Another game and another good win, with us firing for about 20 minutes and doing what we had to do in a professional showing that secured the victory and as a couple of the front runners slipped up they were two very useful points indeed. We have only played the lower ranked teams thus far, but they still had to be beaten and we have done what we had to do with some aplomb.
4 wins from 5 games is better than we could have wished for and numerically better than the start of our last epic season. It’s still pretty mundane stuff at times because at this stage of the campaign that’s the nature of the beast really, but at least last Friday we saw more fluidity in our play, some great tries and a performance that included some encouraging showings from several players. Not only are Taylor, Mini, Sneyd, Fonua and Kelly showing some of the class we knew they possessed, but some of the players who had to step up like Bowden, Green and Thompson are showing some good form too. Connor and Michaels stepped into the injury breach well, whilst ‘Laid back Lenny’ just stroked over the goals again from all over the pitch so that well before ten o’clock, it was job done.
That shows I believe that Lee Radford’s squad system is working and that he has the confidence to play his fringe players when necessary, which proves I think that the pressure of last year, when he and many players were under threat if we didn’t perform, is off somewhat this time around.
So it was two more points and a job well done, in a game we simply had to win and now, as we look forward to arguably the two most difficult games of the season, we face them in a reasonably relaxed state! Anything from these two encounters would be a welcome bonus, but we approach them with those 8 precious points in the bag and with a team that now has some confidence, some points and a more relaxed demeanour. So ‘Bring on the Pies’!!
It was another cold and somewhat bleak night that greeted us as we set off from Beverley on Friday evening. Two pairs of trousers and five layers on top, ensured I kept warm, but that made getting in and out of the car a little more of a challenge and as I walked across West Park the usual facetious comments about summer rugby where everywhere. However once inside I felt that despite a swirling gusty wind the conditions were great for rugby and the pitch was in good nick both when we entered it and when we left it at the end (football coaches and supporters please note).
However, for me I have to admit that the gate was a disappointing one and mirrored the night and the fact that we are forced to cram so many home games into the start of the season. Despite a poor turn out from Widnes, with almost 8000 season ticket holders 10,800 was still a disappointing total, although 700 up on the corresponding fixture last year. It was though I believe a gate that I think quite topically reflects the fact that we penalise ourselves at this time of the year to accommodate the football club’s requirements with regard to pitch renovation in the summer. With 9 of our first 15 games at home, poor weather conditions, struggling opposition and the cost of attending, it was obviously a financial bridge too far for some folks.
Widnes were never the biggest draw, but the way that their coach had chastised them last week meant that the team from Cheshire would come out fighting and they did, as they snatched the first try of the game through Aaron Heramaia. On the way there my pal Jeff said he had his money on Aaron scoring against us and of course he did, as throughout the night he showed up well against his ex-employers.
However, that didn’t knock our resolve and any casual observer who knew anything about rugby could not have failed to be impressed with the professional way we went about our task and the sheer power and strength we showed in the middle of the field. At one point towards the end of the first half when Green came on to relieve Taylor he made an instant impact, as Widnes were visibly flagging and struggling to hold our rampaging 6. Credit to them on that occasion as they did just hold us out and then went on to see out the first half to just trail 14-6, although even at that stage, our poise, control and structure meant that the outcome looked an almost foregone conclusion.
Then, just when you expected the visitors to come out refreshed, encouraged and ready to fight again, we blew them away in a 15-minute period of champagne rugby. That’s why the game seemed a bit flat at times I guess, because we were so professional in the way we annulled their threat and went about our business to get the points. Once we got those tries they never ever looked to have a hope of making many inroads into our half as the game was played out to its obvious conclusion. Some wanted 60 points and were disappointed when we didn’t get them but we were able to take players off in preparation for the battles ahead and still keep control. That has to be a big plus for us.
For me there were several stand out moments in the game with Kelly’s cut out pass for the first try and his own second touch-down both tremendous pieces of play. Hooker Danny Houghton touched down a Sneyd kick in a familiar move that must have been practiced to perfection on the training park by now, while Fonua’s catch and pass for Kelly’s first try and second rower Mark Minichiello smashing a hole in the Widnes defence to go careering downfield to get full-back Jamie Shaul over, were all memorable, watch again moments. But it was the sheer professionalism and demeanor of the FC players that impressed me the most.
The performance featured some excellent completion rates throughout, some great movement on and off the ball, a deal of great support play and of course the immaculate goal kicking of ‘super cool’ Marc Sneyd. Ok I thought our tackling was at times a bit slack when compared with the previous few weeks and that we overelaborated a bit as well, but all in all it was a well-rounded piece, where the seamless introduction of Connor, when he replaced Tumavieve, just showed what all this strength in depth stuff is about.
Shaul looked better than of late for me and returned the ball well, whilst he popped up brilliantly on Mini’s shoulder for his try. Michaels came in and had a great game whilst doing what he does so well in milking three penalties from the opposition with his ability to run at straight markers and get up off the ground quickly. Fonua was simply massive again and he is certainly a prodigious talent. Our leading yard maker was at it again on Friday as he constantly crashed down the middle carrying three and four tacklers with him, while wide out he scored a great try and was a constant threat to the opposition. His catch and pass for Albo first try is worth watching over and over again and they simply couldn’t handle him at all.
Connor stepped up well and filled in very adequately at centre before moving into the half’s when Kelly went off. Griffin made a lot of yards and tried hard, but if there was a place where we need to improve a bit on last Friday, then it is probably in those centre positions, where we didn’t perhaps break the line as often as I would have liked. In the half’s Man of the Match Kelly was superb. He was into everything that was good about our play and scored two great tries before he was taken off when the game was won to stop him getting any more of a battering from several Widnes players who were targeting him, often off the ball. He is for me (as Arthur Bunting used to describe the likes of Norton and Topliss), a ‘Momentum player’ because he can change the pace of the game the minute he gets the ball.
My pal Mike said before the game that Thompson was the worst referee he had seen for ignoring the high tackle and he wasn’t wrong on that one last Friday. Something has to be done about some players constantly going high and the lateness of some tackles, which often these days go unpunished. Kelly and several other players were consistently slapped around the head without much recourse from the referee, which certainly frustrated the crowd on the terraces.
Sneyd had another great game and although not getting on the score sheet he played really well in instigating some great moves. Marc’s metronomic kicking defies logic as he once again kicked them from all over the pitch, but he also upped his game in the second half and prompted some great play. On one occasion towards the end he ran a line across the Widnes defenders and delayed his pass brilliantly to put Thompson through a massive hole created entirely by Marc’s own actions. Thompson should have scored, but got caught just short, yet it was a memorable piece of play from Sneyd that stuck in my mind afterwards and something that perhaps deserved a better outcome.
Up front Taylor had a really big game and for me Scott and Josh Bowden were up there with the best players on show. Both ground out some great yards and pulled off a string of crunching tackles as the Widnes defence must have been, by the end, sick of the sight of them. Houghton was at his imperious best and worked acting half so well, whilst that try off the Sneyd kick was absolutely classical Hull FC of late. As Danny touched the ball down you could see the Widnes player’s frustration as the thumped their hands and grimaced as they stood rooted to the spot some ten yards back on the field of play. They had obviously trained for that one, but when executed well it looks to be a move that is almost un-defendable.
Now what about Green? Well for me he had one of his best games in a Hull shirt as he made 127 meters and carried the ball 11 times. Thompson also did well for us early on but I think faded a bit whilst Minniciello was supreme and when on the field probably my Man of the Match, he made 152 meters in an unprecedented display of strength and control. He pulled the visitors defence about mercilessly when he ran the ball at them and when he broke out for that try assist and again a few minutes later, he looked lethal.
Ellis had a great return from injury and just took up where he left off before his absence. Our Captain made a great contribution, played long minutes and missed nothing in defence, whilst with the ball he ran for 129 meters. Once again Danny Washbrook did everything asked of him, when he came on and as usual got some smart quick play the balls to get us on the front foot.
So all in all it was as I say job done, but there are bigger challenges looming, as we move onto Wigan next week with 8 points under our belts and nothing to lose. This next fortnight will be a really telling time and we will have to be on our game for 80 minutes this week, unlike against Widnes when we played on the edge of our game for around 20 minutes and went through the motions for the rest of the time. On this occasion it was all that was needed but next time around it will be different. It has to be said that we did what we had to do very well against Widnes, but Friday will be poles apart and nothing but 80 minutes of total commitment, focus and enterprise will get us anything at the home of the current Champions.
A good start to 2017 was an imperative and with 20 the accepted total of points needed to finish in the top 8 we now need just 6 wins from 18 games to get over the first hurdle of the year. Yes, we need more than that to stand a chance of competing in the latter stages of the season, but success in any sport is all about incrementally attaining and achieving your goals and that’s what we now need to do to achieve our first one.
So to the rest of the week and I guess the big news was revealed in the match day programme as the Club stole a march on the media and announced new deals for Liam Watts and Jordan Abdull. Prop Watts has signed a new contract with the club that will keep him at the KCOM Stadium until the end of the 2020 season and for me he is just coming into his best form and so a big capture for the future. Liam was already under contract until the end of next season, having signed a long-term deal back in the summer of 2014, however after maturing into his role in the team and the Clubs leadership group in the past two years, we have now moved to secure his services for the long-term.
Wattsy said on signing, “I’ve been here a few years now and it’d be great to get a testimonial with the club, but I’ve got a big, exciting three and a half years ahead of me, that’s the main aim as we try and get as much success as we can. I want to build on last year, it’s just a year by year thing with me at the minute. I’ve been here a few years now and it’s about not being complacent and becoming the best player I can”. What a great piece of foresight that signing is and I think it’s a great step forward for the future of the Club.
The circumstances surrounding Jordan Abdull’s apparent new contract are however very different, as I think that he has been signed up for ages. Back in November Hull Daily Mail revealed that our young half back had signed a new 2-year extension but for some reason known only to them those at the club chose to keep it under wraps. They have now decided to announce it just, I think, to make it quite clear to Rovers and any other Clubs that are interested, that they will have to pay a fee if they want to secure his services, whilst if he does really well he will be back with us next term. The absence of any sort of initial interview with Jordan after Friday’s announcement indicates that the deal has been done for a while and that this is the case, but I also think the Club are hedging their bets and keeping all their options open.
The 21-year-old, who is making great progress at Rovers this season, could still come back to the Black and Whites for the start of the 2018 campaign and it has now, at last, been confirmed that he is under contract with us until the end of 2019. Jordan is a product of our youth system and we have invested thousands in his development so after he recently stating that he was unsure about his future, FC have now clarified everything by releasing the details of his contract extension just in case he was in any doubt!! What a great bit of business this is again for the Club, for we really can’t lose. It’s an interesting scenario indeed though, isn’t it?
I got a massive amount of feed-back from fans last week in response to my diatribe about the pitch situation, which our local newspaper dolefully refers to as ‘Pitch-Gate’ and I have to report that despite expecting cries of ‘Over reaction’ all those who got in touch felt the same as I did! The fact that this week it was announced that Swansea are to seek a change in the Premier League rules, so that games can’t be played 24 hours after a RL fixture is worrying, but I was pleased that you all got in touch, because I believe as fans we have to be watchful and strong in such situations. I was however accused by some in high places of maybe, ‘Poking a Hornets Nest’ by what I said, but you can’t keep quiet about stuff like that and someone had to say it. In any case, as I say, it appears it was what everyone was thinking anyway.
The other day I came across this paper-weight I was presented with for my involvement with the ground breaking ceremony for the then new Community Stadium at ‘The Cricket Circle’ where we were to be EQUAL tenants with Hull City. Some folks these days would do well to note those principles and the word ‘Community’ that it bares!
It’s great to see that, whatever we think about the idea in principle, the Toronto Wolfpack appear to be going from strength to strength. They progressed pretty spectacularly in the Cup and this week they made an announcement that having shown the highlights of their games on highlight sports programmes and sports news bulletins thus far in their own country, one of the leading networks in Canada, CBS Sports, will broadcast all their games in the 2017 season live across the nation. So whatever else this alliance brings, or indeed doesn’t bring, there is certainly little doubt that the game is grabbing some great exposure over there. It will be interesting to see what happens when they start playing in Canada won’t it?
The Warrington situation with them sat down there at the bottom of the League and looking woeful last Thursday at Leigh, mirrors almost exactly the demise of Leeds last year. It all smacks again for me of a team that has been so ‘bigged up’ by the media before even a ball was kicked in anger. They have obviously believed after those accolades and their exploits of the previous season that they were bomb proof, without considering as they should have, that perhaps they would be the team that everyone was gunning for. In some senses we are in the same situation after all the praise we got after Wembley, but perhaps that poor end of season form that we experienced brought us back down to earth a bit and in the lead up to this season Lee Radford always played down what had gone before and emphasised the size of the task this year.
It’s always good for a laugh when big teams like Saints, Leeds and Warrington are struggling, particularly when you’re not involved in it all. However, it is still early days and despite the resurgence of Leigh and the heroics of Castleford, I think that in the end we are still a long way off ‘the changing of the old guard’ but the fact that at present everyone seems to be able to beat everyone else, certainly makes for interesting viewing on Sky particularly as I say, if you aren’t involved at the bottom.
Well did anyone else see the warning signs flashing the other day when it was announced that Wakefield Trinity had given notice that they were to quit their current, historically famous, but now sadly run down Belle Vue Stadium. I will join a lot of FC fans that will be sad to see a place we have all visited dozens of times over the last 60 odd years be no more, however in the same breath we will not perhaps, after being stuck out in the rain on open terraces following being denied the chance to stand anymore in our tradition covered stand, lament too long the old place disappearing.
However, there could be more to this, I think, than just a Club moving to ground share with someone else. This move comes at a real time of change for the game and its structure and I bet a few Wakey fans are concerned about what will happen next. Wakefield chairman Michael Carter feels let down by some promises made to him by the local council that he feels haven’t been fulfilled and now he believes that he has no option but to leave their old home and head down the road to Dewsbury, Featherstone or even Barnsley’s Oakwell Stadium, for the foreseeable future. The concern for me, and no doubt many of you reading this, is how many fans will follow the Wildcats once the initial passion has worn off a bit and where do a famous Rugby League heart-land Club find themselves then.
Last week the talks between Super League Clubs around the future of the game threw up the likes of Newcastle, Coventry and Bristol as possible Cities that were interested in taking on a Super League club. In fact, the actual discussion surrounded moving a Super League side in its entirety to a new region of the country. Moving Clubs around like individuals moving house is really dangerous ground for me and I see no evidence whatsoever that places like Bristol and Newcastle have a yearning appetite for the game or offer any sort of sustainability for a relocating club. That is a worry because we could end up moving a team to some far flung City only to see it flounder and eventually flop, after in effect we have ripped one of the heartland clubs away from its home.
As far as the fans are concerned, there will be up-roar if they try that with any Club including Wakefield, for despite poor gates the local Club over there in West Yorkshire is passionately valued by the community and they will all want it to remain in some form. Hopefully that can be resolved because playing out at Dewsbury, Barnsley or Featherstone will devalue the product in time, it always does and then what? Furthermore, we then turn our attention to ‘Pitch-gate’ (I hate that) and what would happen if the Premier League change their rules on football following rugby; would we then be threatened? Could we be under duress and might we one day find ourselves in such a situation. OK, I know l’ll now be accused of over reacting and shroud waving, but if your honest I bet that possibility has crossed the mind of a few readers of the Diary as well?
It’s certainly a bit of a mess these days!
This week in Codgers Corner its time for a big one, as ever so occasionally I feature one of the great stand out games we have witnessed over the years as the FC Faithful. Last week I heard how much that great scrum half of the 80’s Kevin Harkin had enjoyed last week’s Diary, so, this week I thought we would look back at what has since been hailed as probably the best Challenge Cup Final of all time which took place on Saturday 4th May 1985.
Wembley was becoming a bad omen for Hull FC! We still hadn’t won there and we had lost to the Dobbins, drawn with Widnes and suffered an ignominious defeat against Featherstone but now we were there again for a showdown with the mighty Wigan, but few would have thought that the Hull FC team could have been anything but exhausted. The big match followed an amazing ‘fixture pile up’ that had seen us play 10 games in 18 days, including three on consecutive days and a period of 5 matches in just 7. The week before the final we had played Wigan at Central Park in a Premiership play-off semi-final game and not surprisingly lost 46-12, in fact previously in that amazing month as the fixtures piled up, we had lost to them again, this time by 40-4 and therefore few outside West Hull gave us a ‘prayer’ of winning the Final that afternoon.
However, everyone was up for it and all around the City shop windows were decorated and the Hull players were becoming real celebrities, opening events and ‘kissing babies’ at every opportunity. When the big day came I travelled down by train just as I had with Mum for my first Final, all those years before in 1960. For the first year in six, I hadn’t paid into the ‘Mermaid Wembley Trip’ as it seemed at 35 I was starting to grow out of the boozy entrapments that went with those great years of watching the team I loved. I expect I had a few cans on the train, but remember thinking that the final was possibly the longest I had ever seen, no doubt down to the fact that I was reasonably sober when I watched it.
The old Stadium looked wonderful, graced as it was by an amazing 99,801 fans, as the capacity was increased and the segregation abandoned following an unprecedented demand for tickets. The Final also featured a then record, 10 foreign players with six starting for Hull FC. All the match reports after the game praised both teams and billed the game “The Best Cup Final Ever Seen”. It might have been, and I am sure many pundits who were around back then will tell me that it was, but there is simply nothing to compensate for getting beaten at Wembley, and a few statistics are not going to change the fact that for me and thousands of other Hull FC fans it was an unmitigated disaster.
There is no greater day in the Rugby League calendar than the Challenge Cup Final at our National Stadium, unless of course you lose…..again! The history, the occasion, the pomp and the circumstance, the colour and the noise were all there in abundance at that 50th final at Wembley, but it was still nothing if you hadn’t won.
It was absolutely packed in the North East Corner of the ground where, Barry, Hard up Harry and Trevor the Fish joined me having travelled from the usual Knightsbridge Hotel (that no doubt the ‘Mermaid lads’ were ‘terrorising’) by taxi. Our team included Garry Kemble back for the first time since an injury he suffered in the Semi Final but he was strangely quiet that afternoon and looked to still not be fully fit. We pinned a lot of our hopes that day on Peter Sterling and John Muggleton who had both been in scintillating form of late, and the “Sterling Silver” and “Arthur Bunting’s Black and White Army” banners were all around Wembley that afternoon.
We started so well too. Despite our previous five Finals being hampered by slow starts we were straight out of the blocks, taking play immediately into the Wigan half. Crooks stroked over a 2nd minute penalty and then after 9 minutes we went further ahead. Sterling handled the ball twice in a flowing move before Kemble’s deft inside pass found Kevin James who triumphantly planted the ball down near the corner flag, but as we sang “We’re the Barmy FC Army” Crooks was wide with the conversion. Back came Wigan who started to make an impression on our defence and soon they were level with a try by Ferguson, who had been flown back from Australia by the Lancashire Club, for the game. He skipped around O’Hara to touch down, for Henderson Gill to convert.
The opposition were now starting to dominate and after 27 minutes Kenny just seemed to be cantering as Mick Ford put him away near half way. He then accelerated past Kemble, to give Wigan a lead they were destined not to lose. By Half Time it was 16-8 after a brilliant try by Henderson Gill had the Wigan fans dancing on their seats and us ‘FC Faithful’ crying in our beer.
Half time was a sombre affair, and unlike many times in the past I was even finding it hard to find any solace in the bottom of a plastic pint glass. Subdued and depressed I stood with the other Hull fans around me and faced some considerable taunting from the ‘Pies’ supporters who were already celebrating. I had in my mind that first Cup Final defeat against Wigan, the one I watched with Mum in the little front room at 23 Aylesford Street all those years previously when we had been thrashed 30-13. Then three minutes into the second half, things got worse. Brett Kenny twisted his way around Sterling and released Shaun Edwards who had a clear 25 yard run to the posts and at 22-8 the game certainly looked to be up for Hull FC. However, straight from the restart Sterling broke free and went on a dodging run downfield which saw him get within ten yards of the line, before as the cover came in he sent out a looping pass to Steve Evans who crossed the whitewash in the corner, however Crooks missed again with the conversion.
Back came Wigan as Ferguson broke away from a tackle by Divorty and Schofield and careered downfield for a spectacular 60-yard touch-down. Then, the impossible happened; well at least it almost happened. On the 51st minute with Wigan leading 28-12, we produced three great sets of attacking rugby as James Leuluai started what was to be an historic fight-back. A big thrust into the line by Paul Rose saw our second rower release a great short ball which Leuluai grabbed out of the air to score an unlikely try but Crooks missed again. Next up it was the turn of Sterling as ten minutes later he fed a superb delayed short pass to Divorty who scored again, but despite it being nearer the posts, this time Schofield missed the conversion. Then two minutes later as the flagging Wigan defence gave James Leuluai too much room in the centre of the field, he skipped through a gap, ghosted past two players and ran off to score one of the tries of the season to put us within 4 points of the opposition, but again Schofield missed the goal. The hooter went and all the Wigan fans who had been dancing at half time breathed a massive sigh of relief as dejectedly we sunk to our knees. Goal kicks had cost us the game!
We had come so close to the greatest come back the game had ever seen and had we kicked those goals, we would forever have been known as the ‘Comeback Kids’. Sadly, it was not to be and I travelled home on the train in a deep depression with my only consolation being the thought of the lads from the ‘Mermaid Wembley Weekend’ trying to dodge the Wigan fans and make the best of the rest of the stay in the Capital. At least on the long journey home I was able to do what I have always done best in those situations and grieved on my own. It’s somehow so much easier to take when you don’t have to listen to other like-minded passionate souls trying to explain it all away and make you feel better.
I wondered if I would ever get over it but at least I wasn’t Lee Crooks the local lad who I had seen at the end of the game in amazing isolation sat crying inconsolably on the pitch. He said years later in his excellent autobiography ‘From Hull to Hell and Back’ “I was the Captain and I was on goal kicking duties. I missed four goals and yet if I had kicked three of them we would have won. Blaming myself for my team losing a Cup Final is the hardest thing I had ever had to deal with”. The man destined to never be the youngest captain ever to lift the Challenge Cup was castigating himself, he was distraught, desolate and crestfallen and that afternoon around 45,000 Hull FC supporters knew exactly how he felt. It was going to take a long time for Lee Crooks and I to get over, it in fact it was probably 2016 before we both did! Wembley eh? It’s a wonderful place to play and support your team when you win, but a shocking, shocking place when you lose.
A great old photograph I found in the loft the other day which dates back to 1985 just before that Cup Final against Wigan. It shows Jack Burgess (93) who was blind and Mary Walshaw (90) getting ready to listen to the big game. I believe the guy on the left went on to play for Hull KR!
Don’t forget about that upcoming dinner I was telling you about the other week when some of rugby league’s biggest names will come together for ‘Feka & Friends’ on Sunday 30th April at the KCOM Stadium from 2pm. The last places for the testimonial dinner are still up for grabs so make sure you don’t miss out on a fantastic event to kick off Palea’aesina’s three-month testimonial! Fans will have the chance to get up close and personal with the special guests, which include international stars Sam Tomkins, Gareth Ellis, Motu Tony and Kylie Leuluai, whilst enjoying a three-course meal, a raffle and auction. VIP places are £50 per person, with regular tickets available at only £35 per person. To book tickets contact Jed on 07780117302. Try and support it if you can.
So I’m off to Wigan on Friday to see if we can do a Huddersfield and get one over probably the second best team in the competition at present. It’s going to be really hard, because instead of Huddersfield softening them up, yesterday will stiffen the ‘Pies’ resolve and we will have to be on our guard and produce our best display thus far if we are to get anything from the game. Thanks as always for putting up with another, less controversial Diary and for being so supportive last week over all the pitch nonsense. The Diary will be back next week, but in the meantime, look out Wigan here we come!!