. That was the nearest he was to come to repeating his brilliant A team debut and he had a quiet game in the final. However, playing alongside scrum half Tommy Finn at stand-off he was certainly a handful at times and renowned for his side step and swerve as he backed up those marauding forwards like the Drake twins, Scott, Whitely and Harris as they charged downfield.

However, as age started to catch up with that fabulous Panzer pack, George found it a lot harder to score tries the following season but his 15 was still very respectable and indeed he was a regular in the team for the next three campaigns where his adaptability saw him play in every back position with the exception of Scrum Half. Matthews played his last match for the FC in the centre at home to Oldham on 27th May 1963 and just before the first game of the following season in August he expressed a wish to return home to Barrow, who paid a fee of £1000 for his services. Such great servants as George have just as much right to be remembered as the ‘stars;’ that litter the history of our club and so it was sad to hear of his recent death. My thoughts are with his family, R.I.P. Old Faithful George Matthews.

Over the last couple of weeks in here I have been dipping into the books to revive a few memories and before I go back to the off the cuff stuff from my old diaries, I thought this week we’d have a look at one more game from Book Two. So with the Dobbins in the East going all lyrical about being undefeated (when they actually haven’t played anyone yet) how about a good old fashioned Derby game from the 80’s to remind them what proper rugby is all about.

Friday 8th April 1983 Hull 21-Hull KR 3

The first part of 1983 passed pretty uneventfully and after two periods of unusually heavy snow, it was just starting to look a bit like spring as our traditional Good Friday Derby game arrived and I walked down Anlaby Road to the Boulevard a bit later in the day than usual. The new idea of playing the Good Friday local Derby in the evening certainly seemed to have worked because by the time I got to the Stadium the queues at the Division Road turnstiles came snaking across the little car park, along the old school wall and out into the street. Once inside, the ground was already buzzing with anticipation.

The Division Road terraces had been taken over by a sea of Red and White as the other side of the City had their annual ‘day out in the civilised side of the City’ and as the Threepennies were already overflowing, I made my way through the Well of the Best Stand and took up a position on Bunker’s Hill at the Airlie Street end of the ground. The pre match atmosphere was fantastic as to great adulation several red and white scarves were burned in the rafters of the Threepenny Stand and there was an even bigger response when the Rovers’ fans tried to do the same with a black and white one and almost set fire to the crowd on the terraces!!

By the time the teams ran out an amazing 20,569 fans were packed into the Stadium, to register the biggest home gate of that memorable decade. Before the game started the tense and intimidating mood was lightened somewhat when a Hull KR fan ran onto the bare and muddy centre of the pitch carrying a plastic carrier bag. To emphasise the poor condition and bare patches of the playing surface, he then commenced skipping around the half way line scattering grass cuttings he took from out of the carrier. The Police escorted him off the playing area, but not before he had received a big cheer from both sets of supporters.

The ‘Robins’ arrived on a five match winning streak and the game looked to be evenly poised as we had ourselves only ended a nine game unbeaten sequence five days earlier with a narrow defeat at Castleford. With just four games of the season to go Hull KR were still 5 points behind us in the League whilst we sat at the top, level with Wigan.

As Lee Crooks was missing that night ‘the Sidewinder’ Barry Banks, who had been playing ‘A’ team rugby of late, was brought onto the bench. Billy Thompson must have felt the tension as he ran out to a chorus of “Oh, Oh, Oh, Oh what a referee” (complete with the usual final flourish containing a string of expletives) as he called both Captains to the centre spot to give them a lecture before we had even started. Kevin Harkin kicked off and after an early scare when Terry Day dropped a ball near the corner flag, the game settled down with Hull KR camped in our half and pressing our line.

Then we got the ball and Bridges drew a perfectly positioned Rover’s line before passing to Norton. The visitors defence was arranged ‘man on man’ but they had forgotten to cover Garry Kemble who stormed up from full-back onto a beautiful Norton pass to score wide out. In an atmosphere akin to a ‘Pressure Cooker’ Prendiville, who had been handed Lee Crooks’ kicking duties, missed with the conversion, but we had the lead.

Then on the 29th minute we saw a dazzling try. Back on our own 40-yard line Dave Topliss got through the first two defenders with ease and as the cover came across he passed to a rampaging Paul Rose. The ex-Robin swatted a couple of tackles away before moving the ball to Harkin who immediately sent Leuluai galloping downfield. The centre drew the defence, before passing onto the unmarked Prendiville who squeezed in at the corner before brilliantly converting his own try. The rest of the half was typical cut and thrust Derby fare and as the whistle went for half-time, a brawl broke out as Hogan and Hull’s Charlie Stone ‘exchanged compliments’.

This was Mick Cranes type of game because the unlikely hero, who loved fish and chips and a smoke and hated training, revelled on ‘the big stage’ of such occasions. He’d had a quiet first half but after an animated pep talk from Kenny Foulkes at half time the second half was only three minutes old when ‘Craney’ ran into acting half as Bridges was tackled fifteen yards out from the try line. Immediately he dummied to the blind side and ambled through the defence to touch down in his typical matter of fact style. Then it was Bridges and Crane again, as this time the pair linked superbly for Harkin to finish off with a magnificent long pass that put Dane O’Hara in at the corner.

Although ‘Taffy’ Prendiville missed both conversions he made the next try for James Leuluai. That score was perhaps the only one of the night which had an element of luck in it as Prendiville came inside looking for the ball and got a short pass from Steve Norton. He looked up and seeing four Rovers defenders bearing down on him he kicked a mighty ‘up and under’ that caught in the wind and rebounded off the top of the upright straight into Leuluai’s hands. Hull KR looked a dejected team as they awaited the conversion and argued amongst themselves behind the try line. With just 4 minutes to go Hall got a consolation try for the Robins but then Referee Thompson blew for the final time to herald a great victory over the old enemy which left us on the threshold of the title.

What stays in my memory from that win, was the all-round strength of the Hull side. The Man of the Match award went to Norton and Rose jointly, but for me that night it should have gone to Kevin Harkin, who had probably his best ever game for Hull FC.

As Wigan lost to St Helens, a win at Leeds on 13th April all but guaranteed us the title. After the Derby the Club announced that they had signed Patrick Solal, a winger from the French Club Toinneins. As Patrick couldn’t speak a single word of English when he signed, Club jesters Tony Dean and Ronnie Wileman offered to teach Patrick the rudiments of the ‘Queens English’. Apparently they soon had him communicating in his rich deep French brogue, with a strong West Riding accent! There was certainly a really good team spirit in the camp at that time and those two weren’t the only two jokers in the squad, as was perfectly illustrated when Trevor Skerrett, recognising that Dave Topliss was a bit depressed after being out injured for two months, had a T shirt printed with “I’ve seen Dave Topliss Play” on the front and “Once” blazoned across the back!

Great memories eh?

So we come to the game this Friday and a big one it is, because here we are again, having to face up to a club who has been smashed the previous week. In the past it has always been a question of how well we could rise to the occasion and although things have changed a bit of late we still seem to struggling in such games at times. On Friday with the greatest respect to the ‘Chemics’ we have to put a big score on them if we are to continue our progress. We need the points because the next three weeks after that, look really hard don’t they? I hope another big crowd saw enough last Friday to come back and again get behind the boys, because that atmosphere and support is so important to the team in games like this one!

Thanks again to everyone who has got in touch, this week, the deal is sealed for the new book which should be out in early July and hopefully I’ll see you all at the KCOM on Friday (if we haven’t been evicted by then)

Keep Believing!

Faithfully Yours

Wilf